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Author Archive: "Sebastian Junger"

Should We Be in Afghanistan?

I'm on book tour, and even though War is not a political work, people are asking me very political questions about it. Should we be in Afghanistan? Should we pull out? What about civilian casualties? Is there any such thing as a "good" war, or are all wars by definition evil? There are no easy answers — I wish there were — and coming to any useful conclusion requires a person to let go of any political freight they may be carrying.

My experience in war started in Bosnia in 1993. A quarter-million civilians died in the ethnic conflict there, and the carnage finally stopped when NATO forces bombed Serb positions around Sarajevo and forced a rough peace. The triggering event was when Serb militias machine-gunned seven thousand men and young boys into pits after overrunning the city of Srebrenica. My career reads like a human rights report from the past decade and a half: Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Macedonia, Afghanistan. These conflicts killed tens of thousands of innocent people, and the leaders who perpetrated these crimes were immune to the entreaties and diplomatic efforts of the international community. Only military action by Western forces — or the threat of military action — brought those conflicts to a stop. Were those military actions immoral? Were they more immoral than standing by and watching?

The Other War

Now that my book is out, I'm starting to hear back from people who have lived the things I wrote about. It's always a tricky thing for a writer: You're writing about people, not for them, but their opinion becomes extraordinarily important. That is particularly true of a topic like this, where people have died and lives have been altered and families have taken on an emotional burden that they couldn't have imagined a few years earlier. One of the soldiers in the platoon said to me, "You've explained us to ourselves." That was about the best review I could imagine getting. The wife of a veteran who was in a unit I accompanied sent me a message recently: "Reading War has finally told me the things he hasn't been able to."

Soldiers put on a brave face when talking to journalists — and so do their spouses — but the emotions have to come out eventually. One of the purposes of good writing — of the arts in general — is to provide a trigger for feelings that otherwise might not find an outlet. And so here I am now, as a journalist, hearing stories from family members that rival anything I heard on the battlefield. Women who have spent fifteen months worrying and looking forward to the day their husband would come home from deployment, are now discovering that the really hard part hasn't even begun. The men come home with issues that no amount of love and understanding can make go away. It's confusing to them — "Surely," they think, "love is more powerful than PTSD!" The terrible truth is that many times, it's not.

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