26 May 2014

WAR: Review by SSG Stowell

A Soldier could not have written this book.

Sebastian Junger's WAR is the account of a company of Soldiers in the Korengal Valley, a place he describes as "sort of the Afghanistan of Afghanistan.

The book is authentic, "raw," "gritty," and all the other cliche words used to promote accounts of war. Trite or not, they all apply in this case. Though the author doesn't try to shoehorn the events into a single story. Rather, he just relays his best recollections and reflections as they came to him.

Junger is masterful at describing combat-related in creative, yet truthful ways:
Snipers have the power to make even silence unnerving, so their effectiveness is way out of proportion to the number of rounds they shoot.
Descriptions are often rich, but mostly just phrased in a way that makes you aapreciate his efficiency with words:
The sun sits low in the west and has laid planks of light across the valley from the western ridges to the dark slopes of the Abas Ghar. (p. 70)
And he invites you in to the scene, making you feel as if his reflections on the terribleness are naturally yours, too:
Snow is lying deep in the northern exposures and melting busily on the south facing slopes as if the winter weren't ahppening there and if you stopped to feel the sun on your face, you could imagine the war wasn't, either (p. 182).
With his light and innocent-sounding prose-- not quite conversational but definitely not stilted or academic-- he tells the story of small unit combat by noticing small things that congeal into three larger themes: Fear, Killing, and Love. While those themes provide him with an organizational structure for the book, each theme is merely a description of the relationships of the the soldiers, to themselves, each other, and the enemy.

The broader point hard to get at. It doesn't read like a story, but one side of a conversation over the dinner table with someone who just came back from some trauma. He does make a few nods to the broader policy implications of the war at times. For instance, he mentions a lieutenant colonel who was "fired up" about America "trying to put a country like this back together," then writes, "Not many nations have the resources to attempt a project on this scale nor the inclination to try." But such an observation is only meant to contrast the disinterest with which the Soldiers exhibit toward the policy.

I enjoyed the book immensely, and found it more nearly a philosophical work than a military one. It's also extremely frustrating as a public affairs Soldier to read something so authentic from a journalist.

I wish I could write like him, and I wish the Army would let me try.

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