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War by Sebastian JungerBook Cover of War by Sebastian Junger

Reviewed by Celebrity Reviewer Captain Jack Sparrow December 2010

Captain Sparrow recommends this for anyone interested in a honest look at real people at war

‘The willingness to die for another person is a form of love that not even religions fail to inspire, and the experience of it changes a person forever.’

Sebastian Junger managed to get himself embedded for fifteen months in an infantry platoon, in possibly the worst spot in Afghanistan. In this remote and isolated battlezone, subject to extreme physical hardship, Junger witnesses, explores and documents many fascinating facets of the human psyche. War changes people in a number of ways, many of them quite surprising. ‘Someone once asked Bobby whether, all joking aside, he would actually have sex a man up here.

“Of course”, Bobby said, “it would be gay not to.”’

Junger tries to explain why such attitudes have become rational for these infantrymen, and seems to do a fairly good job of it. Day after day of getting shot at, rejoicing over a killed enemy soldier, lamenting over a comrade’s death, living on the side of a rocky mountain completely isolated from all things familiar (including women), having to burn your own faeces, living with constant adrenaline rushes, all adds up to an unsurprising change in what is considered normal. And what is funny.

‘"If I start bangin’ your mum when we get home, will that mean I’m your Dad?"’

There are however, quite strict rules on what topics can be made the topic of humour. ‘Only wives and girlfriends are off-limits... Anything else – mothers, sisters, retarded nephews – is fair game.’

The three chapters to War really sum up the book; fear, killing and love. To cover these with honesty, War is necessarily an exceptionally personal book. Not only is this personal for Junger, but for the soldiers who allow their thoughts, feelings and experiences to be captured not only for the book, but recorded on video. Yes, there is a two hour documentary style video, titled Restrepo which complements a lot of what is discussed in the book. However, the doco does the book absolutely no justice. The doco captures many fire fights, and at times seems just to be a conglomeration of action video. Restrepo does show the conditions which the soldiers lived in, which are quite sobering; not that being shot at, isn’t. The doco also captures real emotion from the soldiers, in both interviews and free roaming video (including fire fights were soldiers are killed). While the doco was a great visual aid to the book, it was nothing like the book at all. The book is an analysis of how and why people change when exposed as participants in war. The doco only provides a record of some of what was observed. The money here is in the analysis. If you want to know why it wouldn’t be gay, and why girlfriends and wives are off limits, read the book. If you want to see and hear the realities of (some of the) war in Afghanistan, see the doco.

Sadly, the director of Restreop, a photojournalist and filmaker who covered conflicts for over 10 years, was killed in a mortar attack in Lybia on 21 April 2011.

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