Sebastian Junger, Serious Man

Just finished taping an episode of Uncommon Knowledge with Sebastian Junger on his new book, War. Based on five extended trips to the American outposts in the Korengal Valley, the location that saw more combat than any other in the Afghan theater, War is beautifully written and full of acute, vivid portraiture–incomparably the best extended reporting on actual combat in Afghanistan that I’ve encountered.

Before we sat down, though, I’d developed the suspicion that Junger might simply want to discuss the experience of war, limiting himself to description and narrative while avoiding the larger questions. In the book itself, after all, he takes pains to demonstrate how irrelevant all the big think seems to the young men doing the fighting.

“The moral basis of the war,” Junger writes in one place, “doesn’t seem to interest soldiers much, and its long-term success or failure has a relevance of almost zero.” “It was a weird irony of the war,” he writes elsewhere, “that once you were here—or your son was—the politics of the whole thing became completely irrelevant.”

But when I asked Junger his views of the war, he answered every question directly, honestly, and intelligently.

Was Fouad Ajami right to argue, as he did on Uncommon Knowledge a couple of weeks ago, that “the Afghan campaign is lost?” “He’s completely mistaken,” Junger replied.

Did it unnerve him that just last month Gen. McChrystal chose to pull out of the Korengal Valley? “War is complicated,” Junger said. “We lost thousands in the Normandy invasion, but we still won the Second World War.”

If the United States and its Allies could defeat Hitler, Junger argued, then we could defeat then 10,000 or 15,000 troops the Taliban can place the field. “It’s not a military problem,” Junger said. “It’s a question of political will.”

A superb writer, Sebastian Junger is also a serious man.

P.S. Above, I’m quoting Junger from memory. When in a week or so our Uncommon Knowledge interview appears online, I’ll be sure to post a link to the transcript.