I am the first to admit that I am not particularly a fan of Sebastian Junger, but I do see a lot of genius in his writing. Also given the fact I am a sucker for military non-fiction, I thought I would give War a read.
The concept for the book is the author spends a period of time embedded with an Army unit in a remote outpost in Afghanistan. The outpost was known as the Korengal Outpost, Korengal Valley in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan. The author describes the area as the Afghanistan of Afghanistan. The area has traditionally an area where foreign armies can not infiltrate, making it a site for some vicious battles. The author makes 5 trips into the valley as an embedded journalist, following the 15 month tour of a group of men in Afghanistan (my apologies, I did not write the unit down when I was reading the book). The idea behind the authors trips was to become part of the unit. He carried his own supplies, he lived with the soldiers, he ate with them, and he went on patrols with them. He was there during the fun times and there dodging bullets and feeling the effects of an IED.
In my opinion, the title is not right for this book. When I heard the title War and read about the concept behind the book, I was picturing a book along the lines of The Killer Angels. I was picturing almost a diary of a sequence of events in the field, the blood, the pain, the tears, and the killing. In a way, I was pleasantly surprised. War covers two of what I would call the forbidden topics of battle, fear and killing. The author lives and learns about the men. He discusses the concept of fear amongst soldiers. The book talks about what the fear is like (or the lack of it) and how it is addressed by the individuals. There is also a fascinating section on a study the military did on how some individuals act in the best interest of the group versus their own self-preservation. I thought the Killing section of the book was a bit weak, but still well done. There is excellent dialogue on how soldiers prefer the idea of fighting and potentially dying versus stilling idle in relative safety. There is also discussion on how individual soldiers see the death of soldiers through their own eyes, whether it is death at their own hands or themselves. There is a final section on love that unsurprisingly talks about the bonds soldiers have with each other. This is a topic covered in many other books and well done in this one.
War is a great book that talks about the people behind the battles, not the battles themselves. The one downfall of the book in my opinion is that the book rambles on seemingly aimlessly, much like talking to a toddler. While individual concepts and stories in the book are outstanding, in some parts, they just do not flow together well. The book is filled with great stories and many supporting studies and stories not directly related to the war in Afghanistan.
If you are looking for a book talking about the battles in Afghanistan, this book is not what you are looking for. While the author did experience some firefights and close calls, the focus was not on charging the enemy and valiant victories. Rather, this book focuses on the men who fight the war. I would highly recommend this book for people who want to know what the life of a deployed soldier is like. I gathered that the remote location of the outpost contributes to the primitive living conditions of the soldiers who were the subject of this book. I have to say the sacrifices they make for the military, our country, and each other is astounding.