War is the account of reporter Sebastian Junger's time spent with the men of 2nd Platoon, Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. The reporter spent time with the unit between 2007 and 2008.
Junger focuses on the psychological effects of war on the men who fight it. “The core psychological experiences of war are so primal and unadulterated, however, that they eclipse subtler feelings, like sorrow or remorse, that can gut you quietly for years”.The story of War is that of young men fighting a tenacious, resilient enemy. The local Afghans in the Korengal have been fighting invading armies for millennium, dating back to Alexander the Great.
A dynamic is established between the men of Battle Company and their Afghan counterparts. The US soldiers are here in the valley on orders, fighting an enemy that has little emotional attachment to the men themselves or their lives and families at home.On the opposing side, Junger illustrates an enemy who despises the US forces for not only firing on their home, but attracting large numbers of Taliban to the valley. Although the men of 2nd PLT B CO had no emotional attachment to the enemy, one grew from the camaraderie and collective grief from losing fallen brothers. Junger dictates the feeling of selfless service that directs a man's actions in war; “It was an anesthetic that left you aware of what was happening but strangely fatalistic about the outcome.
As a soldier, the thing you were most scared of was failing your brothers when they needed you, and compared to that, dying was easy. ” Interestingly enough however, for as much time as Junger spends probing the psyche of the men he shadowed, he invests very little real estate into getting to know the characters themselves. One thing that was lacking from the text was much discussion of leadership. Both First Lieutenant Steve Gillespie and Captain Dan Kearney are scarcely mentioned. It is unclear what the reason for the lack of leadership discussion is.
It could be that it was simply not Junger's mission to do a study on leadership in combat. The stories of the enlisted men, junior enlisted in particular, may just fit with Junger's goals better than the non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers. The reason for the sparse leadership discussion could also have to do with the dynamic that existed in the unit. At times, it seemed that there were breakdowns of discipline and order.
Men were unshaven, wearing improper uniforms, and not showing the respect to their superiors that the Army normally mandates.The situation even degrades to the point where the platoon leader is pulled into a blood in, blood out initiation. “I've just watched an officer in the US military get overpowered and beaten by his men at a remote outpost in Afghanistan, and it occurs to me that not only is this not happening in other armies, it probably isn’t even happening at other outposts. ” It may be the case that discussion of leadership was left out of Junger's accounts due to the poor leadership that he witnessed.