PK: One of the themes of the movie seems to be that, as
awful as this place is, there are some definite pluses, like the adrenaline
rush of combat, and also the solidarity and brotherhood that you were
describing. Can you talk about that in a little more detail? Do you think it's
a bad thing because it encourages wars to continue? Or is it a necessary thing?
SJ: Wars get decided on by guys in very high levels who
aren't necessarily tapping into their adrenal glands. The guys who are fighting
the wars, it's a different matter, and it's one of the ways in which they
survive those situations. Humans evolved to deal with that stuff from a very
long time ago. Adrenaline is part of it. But I think the much more profound
part of all this, why men respond positively to combat, as un-PC as it is to
say that, I think if they're addicted to anything it's brotherhood, the sense
of solidarity, the sense of purpose, the sense of self-definition that's
available to them that situation. These guys are 19. Think back to when you
were 19. What it's like to walk the street as a 19-year-old. It kinda sucks.
You're the bottom of the food chain. You have no social status. Girls are all
dating guys older than you. You don't know who you are, and you don't know what
society wants out of you or vice-versa and take that guy, and you put him on a
hilltop, and you give him an identity, and a role, and an incredibly strong
sense of inclusion in a group, out of brotherhood. What a relief
psychologically for a 19-year-old, to finally, suddenly know who you are and
what's expected of you.
PK: When you go back to society that can kind of be a
SJ: Right. Then these guys come came and they're at the
bottom of the food chain again. They're just wandering around, trying to ask
girls out and looking for a job. That's a comedown in status, and
self-perception. In some ways that's a more psychologically threatening
environment than combat is. In combat you know exactly what the rules are and
you know exactly what it means to fail at those rules and it's all within your
power to effect. In society, if you're ugly, that sucks. If you're from a poor
family, you know, whatever - all of
these things beyond you're control define how you're seen. And out at that
hilltop, how you're seen is defined by how you are as a soldier. Your level of
commitment to the rest of the group. And that's it. And it's completely within
your power. For a 19-year-old, that's an incredible thing.
PK: You've probably followed up on the guys that you were
Well they're all still in the Army, expect for one guy, and
he did have a hard time adjusting. But he had some baggage going into this.
PK: O'Byrne. Did he reenlist?
SJ: No. He tried to, but the Army wouldn't let him, the Army
thought his PTSD probably wasn't a good idea. So he got married instead. I
don't mean that that's an alternative.
PK: How about yourself? People seem to describe you as
Hemingwayesque in that you go into these situations where you can confront the
real tough situations and then write about it? Is that accurate?
SJ: That's flattering, but I'm one of thousands of
journalists who work in war zones. There are guys out there who are way braver
than me and have done way more outrageous stuff. I think I'm pretty good at
bringing that material home and writing about it in a way that maybe isn't
what's required for the front page of the "New York Times." I mean that has its
place in the food chain. But I can write in a way that the average reader and
American public can relate to and will become interested in. For me that's what
my best role is. Is that Hemingway or not? I don't know.
PK: Do you feel drawn to danger? Are you an adrenaline junkie?
SJ: Not really. There's a lot of things going on in
situations that are dangerous that are very important and compelling. Danger
itself, I mean if you're in danger you're scared, and being scared sucks. It's
horrible. It's completely demoralizing to me. I hate that feeling. I would say
no. But the job that I have, that many of us have, it is kind of intoxicating.
You're at the center of world events, you're telling the rest of the world
about something very dire and tragic and important that's going on. And you
might even be effecting the outcome because the world might eventually engage
with it and try to fix it. So I feel incredibly proud to be someone picked that
actually does that.
PK: Do you have another assignment in mind now or is it
No I'm just dealing with the book tour and the movie
promotion. The movie's rolling out right now.
PK: I noticed that the editor of your film is the same guy
you edited a film by Amir Bar-Lev, who also has a film about Afghanistan coming out, "The
Tillman Story." Have you seen it?
SJ: I haven't. I met him [Bar-Lev] he's a great guy. And I
can't wait to see it.