Interview with Sebastian Junger: part two


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 disadvantage.

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 with.

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 this?

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.

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