Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sebastian Junger interviewed at NRO's "Uncommon Knowledge"

Junger, author of a book with the simple title "War," along with filmmaker Tim Hetherington, produced the excellent documentary "Restrepo", presently airing on the National Geographic Channel. I am about 1/3 of the way through viewing the film, and recommend it highly. It, and the book are gripping first hand accounts of the challenges faced in the difficult geographical and cultural terrain of Afghanistan's remoter regions, as ISAF forces fight the Taliban and implement COIN.

Junger lived for extended periods of time, with a platoon of the 173rd Airborne brigade in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, literally the tip of the spear, poised uneasily, on the edge of enemy territory and well within striking distance. Almost daily contact, and determination to push into the valley highlight the remarkable account.

The platoon is peopled with characters at once remarkable and typical. Remarkable young men who are a testament not only to the exceptional nature of America, but to the more broad and positive latencies in human nature.

In human beings there is something waiting to be teased out, paradoxically, in the worst of circumstances. At its heart humanity is, or can be, deeply loving, moral and courageous. The war fighting small unit is a striking illustration of this universal human phenomenon; while it may not be something that only happens in war, the warrior's environment, elicits this flowering, the warrior ethic or phenomenon, in a way that few other situations can. This is not to say that there are not indeed other such circumstances. Another circumstance that comes to mind, which has been shown to do elicit many of the same things, is the POW camp, or the Gulag. Sometimes natural disasters or other catastrophes bring some of the features out, as people band together in mutual support and defense. Junger is concerned, though, with the war-fighting small unit, and its peculiar congeries of results, and he is very aware of the long history of the phenomenon he describes.

Literature, from Homer to our own age, gives vivid portrayal of the warrior ethic or phenomenon, but can never fully convey its strength, and its appeal. The phenomenon springs naturally from the soil of the small combat unit. The constant testing of human mettle produces an intense camaraderie, typified by unit loyalty, self sacrifice, and a thrill of the fight. Being in such a circumstance is an exhilarating and transformative experience, for which the civilian can find no parallel. Being at the point of the spear is alchemical and forever alters those that live through it. Junger does a great job of portraying this for those of us on the outside.

A History of Christmas

From the History Channel: