Sebastian Junger: Over-Valorizing Vets Does More Harm Than Good
Reprinted from October 2016
By ADAM LINEHAN
Task & Purpose spoke with the "Restrepo" director about his upcoming book, "Tribe," and why over-valorizing veterans only does more harm than good.
Few civilians can get away with talking about the military the way Sebastian Junger does. Among mainstream journalists, his commentary on the experience of being an American soldier in the post-9/11 world is unparalleled in its depth and honesty. Over the years, he's amassed a body of award-winning work — articles, books, films — that challenges popular assumptions about what it means to serve, and the psychological impact that service has on those who do. That's a remarkable achievement for someone who's never worn the uniform.
Of course, Junger, whose career as a conflict reporter began in Kosovo in the 1990s, is no stranger to war. In fact, he wrote the book: "War," a nonfiction chronicle of an infantry platoon's yearlong deployment to Afghanistan's treacherous Korengal Valley. In 2010, the adjoining Oscar-nominated documentary, "Restrepo," co-directed with the late Tim Hetherington, introduced a wider audience to the strangeness and brutality of life on the front lines. For many veterans, myself included, it stands as the definitive film about the war.
The poignancy of Junger's Afghan War coverage draws less from the fact that he embedded with one of the heaviest hit units of that conflict than it does from the fact that he crossed a threshold few journalists are able or willing to cross. He didn't just dip his toe in. He dove, risking life and limb to capture the experience of being an American combat soldier in a distant and largely forgotten war. But more than that: he got to know his subjects — not just who they were as soldiers, but who they were as men who, alive or dead or wounded, would eventually come home.