“War is a lot of things, and it’s useless to pretend that exciting isn’t one of them. It’s insanely exciting.”
Author and adventurer Sebastian Junger describes a moment when he and several soldiers leap from a blown-up Humvee and sprint pell-mell toward cover during an ambush in a rugged Afghan valley.
In his new book, War, Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, once again examines men placed in extreme situations. He made five visits over 15 months to shadow the soldiers of the 173rd Airborne’s Battle Company as they defended American interests — vague as those were — in remote outposts of the Korengal Valley.
War is not a study of the Afghan conflict, though by the end a reader can be suffocated with the sense that nothing is accomplished by the American presence there. Indeed, the U.S. abandoned its Restrepo base in the Korengal on April 14 — after five years of fighting there.
Junger writes about astonishing physics of combat — to dodge a bullet, you need at least a quarter-second and 800 yards. The snap of it going past your head is a small object breaking the sound barrier at roughly 2,000 miles per hour.
He describes combat’s weird beauty: “Restrepo alone had to be putting out a thousand rounds a minute and the Abas Ghar was sparkling with bullet strikes even though it was broad daylight.”
Mostly, Junger writes about the heavily armed young men of Battle Company as they are stuck in a messed-up place for a year or longer. They get into as many as 13 firefights in a single day, obsess about combat and worry they will be too twisted ever to live a normal life.
But War feels as if it was rushed into print, containing a single, weak map and no photographs of the soldiers or the landscape that the author describes in such detail. And Junger can be windy at times, trying to link the immediate battle scenes to larger themes of courage.