Memorial Day comes and goes every year, and on this day we recommend a book that will, in the only way possible, show us what sacrifices are made for us by our military. It will remind us that while we may or may not agree with the battles fought, the men and women who did the fighting deserve our recognition, honor, and help when they return—well, if they return.
If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to be under fire, there is no better book to read than Sebastian Junger’s War. Covering the fifteen months the author was embedded with a cameraman in a platoon based at Restrepo, a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan, War conveys the fear, the adrenaline, the camaraderie, and the sorrows of men surround by the enemy for months at a time.
Junger writes early on of his objective: to try and convey what war really feels like. Few of us, thankfully, will ever experience what these men went through. We learn about the backgrounds of each of the members of the platoon, why they enlisted, what their training was like, and how they got to Restrepo. He writes movingly about the deep trust each man has in each other. While sometimes they don’t get along, there is a deep love between them and understanding that all of them will perform at their very best, because anything less puts others at risk.
Junger writes with a stark, clean voice which can both analyze and experience events which are almost impossible to contextualize for a citizen’s perspective. While chronicling the bravery of these men, he is also able to articulate his own fears in a clear manner which shows both a sense of wonder and the commitment to continue his work. Tellingly, he writes articulately about his decision to not be armed in a war zone, and talks about what he would do if he had no choice but to arm himself. He also writes, agonized, about how you feel when you lose a member of a fighting team.
*Note: the documentary, Restrepo, which won the Grand Jury Award at Cannes, was written and directed by Junger and his cameraman, Tim Hetherington. In 2011, Hetherington died in a mortar blast covering the Libyan Civil War. Restrepo was also nominated for “Academy Award Best Documentary – Feature” at the 83rd Academy Awards.