Junger doesn't dress like this for speaking engagements.
Sebastian Junger, the good looking guy with the manly-man jaw and intense gaze, spent five months in the crossfire in Afghanistan, but he never shot a gun. He did shoot tons of footage for his documentary and took plenty of notes for his Vanity Fair article, which eventually became a book. But he was there to experience the time between the firefights and to have the talks with the young men who were on the front-lines dealing with the real issues members of the military face day after day.
On Wednesday evening, as part of the Martin W. Witte Distinguished Speakers Lecture Series at the Newport Beach Public Library, he shared his personal story and why he found himself consumed with what would seem like a simple question: "What is it about young men that responds to war in a positive way?"
His newest book, "WAR
," is about his time embedded with the a U.S. Army platoon in a remote outpost in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. It's the same platoon and timeframe that resulted in the award-winning documentary, Restrepo
and his magazine features.
On this night, with a crowd of over 200 gripping onto his every word, Junger tried to convey those realities to his audience. He talked about the psychological aspects of why it is that young men go to war and continue to go to war, and he went on to explain the "random math" that determines life and death. He had personal experiences with both. He remembers being in a bunker and have dirt splash up in his face, only to hear the sound of the bullet seconds later. Maybe it was "a gust of wind" or a slight miscalculation in the "angle of deviation" of the rifle. And though he wasnt a solider, he had a colleague who was compelled to return time after time to capture what was gong on in the wars overseas. Tim Hetherington was Junger's partner in putting together Restrepo. Hearing of his death changed any desire Junger had to returning to the war beat.
One of the men Junger followed was in the audience. Aron Hjjer, just 28, stepped to the lectern for the question and answer portion of the event. Hijer and the 2nd Platoon were told they were going "to be my bait" by a high-ranking official when he was stationed in Afghanistan. That's among the realities Hijer was faced with. That's where he met Junger. That's where they say they became like brothers; so too did all the soldiers faced with the same life and death situations every day, and the journalists that covered them diligently and thoroughly.
It wasn't until the death of his good friend, Hetherington, that Junger learned the complete, honest truth about war, or so he was told in an email from a Vietnam vet: "The central truth of war isn't that you might die, it's that you'll lose your brothers."