By John Rudoff
Feb 29, 2012
Sebastian Junger, the well-known author of The Perfect Storm and War, and director of Academy Award nominated documentary ‘Restrepo’, lectured to a sold-out audience of 2400 at Portland’s Literary Arts and Lecture Series on Thursday. The Arlene Schnitzer concert hall was almost filled.
Although better-known for The Perfect Storm, the entire subject of his talk was the lessons he learned and insight he gained from covering wars as a journalist and documentarian. In particular, he focused on the year he spent embedded with an American platoon of about 30 men in almost daily lethal combat in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan.
A man of immense gravitas, he distilled his topic into two paradoxes. War is ghastly and ugly, but we are drawn to it both as ‘entertainment’ (in the form of books and movies) and as a choice, usually made by young men. Second, while it may demand of warriors supreme sacrifice, the capacity to choose that sacrifice—devotion to the group—is a choice available to all soldiers regardless of whatever other foibles they may have. The reward they attain is not just a bath of adrenalin, but the approbation of their fellow soldiers. When asked after the lecture how soldiers managed that capacity for group bonding and self-sacrifice, he replied that this was one of the things they most missed in their return to civilian life—they had to ‘shut off’ this all-important part of their lives in combat.