Real life: War It Feels Personal

Hagar is reading Sebastian Junger’s War, which was sent to me to review for BBC2 The Culture Show, but a change of editorial heart meant that this was dropped.

For 15 months, Sebastian Junger followed a single platoon based at remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan. His objective was both simple and ambitious: to convey what war actually feel like.

The book is a bloody, brutal account of soldiers who were born to fight. It made me think about war in a weird way. Bizarrely, I had a lot more empathy for the civilians of Afghanistan than I had thought about before. Not the enemy, not the Taliban terrorists, but the village dwellers to whom the US soldiers must seem like aliens. The soldiers are written like thugs for hire with no sense of why or who. They are full of anger and hate – if they weren’t fighting here, they’d be fighting in the streets. When they are not fighting war, they are fighting each other. It’s made me realise that there is a part of the male psyche that needs to fight with something or someone; men need war. To some extent sport fulfills these needs on a day-to-day level but I think there is some primitive hunting instinct in males that makes them need to fight.

There is a passage explaining about the platoon Junger is with getting blown up when they drive over an IED and set it off. Junger writes that he feels like it is ‘really personal’ and different to the juxtaposition of more tactical combat. Hagar has just read this. He then recounted a story about when he was in his bed in Afghanistan and a rocket, passed 10 ft over the tent, with a deep ripping rumble, landed, and exploded a 100ft away from where he was lying in his cot, sleeping. He said, ‘I felt the same. It felt really personal. I can handle it when I am being shot at in my helicopter and flying into a battlefield but when I am trying to get some sleep, it’s just out of order.’

I think this is what makes the Afghanistan battlefield so complex is that it’s asymmetric. The rules of engagement are not evenly fixed. It is not Country versus Country bound by International Law but terrorist insurgents fighting without rules, or conscience, for their own version of freedom, or incarceration, depending on from whose side you look at it. This means they don’t care who they kill, when they kill or how they kill. It reminded me of the CO’s speech in my Dining-in Night post, that “War is not the glorious adventure depicted on films; it’s cruel, destructive and worst of all, indiscriminate in the slaughter and maiming of women and children and non-combatants who play no part in the conflict.” If there is honour in your enemy, there is no honour in an enemy who fights on these terms, even if they are fighting men who are born to fight.

0
11

11 Comments

  1. jfb57 June 20, 2010 Reply

    Such a powerful post. Amazing experiences being shared. Thank you!

  2. Thanks – not your every day pillow talk.

  3. I think this is what makes the Afghanistan battlefield so complex is that it’s not asymmetric. The rules of engagement are not evenly fixed. It is not Country versus Country bound by International Law but terrorist insurgents fighting without rules, or conscience, for their own version of freedom, or incarceration, depending on from whose side you look at it.

    Please excuse me asking but surely this war IS assymetric…or am I being dafter than usual?

    • Oh for an editor! Yes – sorry – how did that ‘not’ get in there! I have taken it out now! Thank you for pointing out. I always make mistakes.

  4. I tried to comment on this yesterday but it ate my comment and I had a huff and left. Come back todya feeling a bit sheepish and hoping your blog can forgive me for the bad words i called it.

    I can’t imagine this, can’t imagine lying in bed whilst people were outside firing mortars at me and trying to kill me. I can understand how that would make it personal.

    • I think we are being cursed by comment! The same thing happened to me on yours too! But thanks for getting over your strop and coming back!

  5. Manzanita June 21, 2010 Reply

    I’ve had the same thoughts about men and war and fighting. As a woman, I’ve lived through plenty of wars and said, “enough, already.” But when I hear about street gangs and kids shooting up schools out of apparant boredom or lack of important things to focus on, I said to myself (and I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud) “They need a war”. It sounds so radical, I don’t like to admit this. But I said it, so I’ll stand by it.

    It is a very good post.

    • Thank you so much for stopping by! I am honoured to have you here – welcome! Yes, but i agree the male psyche is an aggressive hunting pack animal and that needs to be acknowledged on some level. So well done for putting it out there! I am with you.

  6. Vegemitevix June 21, 2010 Reply

    I love the understated humour ‘It felt really personal. I can handle it when I am being shot at in my helicopter and flying into a battlefield but when I am trying to get some sleep, it’s just out of order.’ I can imagine it feels very personal indeed.

  7. Life is simple when you are loaded with testosterone – never come between a man and his sleep or a man and his dinner.

  8. marla hansen July 3, 2010 Reply

    Well written.

    I read Three Cups of Tea which opened my thinking to the people of Afghanistan. So much to think about in life, right?

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*