Can war bring us together? Sebastian Junger at Town Hall Seattle

Author Sebastian Junger in a photo by photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who was killed covering conflict in Libya in 2011. (Photo via Town Hall Seattle)
Author Sebastian Junger in a photo by photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who was killed covering conflict in Libya in 2011. (Photo via Town Hall Seattle)

Why is it such a challenge for military veterans to readjust to civilian life?

Author and filmmaker Sebastian Junger tackles this question in his new book “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging,” and in a talk at Town Hall Seattle on Tuesday.

After covering war for more than twenty years, he says he wants to change the way people think about conflict. He believes adversity experienced as a group has the power to create a more cohesive society.

In “Tribe,” Junger explains that the human body evolved over two million years from a hunter-gatherer society where people constantly worked, slept and performed selfless acts of sacrifice for one another in small groups that are comparable to a modern-day military unit.

“Soldiers go from a psychologically healthy situation in combat, and by that I mean they’re living in very intimate circumstances with 30 or 40 people that they know extremely well,” Junger said in a phone interview last week.

War veterans, while suffering trauma in combat, nevertheless have the support of their fellow colleagues. But once home they can feel isolated in a socially, economically and politically divided nation that is riddled in hateful speech, he said.

“Contempt in public speech, I think, will fracture this country way faster than ISIS ever could by its attacks,” Junger said in the interview.

Violent crime, depression and suicide rates tend to go down during crises.

Junger started out covering conflict during the war in Bosnia in the 1990’s. He got an Oscar nomination in 2010 for the documentary Restrepo, based on a year spent embedded with a U.S. Army Platoon of the 173rd Airborne in Afghanistan.

In “Tribe” Junger says that civilians rarely understand the veteran experience and have difficulty building societal cohesion, unless disasters happen on the home front, like 9/11 in New York or the “Blitz” during WWII in London. He points out that violent crime, depression and suicide rates tend to go down during these crises.

“They revert to that tribal, communal, closely connected system… and the benefits of that system more than offset the hardships that brought it into being in the first place,” Junger said.

At the Town Hall Seattle event, Junger will talk with KUOW military & veterans reporter Patricia Murphy. The talk begins on Tuesday, May 31st at 7:30pm at 1119 8th Avenue, Seattle. Tickets available here.

Disclosure: The author volunteered for Sebastian Junger’s non-profit organization Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues from 2014 to 2015.

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