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Sebastian Junger: Why veterans miss war

Sebastian Junger: Why veterans miss war


I’m going to ask and try to answer, in some ways, kind of an uncomfortable question. Both civilians, obviously, and soldiers suffer in war; I don’t think any civilian has ever missed the war that they were subjected to. I’ve been covering wars for almost 20 years, and one of the remarkable things for me is how many soldiers find themselves missing it. How is it someone can go through the worst experience imaginable, and come home, back to their home, and their family, their country, and miss the war? How does that work? What does it mean? We have to answer that question, because if we don’t, it’ll be impossible to bring soldiers back to a place in society where they belong, and I think it’ll also be impossible to stop war, if we don’t understand how that mechanism works. The problem is that war does not have a simple, neat truth, one simple, neat truth. Any sane person hates war, hates the idea of war, wouldn’t want to have anything to do with it, doesn’t want to be near it,
doesn’t want to know about it. That’s a sane response to war. But if I asked all of you in this room, who here has paid money to go to a cinema and be entertained by a Hollywood war movie, most of you would probably raise your hands. That’s what’s so complicated about war. And trust me, if a room full of peace-loving people finds something compelling about war, so do 20-year-old soldiers who have been trained in it, I promise you. That’s the thing that has to be understood. I’ve covered war for about 20 years, as I said, but my most intense experiences in combat were with American soldiers in Afghanistan. I’ve been in Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan in the ’90s, but it was with American soldiers in 2007, 2008, that I was confronted with very intense combat. I was in a small valley called the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan. It was six miles long. There were 150 men of
Battle Company in that valley, and for a while, while I was there, almost 20 percent of all the combat in all of Afghanistan was happening in those six miles. A hundred and fifty men were absorbing almost a fifth of the combat for all of NATO forces in the country, for a couple months. It was very intense. I spent most of my time at a small outpost called Restrepo. It was named after the platoon medic that had been killed about two
months into the deployment. It was a few plywood B-huts clinging to a side of a ridge, and sandbags, bunkers, gun positions, and there were 20 men up there of Second Platoon, Battle Company. I spent most of my time up there. There was no running water. There was no way to bathe. The guys were up there for a month at a time. They never even got out of their clothes. They fought. The worked. They slept in the same clothes. They never took them off,
and at the end of the month, they went back down to the company headquarters, and by then, their clothes were unwearable. They burned them and got a new set. There was no Internet. There was no phone. There was no communication
with the outside world up there. There was no cooked food. There was nothing up there that young men typically like: no cars, no girls, no television, nothing except combat. Combat they did learn to like. I remember one day, it was a very hot day in the spring, and we hadn’t been in a fight in a couple of weeks, maybe. Usually, the outpost was attacked, and we hadn’t seen any
combat in a couple of weeks, and everyone was just stunned with boredom and heat. And I remember the lieutenant walking past me sort of stripped to the waist. It was incredibly hot. Stripped to the waist, walked past me muttering, “Oh God, please someone attack us today.” That’s how bored they were. That’s war too, is a lieutenant saying, “Please make something happen because we’re going crazy.” To understand that, you have to, for a moment, think about combat not morally — that’s an important job to do — but for a moment, don’t think about it morally, think about it neurologically. Let’s think about what happens in your brain when you’re in combat. First of all, the experience is very bizarre, it’s a very bizarre one. It’s not what I had expected. Usually, you’re not scared. I’ve been very scared in combat, but most of the time when I was out there, I wasn’t scared. I was very scared beforehand and incredibly scared afterwards, and that fear that comes afterwards can last years. I haven’t been shot at in six years, and I was woken up very abruptly this morning by a nightmare that I was being strafed by aircraft, six years later. I’ve never even been strafed by aircraft, and I was having nightmares about it. Time slows down. You get this weird tunnel vision. You notice some details very, very, very accurately and other things drop out. It’s almost a slightly altered state of mind. What’s happening in your brain is you’re getting an enormous amount of adrenaline pumped through your system. Young men will go to great lengths to have that experience. It’s wired into us. It’s hormonally supported. The mortality rate for young men in society is six times what it is for young women from violence and from accidents, just the stupid stuff that young men do: jumping off of things they shouldn’t jump off of, lighting things on fire they shouldn’t light on fire, I mean, you know what I’m talking about. They die at six times the rate that young women do. Statistically, you are safer as a teenage boy, you would be safer in the fire department or the police department in most American cities than just walking around the
streets of your hometown looking for something to do, statistically. You can imagine how that plays out in combat. At Restrepo, every guy up there was almost killed, including me, including my good friend Tim Hetherington, who was later killed in Libya. There were guys walking around with bullet holes in their uniforms, rounds that had cut through the fabric and didn’t touch their bodies. I was leaning against some sandbags one morning, not much going on, sort of spacing out, and some sand was kicked into the side of, sort of hit the side of my face. Something hit the side of my face,
and I didn’t know what it was. You have to understand about bullets that they go a lot faster than sound, so if someone shoots at you from a few hundred meters, the bullet goes by you, or hits you obviously, half a second or so before
the sound catches up to it. So I had some sand sprayed in the side of my face. Half a second later, I heard dut-dut-dut-dut-duh. It was machine gun fire. It was the first round, the first burst of an hour-long firefight. What had happened was the bullet hit, a bullet hit three or four inches
from the side of my head. Imagine, just think about it, because I certainly did, think about the angle of deviation that saved my life. At 400 meters, it missed me by three inches. Just think about the math on that. Every guy up there had some experience like that, at least once, if not many times. The boys are up there for a year. They got back. Some of them got out of the Army and had tremendous psychological
problems when they got home. Some of them stayed in the Army and were more or less okay, psychologically. I was particularly close to a
guy named Brendan O’Byrne. I’m still very good friends with him. He came back to the States. He got out of the Army. I had a dinner party one night. I invited him, and he started talking with a woman, one of my friends, and she knew how bad it had been out there, and she said, “Brendan, is there anything at all that you miss about being out in Afghanistan, about the war?” And he thought about it quite a long time, and finally he said, “Ma’am, I miss almost all of it.” And he’s one of the most traumatized people I’ve seen from that war. “Ma’am, I miss almost all of it.” What is he talking about? He’s not a psychopath. He doesn’t miss killing people. He’s not crazy. He doesn’t miss getting shot at and seeing his friends get killed. What is it that he misses? We have to answer that. If we’re going to stop war, we
have to answer that question. I think what he missed is brotherhood. He missed, in some ways, the opposite of killing. What he missed was connection to the other men he was with. Now, brotherhood is different from friendship. Friendship happens in society, obviously. The more you like someone, the more you’d be willing to do for them. Brotherhood has nothing to do with how you feel about the other person. It’s a mutual agreement in a group that you will put the welfare of the group, you will put the safety of everyone in the group above your own. In effect, you’re saying, “I love these other people more than I love myself.” Brendan was a team leader in command of three men, and the worst day in Afghanistan — He was almost killed so many times. It didn’t bother him. The worst thing that happened to him in Afghanistan was one of his men was hit in the head with a bullet in the helmet, knocked him over. They thought he was dead. It was in the middle of a huge firefight. No one could deal with it, and a minute later, Kyle Steiner sat back up from the dead, as it were, because he’d come back to consciousness. The bullet had just knocked him out. It glanced off the helmet. He remembers people saying, as he was sort of half-conscious, he remembers people saying, “Steiner’s been hit in the head. Steiner’s dead.” And he was thinking, “I’m not dead.” And he sat up. And Brendan realized after that that he could not protect his men, and that was the only time he cried in Afghanistan, was realizing that. That’s brotherhood. This wasn’t invented recently. Many of you have probably read “The Iliad.” Achilles surely would have risked his life or given his life to save his friend Patroclus. In World War II, there were many stories of soldiers who were wounded, were brought to a rear base hospital, who went AWOL, crawled out of windows, slipped out doors, went AWOL, wounded, to make their way back to the front lines to rejoin their brothers out there. So you think about Brendan, you think about all these soldiers having an experience like that, a bond like that, in a small group, where they loved 20 other people in some ways more than they loved themselves, you think about how good that would feel, imagine it, and they are blessed with that experience for a year, and then they come home, and they are just back in society like the rest of us are, not knowing who they can count on, not knowing who loves them, who they can love, not knowing exactly what anyone they know would do for them if it came down to it. That is terrifying. Compared to that, war, psychologically, in some ways, is easy, compared to that kind of alienation. That’s why they miss it, and that’s what we have to understand and in some ways fix in our society. Thank you very much. (Applause)


Reader Comments

  1. While at war, I hate the very essence of it. I questioned my very presence in Iraq. I couldn't wait to go home and just leave it behind. To me, it was all a waste of life, time, and money.

    Now, I miss it. I have spent now 10 years in the world beyond the uniform. In that decade, I often stated I missed that miserable experience. This guy points out what many in hindsight would consider is pure misery. War is a simplistic concept with complex experiences. Something I can't even put to words. Yet, I long for the very experience that no realm in the civilian world can mimic. Not only that, the bond that you create from that experience. My co-workers will never forge that connection that I forged with so many in war.

    It truly is hard to realize that nothing will be the same. That entire experience will never be emulated. War was both the most painful and most joyful experience at the same time for me, and I will never understand why. That's why I miss it.

  2. It's really hard to watch. Step by step. "Any sane person would hate war" your worlds not mine.

    -You compare a war movie to actual war, that's not really sane!
    -9 minutes of story time.
    -You think you cannot stop war without understand why people miss it, bot how to miss something you never experienced? I've never been to war, never wanted to go, never will, the whole idea is insane.
    -Maybe to young adults in their 20s who got nothing to do it's appealing, and they do terrible thing they others do terrible things to them, still miss it, it's an educational problem.

    -So to fix the whole problem, don't go to war! If no one would go to war there will be none.
    -If you wouldn't keep tracking the youth with your stories and how you miss, they would be interested. They are young for god dammit they only hear purpose, brotherhood, and the kind of appealing side of the stories.

    Not to talk about what kind of wars are nowadays… "fight for you country" is the biggest bullshit I've ever heard!

  3. Surprised by the interesting people in the audience.
    You've got Maxwell Sheffield from The Nanny at 3:40 and someone from Medieval Europe at 4:46.

  4. I think that men are just wired to be more reckless and less adverse to risks, and when you think about it, that makes sense. A female is far, far more valuable to a species as she can only produce 10-15 more humans in her entire life. We can potentially mate with thousands of women, so by simple numbers, the species has less to lose by having males that take risks. Indeed, it has more to gain. Why are so many things invented by men? Coming up with a great idea is like a Darwinian process. How many stupid, dangerous and crazy things do men have to do to come up with something great?

  5. All of what you said about being able to rely upon your fellow soldiers and being lost when you leave the service is so true. It not only affects the combat veteran but even those who spent most of their adult life as soldiers. Retirees go through this phase as well. Suddenly, they are no longer part of a cohesive unit. The support systems are changed or no longer available. I regret having to retire, I no longer have the connections to the soldiers I served with and whom I led.
    In spite of this, I am eternally grateful to GOD for giving me peace and helping me find a group of believers that pray for me and with whom I can pray to be able to carry on with each day GOD gives me.

  6. This guy certainly looks like a badass soldier. If Hollywood filmed a warmovie, this is certainly the kind of looks and voice they would search for to portray one of the soldiers. I'd feel like Im in good hands with this guy as my leader. He seems like he knows what hes doing and doesnt hesitate for long to take the necessary actions.
    Anyways. Thanks a lot for the Speech Sebastian Junger. I hope you and your comrades that served in the past wars will find peace and joy in the civilian life.

  7. It is different for each person. For some it is just a pure adrenaline junkie. For others it is all about brotherhood. For others it is about honor and service to ones country. For still others, they just got lost on the way to college, SIR!

  8. Just as it is described in: Ernst Jünger, Storms of Steel or the movies Captain Conan (Tavernier, 1996) or The Hurt Locker (Bigelow, 2008) If war, combat, agression would have no thrill in it for young man in their, lets call it "warrior age", worls history would have been totally different. We, as the human race, have to leave that archaic heritage finally behind us.

  9. He missess the stress and simplicity of it all. When you in normal life have something extremely stressful and which takes up all your time, the day goes by without you even thinking about the fact that time is passing. When you suddenly jolt to a situation where you have none of that stress, and none of that passing of time in an instant, you are left thinking about how empty your day is. This itself makes time seem to pass very slowly, and is extremely depressing with an empty feeling left inside you. It leaves you with a lack of meaning.

    Has nothing to do with brotherhood, that's just an excuse :/

  10. Veterans miss war because people who sign up usually come from poverty and simple backgrounds without much opportunity or stuff going on. Then they are put in charge of million dollar equipment, given training, education, get to travel and BE something. They get a place, a position, a rank, a PURPOSE. And then they go back home and realise they are no longer any of that. Back to being useless and unimportant. And often unemployed. So no wonder especially americans loves themselves a good war.

  11. In afghanistan 3000 americans died in 10 years.
    In Brazil 70000 brazilians were killed by gunshot in 2017.
    War vetereans just have it easy.

  12. Non-brothers (civilians) aren't focused on 'the mission'. The Mission doesn't care who you are, where you came from, what time you got up, or if you had breakfast; it just IS. There's a uniting of cause, that we vets could teach the civilian populous. But it's VERY tough to teach that to someone that doesn't have a heart for SERVICE. Religious people come the closest to getting it. They don't allow their wants / egos to get in the way. Except love is soft, and The Mission … it's hard. Always. And I miss it. And I miss those that understand.

  13. I was almost moved to tears more than once from watching this. I can definitely see why someone would miss that kind of brotherhood.

  14. I hold a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, a Combat Infantryman's Badge, etc. from Vietnam. Right after I was hit by a land mine and found out that I wasn't paralyzed by the wound,I went to help put out a brush fire that was threatening other wounded men. It was the proudest moment of my military service. I still attend my squad's reunions in Washington, D. C.–Tom Reilly

  15. You can tell he's not completely left the battle. Many of us are still there, it's a long road I know I'm closer than I was, but it may not be a destination, but a journey.

  16. This is very special bond. The act of selflessness. Giving your life not only for your country but also for your comrades. I salute all Soldiers.

  17. A lot of military service people here.

    Look up "The Last American Vagabond" on YouTube. Is what he's saying true?

  18. Excellent video.
    Veterans don't miss war. They miss the brotherhood and sense of importance that comes along with being a soldier. I think many men are facing this problem in modern society. Civilians (like myself) and veterans alike. The difference between veterans and civilians is the fact that the veterans actually know what they are missing, and the civilians do not.

  19. As a 20 yr vet of the Army I can support this. 3 tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. This is remarkable close to what I felt/feel. Combat is a simple life. Stay alive and protect your brothers and sisters.

  20. Being into JROTC and listening to documentaries and lessons from the retired LTColonel, it seems to me that at the very moment they step into boot camp they are drilled to break that barrier of distrust that we have developed in our society over virtually our entire lives. Once the barrier is broken they have at least 20-30 other people who work together for a common goal not putting themselves above the other, a common unison. However after being exposed to a routine brotherhood and suddenly you get dropped off into society without a service to bring you back into it Really frightens some of them. Their self dependent nature and how to (idk a better term for it) navigate through society is broken in boot camp but isn’t really pieced back together before they go home. Then without a direction and someone to rely on with all their heart, they just get stranded in a seemingly uncaring society. After all some businesses don’t really like hiring veterans (I do not know why, Perhaps PTSD) and that makes it all the more worse. Now of course Jrotc isn’t really the best example of brotherhood but it can at least give a slight sample. I can never forget the time that the retired LTC yelled out for the class to stop arguing or insulting each other.

  21. That’s why I want to join the military.
    We Millennials need a purpose to stop fighting over silly SJW things!!

  22. Was a marine and spent 13 months as a grunt in war. so what? The WW ll marines had it worse and came back and built a life as did I. life is battle simple

  23. Lmao, I get an Ad for the "Bundeswehr" (German Army), right before this video. After all these controversies with the Ads ob YouTube, I can't understand how they can do this 😂

  24. I'm a civilian, but after hearing this, I can understand why someone misses being at war. It's probably something like having played a team sport in your past and finding an identity through that, but then no longer having that. Soldiers have a very demanding and intense job with life and death consequences. They depend on each other. There's a real sense of purpose. I don't judge any of your soldiers for feeling this way.

  25. Read couple of German war diaries from 1943-1945, one from a submarine captain, one from armored reconnaissance person. Both of them hated going to holiday because they only got to see the desperation and devastation of their home towns after the Allied bombings and every time they returned, they just learned of that sweet aunt next door getting maimed by shrapnel, their childhood school getting destroyed or family member losing a limb. They were happy only when they got back to the war, because they knew at least there, they had an opportunity to prevent this from happening.

  26. I came to understand that upon noticing that soldiers often join MC clubs upon returning from war. Some of whom bring war back with them and engage in illicit activities in said MCs.

  27. ''Brotherhood has nothing to do with how you feel about the other person.'' That is true. In war, sometimes you can't like everyone in your group but you will still fight alongside them until death.

  28. There is no ptsd in Turkey as well where we have mandatory military service. Most conversations between men involve askig about what they did in the army

  29. I think another big part of it is the simplicity of it as well. When you’re there you have a very clear cut job, and very defined roles, and you do them and that’s that. There’s no bills to worry about, you don’t have to worry about putting food on a table, you don’t have everyday bullshit to deal with, while at the same time fulfilling a role, and having a clear cut sense of accomplishment, while in a normal civilian life you can accomplish a lot without actually feeling like you’ve done anything at all. In a weird way war is somewhere man can thrive while everyday life is a place where man just wastes away

  30. I don't have any easy answers to this other than to urge vets to hook up with NGOs who are trying to change the economic issues that are at the core of the problems which give rise to the wars.

  31. I miss the feeling of being important. I had a mission, a goal and a job. Now I'm a veteran, society looks at us like crazy people, killers but they don't know the truth. That some of the places we have been to and the people that we help makes a huge impact. Just my 2 cents.

  32. I did 4 years in the Air Force and rubbed shoulders with some Army Paratroopers (the 101st, I think) and those who had seen action said they missed the action.

    They actually missed being shot at because of the strong camaraderie that going through that with others builds.

  33. they should show this in every college full of assholes.commies,and soyboys, and idiot washed-up hippie commie school instructors, thanks to us joining it kept this useless idiots from getting drafted

  34. I think the imposed sense of mission is what vets confuse for brotherhood and a sense of belonging. There, your humanity moves as a tribe for one common goal, that WOULD NOT otherwise be your personal objective. Take that away and you are faced with having to find purpose again.

    And failing to match the same fake sentiment the army vested on you.

  35. I have a question for the soldier
    Why are you fighting ? The guys on the other side are the same of you and killing them will not change anything if they enjoy doing war

  36. I'm a little late on this video but he's missing one important perfect. When you come back home after after all of that you realize that you don't belong at home anymore

  37. I spent 5 years in the Marines before being medically discharged in 2011. I did 3 tours in Iraq, and I miss it daily. Not the combat, but the brotherhood, the mission, actually doing something worth a damn. I've found that I'm attracted to other veterans in the civilian world. I recently left a company to join a veteran owned small business that had ~15 other veterans in it. I've found that being around other vets, sharing the war stories, the loss, the good times, really helps bring that feeling of brotherhood back. I wouldn't leave my current job and the guys I work with for any amount of raises.

  38. This video fucks me up. The comments do even more. I love all you guys that served. I served for 7 years and hated it as much as I loved it. But you wake up one day years later and realize how much you needed it. OIF defined such a large portion of my life and probably is a large basis for the reason I am who I am now. Every day I wake up wishing I could do more. Thanks for the great journalism Junger — you've got a fan for life. The altered state of mind is something you just can't describe. You can sit down with another vet and talk about it, but you can't talk about it with someone who didn't experience it. I wanted to leave Iraq so badly….and the day I did I cried for hours, and I'm not a person who shows much emotion.

    This video is perfect.

  39. (((sebastian junger))) why are so many of these TED talks done by jews ? can we get TED talk about the jews ? no ? they wont allow it ? i wonder why…..

  40. It was better than any drug you’ll ever try on the street. When bullets start flying, you truly feel alive.

  41. At 8 minutes he describes a close encounter.
    According to the estimates provided (i.e. 400 meters away, 3.5 inches away from his head) and ignoring wind, this means the shooter was off by approximately 16.96 micrometers, about the length of 2 and a half human blood cells.

  42. Currently reading George Orwell's book on the war in Catalonia and all of this sound so familiar. If you are interested in the realities of war, read the book (currently halfway through but I'm guessing the rest is just as good).

  43. Respect to those who have fought and died believing they’re doing the right thing but this is glorifying war and the military industrial complex

  44. you miss having people around you that know what you're gonna do before you do it, and vice versa. that move together with you as one without even talking. you miss having people that will kill and die for you at the drop of a hat. you miss your brothers.

  45. Or you could all stop fighting and stay at home. There’s no need to go over to Afghanistan and kill the local people.

    I have no sympathy. You’re not defending freedom. You’re interfering

  46. 1:31 that's an educated response for those who've been in it. I think I've heard that "war is an adventure for those who have not been in one." It's glamorized on a superficial level in popular media (songs, books, movies), but also serves an evolutional process (regrettably). We would not have the US without a military conflict, nor many of the rights, nor free men and an abolishment of slavery without it.

  47. The way I picture it is: If you spent a year getting shot at, barely surviving, and seeing your friends die, everything else you could do afterwards feels insignificant.

  48. Too bad in a time where the extensive dependency on social media is driving us farther from the destination of making camaraderie and brotherhood part of societal culture

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