Sebastian Junger talks soldiering on Martha’s Vineyard


“War” by Sebastian Junger. Twelve, 2010. 304 pp. $26.99.

In his 2010 book, “War,” Sebastian Junger has done for soldiering what he did for bad weather in “The Perfect Storm” 14 years ago, telling us what it’s like being in harm’s way. While the “The Perfect Storm” fishermen were unwilling to be in harm’s way, in “War” they intend to be there.

If you are at The Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven at 7:30 next Thursday night, July 28, Mr. Junger will personally explain it to you. Mr. Junger is the guest speaker in the center’s Summer Institute series.A question pops up: How did the center pull off getting one of our legitimate literary lions for the program? Credit Gerri Alpert, chairman of the Summer Institute. “You know, it wasn’t that difficult. I contacted the publicist. Mr. Junger was embarking on a book tour and he lives on Cape Cod. I was able to convince him it would be a good stop. Beginner’s luck probably,” said Ms. Alpert, the first year chairman who is succeeding legendary program maestro Betsy Sheerr.

Headliners this season include Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson and tonight, Kenneth Feinberg, overseer of both the 9/11 and BP oil spill victim compensation efforts. “The principal goal of the Summer Institute is to bring perspective on a wide range of issues from politics and economics to music,” Ms. Alpert said Tuesday.

Mr. Junger wrote “War” after spending parts of 15 months embedded with a platoon, hanging off a mountainside in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan where perhaps 80 percent of the U.S. fighting in Afghanistan took place. Mr. Junger’s clear, detailed reporting allow us to know these men and to root for their individual survival in their two-square-mile world. We also learn that what noncombatants believe to be heroism in war is regarded as a personal responsibility by men at war.

Ms. Alpert also believes Mr. Junger’s book is unique in the literature of war. “It is unusual to have a book that follows the lives of individual soldiers that is not a novel. The context is very dramatic. The literature of individual soldiers in war, from ‘All Quiet On the Western Front’ onward are typically fictionalized or first person accounts that are prey to author ego,” she said.

“War” is an ongoing living account because the stories of the men in Mr. Junger’s book continue.

Tim Hetherington, British photojournalist and collaborator with Junger in their documentary “Restrepo,” was killed during fighting in Libya three months ago.

Last November, 173rd Airborne Staff Sergeant Salvatore Guinta received the first Congressional Medal of Honor presented since the Vietnam War for saving the lives of two colleagues during a firefight in the Korengal Valley. Sgt. Guinta’s effort is detailed in “War.”

Summer Institute Speaker: Sebastian Junger, 7:30 pm, Thursday, July 28, M.V. Hebrew Center, Vineyard Haven. 508-693-0745.