Sebastian Junger is an American journalist, most famous for the best-selling book The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea, his award-winning chronicle of the war in Afghanistan in the documentary films Restrepo, Korengal, and his book War.
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I am the author most recently of the book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, which is about the ancient human preference for community and how the loss of it in modern society has affected everything from PTSD to our current political situation. My other books include War, The Perfect Storm, Fire, and A Death in Belmont. Together with Tim Hetherington, I co-directed the Academy Award-nominated film Restrepo, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Also, I'm a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and have been awarded a National Magazine Award and an SAIS Novartis Prize for journalism.
More information is on my website: http://sebastianjunger.com
Here's my proof:
Hello, my husband was Payton he was in fusion company and was the gunner in the humvee behind you when it got hit goin up the korengal in 2007 with Padiong and Thing, I just want to thank you for your work it helps me understand what my husband went through. What are your plans for the future? Do you plan on going back to the 503rd?
Oh please say hi to him for me. I remember those guys opened up with a Mark 19 and the gunfire detection system in my humvee thought we were taking fire from behind and it got our turret gunner all confused. Im glad everyone came out of that ok...
My wife works for the VA where reddit is blocked, but she is a big fan and has a question for you...
What has the response (if any) from the VA been on your statement RE: the therapeutic contradiction of lifelong PTSD?
well none so far. that was pointed out to me by someone in the VA system. the VA is asked to treat PTSD and another department classifies it as a permanent lifelong disability. it makes no sense and I'm sure many people realize it. maybe they are relieved that someone is actually saying that out loud.
I'm a big fan of your work and was wondering, What advice do you have for a high school students who wants to go into political journalism, and cover conflict? Thanks!
well the way i did it was i put a sleeping bag and some other gear into backpack and i went overseas - to sarajevo, where there was an ongoing civil war. no one will send you until you send yourself. good luck and be safe about it...
Hey nice to hear from you. Wanat must have been a very tough experience for you guys. The themes that I wrote about in War really have not changed much in my mind since then. Of course I wrote it without the perspective of the homecoming process but I dont think I would see things very differently now...
I'm a huge fan of your work and just got my copy of Tribe in yesterday. Still working through it but love it so far.
My question is do you think alternative Veterans group like Mission Continues, Team RWB, Team Rubicon, etc. can help fill that hole that is missing for Veterans in the community?
yeah i think they help but the whole society needs a sense of purpose and belonging - not just vets. I'm really not sure what the answer is.
I've always enjoyed your work, particularly the first book of yours I read, The Perfect Storm, and am very much looking forward to Tribe - what is your creative process like when you sit down to write your books? Do you isolate yourself for a period of time, do you prefer certain conditions (e.g. night, silence, music) to help flesh out the words on the page?
Well its not entirely a "creative process" - Im a journalist and all of my writing comes straight out of my research. So i sit down, go over the material that I'm writing about, organize it in an outline and start to put it into words. i can write any time of day or night and often with music, though i do prefer isolation...
I've learned about your work in my writing college course. And wanted to ask you how is Pemble-Belkin is doing? From what I understood he moved in with you when you started working on Restrepo, and always wanted to have an update. Thanks!
pemble is doing great. he's out of the army and is married and has a kid. I'm going to see him in a couple of days actually...
How has your experience publishing a book, and book publishing in general, changed since you published The Perfect Storm or even War 6 years ago?
it hasnt, really. i concentrate on writing good books. the rest of it sort of takes care of itself and i dont really think about it.
Sebastian, I wanted to thank you for your work. I grew up wanting to be a solider. When I saw Restrepo, I was inspired to go into journalism and document conflicts. Then I saw Which Way Is the Front Line. Tim's story, and the way you told it, is incredible. Thank you.
My question is kinda personal. How have you balanced being a professional journalist of wars with your personal life? Did traveling to war zones take a toll on your relationships?
you know i really didn't travel that much but some of the emotional fallout from war had an effect on my marriage for sure.
Sebastian, is there any article where you faced criticism, which surprised you?
oh everything you write gets criticism from someone. particularly in the internet age. avoiding criticism is not a realistic goal.
Hi Sebastian - big fan of Restrepo and Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? Your quote "The core truth of war is that you’re guaranteed to lose your brothers" is one that's stuck with me. What inspired you to write Tribe?
i wrote tribe because i wanted to understand - as Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter - why colonists were constantly running off to join the indian tribes, but indians were never running off to join "civilization." it challenges our assumption of superiority and when i saw a similar thing in soldiers I decided to write about it.
I have been following your work ever since Restrepo came out. How was writing Tribe different from your other books?
I guess being a war zone correspondent means you've seen enough action, but do you watch movies that are centred around war?
Well Tribe was purely a work of research so i had a huge amount of notes and books but i did not do and field research.
Thanks for taking time to talk with us, I look forward to reading your new book!
I just re-read "My Friend The Mercenary" by James Brabazon. Brabazon seems like a really colorful and talented character. What was he like to work with on "Which Way Is The Front Line From Here"?
oh james is a good friend and he was a pleasure to work with...a total professional.
Hi Sebastian. Is it fair to say your drawn to writing about conflict? Would you ever consider coming to Colombia to report on the peace efforts and ongoing civil war here? It's an amazing country with a fascinating, complicated, and tragic history. I'd love to read anything you write on the subject. Thank you.
hey there i am out if conflict reporting but i hear that colombia is a beautiful and interesting country - i hope i get there sometime...
I read Restrepo prior to the documentary coming out and would like to express how grateful I am for both. I believe what was conveyed is a perspective that's hard to describe, and one not widely given to audiences. Thank you for your service to the soldiers.
It might sound strange, but do you ever feel the desire to go back to these places? If given another opportunity to embed in Afghanistan, would you consider it?
hey there thank you. yes i feel the desire to go back all the time but i stopped war reporting a few years ago. i think if i went back id probably be unembedded actually. with the afghans in other words.
I wanted to thank you for the work that you do. I read War and watched Restrepo and Korengal during my senior year of college while I worked on my Honor's Thesis. Your works truly opened my eyes to the harsh truths of warfare, and thoroughly influenced my views as I worked to complete my degree.
My alma mater does a lot of work for veterans, whether it be providing a platform to allow them to tell their story, to keeping an archive of donated materials, to giving them avenues to pursue an education upon their return. I believe it is the work that you do that allows us a lens into their experience and makes such projects to help them possible. So again, I thank you. Because the rules require a question: What would you say was the most difficult part of your own homecoming after reporting in conflict zones?
thank you so much for all that. id say the hardest part of homecoming is convincing myself that ones life at home is as important and meaningful as working abroad.
Sebastian, are you a fan of Jim Frederick's book "Black Hearts"?
never read it
It sounds like this book is the last installment, wrapping up everything you have to say about war. So what's next?
yeah, pretty much. not sure whats next...
I really enjoyed your book War and your documentaries Which way is the frontline from here? - The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington & Restrepo. I would highly recommend them to anyone reading this. Thank you for all the amazing work you have done and putting your life on the line to tell these stories.
Now, I have a bit of a lengthy question because I want to give some context in order to properly ask it:
Have you seen Australian Journalist Michael Ware's recent HBO documentary Only the Dead See the End of War? It's about his time in Iraq covering both US soldiers and Iraqi insurgents. Towards the end of the documentary there is a harrowing scene where an Iraqi man is mortally wounded and dragged into a nearby courtyard. The man is going to die. There's really nothing the soldiers can do to save him so they don't bother giving him first aid or anything. They put a blanket over his dying body then the footage shows the man gasping for air, for what feels like an eternity, as US soldiers walk around nearby saying questionable things about him. The journalist, Michael Ware, says he has been haunted by this moment and whether he did the right thing by not speaking up. I believe he said something like "I was almost removed from the situation, being behind the camera, it was like I wasn't actually there as I watched what was happening" (Paraphrasing).
>"I knew I had filmed something that has been captured on camera very few times in war," states NBC reporter Kevin Sites. His footage of a marine shooting a wounded combatant was so shocking that most American audiences didn't even get to see it. NBC released only a single black and white still. But even worse than the shooting, Sites alleges that four other wounded men were also killed in cold blood that day at the mosque. "These men were definitely shot again, freshly shot, after having been wounded the day before." The killing of the other insurgents was largely ignored by the media at the time. With the war such a hot political issue in America, the press is reluctant to criticize the actions of its own soldiers. In the original NBC report, Sites went to great lengths to justify the marine's actions. But while the soldier involved was cleared of any wrong doing, Sites himself came under attack for releasing the footage. "I received thousands of hate mails and death threats saying I was a traitor."
So my questions are:
Did you ever encounter any situations like this where you were witnessing "questionable things" being done?
How do you, as a war journalist, decide when to speak up and when to hold your tongue and just keep filming?
Since you are spending so much time with these men, getting to know them on such a personal level, how do you balance the friendship versus the journalism aspect?
I imagine if you ever did film something that could get a soldier in deep, deep trouble, you would question whether or not you should make this footage public or just bury it away and never speak of it.
So how would you deal with these type of situations? Loyalty to your country vs loyalty to the soldiers vs loyalty to your journalistic craft.
Thanks again! (Shout out to /r/combatfootage)
No, fortunately I have never seen war crimes committed by American soldiers. If I did, I would report it. If I filmed it, I would air the footage. War crimes undermine the security and good standing of this country and cannot be tolerated. Frankly I cant imagine the men I was with doing anything even close to what Ware says that he witnessed.
Hey Sebastian, greetings from Toronto.
I’ve been following your work, as well as that of Tim (RIP) for several years now, ever since I randomly caught the TV premiere of Restrepo on NatGeo. It’s actually one of my favourite movies and by far the best one on the war in Afghanistan. I still watch it a couple of times a year. Korengal, Which Way Is the Front Line and Last Patrol are also great.
Anyway, on to my question: Why did you choose “Izlel e Delyo Haydutin” as the opening music for Restrepo?
I remember it immediately caught my attention when I first watched the movie. I am Bulgarian, so I recognized it right away. It’s fantastic to hear our folklore being appreciated around the world. However, I have wondered for years as to why you guys chose it to open the film. Thanks!
Well I just thought that that song is incredibly powerful and I really liked it. My wife was Bulgarian and she introduced it to me. Its a very beautiful country.
What are your thoughts about VA treatment and alternative treatments for vets?
its really not something that i know much about except that - anecdotally - it seems to take vets a very very long time to schedule appointments and get care.
Where do you see combat journalism going? You founded the RISC training program for freelancers after Mr. Hetherington's death and the work of reporting has become more dangerous for journalists going to war zones like Syria.
The stories there are still important but is there any hope that journalists can do their job in those situations now or in the future? What needs to be done by the international community, media organizations and news consumers?
yes i think journalists will adapt to the new circumstances....
Hmmm, interesting. Not sure if they mentioned that in the doc. I watched it a couple weeks (months?) ago when it first aired on HBO so I don't recall. I thought the doc, and Ware's comments on the situation, made it seem like he was still alive? I'm not faulting the soldiers either way. There was nothing they could do. I was mostly just wondering from the journalists standpoint how Junger thinks he might react to such a situation.
well I'm not a medic. I'm not sure there's much i could do either way. for a journalist what would the options be? not much.
I listened to your Tim Ferriss podcast. Very informing. What podcasts do you listen to on a regular basis?
unfortunately none. just a function of being busy.
I was in Anthro form UA and lived with the Ramamuri in MX. I met you waiting for a bird at Baghram in '08, i was headed to Keating. Spent 6 shitty years there. When Restrepo came out I was happy to know Americans back home would get a little taste of that mess. Thanks for doing what you do! Are you going to make another documentary or movie?
hey thank you...nice to her from you. i hope you're up to something good now...
OP, I understand. I was just trying to voice an opinion of someone who I consider an authority on the subject who absolved the soldiers from committing any war crimes. Your question is still valid, of course, and I think it's still a good one.
its not my position to make soldiers look "good" or "bad." only they can do that. I'm just running the camera.
Hi Sebastian, Do you feel that growing up in Belmont around the time the area was traumatized by A Desalvo play a role in your later wanting to be embedded in a situation so that you could write about it? How do you later disassociate your self from what you've seen? Awesome insights on T F podcast, really deserving of some psych award as to our common human nature. Thx
no i was 6 months old so desalvo had no impact on me. id say the cold war - and the nuclear threat - impacted people of my generation a lot more than something like that. thanks I'm glad you liked the tim ferriss interview...
Hi Sebastian! Thank you for your great work in portraying the lives and deaths of soldiers in modern war. It's always been my dream to be a soldier and I trained for long to fit in. And i have never been able to put in words really why, so my family and friends could understand that desire. It's been with me for most of my life and I've always had the utmost respect for servicemen.
Reading war and watching Restrepo really opened my eyes to what that life really is. And in one passage of the book you quoted Roby Wilson saying he'd take the first helicopter back (to Restrepo hill) tomorrow.
My question is, having been a conflict correspondent, and studied the tribe mentality of people in the service, do you believe some of us are just born for this, or is there some kind of inherited trait/nurtured behaviour that drives us in search of our tribe?
I have yet to read your book as it hasn't shipped to my country yet, but I'm very much looking forward to it.
well some people are more predisposed than others but i think most people, if necessary - and they received proper training - could serve as soldiers.
I haven't read the book yet:
Did you look into new organizations like Team Rubicon or Team Red White and Blue when considering the support and re-integration of veterans? I think their "mission"-focus is the future for veterans' organizations and older clubs like the legion and VFW will end up merging with them or dying out.
yes absolutely - those are great organizations.
Big fan. Have enjoyed all of your work. On your Tim Ferriss podcast, you refer to yourself at one point as an anthropologist. This stayed with me (obviously). Can you elaborate on what you mean? How does one become an anthropologist? You also mentioned "anthropological tools." What are these and why are they so powerful? Finally, what reading would you recommend on this topic?
well i studied anthro in school and that was my degree. its the study of human society. its helped me in my journalism my whole career.
Do you have any plans for upcoming military documentaries/videos?
not at the moment no
I perceive a decline in journalism with the rise of pseudo-journalism websites that are basically just bloggers in their underwear. Additionally, i think we are spoiled and expect free content when premium content is behind subscription gates. Would you agree with this perception?
well bloggers aren't journalists, period. they are mostly people expressing their opinions in public. which is fine. i dont think traditional journalism has changed that much.
Have any desire to go cover Syria? What would it take for you to do it?
no none I'm done with war reporting
You've spoken about how our evolutionary biology is at odds with modern society (e.g., lack of crisis, individual isolation). Do you have a point of view how this tension will evolve with AI, bionic humans etc?
i think climate, disease or war will greatly reduce the human race before those sorts of technologies have a chance to affect our evolution. it takes around 25,000 years for evolution to really affect us.