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Sebastian Junger’s ‘War’ details the US Army’s disastrous occupation of Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley.

By Sebastian Junger
305 pp.,$26.99

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What do the Great Depression, the Watergate scandal, and the Eyjafjallajökull eruption have in common?

Each took the world by surprise. Each was the result of complicated events. And, since these events were the expression of complicated economic, political, or geological pressures, each demanded journalists to find out what happened and explain it to general readers. For that is the journalist’s job: (1) get information, and (2) help regular folks understand it. But, at least since Ernest Hemingway gained fame for fictionalizing the fog of war, war correspondents have preferred to write about war’s indescribability rather than describe it.

Take Sebastian Junger’s War, which details the US Army’s disastrous occupation of Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, which ended last month. Junger’s recent review of a Vietnam-themed novel in The New York Times is worth quoting at length, as it ably describes an embedded journalist’s ennui: “[T]he truth about war is that it contains nearly unbearable levels of repetition, boredom and meaninglessness. To write honestly about war, you should make readers feel they have endured those things as well.... There is a blizzard of names, ranks and military terms, for instance, and despite the glossary and unit schematic included in the book, I still felt lost much of the time. That confusion, however, was exactly my experience while covering the United States military ... annoying but true.”


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