War, and Other Dichotomies

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Reynolds lecturer Sebastian Junger

Reynolds lecturer Sebastian Junger on bravery and brotherhood.

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By Stacey Schmeidel

Sebastian Junger—author of The Perfect Storm and co-director of the Academy Award-nominated Restrepo— began his September Reynolds Lecture by noting a dichotomy.

“Who here is against war?” he asked. Then, “Who’s seen a war movie? That’s interesting,” he said, when most people in the audience raised their hands to both questions. “War is so obviously wrong and awful—but it’s so compelling, we’re all drawn to it. We have to understand that contradiction.”

In an engaging, wide-ranging presentation, Junger offered few anecdotes about life as a war reporter. Rather, he explored the difference between friendship and brotherhood. (“Friendship is caring about another person. Brotherhood is subordinating your well-being for someone else.”) He examined, too, why so many soldiers have difficulty coming home. (“You don’t have to be tall to be brave; bravery and compassion are the two things that are available to everyone on the planet. Combat is one of the only places where bravery is valued above all others. That emotional security is very hard to give up.”)

Junger also spoke movingly about Tim Hetherington, a respected war photographer and Restrepo co-director killed recently in Libya. “He was a good friend, and by the end he was a brother, in the same sense that soldiers mean it,” Junger said. Shortly after Hetherington’s death,

Junger received an e-mail from a war veteran. “The central truth about war isn’t that you might die,” the e-mail said. “It’s that you’re guaranteed to lose your brothers.” Junger has taken those words to heart. His priorities have changed. “No more front-line reporting,” he said. “No more getting shot at. There’s a machine that puts young men on the front lines shooting at each other. I’ve spent time trying to understand the young men—now.

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