I write about soldiers and warriors, their families, wartime situations, clashing nations. Over the years, research has taken me down many philosophical and psychological roads in my attempt to get inside the minds of my characters. But never has a book affected my view of a subject so drastically so quickly.
Sebastian Junger’s short work was a game changer for me.
It’s a simple premise: soldiers returning from war zones attempting to reintegrate into “normal” society—as riddled with issues as they might be—are not the problem. Modern society is the problem.
Cautioning us against the impulse to romanticize past tribal cultures, who “waged war against their neighbors” and practiced “deeply sickening forms of torture,” Junger nonetheless compares our modern hustle to the trials and hardships of tribal life and questions our longstanding beliefs that modern society is uniformly better.
Soldiers returning from battle often have experienced the closest modern society comes to living within a tribal unit. During their deployments, at the most heated of times, their individual contributions are necessary for the survival of the whole. Their conduct has a direct effect on the lives of other men and women who live in close proximity for long periods of time, i.e. their behavior affects people who are not strangers. The burden of hardships and dangers and tragedies are carried by the group and the group members form a common understanding.
Then these soldiers return to a society that can’t relate. The average civilian can’t accurately image the violence, depravity, and basic discomfort of living within a war zone. We also can’t imagine the cohesive bonds or the uncomplicated sense of immediate purpose. Our lack of understanding the positives—as much if not more than the negatives—of serving within conflict, can contribute to the soldier’s strong sense of isolation.
This simple but profound (for me) idea has already had an effect on my writing. It might take years for me to fully explore the ramifications for my relationships with the soldiers in my life.
It’s not my intention to get into the book review game, but Tribe can be finished in an evening and is well worth the time.
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