Many service members describe their military experience as virtually incomparable to any other aspect of life in the civilian world. The bonds they’ve shared, the difficulties they’ve faced and the communities they’ve built can’t be found in most aspects of modern society. “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging” by Sebastian Junger reflects on the military experience, raising several philosophical and biological questions regarding what citizens and service members alike experience emotionally during wartime. To put into perspective the raw psychological effects of war on both Veterans and civilians, our NVMM Guest Experience Team recommends picking up a copy of “Tribe” this summer.
If you’re not familiar with Sebastian Junger, he is a New York Times bestselling author, special correspondent at ABC News and documentary film maker. Among other assignments, he spent extensive time with soldiers at the Restrepo outpost in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley as he chronicled their deployment. This area was involved in more combat than any other part of Afghanistan. Junger also lost his friend and colleague, photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who was killed while covering the civil war in Libya in 2011. While not a Veteran himself, Junger’s experiences allow him to share personal stories and anthropological evidence to explain the reasoning behind the confusing happiness of those who share tragic bonds.
Throughout the book, Junger recalls his own homecoming experiences while expressing his research findings on mental health, both inside and outside combat zones. He explains the deep bonds of our servicemen and women as well as those of civilians who have been in war when people are fighting side-by-side defending their homes, trying to survive or driving out an enemy oppressor. The common thread is the bonds forged through tragedy and hard work together that bring out the best in each person. Upon returning to civilian life, combat Veterans and victims of violence may feel empty or disappointed with the ways people treat one another.
It’s difficult for those of us who have never experienced military life to recognize how often many service members will come home and reflect fondly on the community they built through shared sacrifice, hard work and tragedy. It is not often the circumstance itself that they “miss,” but rather the deep sense of belonging, purpose and companionship that many long to experience again.
Discomfort begets a bond that cannot be replicated or replaced. Throughout “Tribe,” this theory of intrinsic happiness through discomfort is emphasized many times over. Whether you’re interested in anthropology, biology, history, or philosophy, we recommend “Tribe” for a thought-provoking read.