Sebastian Junger opens his taunt and muscular book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging with a story about an unemployed coal miner who gave him a sandwich while he was hitch-hiking. He gave him the sandwich for no other reason than the young man by the side of the road was a stranger who looked like he needed help. Much of Junger’s life has been spent asking why that man did that. This book goes a good distance in answering that question.
Junger is a journalist who has been in the thick of covering war zones. He has been embedded with troops in the nastiest of conflicts and survived and witnessed the horrible. This manifested itself in his own eruption of post traumatic stress after he returned home from one assignment. So his book is gritty and personal and experiential because of it.
The book, though, is not just a memoir of his experiences of war. It is a distillation of the problems facing returning American warriors placed alongside those of other cultures. The conclusions, it seems to me, are as troubling as they are water tight: Modern American culture fosters alienation and a lack of the kind of community that heals the soul of the warrior. We all suffer from this reality. It’s just that warriors are like the canary in the mine; they show us to ourselves.
As a part of this process Junger casts a light on false assumptions about what causes enduring duress following trauma. In short, human beings, tribal as we are, often function better in the face of catastrophe than we do at ease. We do remarkably well with trauma as long as we are surrounded by resilient community. Our recovery from trauma is often fairly quick and lasting, depending on the person we were before the trauma and the kind of support that surrounds us after.
This is a must read for any person who wants to dip beneath the assumed answers given to a baffling challenge.