Award-winning author Sebastian Junger to speak at CWU on May 10

May 8, 2017

Before Sebastian Junger became a world-renowned author and journalist, he was an average civilian working as a climber for tree companies. Junger always knew he wanted to be a writer, but a chainsaw injury launched his fascination with documenting dangerous career paths.

“The first job that I focused on was commercial fishing because I was living in a fishing town called Gloucester, Massachusetts,” he said, leading to the book, “The Perfect Storm.” “And one of the other jobs I was interested in writing about was a war reporter.”

He became a war correspondent in Bosnia in 1993 and started going to Afghanistan in the mid-90s. Most of the reporting he did was on his own, covering civil wars. After 9/11, he went back to Afghanistan with American soldiers.

“I have a very, very close relationship with those guys. It opened me up emotionally. I was in my 40s and they (the soldiers) were in their 20s. I came out of that experience very emotional in interesting ways I didn’t expect, which was a good thing. It was painful sometimes but it was a good,” he said.

“You grow up very fast in war and you can still do some growing up in your 40s and 50s. When you go to war, you’re going to change a lot. That affects the rest of your life.”

Connecting with student veterans

Junger will visit CWU on Wednesday to discuss his latest book, “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.”

The book draws parallels between 18th century Native American warriors coming home to tightly-knit tribal societies and modern-day veterans experiencing intense isolation upon returning home. The alienating effects of war can cause individuals, including veterans, to feel more suicidal or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The book works to connect readers to the idea that together we are stronger, even in a divided world.

Kane Kelley, junior Law and Justice major at CWU and National Guardsmen, said he thought the book was a new take on the social implications of PTSD.

“He has a lot to say about homecoming and the alienation you sometimes feel after deployment,” he said. “That was something I definitely connected with.”

Kelley said when he came back from deployment he went right back to school at CWU and he related Junger’s experiences with isolation and his own feelings.

“There was still something I couldn’t put my finger on, and it didn’t feel like PTSD,” he said. “But there was something … I watched his most recent Ted Talk and it just clicked. He had a lot of good things to say.”

He said the book is absolutely important for civilians to read because it “makes (PTSD) an issue for society, not just an issue for veterans.”

Ruben Cardenas, director of the CWU Veterans Center, said in Junger’s Ted Talk he talks about post-deployment alienation and that’s what a lot of veterans are experiencing, rather than PTSD.

“A lot of veterans haven’t gone through intense combat,” Cardenas said. “But they still have that camaraderie and brotherhood, that tribalism that he describes. So, when they come home, there’s some sort of disconnect with our society and veterans.

“I hope that veterans can hear that and connect the dots and then our non-veteran audience can also have a better understanding of what veterans might be going through when they come home,” he added.

Serving as a bridge

Junger said his perspective gives him the ability to speak to both sides of the political spectrum about important issues.

“I think I’m a good bridge,” he said. “I’m not a soldier but I spend a lot of time with them. I can sort of deconstruct and explain the military experience to civilians and vice versa.

“Because I have a foot in each world and because I’m liberal but respected by conservatives, I feel like I’m in a position to say anything and be at least heard, which isn’t true for everybody. And I feel very fortunate and I’m very, very protective of that status.”

Julia Moreno wrote this for the CWU Publicity Center.