Oct 14, 2010

Terry Takes Us to War

How does one prepare a meal designed to showcase a book devoted to the details of modern combat?  If you're Terry, you avoid the partisan temptation of eating MRE's alongside our soldiers and instead you set your meal in the once lush valleys of Afghanistan.  On Tuesday, Terry invited us to dine on Afghan stew and a selection of middle eastern flatbreads (home-cooked by Gail, no less).  We didn't eat on the floor, using only our right hands, but we did appreciate some of the hardship faced by Afghan villagers caught in an unforgiving war between insurgents and occupiers.

Of course, there were a couple among us who had to bring their artifacts of war into Terry's demilitarized zone.  Roy showed up with a selection of bullets of various calibers, and we were duly impressed by the size of the 50 cal. rounds as well as the sniper casings.  Paul, on the other hand, came dressed as a modern-day recon grunt with an appreciation for Coppola's Apocalypse Now.  Wearing an Arab headdress and camo fatigues, and slinging a six-pack of Budweiser, Paul was ready to celebrate his distance from the front lines.

The Book
In War, Sebastian Junger plunges himself and the reader headlong into the war in Afghanistan by repeatedly embedding with a platoon of the 173rd Airborne Brigade over a 12-month span in 2007 and 2008.  Marooned on a rocky outpost in the Korengal Valley, the platoon faces (and initiates) multiple attacks with insurgents from Pakistan and elsewhere.  Junger describes the ferocity of combat and digs deeply into the relationships and attitudes of the men involved.  With Junger's story as our backdrop, we found our discussion veering again and again back to Vietnam or, in Larry's case, WWII and the legacy of his father's Japanese-American unit. 

Our reaction to War was unusual among the books we've read:  we found much to criticize in the narrative, but we forgave Junger and applauded his ability to show us the reality of combat without the customary political filter (and filler).  While Stan dismissed the book as a glorification of combat without the necessary context (this after proclaiming that he'd "read every major book about war"--Stan,  I wrote down those very words!), most of us disagreed and felt that the exhilaration of battle described by Junger was accompanied by plenty of reflection on its emotional consequences. 

With a 7.8, Junger's expose of combat in the Korengal Valley ranks high on our list of rated titles. 

Next Up
Dean's choices for next month  featured his perennial favorite, Among the Thugs.  In a deft series of parliamentary maneuvers (and, I'm sure, backroom dealings), Dean engineered a surprising upset and foisted on us Bill Buford's famous study of football hooligans, a la Manchester United.  Next month will tell us if Buford's treatise is the answer to a question no one has ever cared to ask.  (Sorry, Dean, but I couldn't resist one more jibe.)

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