56 pages 1 hour read

Sebastian Junger


Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2010

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Summary and Study Guide


War, a battle journal by best-selling reporter and filmmaker Sebastian Junger, describes a year in the rugged highlands of Afghanistan with a platoon of American soldiers who face the worst fighting and toughest conditions of any unit in the US military. Published in 2010, the book describes months of mind-numbing danger, multiple firefights per day, injuries and deaths, and matter-of-fact heroism. The men display extreme toughness, gallows humor, and intense mutual loyalty despite the nearly unbearable conditions.

Author Junger and cinematographer Tim Hetherington were embedded with the platoon, where they witnessed and filmed most of the scenes described in War. Junger’s dispatches, published in the magazine Vanity Fair, were then collated into the book. He produced the companion documentary Restrepo, which received the Grand Prize at the Sundance Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award. In 2014, Junger released a follow-up documentary, Korengal. He has also created several other documentaries and books, including the #1 best-seller The Perfect Storm, which was developed into a successful motion picture.

War contains many incidents of extreme violence, while certain other scenes are sexual or scatological in nature; reader caution is advised. The May 2011 ebook edition forms the basis for this study guide.


In spring 2007, journalist and documentary filmmaker Sebastian Junger and videographer Tim Hetherington visit the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan, a rugged land tucked away in the high foothills of the Hindu Kush mountain range. Here, they accompany occupying US military forces who confront the toughest armed resistance of the Afghan War. Junger’s task is to record the experiences of the Second Platoon of Battle Company, part of the famous 173rd Airborne Brigade, as its members patrol the Korengal in search of resistance fighters infiltrating from Pakistan.

The army’s valley headquarters, Korengal Outpost, or KOP, is a set of wooden hutches and tents overlooking a portion of the valley. Scattered around the valley, high up on its steep walls, are several forward firebases—Phoenix, Vegas, Ranch House—and a new one, Restrepo, named for Juan Restrepo, an admired medic who dies during a battle. These bases have only the barest provisions: The men swelter in 100-degree heat, make daily patrols, and face bullets and explosions on an hourly basis. Several Americans die during the first months of Junger’s visit.

The enemy—a motley crew of guerrilla soldiers and volunteers commanded by the Taliban—fires on American outposts and patrols from the hillsides or behind piles of timber in a valley that makes its living exporting cedar logs. Second Platoon troops never know when shots will ring out or rocket grenades will land around them. Always on alert and dosed in psychiatric meds to keep them from going crazy from the tension, the men show surprising resilience, intense loyalty to each other, and supreme stamina as they patrol rugged hillsides while carrying up to 100 pounds of equipment. They also display casual heroism daily.

Late in summer, the back-and-forth skirmishes cease during a week-long American campaign to flush out Taliban hideouts and confiscate their weapons. Local residents refrain from helping, and the intensive search produces no major weapons caches and turns up few hidden compounds. Insurgents twice launch major counter-offensive ambushes, killing three Americans and wounding many others. US forces on land and in the air reply violently; they kill 50 enemy soldiers and wound many others. More Americans would have died but for the intense loyalty and quick thinking of platoon members. The overall operation, though, is a failure.

Junger rides along on a resupply convoy and is nearly killed when his Humvee gets hit by a roadside bomb. The explosive detonates early; the riders manage to escape the wreck. Junger ponders the senselessness of modern warfare, which has long since abandoned all sense of decency in favor of mass slaughter.

Following weeks of wintertime quiet and intense boredom, Second Platoon hikes over to the town of Karingal, a hotbed of Taliban resistance, where they find an older man with a 10-year-old son who was wounded by a bullet in the leg months earlier. The platoon leader convinces them to come along to KOP, where the boy can receive proper treatment that may save the leg. On the way back, they’re fired on, but all make it safely to base.

After one or two more operations, Second Platoon musters out, and the men begin to decompress and struggle with new lives elsewhere. Their company is replaced by another that faces even worse fighting.

In 2010, President Obama presents the Medal of Honor to Sal Giunta of First Platoon for his heroism in retrieving a wounded sergeant from the grip of Taliban fighters. That same year, the US pulls out of the Korengal Valley. Many wonder if the blood and sacrifice were worth the effort.

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