On Wednesday, students gathered for a Q and A with documentarian, author and war reporter Sebastian Junger, along with Colonel Brian Mennes of the 4th Brigade Combat Team 82nd Airborne Division. Both spent a significant amount of time in Afghanistan and are highly accomplished in their fields.
Junger had his first immersive writing experience during college when he spent a summer studying and interacting with Navajo long distance runners. After graduation and a brief stint as an arborist, Junger decided to write a book about dangerous jobs, “jobs that don’t always get the respect they deserve.”
He hopped a plane to Bosnia, where he was thrown into the midst of a brutal civil war and observed the war zone reporters. By the end, he said, “I’d fallen in love with the profession.” The speakers sat under a big tent in armchairs facing the audience as they discussed their experiences in Afghanistan, Mennes with the Army, and Junger reporting.
Junger and Mennes both expressed a great amount of affection and respect for the country and its people.“I knew Afghanistan and Afghans as well as [I knew] any American,” Mennes said. Junger said, “The Afghans themselves have a tremendous sort of dignity.” He explained, “They want peace, they want stability… they want what everyone else in the world wants.”
Mennes discussed his relations with the Afghan civilians where he was stationed. “I wanted to be part of their community,” he said. He became empathetic of the people around him and took extra care to avoid civilian casualties during conflict.“You have to stay focussed on the peace you are trying to create,” he said.
Junger had a similar experience with Afghans. “If you’re their guest they will do absolutely anything for you… it’s really moving,” he said. He described a moment when the Afghan men he was with tried to shield him from shrapnel as the Taliban shot rockets at them. “They’re very brave and incredibly generous,” he said.
Junger briefly discussed the making of his documentary, ”Restrepo,” which he describes as “a portrait of a platoon in combat.” He and his partner went into the Korangal Valley to follow a platoon of American soldiers for a year. Going into it, they tried to know as little as possible about the “big picture.” “We wanted an authentic experience as a soldier in combat.”
Sebastian Junger is the author of “The Perfect Storm” and “War,” among others, and his documentary “Restrepo” is available on Netflix.