Junger’s book about his time embedded with a US battalion in Afghanistan’s dangerous Korengal Valley will inevitably incur comparisons to Michael Herr’s 1977 breakthrough on Vietnam, Dispatches, the quintessential book of war reporting. It’s hard not to see War as an attempted successor to Dispatches – a personal account of a difficult foreign war, told from the point of view of the infantrymen on the ground.
Though the book doesn’t have much of a plot or narrative besides the pulse-pounding, near-constant firefights around Korengal, Junger – who also gave us The Perfect Storm – is keen to explore the mentality that compels soldiers to act in ways that are contrary to their instinct (why an infantryman would jump on a grenade, for example). War also captures the desperate solipsism of professional soldiers, who fight not out of conviction or belief, but so they can survive to fight again the next day.
Unfortunately, Junger limits himself to a fairly shallow, pop-psychological approach, and his insistence on avoiding political concerns costs the book a certain immediacy. Even worse, sometimes War just isn’t that well-written: Junger renders battle scenes in the present tense, then distractingly shifts to the past tense when he interviews the soldiers. War convincingly demonstrates Junger’s deep commitment to his profession, but Dispatches remains the gold standard for conveying the contradictory personalities and chaos at the heart of modern warfare.