Sebastian Junger

Not many journalists have the balls to embed in a combat zone, but Sebastian Junger situated himself at just such a testosterone outpost while reporting the Vanity Fair dispatches that became War (12 Books, $26.99). With the companion documentary Restrepo playing at SIFF this week (and opening in theaters July 2), Junger’s account of a year—with breaks—spent among U.S. the soldiers fighting in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley is bathed the sweat, piss, and blood of weird male intimacy. The outpost (OP) is named for a Colombian-American immigrant killed in combat, Juan Restrepo. The other 150 members of Battle Company, whom Junger follows from 2007-08, are like cycle sisters in an all-male sorority. If one guy’s urine stinks too much, the others rebuke him for not drinking enough water; being dehydrated in such a high, dry combat area could cost you a buddy’s life. Between firefights and frustrating jirgas with Afghan elders, the soldiers bitch about the lulls between combat and enact “strange pantomimed man-rapes.” There are no women in this story. The Pakistani and Saudi Arabian mujahideen firing at OP Restrepo are no less sexually frustrated. But that’s war, Junger writes, “a pure, clean standard” by which men can measure themselves. His book isn’t pretty, it isn’t definitive, nor does it look beyond the confines of one high, hellish valley. (Our forces withdrew from there last month.) Never mind politics, he concludes: “I think I finally understand the idea of brotherhood.” BRIAN MILLER

Sat., May 22, 6:30 p.m.; Thu., May 27, 7:30 p.m., 2010

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