Sebastian Junger is giving up frontline reporting

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When Sebastian Junger’s friend, photojournalist Tim Hetherington, was killed covering the combat in Libya April 20, the author took a reckoning.

He and Hetherington had co-directed the film ‘Restrepo,’ following the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan; they went to the Oscars together earlier this year when it was in a nominee for best documentary. Junger’s literary take on those experiences are in his book ‘War,’ a finalist for the L.A. Times book prize, now out in paperback.


But for Junger, now, that kind of war story will be a thing of the past.

‘I’m not going to do any more frontline reporting, because I don’t want to put my wife through what I went through with Tim,’ he tells the L.A. Times, in a piece which will appear in Friday’s paper. ‘It was a very obvious thought to come to in the wake of all this. Tim’s death made war reporting feel like a selfish endeavor.’

Hetherington’s thinking was instrumental in how Junger structured the book. Junger decided that Hetherington would ‘be looking for some deeper structure that reflects the human experience.’ The book is organized in three sections: Killing, Fear and Love.

Giving up reporting from war’s frontlines hasn’t changed Junger’s opinion that it can be necessary. In an article in Vanity Fair eulogizing Hetherington, Junger wrote, ‘pro-democracy rhetoric is all well and good, but at the end of the day only actions count. No one will remember that President Obama supported the Arab Spring if it eventually fails and the region collapses back into the political Dark Ages. If we actively engage these movements with advice, with money, and, when necessary, with military force, then we get a vote in how it all turns out.’

Junger hit the bestseller lists with his 1997 book ‘The Perfect Storm,’ which was made into a film starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg. The subtitle of the book -- ‘A True Story of Men Against the Sea’ -- speaks to his effort to explore great, emphatically male, narratives. He tells The Times:

‘Look at the cave paintings in France. What do they show? They show the game animals that they’ve hunted — a form of warfare, in a way, violence. They show warfare, they show men fighting each other. They show fertile females. I mean, what topics preoccupy men? You want to look into the male brain? It’s like, OK, I need to kill game, I need to sustain myself — basically, career. Conflict and combat, manliness and proving yourself. Hot chicks. And the final one is shamanism, connection to the divine. That comprises the entirety of what’s on the walls of the caves in France. That’s the male brain, that’s human society in a lot of ways.’

Where he’ll find those narratives of conflict, combat and manliness after leaving the front remains to be determined -- in, perhaps, his next book.



Slain photojournalist Tim Hetherington, remembered in books

Movie review: ‘Restrepo’

Sebastian Junger bands with soldier brothers to document ‘War’

-- Carolyn Kellogg