Task & Purpose spoke with the “Restrepo” director about his upcoming book, “Tribe,” and why over-valorizing veterans only does more harm than good.

Few civilians can get away with talking about the military the way Sebastian Junger does. Among mainstream journalists, his commentary on the experience of being an American soldier in the post-9/11 world is unparalleled in its depth and honesty. Over the years, he’s amassed a body of award-winning work — articles, books, films — that challenges popular assumptions about what it means to serve, and the psychological impact that service has on those who do. That’s a remarkable achievement for someone who’s never worn the uniform.

Of course, Junger, whose career as a conflict reporter began in Kosovo in the 1990s, is no stranger to war. In fact, he wrote the book: “War,” a nonfiction chronicle of an infantry platoon’s yearlong deployment to Afghanistan’s treacherous Korengal Valley. In 2010, the adjoining Oscar-nominated documentary, “Restrepo,” co-directed with the late Tim Hetherington, introduced a wider audience to the strangeness and brutality of life on the front lines. For many veterans, myself included, it stands as the definitive film about the war.

The poignancy of Junger’s Afghan War coverage draws less from the fact that he embedded with one of the heaviest hit units of that conflict than it does from the fact that he crossed a threshold few journalists are able or willing to cross. He didn’t just dip his toe in. He dove, risking life and limb to capture the experience of being an American combat soldier in a distant and largely forgotten war. But more than that: he got to know his subjects — not just who they were as soldiers, but who they were as men who, alive or dead or wounded, would eventually come home.

Now, Junger, who announced his retirement from war reporting soon after Hetherington was killed in Misrata, Libya, during the civil war, is shifting his attention to the home front. His latest book, “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging,” which hit shelves on May 24, takes a hard look at the difficulties veterans face as they transition back into civilian life. Front and center is the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder, which Junger believes is overdiagnosed, and, in cases where it’s misdiagnosed, damaging to long-term psychological health. The veteran struggle, he theorizes, has more to do with the nature of American society than it does combat itself.

On the eve of Junger’s upcoming appearance on “Ted Talks: War and Peace”, which debuts on PBS on May 30, Task & Purpose spoke with Junger about the allure of combat, the civilian-military divide, and why over valorizing veterans only does more harm than good.

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