You said earlier that your experiences in Afghanistan changed you — how?
I mean, you know, I had the classic jumping at loud noises and stuff like that. Anyone who’s been in combat has a sort of startle response, as it’s called. I had some nightmares. But then the nightmares changed into just dreams about the Korengal. So when I was writing my book, every night… every night, I was back there in my dreams. They weren’t all bad dreams either, I was just back there. And in the end, the negative reactions were transitory. But there was a kind of permanent reaction, which was positive, and it was this: I became more emotional. I just found myself being moved by things, emotionally moved, and not at sad things. Just at the human drama around me. And not on a battlefield. Just the human drama at home. People’s weddings, people’s birthdays. People’s… whatever. I just got emotional.
Did you cry?
Sure. Absolutely. Oh my god, amazing. And, I mean, every guy in the platoon had that happen to him. And they were all amazed, they were like, Oh my god, we’re turning into girls. What’s going on? But they were crying about stuff — I mean they get plenty of crying in over the bad stuff, like their friends that they lost. But then they’d ask What are we doing crying about the good stuff? They didn’t understand. And the same thing happened to me. It just turned me into an emotionally connected person.
What do you think it is? Crying about the good stuff…
I don’t know. I don’t know. It just opened me up, and those guys up. Maybe not all of them, but some of them said that to me. And, so, for me — I’m 48 — better late than never. My wife definitely remarked on it. I mean, I just became a fuller person.
The orthodoxy would be to say you value life when you’re in a situation like that, where life is so precarious, in the hills of death.
You know I saw plenty of precariousness of life in Africa, and it didn’t do that. It just made me shut down. There was something about the connection between these guys.
Look: the decision that you’d rather die, or risk dying, to save someone else is a profound decision for a human being to make. I mean, maybe for your kid, maybe for your spouse — but for a peer? That’s an amazing decision, and I was in that environment, with guys who felt that way about each other, off and on for a year. And I think it sort of opened the door for me on something that’s really, deeply noble about human beings and their willingness for self-sacrifice. No other animal does that, and it really was a very profound experience.
From an interview with Sebastian Junger about combat and its psychological impact.