Sebastian Junger's Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, a slim tome that began as a Vanity Fair feature, is a war reporter's take on post-traumatic stress disorder. Upon returning to New York from Afghanistan, he had his first panic attack in a subway station. In the course of subsequent research, Junger learned the U.S. military now suffers the highest reported rate of PTSD in its history - and probably the world - but only 10 per cent of its armed forces experience actual combat. As such, "the majority of vets claiming to suffer from PTSD seem to have been affected by something other than direct exposure to danger." Junger posits that it's not the atrocities of war to blame, but the dysfunction of the society a soldier returns home to.
War, for all its horror, sees troops living the sort of communal, tribal life that humans have lived for much of history. Soldiers fight, eat and sleep in small units. They co-operate, keeping an eye on the greater good – in this case, collective survival - and go to tremendous lengths to protect and care for one another. As a result, they experience meaning and purpose (whatever the conflict's rationale may be), and race and class distinctions often fall away. They experience equality. They feel profoundly connected and profoundly useful.
However, when soldiers come home to the United States, they confront an alienating society that has no understanding of communal life, with its sacrifices and rewards; a place in which many people feel "deeply, dangerously alone." Soldiers now sleep by themselves or with a spouse, missing the safety of fellow troops. By day, they are surrounded by poverty, racism, greed and indifference. They are afforded token respect - "thank you for your service" - but not jobs.
"Humans don't mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it," Junger writes in the book. "What they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary."
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