News Column

Filmmaker Sebastian Junger returns to Afghanistan for 'Korengal'

June 21, 2014

By Mac Engel, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

June 21--DALLAS This is what a war correspondent is supposed to look like -- jeans, white T-shirt, boots, short haircut and a couple of days' worth of facial hair. What doesn't fit is the nice hotel room near SMU's campus where Sebastian Junger is sitting.

Junger, 52, looks like he would be far more comfortable camping, or even embedded with troops, than in a posh hotel room.

The Perfect Storm author was in town to promote his new documentary, Korengal, which opened Friday at the Angelika Dallas and Angelika Plano. It's a follow-up to the critically acclaimed 2010 film Restrepo, in which he and the late Tim Hetherington chronicled the life of U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan'sKorengal Valley.

He shot no new footage for this movie. Instead, with so much material obtained for the original, he thought there was more than an enough for another look at a world and a life most Americans don't get to see.

Korengal differs from its more severe predecessor in that it's more produced -- there's music and narration -- and offers a different experience.

Why do a follow-up?

When we made Restrepo we kept commenting on all of the amazing scenes that didn't fit in. There was incredible material. Our idea was to give civilians some idea of combat. There is no score. There is no narration. No news footage. No interviews with generals. You are just out on that hill.

When you get a musical score, there is no reality. You are not there; on some level you know you are getting a presentation. You know you are not there.

How did you react to the soldiers admitting they enjoyed shooting at other people?

War has been going on for a long time for a reason; nothing goes on for 500,000 years that someone is not getting something out of. Society after society chooses to go to war.

What is it so compelling about war? Why do young men love war so much? It's just a distasteful thing to say, but if you are not saying it you are not talking about reality.

How do you feel after seeing war?

I was a journalist for 20 years for a reason -- it promotes a lot of complicated reactions. It's a bundle of complex reactions. When those guys were whooping it up, that made me very uncomfortable. I grew up in Cambridge, Mass., during the Vietnam War and have a very liberal background.

When you see these guys firing a 50-cal and high-fiving after firing at a group 1,000 yards away, what does that do to you?

It makes me think that this is the very complicated human race. These are good guys. I know that. These are good guys who have a reaction like this. I want to undermine (the viewer's) easy assumptions about war.

Assumptions such as?

The right wing does not want to acknowledge that war does kill a lot of civilians. And that it's morally complicated. The right wing does not engage in that.

The left wing wants you to think that soldiers are victims who are coerced into doing this and they hate every minute of it. The fact that soldiers sign up voluntarily and with great enthusiasm who sometimes love combat -- that makes liberals' skin crawl.

I wanted to get those two camps to stop thinking about those preformated ideas and listen to the soldiers who are there.

Is a soldier's mentality that to be effective you have to think you are already dead?

To do anything that could kill you, you have to be at peace with the fact you could die and the easiest way to do that is to say, 'I'm going to die.' And if you don't, you don't. I've done that.

Why did you stop covering war?

I just had a shift after (friend and Restrepo partner Tim Hetherington) died. It wasn't forced morality. Something just turned.

What is the legacy of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan?

We went to war in Afghanistan because of 9-11. The people who committed the 9-11 crimes had a safe harbor in Afghanistan and the Taliban would not give them up.

I remember President George Bush, who I was not a big fan of, telling the Taliban, hand them over and we will come in and help your country. Don't hand them over and we are going to get them. That's what happened -- we went in and got them.

We decimated al Qaeda. There is no way we could have done that without being in Afghanistan. We are not killing bin Laden by flying in Team 6 from Virginia; there is no way. We had to be in Afghanistan, and it worked.

There were a lot of mistakes made by the Bush administration, and the Obama administration, but that piece of the puzzle destroyed al Qaeda. We could not have done it any other way.


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Source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX)

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