War concludes with ominous scenes that show a few members of the Second Platoon failing in their initial attempts to adjust to normal life. This is war-story convention, of course, and one’s usual emotion is to pity the soldier and agonize over the moral rightness of his deployment. But my feelings for the men of the Second Platoon, most of whom volunteered for their rough duty and were fully aware of what they were getting into, were more ambivalent—and yet, at the same time, less judgmental. When one soldier tells Junger he wants to go back to Restrepo, it is clear that his fight is no longer against a foreign insurgency but the confines of normal life.
It is probably a fantasy to imagine that a career or loving partner or anything at all could compare to knowing that everyone around you would die for you in a moment—a certainty that only the pressures of combat can reliably provide. I now know, thanks to Sebastian Junger’s book, that anyone capable of enduring the terrors of the Korengal Valley deserves something more than a kind word, adulation, or even thanks. A soldier at his best can be a terrible, frightening thing, and his most heroic journey may not be to war but away from it.