From the author of THE PERFECT STORM and WAR comes a book about why men miss war, why Londoners missed the Blitz, and what we can all learn from American Indian captives who refused to go home.
Tribe is a look at post-traumatic stress disorder and the challenges veterans face returning to society. Using his background in anthropology, Sebastian Junger argues that the problem lies not with vets or with the trauma they’ve suffered, but with the society to which they are trying to return.
One of the most puzzling things about veterans who experience PTSD is that the majority never even saw combat—and yet they feel deeply alienated and out of place back home. The reason may lie in our natural inclination, as a species, to live in groups of thirty to fifty people who are entirely reliant on one another for safety, comfort and a sense of meaning: in short, the life of a soldier.
It is one of the ironies of the modern age that as affluence rises in a society, so do rates of suicide, depression and of course PTSD. In a wealthy society people don’t need to cooperate with one another, so they often lead much lonelier lives that lead to psychological distress. There is a way for modern society to reverse this trend, however, and studying how veterans react to coming home may provide a clue to how to do it. But it won’t be easy.
‘A brilliant little book driven by a powerful idea and series of reflections … I would give this gem of an essay to anyone embarking on the understanding of human society and governance’ Evening Standard
‘An eloquent and thought-provoking book … it could help us to think more deeply about how to help men and woman battered by war to find new purpose in peace’ The Times
‘Fascinating, insightful and built on real and difficult experiences as well as a background in anthropology’ Sunday Times
‘An electrifying tapestry of history, anthropology, psychology and memoir that punctures the stereotype of the veteran as a war-damaged victim in need of salvation. Rather than asking how we can save our returning servicemen and women, Junger challenges us to take a hard look in the mirror and ask whether we can save ourselves … Tribe is a stirring clarion call for a return to solidarity. In advocating a public, shared confrontation with the psychic scars of war, Junger aims to stop trauma burning a hole through individual veterans. Such a collective catharsis might also be our best hope of healing the wounds modern society has inflicted on itself’ Guardian
‘Junger is particularly insightful when he is discussing combat soldiers and the difficulties they experience when returning from war zones … Junger is correct to draw attention to the major faultlines in affluent societies, including the dismantling of a sense of community. A growing proportion of people are suffering from clinical depression, anxiety and chronic loneliness. He rightly observes that wealth is not the route to happiness. Being loved and giving love are fundamental to human happiness and health’ Observer
‘A small, but convincingly argued, book … a good starting point for rethinking the way we live our troubled modern lives’ Daily Mail
‘Lucid and engaging’ TLS
About the author
SEBASTIAN JUNGER is the New York Times–bestselling author of The Perfect Storm, A Death in Belmont, Fire, and War. He is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and has been awarded a National Magazine Award and an SAIS-Novartis Prize for journalism. He lives in New York City.
In this small but perfectly lucid book, National Magazine Award winning journalist Junger (War) meditates on tribal sentiment, how it aids "loyalty and belonging and the eternal human quest for meaning," and how the disappearance of this sentiment has had toxic consequences for modern societies. During the U.S.'s wars of settlement with its native population, many white men defected to, and many white captives were reluctant to return from, what Junger describes as a Stone Age lifestyle; he wonders why, and suspects that the material benefits of Western culture couldn't compete with "the intensely communal nature of an Indian tribe," which was "more or less run by consensus and broadly egalitarian." In the present day, the close interdependence of a tribal lifestyle and its shared resources are things Westerners only experience in combat situations and disasters. For all the comfort of modern society, Junger thinks, its "profound alienation" has led in America to income inequality, behaviors destructive to the environment, high rates of suicide and mental illness (including PTSD), and rampage shootings. Ending with a look at the country's divisive political rhetoric, Junger suggests that the U.S. could cure its ills if we could only focus on the collective good.