Sebastian Junger’s War: A Lesson in Dirt

Sebastian Junger’s book War details a 15-month tour of a single platoon assigned to the most dangerous outpost in Afghanistan.   The book is a mix of the grittiness of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and the non-fiction drama of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.  Junger’s observational prowess has never been stronger, as in this passage about how dirt showed on the soldiers:

We walk into Restrepo and drop our packs into a pile.  The sun has fired Abas Ghar with a red glow and a few of the brighter planets are already infiltrating the afternoon sky.  The men are standing around in dirty fleeces and their pants unbelted smoking cigarettes and watching another day come to an end.  They’re dirty in their pores and under their nails and their skin has burnished to a kind of sheen at the wrists and neck where the uniforms rub.  Dirt collects in the creases of the skin and shows up as strange webs at the corners of the eyes and their lifelines run black and unmistakable across the palms of their hands.  It’s a camp of homeless men or hunters who have not reckoned with a woman in months and long since abandoned the niceties.  They belch and fart and blow their noses on their sleeves and wipe their mouths on their shirtfronts and pack every sentence with enough profanity to last most civilians a week.

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