Under the Radar

Why Veterans Miss the War

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By Ho Lin

There’s a scene in the very first episode of Sherlock, the modern version of the Sherlock Holmes myth, in which Dr. Watson, now a shell-shocked survivor of 21st century Afghanistan, is confronted by a shady power broker. The man notes that Watson’s hand, usually afflicted with the shakes, is now deadly still in the midst of their tense confrontation.  “You're not haunted by the war, Dr. Watson,” the mystery man smirks. “You miss it.”

According to Sebastian Junger, the journalist who wrote The Perfect Storm and directed Restrepo, his gritty account of the war in Afghanistan, more than a few veterans share the good doctor’s conflicted emotions about combat. In a recently published TED video, Junger poses the delicate question: How is it that someone can go through the worst experiences imaginable, come back to their home, their family, their country -- and miss the war?

According to Junger, it’s partially about neurology. “What's happening in your brain is you're getting an enormous amount of adrenaline pumped through your system,” he says in the TED talk. “Young men will go to great lengths to have that experience. It's wired into us. It's hormonally supported.” The kill-or-be-killed rush is not the only thing veterans miss; there’s also the camaraderie, the forging of bonds under fire. “[Brotherhood is] a mutual agreement in a group that you will put the welfare of the group, you will put the safety of everyone in the group above your own,” says Junger. “In effect, you're saying, ‘I love these other people more than I love myself.’

“They come home, and they are just back in society like the rest of us are, not knowing who they can count on, not knowing who loves them, who they can love, not knowing exactly what anyone they know would do for them if it came down to it. That is terrifying.”

Junger’s ultimate takeaway is that we as a society must address the question of why a veteran would miss war. “If we don't, it'll be impossible to bring Soldiers back to a place in society where they belong, and I think it'll also be impossible to stop war,” says Junger.

Click here for the full text of Junger’s TED talk, and see below for the video.

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