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Sebastian JungerSebastian Junger

Journalist Sebastian Junger talks with Willamette students about his experiences covering wars around the world.Journalist Sebastian Junger talks with Willamette students about his experiences covering wars around the world.

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Journalist Sebastian Junger shares soldiers' perspectives on war

Sebastian Junger didn’t feel like a man. He was 30 years old, he had explored much of the world, but something — a defining moment — was missing.

Hoping to change in a meaningful way, Junger packed his bags and headed to Bosnia, where he worked as a freelance war reporter. 

“In some ways, war doesn’t disappoint,” says Junger, now 50 and a seasoned journalist and documentarian. “If you think the experience will change you, it will.”

On Tuesday, Junger shared his experiences covering war with the Salem community as part of the Atkinson Lecture Series.

Through the series, internationally prominent authors, leaders, artists and journalists are brought to campus twice a year to give a public lecture and spend time with Willamette students.

Junger is the author of “The Perfect Storm,” published in 1997. He is also a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, where he published the National Magazine Award-winning article, “The Forensics of War,” in 2000.

In recent years, Junger spent time with the United States Army platoon of the 173rd Airborne in Afghanistan. From that experience, he wrote “War” and created a documentary titled “Restrepo,” with photographer Tim Hetherington. The movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

“War is so dramatic, so intense and frightening. But it’s also fascinating, even for people who are against it,” Junger told the audience of 1,000-plus people. “War is complicated.”

By being on the front lines, Junger has had a gun held to his head. He’s been shot at too many times to count, and he can still picture the first dead body he saw, that of a teenage girl left to rot in a field in Kosovo. He only knew she was a girl by the polish on her fingernails.

Despite the tragedy, Junger says he can understand why solders miss combat. They don’t miss the fighting and the mayhem, he says, but they do long for the feeling of solidarity.

“What they miss, quite frankly, is the brotherhood they had there,” Junger says. “You lose your identity, and that’s exhilarating. You are less important than the group of people who are with you.”

Lindsay Cason ’13 and Will Thomson ’13, both political science majors, had the opportunity to not only attend the public lecture, but to visit with Junger in class earlier in the day.

Impressed by his unique perspective of war, they said they’re grateful the Atkinson Lecture Series brings people of his caliber to campus.

“I think Willamette makes an effort to bring people here to expand our perspective,” Thomson says. “They teach us something we can’t learn in class.”

Cason agrees, saying Junger was an engaging speaker who reframed the meaning of war in her mind.

“I was struck by the fact that Sebastian seemed very confident in his own opinion but was open to the opinions of others,” she says. “As long as I’ve been studying about Afghanistan, I didn’t know about combat. He made me want to learn more, to become informed.”