Military Book Reviews

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger (Hachette Book Group, Inc, 2016, 171 pages)

Combining history, psychology, and anthropology, TRIBE explores what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging, and the eternal human quest for meaning. It explains the irony that-for many veterans as well as civilians-war feels better than peace, adversity can turn out to be a blessing, and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. TRIBE explains why we are stronger when we come together, and how that can be achieved even in today’s divided world.


Overview

As one of the key readiness concepts of the defense industry, resiliency encompasses the fortitude one musters in the face of adversity and hardships. The Department of Defense (DoD) has established a plethora of resources to not only identify and address resiliency itself, but to teach vital methodologies to combat painful fallouts for the lack thereof. On the cusp of resiliency sits its darker counterbalance, mental health. It afflicts service members across a multitude of diagnostics, with one of the most common being Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This is where Sebastian Junger delves into a radically different approach with his book, Tribe, by assessing the fellowship and purpose of individuals within a deploying unit experience. Comparatively, there is a recorded loneliness and depression those same individuals feel when returning home, particularly when seeking to reintegrate into society. In exploring human psychology, Junger presents a phenomenon of unity and intent when people collectively engage in a cause. This unity is so powerful that it staves off the alienating effects of extrinsic wealth and modernity in most developed societies. It is within these confines that affluence equates to a sense of estrangement, and that these confines may result not so much in PTSD but more so in what Junger describes as the returner’s PDAD–Post Deployment Alienation Disorder. 

Sebastian Junger is an acclaimed, New York Times bestselling author of several renown books such as Freedom, War, and The Perfect Storm. A scholar of cultural anthropology, Junger took interest in hazardous journalism, focusing on ecological impactful occupations during the first portion of his career, later turning his attention towards international conflicts, warfare and military engagements. He has received many recognitions for his literature, among which he holds the National Magazine Award and a Peabody Award. He has received the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and an Academy Award nomination for his documentary film Restrepo, a war report-like chronicle of a deployed platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. Junger’s further acclaimed works about war and its aftermath include the HBO documentaries, Which Way is the Front Line From Here?, Korengal, and The Last Patrol. 

Takeaways

Tribe explores the unique comradery experienced by service members coming together from a varied background, who temporarily erase disparities in income, class, and race in the face of existential threats; assessed simply by what they may do for their group. Particularly when compared to historic tribal connections, individuals have shown to reinforce their communal bonds during warfare by rallying together during cataclysmic events. Shattering historic moments such as 9/11, WWII bombing blitzes, or natural disasters are key analytical factors used within the book to assess the reoccurring drastic declining in suicide and mental illness during these hardships. This near tribal way of thinking shapes and molds most tight-knit units, crafting renown stories of calico patched brotherhoods lacing the screens of Hollywood (think Band of Brothers, Platoon, Hurt Locker, American Sniper, or Saving Private Ryan to name a few). In defining this authenticity, the book describes how adversity is the glue binding troops to an intrinsic code of valor, loyalty, cooperation and, most of all, selflessness to carry the unit through hardships requiring skills beyond resiliency. Upon returning home, however, the sacrifice of our ever-modernizing world leaves our isolated communities on average (as noted in the book) “overfed, malnourished, sedentary, sunlight deficient, sleep deprived, [and] competitive”, with limited avenues to connect these two extremities. 

As a brief read, Tribe is easily digestible but captivating. Using a syntax and flow more akin to an extensive scholarly article, Junger provides founded research covering decades of medical and sociological work, focusing on the field of psychology in relation to warfare and mental conditions. The literature is thought provoking for defense industry personnel, as well as communities seeking to understand and foster support for service members and veterans’ wellbeing. Though it shirks away from extensive deep dives that may satiate the hunger of pinpointing concise answers on how to combat PTSD in a world far from utopian, it provides an outside-the-box approach that opens the door on exploring a malaise that may benefit from non-linear analysis. At its core, Tribe serves as a conversational piece leaders across any spectrum would benefit to incorporate into their professional library.  

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