Monday, August 23, 2010

War and Courage in the Korengal

I believe Sebastian Junger has written what should be a classic account of men in battle in his recently published book, War. It should rank with the other classics which include Anatomy of Couragee by Lord Moran, Firing Line by Richard Holmes, Morale: A Study of Men and Courage by John Baynes,and Men Against Fire by S.L.A. Marshall, among others. Like the best of these accounts, Junger immersed himself in the experience of combat, in this case by voluntarily joining an outpost of American troops under constant threat of attack by insurgents in a remote Afghan valley. During this time, he thoughtfully observed the behaviour of the soldiers around him, throughout the many periods of boredom interspersed with deadly actions. He became as close as possible to being one of them, feeling fear while under fire, sadness when some were killed, thus enabling him to speak with authority about the psychology of battle of the common soldier in the 21st century. This makes his account essential reading for understanding to-day's wars, as the reaction of twenty-year old men in 2010 is not the same as the young soldier of 1942 or 1914.

Junger was mostly impressed by the dynamic of the group that created courage in battle, as he saw it before his eyes in the Korengal: "Combat fog obscures your fate - obscures when and where you might die - and from that unknown is born a desperate bond between the men. That bond is the core experience of combat and the only thing you can absolutely count on.... Loyalty to the group drove man back into combat - and occasionally to their deaths - but the group also provided the only psychological refuge from the horror of what was going on."(p. 239-40) This is a strong reiteration of the reality of the importance of group solidarity which had been recognized for some time; it is only the way it is reflected in young combat soldiers that differs in 2010, but this difference is worth understanding.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Experience at the Canadian War Museum

In the spring of 2010, I came up with the idea that I should try to have a book signing at the Canadian War Museum. Some of my gook signings at Chapters stores had been so successful, I figured one at the Museum should be worthwhile. One of the keys of a successful book signing is to make contact with book buyers that have an interest in the Canadian military, and where better than at the Museum. So I sent off an email to the man who is in charge of purchasing for the joint Museum of Civilization and War Museum. After some months of discussion with him and others, they approved a limited book signing. This did not receive final approval until early August, so I chose the Saturday of 21 August, from 1 to 4 p.m.

On arriving, just before 1 p.m., I was stunned to see a crowd of of CF personnel in the Boutique, lined up to finalize their purchases. I rushed to set up my layout on the table by the door but by the time this was done, they had all left, as their buss was departing. I later learned that two busloads of CF personnel had been there that morning. I had missed the boat! Following them, the traffic through the boutique was somewhat disappointing: Families with children and others who were more of the general "tourist" types who had little or no interest in military history. In the end, I only sold five books, where I had originally hoped to sell at least 10 as I had done in my best days at Chapters stores. One interesting sale was to a Chinese exchange student, studying at the University of Toronto, who was there with a busload of Chinese tourists. We had a friendly, casual conversation and then, without prompting from me, said he wanted to buy both of my books. A pleasant surprise! Late the day, I also had a good long conversation with three people who wanted to talk abut my book and my understanding of the meaning of courage. One of them was a retired miner from Elliot Lake, in town on a holiday. It was a good conversation, but none bought any book.

So in conclusion, it showed me that the marketing and sales of books was more unpredictable than I should assume. Keep trying. Maybe we will try again at the CWM in June; and will start in the morning to perhaps catch an CF personnel who I was told always come in the morning.