May 10, 2017
Sebastian Junger’s insights on leadership and
teamwork within a community - and civilization at large - are
broad range of experiences as a war-correspondent, anthropology
student and tree cutter inform perspectives that have made him a
New York Times bestselling author, award-winning journalist, and
Academy Award nominated documentary filmmaker. Sebastian is known for his
insights on the extraordinary bonds formed in combat. He has also studied PTSD, and
the connection with depression and suicide; which he attributes to
a loss of deep communal bonds. He says the basis and prevalence of
mental illness and depression today may be derived from a society
where all of our material needs, but none of our evolutionary
social needs are met. Sebastian’s insight on the the importance of
leadership and team accountability harken back to base needs that
have been lost in the progress of civilization.
[2:09] Although having written on and off for
newspapers and magazines in his 20s, Sebastian earned his living as
a climber and tree cutter until he was sidelined by a chainsaw
injury. During his recovery time in Gloucester, Mass., a local
fishing boat, the Andrea Gail, was lost to a storm at sea, and this
disaster crystallized his desire to write about dangerous jobs.
The Perfect Storm was his first book.
[4:29] Sebastian discusses the social nature of
humanity, attributing our survival to our ability to coordinate our
efforts. We’re smart, we can build tools and weapons, and we work
together. One of the ironies of modernity and of wealth is that
people are able to be more independent of their community.
[6:51] Sebastian comments on teams in business, and
how they differ from evolutionary social groups. Life-and-death
stakes bring out the best in people. A platoon will have greater
devotion and loyalty than an office team.
[9:35] Sebastian sees the infrastructure that keeps
us alive today as separate from our immediate lives. We don’t eat
locally. Everything is part of some larger process. There are huge
physical advantages to industrialization and mass society, but also
huge social and psychological deficiencies. When you don’t depend
on, or even know, the people around you, that isolates you, and
leads to depression and suicide.
[12:46] Sebastian notes that PTSD cases outnumber the
returned military who have actually served in combat. He explains
why that may be. We are wired to deal with trauma, but not with the
alienation and isolation of the American suburb. Addressing
leadership, he suggests that skills that work in combat are the
ultimate leadership skills and traits, and business leaders need
those traits. Leaders eat last.
[18:32] If you have a leader who takes a bonus while
firing his people, that’s terrible leadership. In a band of
hunter-gatherers, that leader would be killed. When we allow that
type of leadership behavior, we are radically departing from our
social communal past.
[21:01] In the military, leaders give orders in their
own name. There is no passing the buck. Sebastian recalls an
incident of grave danger, where the lieutenant took a
life-and-death risk to assess the situation. His sergeant
immediately stepped up, following his example.
[25:44] Two reporting situations altered Sebastian
strongly. First, Afghanistan in 1996 and 2000, fighting the
Taliban. For the first time, Sebastian saw extremely wounded
people. He unknowingly had PTSD on his return. The second was being
with the 2nd Platoon, Battle Company in the Korengal valley. The
bonds he experienced were intense and changed his life.
[28:27] Sebastian felt that the loyalty he observed,
and was part of, in the 2nd Platoon, turned him inside out.
Returning home, he was so altered that he could not continue
leading his life as it was. He says it was not trauma; it was
something much more positive.
[30:38] There is much more to war journalism than
being embedded with the U.S. Military. That feels so much safer
than going by yourself to a civil war in Africa, or Afghanistan, or
to the Arab Spring countries, on your own. You’re not even sure you
can trust the people with you. The country needs journalists.
[32:17] Sebastian’s degree is in Cultural
Anthropology. He wrote his thesis on a Navajo reservation, on
Navajo long distance runners. That thesis sparked his interest in
writing. Anthropology informs everything he has written, especially
his research on PTSD. PTSD is much more widespread today than in
any previous generation. We are no more a communal society.
[39:05] Sebastian shares a new issue he is exploring:
raising his six-week old daughter. He is interested in evolutionary
parenting. What infants need is closeness to their parents. As
children grow, girls stay close to home; boys form groups and range
farther away from home. We are not allowing boys today
Watch for Hell on Earth, on the National
Geographic Channel in June, 2017
Books Mentioned in This Episode
The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea, by
by Sebastian Junger
A Death in Belmont, by Sebastian Junger
by Sebastian Junger
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian
The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind,
by Melvin Konner
Sebastian Junger is the #1 New York Times Bestselling author of
The Perfect Storm, Fire, A Death in Belmont, War, and
Tribe. As an award-winning journalist, a contributing
editor to Vanity Fair and a special correspondent at ABC News, he
has covered major international news stories around the world, and
has received both a National Magazine Award and a Peabody Award.
Junger is also a documentary filmmaker whose debut film
Restrepo, a feature-length documentary (co-directed with
Tim Hetherington), was nominated for an Academy Award and won the
Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
Restrepo, which chronicled the deployment of
a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, is
widely considered to have broken new ground in war reporting.
Junger has since produced and directed three additional
documentaries about war and its aftermath. Which Way Is The
Front Line From Here? which premiered on HBO, chronicles the
life and career of his friend and colleague, photojournalist Tim
Hetherington, who was killed while covering the civil war in Libya
in 2011. Korengal returns to the subject of combat and
tries to answer the eternal question of why young men miss war.
The Last Patrol, which also premiered on HBO, examines the
complexities of returning from war by following Junger and three
friends — all of whom had experienced combat, either as soldiers or
reporters — as they travel up the East Coast railroad lines on foot
as “high-speed vagrants.”
Junger has also written for magazines including
Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine,
National Geographic Adventure, Outside, and
Men’s Journal. His reporting on Afghanistan in 2000,
profiling Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was
assassinated just days before 9/11, became the subject of the
National Geographic documentary “Into the Forbidden Zone,” and
introduced America to the Afghan resistance fighting the
Junger lives in New York City and Cape Cod.