Sebastian Junger at the Half King bar
Junger on his new book, Iraq and the peace movement
By Lincoln Anderson
For the past year, Perfect Storm author Sebastian Junger has been hard at work on a new book. This, his third one, is taking a new look at the Boston stranglings of the early 1970s. A co-owner of the Half King bar in Chelsea and, until recently, a Lower East Sider, Junger, 43, grew up in Massachusetts and always had a curiosity about the stranglings and whether the real perpetrator for all the murders was, in fact, caught, as authorities claim. Hes not certain hes got all the answers, though his book will definitely throw a new wrinkle which he doesnt want to make public yet into the case.
Im still not sure of it myself, he noted. I think that makes it a more interesting book is all I can say.
But while Junger has been working on the book, due out next spring from W.W. Norton, that doesnt mean his mind has been far from one of his other main interests conflicts and volatile spots around the globe. Junger has reported on wars and conflicts in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Liberia, some of these articles collected in his second book, Fire.
But he hasnt yet ventured to Iraq, which he has felt was simply too dangerous.
I feel that Im very good at assessing risks and acting safely, he said. If he were to go, he noted, its a month of worry for my family. And, frankly, it wasnt worth the risk.
Still, Junger has strong views on the war and, in general, on the use of U.S. intervention to do good. In a few interviews, including a conversation above the crowds din at the Half King and follow-up phone calls to his house on a remote part of Cape Cod where hes finishing up his as-yet untitled book, Junger expressed conflicted feelings on Iraq, yet, at the same time, clear disdain for the peace movement for what he feels to be its hypocrisy.
A few months ago, in December, Junger like many observers was much more pessimistic about the future of Iraq and wondering what exactly our purpose for being there was. That, too, was why he didnt want to cover the war.
I just dont understand what were trying to do. And if you dont understand it, its hard to cover it, he said at the time. The governments reasons for doing it have changed so many times, its hard to understand why were there.
Back then, Junger wasnt beyond predicting a worst-case scenario. He foresaw Iraq dividing into three states, Kurdish, Sunni and Shia like Bosnia, very violent like Ireland or Lebanon and taking 20 years to return to normality, similar to Lebanon today.
But with elections having been held in Iraq and now the slow coming together of a new government, the insurgency seemingly losing strength and the possibility of decreasing U.S. troop numbers, things are looking a bit better, in Jungers view.
He opposed the war, though supported President Bushs massing of troops on Iraqs border, since Iraq had refused to allow weapons inspectors back in the country.
Yet, Junger thinks Bush moved to war too quickly, and should have tried to remove Saddam Hussein from power through threat of invasion, rather than force. Junger was in Liberia the summer before last, where, he noted, through some extremely harsh diplomacy, the U.S. made Charles Taylor step down as president.
I think Bush was brilliant up to the point he invaded [Iraq], Junger said. Massing troops on the border probably only would have come out of a Republican president, Democrat Junger admitted, though adding, The Republicans are firm but they dont know where to stop.
I feel like we shouldnt have done it, like it was too big a gamble, he continued. But the gamble might work. Theres like a conservative and liberal in my body its a funny split. As a liberal, I feel like reflexively denouncing it. As a journalist, Ive seen up close in Bosnia, Kosovo, what good can come from intervention.
On this last point, Junger doesnt see eye to eye with the peace movement, whose main purpose, he feels, is to point the finger at perceived U.S. wrongdoing.
My problem with the left is they wont acknowledge that their opinion stops at Give Peace a Chance, he said. What do you do if people keep dying? I think they think there is no legitimate use of U.S. intervention. How do they come to terms with World War II, which would seem to be a legitimate use of force? In World War II, we intentionally killed over 1 million civilians in the firebombing of Germany and Japan and the use of nuclear bombs in Japan.
Ten thousand civilians were killed in Kosovo before the intervention, which killed a few hundred people
. The peace movement will apparently happily let 1 million people die in Rwanda without protesting U.S. inaction.
When I talk in liberal venues, colleges, Im still shocked at how many people think Kosovo was a tragedy and so does Michael Moore, Junger continued. He used it in his film, Bowling for Columbine. So, Mr. Moore, how would you have stopped the war in Kosovo?
. Peace is not always a way to avoid human suffering.
Maybe you cant understand how horrible a civil war is until youve been in one, but I have been in one, Junger said.
Moores opposing the war in Afghanistan was even more asinine, Junger said, adding that we didnt invade that country because of an oil pipeline, as Moore argues in Fahrenheit 9/11.
Junger has met Afghan President Hamid Karzai and considers him a thoroughly decent guy.
Speaking of peace, closer to home, the writer found he was losing his while living on the Lower East Side.
People were half my age and drinking
, he said, describing the areas nonstop hipster party scene. He has since moved to a loft in the 30s in West Midtown, where he lives with his girlfriend, a consultant for the U.N.
It feels like old New York, actually, he said of his new neighborhood. It feels like what Soho must have felt like in the 70s.
For the moment, though, Junger is on an isolated spot on the Cape without cellphone or TV reception. But he gets his news on foreign affairs from the newspaper, anyway. He doesnt really have TV in New York City, since his is currently broken, not to mention doesnt have cable.
I dont have any special information, he said. I just read The New York Times every day, making sense of the headlines.
Junger is a regular contributor to Vanity Fair, writing two or three articles per year, and has also written for National Geographic Adventure magazine. Perfect Storm, about the crew of the Andrea Gail, a Gloucester, Mass., fishing boat, battling for their lives in the North Atlantic, was a huge success. It lodged on the Times bestseller list for three, four, three and a half years, Junger doesnt quite remember how long exactly.
At his bar, where he can sometimes be found having discussions about foreign affairs with journalist friends just returned from abroad, theyve recently added a live music series bluegrass, rock, blues, eclectic on Sunday evenings. Hes thrilled plans are moving ahead to preserve the nearby High Line and turn it into an elevated park.
But adventures await for the restless journalist, who likes to seek out spots off the beaten track, such as Sierra Leone, for example, that havent been reported on extensively.
Im going to go back to it as soon as the books done, he said.