What America can learn from tribes when welcoming warriors home

sebastian junger tribe hetherington What America can learn from tribes when welcoming warriors home

The author Sebastian Junger. (Photo by of Tim Hetherington)

By Caitlin M. Kenney

As the wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East go on year after year, American soldiers returning from combat face transitioning into a society that is not as close as the units they once served with.

Author Sebastian Junger’s newest book “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging,” reads like a thesis paper about how tribal societies are better at welcoming home warriors from combat than modern America.

“I think there’s very little community in America, and so there’s nothing to reintegrate to,” said Junger when asked about ways to help veterans reintegrate into society. “A platoon in combat is an extremely close knit bonded group. And then when these… soldiers come home, they are coming home to a very alienating, often suburban society.”

He added that humans are not meant to live alone; we evolved to live in groups where survival is dependent on the people around us.

The idea to write his book came from conversations he had with a mentor and uncle-figure named Ellis, who was half Lakota-Sioux, half Apache.

“I remember him telling me when I was a young man, I was like 19 or 20, he said you know, all throughout the history of the United States along the frontier, white people were always running off to join the Indians,” Junger said. “But the Indians never ran off to join the white people.”

His uncle said that “given the choice, people always go toward in the direction of the tribal and not the other way around.”

“And you know it really stuck in my mind, I thought that was an interesting idea,” Junger said. “And then after I covered a deployment of American airborne infantry in eastern Afghanistan, I made a movie called “Restrepo” about that deployment.”

th originals outtakes 2008 mg 1457 tim hetherington What America can learn from tribes when welcoming warriors home

Sebastian Junger with photojournalist Tim Hetherington. (Photo by Tim Hetherington)

The soldiers from that deployment were completely isolated and saw a lot of combat. They yearned to return to their home base in Italy, but once they did, Junger said, many told him they would rather return to their base in Afghanistan than go back to the United States.

These soldiers made him think of what his uncle had said and he had the idea that maybe it was not trauma that was a problem for soldiers, but the transition from a communal lifestyle to an isolated modern society.

Towards the end of the book “Tribe,” Junger suggests that we should look to the ceremonies that Native American tribes do for warriors returning from combat to help service members.

“The Native American communities in this country serve at the highest rates of any population group in America per capita,” Junger said. “And they have some of the lowest PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) rates. And one of the reasons is that they still conduct these sort of re-entry ceremonies.”

For the tribes, the ceremonies helped “reintegrate warriors back into society after the trauma of combat. And many of these ceremonies are still being conducted on reservations for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan,” he added.

Junger suggests in the book that on every Veterans Day, instead of a parade, communities should open up their town halls and allow veterans from any conflict “to take 10 minutes to tell his or her community what it was like to serve overseas.”

“And anyone who likes to say ‘I support the troops,’ like all those empty slogans, what those slogans now mean is that you show up every year for an hour or two to listen to soldiers tell you, and veterans tell you what it was like to serve,” he added.

“And you’re going to have some veterans who are incredibly angry and will yell at you for the war that you made them fight,” Junger said. “And some veterans who are very, very proud. And some veterans who will be crying, probably crying too hard to even talk.”

“But that’s, all that is war, the aftermath of war. And as a community, as a nation, we should be as involved as possible in the psychological consequences of war, everything ranging from incredible pride to incredible anger and sorrow.”

Connect: @CaitlinMKenney | Caitlin@ConnectingVets.com

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