After months of combat, during which “soldiers all but ignore differences of race, religion and politics within their platoon,” they return to the United States to find “a society that is basically at war with itself. People speak with incredible contempt about — depending on their views — the rich, the poor, the educated, the foreign-born, the president or the entire U.S. government.”This brings me back to a comment David made yesterday: given that Americans are so fundamentally divided against each other, is it worth trying to keep the country together? I have lately heard several people arguing for a more relaxed national system and more power for the states, so that each community can be governed as it wants. I am not attracted to this notion, because I think that any unit large enough to function in the modern age is going to be highly diverse. Up here in the blue northeast we tend to think of Georgia and Texas as conservative southern states with a sort of unified outlook, but of course that isn't really true. Both have large black and Hispanic populations and both contain millions of liberals. It's just that with the country as a whole so closely divided in politics, a state that is 66% Republican seems unified by comparison.
It’s a formula for deep despair. “Today’s veterans often come home to find that, although they’re willing to die for their country,” he writes, “they’re not sure how to live for it.” . . .
Mr. Junger’s premise is simple: Modern civilization may be swell, giving us unimaginable autonomy and material bounty. But it has also deprived us of the psychologically invaluable sense of community and interdependence that we hominids enjoyed for millions of years. It is only during moments of great adversity that we come together and enjoy that kind of fellowship — which may explain why, paradoxically, we thrive during those moments.
War, too, for all of its brutality and ugliness, satisfies some of our deepest evolutionary yearnings for connectedness. Platoons are like tribes. They give soldiers a chance to demonstrate their valor and loyalty, to work cooperatively, to show utter selflessness. Is it any wonder that so many of them say they miss the action when they come home? . . .
Our veterans re-enter an unstable working class. They are awkwardly thanked by strangers for their service — which, as Mr. Junger ruefully observes, only highlights the schism between the few who have served and the great many who have not. And instead of jobs, they are offered lifelong disability.
Soldiers go from a world in which they’re united, interconnected and indispensable to one in which they’re isolated, without purpose, and bombarded with images of politicians and civilians screaming at one another on TV.
“How,” Mr. Junger asks, “do you make veterans feel that they are returning to a cohesive society that was worth fighting for in the first place?”
I think we are stuck with our divisions. But I do wish we were more polite about them. Which is why I regard Donald Trump as such a danger and am increasingly frustrated with Bernie Sanders.