Our lonely society makes it hard to come home from war | Sebastian Junger


I worked as a war reporter for 15 years before I realized
that I really had a problem. There was something really wrong with me. This was about a year before 9/11,
and America wasn’t at war yet. We weren’t talking about PTSD. We were not yet talking
about the effect of trauma and war on the human psyche. I’d been in Afghanistan
for a couple of months with the Northern Alliance
as they were fighting the Taliban. And at that point the Taliban
had an air force, they had fighter planes,
they had tanks, they had artillery, and we really got hammered
pretty badly a couple of times. We saw some very ugly things. But I didn’t really think it affected me. I didn’t think much about it. I came home to New York, where I live. Then one day I went down into the subway, and for the first time in my life, I knew real fear. I had a massive panic attack. I was way more scared
than I had ever been in Afghanistan. Everything I was looking at seemed like
it was going to kill me, but I couldn’t explain why. The trains were going too fast. There were too many people. The lights were too bright. Everything was too loud,
everything was moving too quickly. I backed up against a support column
and just waited for it. When I couldn’t take it any longer,
I ran out of the subway station and walked wherever I was going. Later, I found out that what I had
was short-term PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder. We evolved as animals, as primates,
to survive periods of danger, and if your life has been in danger, you want to react to unfamiliar noises. You want to sleep lightly, wake up easily. You want to have nightmares and flashbacks of the thing that could kill you. You want to be angry because it makes you
predisposed to fight, or depressed, because it keeps you out
of circulation a little bit. Keeps you safe. It’s not very pleasant,
but it’s better than getting eaten. Most people recover
from that pretty quickly. It takes a few weeks, a few months. I kept having panic attacks,
but they eventually went away. I had no idea it was connected
to the war that I’d seen. I just thought I was going crazy, and then I thought, well,
now I’m not going crazy anymore. About 20 percent of people, however, wind up with chronic, long-term PTSD. They are not adapted to temporary danger. They are maladapted for everyday life, unless they get help. We know that the people
who are vulnerable to long-term PTSD are people who were abused as children, who suffered trauma as children, people who have low education levels, people who have psychiatric
disorders in their family. If you served in Vietnam and your brother is schizophrenic, you’re way more likely to get
long-term PTSD from Vietnam. So I started to study this
as a journalist, and I realized that there was something
really strange going on. The numbers seemed to be going
in the wrong direction. Every war that we have
fought as a country, starting with the Civil War, the intensity of the combat has gone down. As a result, the casualty rates
have gone down. But disability rates have gone up. They should be going
in the same direction, but they’re going in different directions. The recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
have produced, thank God, a casualty rate about one third
of what it was in Vietnam. But they’ve also created — they’ve also produced
three times the disability rates. Around 10 percent of the US military
is actively engaged in combat, 10 percent or under. They’re shooting at people,
killing people, getting shot at,
seeing their friends get killed. It’s incredibly traumatic. But it’s only about 10 percent
of our military. But about half of our military has filed for some kind of PTSD compensation
from the government. And suicide doesn’t even fit into this
in a very logical way. We’ve all heard the tragic statistic
of 22 vets a day, on average, in this country, killing themselves. Most people don’t realize that the majority of those suicides
are veterans of the Vietnam War, that generation, and their decision to take their own lives
actually might not be related to the war they fought 50 years earlier. In fact, there’s no statistical connection
between combat and suicide. If you’re in the military
and you’re in a lot of combat, you’re no more likely to kill yourself
than if you weren’t. In fact, one study found that if you deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan, you’re actually slightly less likely
to commit suicide later. I studied anthropology in college. I did my fieldwork
on the Navajo reservation. I wrote a thesis on Navajo
long-distance runners. And recently, while
I was researching PTSD, I had this thought. I thought back to the work
I did when I was young, and I thought, I bet the Navajo,
the Apache, the Comanche — I mean, these are very warlike nations — I bet they weren’t getting
PTSD like we do. When their warriors came back
from fighting the US military or fighting each other, I bet they pretty much just slipped
right back into tribal life. And maybe what determines the rate of long-term PTSD isn’t what happened out there, but the kind of society you come back to. And maybe if you come back
to a close, cohesive, tribal society, you can get over trauma pretty quickly. And if you come back
to an alienating, modern society, you might remain traumatized
your entire life. In other words, maybe the problem
isn’t them, the vets; maybe the problem is us. Certainly, modern society
is hard on the human psyche by every metric that we have. As wealth goes up in a society, the suicide rate goes up instead of down. If you live in modern society, you’re up to eight times more likely to suffer from depression in your lifetime than if you live in a poor,
agrarian society. Modern society has probably produced
the highest rates of suicide and depression and anxiety
and loneliness and child abuse ever in human history. I saw one study that compared women in Nigeria, one of the most chaotic
and violent and corrupt and poorest countries in Africa, to women in North America. And the highest rates of depression
were urban women in North America. That was also the wealthiest group. So let’s go back to the US military. Ten percent are in combat. Around 50 percent have filed
for PTSD compensation. So about 40 percent of veterans
really were not traumatized overseas but have come home to discover
they are dangerously alienated and depressed. So what is happening with them? What’s going on with those people, the phantom 40 percent that are troubled
but don’t understand why? Maybe it’s this: maybe they had an experience
of sort of tribal closeness in their unit when they were overseas. They were eating together,
sleeping together, doing tasks and missions together. They were trusting each other
with their lives. And then they come home and they have to give all that up and they’re coming back
to a society, a modern society, which is hard on people
who weren’t even in the military. It’s just hard on everybody. And we keep focusing on trauma, PTSD. But for a lot of these people, maybe it’s not trauma. I mean, certainly,
soldiers are traumatized and the ones who are
have to be treated for that. But a lot of them — maybe what’s bothering them
is actually a kind of alienation. I mean, maybe we just have
the wrong word for some of it, and just changing our language,
our understanding, would help a little bit. “Post-deployment alienation disorder.” Maybe even just calling it that
for some of these people would allow them to stop imagining trying to imagine a trauma
that didn’t really happen in order to explain a feeling
that really is happening. And in fact, it’s an extremely
dangerous feeling. That alienation and depression
can lead to suicide. These people are in danger. It’s very important to understand why. The Israeli military has a PTSD rate
of around one percent. The theory is that everyone in Israel
is supposed to serve in the military. When soldiers come back
from the front line, they’re not going from a military
environment to a civilian environment. They’re coming back to a community
where everyone understands about the military. Everyone’s been in it
or is going to be in it. Everyone understands
the situation they’re all in. It’s as if they’re all in one big tribe. We know that if you take a lab rat and traumatize it and put it
in a cage by itself, you can maintain its trauma symptoms
almost indefinitely. And if you take that same lab rat
and put it in a cage with other rats, after a couple of weeks,
it’s pretty much OK. After 9/11, the murder rate in New York City
went down by 40 percent. The suicide rate went down. The violent crime rate in New York
went down after 9/11. Even combat veterans of previous wars
who suffered from PTSD said that their symptoms went down
after 9/11 happened. The reason is that if you traumatize
an entire society, we don’t fall apart
and turn on one another. We come together. We unify. Basically, we tribalize, and that process of unifying
feels so good and is so good for us, that it even helps people who are struggling
with mental health issues. During the blitz in London, admissions to psychiatric wards
went down during the bombings. For a while, that was the kind of country that American soldiers came
back to — a unified country. We were sticking together. We were trying to understand
the threat against us. We were trying to help
ourselves and the world. But that’s changed. Now, American soldiers, American veterans are coming back
to a country that is so bitterly divided that the two political parties
are literally accusing each other of treason, of being
an enemy of the state, of trying to undermine the security
and the welfare of their own country. The gap between rich and poor
is the biggest it’s ever been. It’s just getting worse. Race relations are terrible. There are demonstrations
and even riots in the streets because of racial injustice. And veterans know that any tribe
that treated itself that way — in fact, any platoon that treated itself
that way — would never survive. We’ve gotten used to it. Veterans have gone away
and are coming back and seeing their own country
with fresh eyes. And they see what’s going on. This is the country they fought for. No wonder they’re depressed. No wonder they’re scared. Sometimes, we ask ourselves
if we can save the vets. I think the real question
is if we can save ourselves. If we can, I think the vets are going to be fine. It’s time for this country to unite, if only to help the men and women
who fought to protect us. Thank you very much. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Our lonely society makes it hard to come home from war | Sebastian Junger

  1. Sir,

    I have never contemplated suicide, but lost troops under my authority, just a couple did, I wasn't their commander but I was their doc, they tried but didn't succeed. I am so thankful for their failure. The soldiers who served, who have fellow soldiers to rely upon is key. But in absence of that, the community is the support system for that trooper. You might hate the war, but don't hate the warrior, not in this country, where they volunteer, maybe young and dumb, or old and crotchety, but they volunteered, support them when they return. MWQ

  2. 18Delta I've literally at been covered from head to toe in the blood of those we / I killed. War is the most terrifyingly beautiful experience of glorious madness sweet sweet sadness that brings me to my knees. Drive on my brothers and sisters of war drive on!

  3. This man is amazing. His book "Tribe" influenced my senior project so heavily. I reached out to him and he answered every question I had and gave me feedback on my paper. He is by far my favorite nonfiction author


  4. I miss how simple life was. I lived in the moment. In the morning I could only envision lunch. Next week? might as well be talking about next year.

    For me I came back to a society I didn't recognize, and really didn't want to be a part of. I felt like a Zombie the first two years I was out and going to school. I wasn't really alive, and not really dead. I felt hollowed out, all the happiness gone, replaced with bitterness. Like a Zombie just waiting for someone to put me out of my misery. Tough times. I still view most Americans as Princes and Princesses living in their fairy tale castle trying to dictate that the world should adhere to their fairy tale world. What can you do?

  5. Hi,I'm a 9 year veteran from the army & live in Hull,UK & I've got PTSD & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & I find it (Virtually) Impossible to get help with my administrative affairs in my home!!….. 🙁 *I get a LITTLE Bit of help from a SSAFA volunteer from Beverley…. I can't prove I got my PTSD in military service…. 🙁 I Didn't report it…. 🙁 Are there any vets from london.nottingham or blackpool,UK on here??

  6. Very good job.
    Two relatives actively fought in Vietnam. Where one really told me about the culture shock to the nation he returned to as well as attitudes.
    You are helping people.
    Which I was hoping this was the one where you talking about soldiers coming back and no one able to relate or comprehend anything they been through.

  7. Junger has my respect. He truly has done his research on vets. The toughest part about returning home was not having anything to come home to. People didnt care and it didnt feel like home anymore . Thats what made it so difficult. Going to war also shows you which of your family and friends care about you. Its a harsh reality. No one comes back the same from war. It makes you lose a part of yourself that you cant get back

  8. Here in Germany, we soldiers and veterans are in a weird place. They send us to fight for them but they do not seem to want to think about what they are doing by that. They do not support us fairly and try to forget about us as fast as they can.
    The worst thing for me quite often is not just the lack of support by the military or the government, but the disgust I can see, feel and have to hear from my "fellow" citizens. Germans hate their soldiers and vets, we fought for them, we bled for them and some of us died for them and they spit on us.

  9. Not sure if being warlike society saved people from PTSD, after all, there is that suspicion, that being a berserk is exactly how severe PTSD might manifest itself. Same with ancient mythological heroes like Heracles, he sometimes harmed and even killed people during peacetime, including his closest and most dear. PTSD perfectly explains that.
    Another issue then society being different, is our whole lives being different. Before people often were dying like flies, now we do not. Now life is peaceful. I remember a veteran and later war journalist saying, that at first he got angry – why is everyone acting, like they don't care, people are dying there! Then he realized, that that war is not the center of the Universe, many people really are unaware of it, they really do not care. When ancient warriors returned from war, their life still was at risk pretty much each day (diseases, daily violence etc), now it is not the case, now soldiers get thrown from danger to safety, and that contrast might be unbearable to some of them.

  10. Please, stop talking like this is some worldwide problem, US makes up less than 5% of world's population, thus over 95% of the world may not have this issue.

  11. How about those veterans who didn't see combat are just abusing the system to get money. It's pretty simple they have no honor so they steal from the VA.

  12. The DNC has been the party of treason since the civil war. The DNC v. Trump coup is a real thing. The liberals have an agenda to protect for the Freemasons to overthrow the USA in 2022. The goal is mass murder and the implementation of a socialist oligarchy to enslave most according to the georgia guidestones which were designed and paid for by Ted Turner, you know the guy who started the fascist news company CNN which was dedicated to lying to the public to keep them as dumb as sheep. We have a fractious society and the only way to restore a good society is the total elimination of the liberal agenda and those who back it.

  13. Being violently raped everyday from birth and not knowing any other way of life will not traumatize, realizing later it isnt normal and people telling you it was very bad will traumatize you.

  14. To all the veterans who have served,
    Thank you for your sacrifices you have made and continue to make.
    You have given this country a privilege that is beyond payment.
    Thank you.

  15. Adopt a Soldier program is to help overcome this issue with support for our troops who sign up for support. Website is www.adoptaussoldier.org

  16. The erosion and ineffective mental health care. Snake oil and soothsayer are the only options that don't work for everyone.. I call it passive therapy.. there is no active therapy the current society is in fight or flight mode ALL the time

  17. Very interesting. What are the statistics after the new president? It appears the division is less obvious and a common enemy has been identified. America now seems quite United. Politically not so, but that’s politics anyway. Maybe?

  18. United We Stand – AWESOME MESSAGE ! I am a Combat Soldier —–Thank You for this Video !

  19. This is so very true. I am on disability for "PTSD" and while I did have a very stressful job overseas and I did lose my father while I was there, when I talk to my counselor nothing effects me more than taking about how I simply can't relate to the people "out there"(looking towards the window). I've gained a perspective of the world, of humanity, that simply doesn't translate to the 90%+ of the people I encounter that have never even ventured past state lines, whose biggest concern in life is what's happening in pop culture. I spent years in denial of these very real feelings that were progressively taking control of my life. It wasn't until finally sitting down with a VA PTSD evaluator that I was given the permission, for lack of a better word, to accept that I may even be allowed to feel this way. He rejected my excuse of "I wasn't even in combat" and made me to accept a painful truth, that I don't get to define what trauma is, that I am only 1 of many whom battle this same issue and ignore it for the same reasons. For so many of us, the trauma wasn't from going to war. It was from coming home.

  20. Getting out of the military was like losing my family. Suddenly I went from an important guy who everybody knew and we would all die for eachother to being nothing who nobody cared about. It was incredibly terrifying to suddenly have nobody to rely on or go to. I used to sleep with a gun terrified that something bad would happen and nobody would have my back. Coming home was like being left behind alone in a foreign country where you can't speak the language.

  21. There is not a day which goes by without my missing the e'sprit d'Corps, camaraderie, brotherhood, sense of purpose, patriotism, belief in something larger than myself from my years in the Corps! I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat, except this time I would SPRINT to the enlistment office! Semper Fidelis! CWO4 [ret] 1969-2004!

  22. Thank you for this insight. This makes a lot of sense. In Vietnam, soldiers were spat on when they returned home. I had the opportunity to drive home through a huge protest organized by the young democratic club and downriver democrats when I returned from Iraq, and I got to see that protest, again and again, every weekend for almost a year. I feel lonely every day except when I am around my son, who was a Marine.

  23. You could say the identity political ideology is partly to blame…everyone is encouraged to be anything but American….

  24. Mr. Junger is dead-on…as a Vietnam Vet, I lived the return to this country and the rejection and scorn (Jane Fonda style). Even up to this day, I don't have a lot of trust in "my fellow citizens"
    Ah, selfishness is the key that has destroyed the country as a nation.

  25. I think I understand why the Vietnam guys are having so many problems now. The longer I'm home the more I understand. At this point I've been home 28 years, and I get darker everyday. I'm so sick of constantly fighting to be " normal ". I'm sick of not feeling anything positive. The men that served before, and after me had it ten times harder than I ever did. I don't wonder why 22 vets ( Vietnam era mostly ) kill themselves everyday. I wonder how they held on this long. I wonder how much longer I have to hold on until God sees fit to let me rest.

  26. They coming home getting pencil whipped by the far rightleft and suicides are murder programs…

  27. Far rightleft are the Democratic Republican party of old. Working together against the middle. Eh

  28. I think there's also the simplicity of combat life. The world is much less complicated out there, it's straight forward, for an individual soldier anyway. Your only real concerns are staying alive and keeping your friends alive.

    Where as back in the world every little thing is so complicated and there is so much time to dwell and overanalyze and overthink, it's just so isolating.

  29. Just amazing information my friend. Thank you so much for your service and sacrifices for our Country.😢🙏🏻❤️🇺🇸❤️🙏🏻

  30. This explains why I can’t watch tv, especially the network news. I haven’t watched 5 minutes of tv for 11 years now and it took 5 years to listen to the radio.
    I still get triggered from the negativity from people like Shawn Hanity and their psychopathic hate speech.

  31. After coming back into "the civilian life", it was and is extremely difficult to re-adapt to society. I had a lot of anxiety, I have been heavily medicated, and I was socially awkward and unacceptable to most people. I never had nightmares, anxiety, or extreme depression until I separated from the military, and was heavily medicated. I felt extremely distant from other people, and I often would avoid going into society. Once I stopped taking the meds, and got a grip on myself, and my heavy substance abuse. I'm feeling half "normal" again. My closest friends are combat vets, and I'm still closer with them, than I am with the rest of society. After about 10 years of being miserable, and struggling. I am finally feeling good again. If your having these types of problems, just hang in there, and watch out for other vets, because we're the only ones who really understand, and we'll be there for you. The rest of society doesn't care, it's not even on their radar. It's also a lot easier to empathize with someone who understands what your going through. If you're a vet, and you're feeling like I did, just hang in there, from what I've seen, it just takes time, meds probably aren't going to "fix" your problems.

  32. thank you sebastian for your words, and your understanding. thank you for telling civilians what we, the veteran community, could never put into an understandable narrative for people who have never known war. we carry that weight of experience wherever we go.

  33. Why is every vet i meet a navy seal or a pilot or a general? Vets just want handouts like welfare queens, more more more for me!

  34. S.J., Once Again, Gives Voice To The 'Voiceless', And, Makes Known, A Point Of View, That Sadly, Not Many Know Of!! BRAVO(!!!), To Sebastian Junger, And, To T.E.D., For Providing Him A Forum, With Which, To Present A MUCH-NEEDED Aspect!!

  35. Incredibly insightful and astute – "The problem is us."
    But is Western society able to change? Or are we destined to grow even more alienated and disconnected from each other?

  36. I have 40% PTSD. Some days are better than others. I ask for nothing but a little patience. I am not the same person I was. None of us are and that is OK. He is right: Its not what I did or "saw" in Iraq that messes with my mind, its the society I live in that I try to "be like them" and I can't. I just can't. I just ask for some patience .

  37. I’m a recent veteran and I have 6 months out of the military I thought I would be happy out of the army but ever since I’ve been back I’ve fallen deeper and deeper in depression I feel lost and a sense of not belonging thank you for this video I really appreciate it and it’s given me in a way a sense of belonging

  38. this guy gets it i look at these people and i cant help but think my friends where good people A good mom good dad's and you people are not worth it. Not worth the the brand new father the doting proud mother the father that was going to go home and reconnect with his boy because he knew he was wrong and loved his boy or the family man who just wanted to be with his kids and wife. i hate you people.

  39. I watch this video, and other stuff Mr. Junger has done, very frequently. I am a veteran of the war in Afghan and I often miss being among Marines, especially in the war. It always kinda calms me down to hear someone talk about why I feel this way. I hate being here, I have basically no friends anymore, and I don't know what to do with my life anymore. I wish so much I was still in Afghan.

  40. He's right. The military gives some a death sentence. Medically retired at ten years, rated 100% for service connected PTSD. They acknowledge I'm too screwed up to work. They pay me at 100% and as a surviving spouse. Their attitude is I should be thankful, they are "giving" me everything I'm entitled to. The problem is: I don't want to be 100% "disabled", existing in isolation. I've done everything suggested, I spent three years doing so much service/volunteer work I didn't have time to think. When I slowed down the emotional torment immobilized me. I want to get better, I want to be a contributing member of society, I want help. The VA could save a lot of money if they provided help. If they will provide me with resources to get well they wouldn't have to pay me. I've told them that, but they keep depositing the checks and ignoring me. The answer isn't "call the crisis line", I don't want to go to a psych hospital. I've been to programs and they help until you leave. I am lost and I know there are others like me. Offer help or money and we would take the help every single time.

  41. This is why I think there are a lot of people with these kind of problems that find salvation in Jesus or any religion. In my opinion, it isn't the religion, but the community they're getting into. All of a sudden they become part of something, a "tribe" of people that believe what he/she believes, and that will be there for them in a time of need. It makes complete sense if you think it that way. This man is right on the money.

  42. I have always felt like its a lack of understanding of purpose.
    In the military, your purpose, your job is clear. Especially in a warzone. Out in the civilian world though, its not so clear these days.
    That's a lot to deal with.

  43. As a person who just recently started therapy this makes a great deal of sense. I have for a number of years felt the problem wasn't a series of traumatic events but how alone I wad in dealing with it. Great talk but I wonder how much effect it will have on raising the connectedness of people and increase their willingness to extended themselves acts of compassion and friendship.

    Friendship isn't a big thing.
    It is the millions of little things.

  44. Just leaving the military and "rejoining" society is alienation. I'm still trying to come back into society after being out for 6 months and i'm still finding it difficult. The only common ground i found was going back to college where i met other vets like me who were feeling the same way.

  45. These are things I say to myself when I walk my dog. The whole time thinking I’m insane. Maybe I’m not. 20 years Navy.

  46. 3:00 we shoudl just send all the normie white-washed christianized feminized little beta-boys who would kill their familys before betraying papa government to war. they would come back with zero symptons. and all the mean while we weed out the bullshit/corrupt cancer of society. it's literally perfect.

  47. Is it higher wealth that leads to suicide or the high inequality that has been produced by 40 years of neoliberalism and the alienation that it produces?

  48. Wow I think he nailed it on the head. Shoot I have only done a couple month long trainings and each time I come home the transition is so tough, because I feel like I cant talk to anyone and they understand or want to listen. And like he said at the end the political parties are at each others throats, I dont see that when I'm immersed in my platoon because I'm focuse on the task at hand. Man this hits home and this is the sort of thing my future soldiers are going to feel

  49. Always thought it was amusing back in the day when I used to get sent to "Kids" served much less fought … but going to council me? Meh … I've just kept to myself and except my wife deal with ghosts and ticks on my own. 50 now and whole new generations come home and my God I pray for them/you everyday

  50. Sebastian Junger is a tool of the #USgovt death cult. ALL current #USgovt wars back 50 years are ILLEGAL No sane person who is not desperate for money (because the USgovt and banksters have decimated / robbed our economy) or eager to kill innocent humans, would sign up. There's no draft. No one has to go. Sebastian Junger helped NO ONE; helped destroy the environment, kill millions of innocent humans, and decimated our economy for the banksters. Like Smedley Butler and thousands of others have attested to

  51. I never even deployed to a combat zone, and I found it hard to reintegrate into civilian life. I can't fucking imagine what its like for combat vets.

  52. I've recently returned from my deployment from Afghanistan, coming home was hard, It was hard to talk to people and family . To see everyday life and to adjust to normal routines, it's like dont they dont understand, and hard to explain to them .

  53. He literally explained all of my feelings towards this society. This is not not just the USA, it’s also the UK

  54. Humans trive in hardships and adversaries. If we do not have bad things happen to us we end up creating them ourselves. Everytime human evolved is because of a change in environment. We complain when things change we dont like it. We want things to be how they have always been, and yet we do best with change. How ironic. Yet almost poetic.

  55. American cowards deserve mental pain and all other issues. They murdered, raped, tortured innocent people just for oil and other strategic advantages the US elites may have seen in the name of capitalism. Now deal with that…I know how it is to fight against a superior military power and how it is to have bare hands, not a proper training or uniform and to defend your country with an old rifle which has been originally designed to to hunt bears. This happened in the middle of Europe and all of you just watched for years.

  56. I didn't freak out in Vietnam 50 years ago. But coming home almost destroyed me. That's the only time I had a drug problem. I found out that no matter how I felt, my only option was to just get on with my life. So I let the drugs and tobacco go and got on with it. By the way, Viet Vets are invisible today. The only other one I know now is my cousin who grew up next door to me. I'm not on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. The only reason I'm on YouTube is that I can control what I share the community. That's the way it is with me.

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