i’m currently reading the powerful and disturbing book, “war” by sebastian junger. i suspect that many of us (safe and coddled americans) are somewhat unsettled by junger’s graphic story. but i also see applications to my life as a leader in the american church.
in one especially gripping section of the book, he tells the story of outpost restrepo coming under attack to the utter delight of the bored second platoon. the men race to their weapons and begin returning fire.
“Most of the fighting was at four or five hundred yards so no one ever got to see—or had to deal with—the effects of all that firepower on the human body.”
junger describes hearing a radio report from the scouts who were watching a taliban fighter crawling around after having a leg blown off. the scouts watched until the man died, and then reported it on the radio. the american soldiers at the outpost began to cheer. junger writes about being disturbed by that cheer.
“Stripped of all politics, the fact of the matter was that the man had died alone on a mountainside trying to find his leg. He must have been crazed by thirst and bewildered by the sheer amount of gunfire stitching back and forth on the ground around him…I got the necessity of it but I didn’t get the joy. It seemed like I either had to radically reunderstand the men on this hilltop or I had to acknowledge the power of a place like this to change them.”
later, told a soldier named steiner helped junger understand.
“You’re thinking this guy could have murdered your friend. The cheering comes from knowing that’s someone you’ll never have to fight again. Fighting another human being is not as hard as you think when they’re trying to kill you. People think we’re cheering because we just shot someone, but we were cheering because we just stopped someone from killing us. That person will no longer shoot at us anymore. That’s where the fiesta comes in.”
“Combat was a game that the United States had asked Second Platoon to become very good at, and once they had, the United States had put them on a hilltop without women, hot food, running water, communication with the outside world, or any kind of entertainment for over a year. Not that the men were complaining, but that sort of thing has consequences. Society can give its young men almost any job and they’ll figure out how to do it. They’ll suffer for it, die for it and watch their friends die for it, but in the end, it will get done. That only means that society should be careful about what it asks for. In a very crude sense the job of young men is to undertake the work that their fathers are too old for, and the current generation of American fathers has decided that a six-mile long valley in the Kunar Province needs to be brought under military control. Nearly fifty American soldiers have died carrying out those orders. I’m not saying that’s a lot or a little, but the cost does need to be acknowledged. Soldiers themselves are reluctant to evaluate the cost of war (for some reason, the closer you are to combat, the less inclined you are to question it), but someone must. That evaluation, ongoing and unadulterated by politics, may be the one thing a country absolutely owes the soldiers who defend its borders.”
i am wondering if i ever think of the church i lead as a remote outpost on a beleaguered battlefield. do i perceive myself as abandoned on the front lines in hostile territory? does our kingdom activity vacillate between mind-numbing boredom and stroke-inducing terror? has our vision drifted from our goal on the horizon to the spent ammo shells at our feet? have we allowed the “power of a place like this to change us?”
in the heat of the battle, i must encourage my comrades to trust and rely on each other. and we must remind ourselves that our leader has an eternal plan that cannot fail. and that we are not forgotten.
our objective is worth the pain of perseverance.