Why Soldiers Miss War

By | February 4, 2023

[February 4, 2023]  Sebastian Junger answers a question that has chased me for many decades.  He gave a TED Talk (link here, 12:55 minutes) to explain.  Junger believes he knows why soldiers miss war.

A few years ago, on my blog, I tried to answer a similar question a high school student asked: “Do you miss war?”  I was surprised when asked and blurted out an inadequate answer, but I was on the right track.

Junger admits this is an uncomfortable question because war is destructive for civilians and the military.  Civilians caught up in war certainly don’t miss it.  Upfront he says that in the nearly 20 years he covered war as a journalist, he was surprised by the number of soldiers he found that missed war.

He asks, “How can a person go through the worst experience imaginable [war] and come home to their family and country and miss the war?”  “How does that work?”  “What does that mean?”  These are questions any society should be asking because a failure to deal with the answers properly can unknowingly drive us down a path we do not want to travel.

Junger believes that if we are not willing to ask and answer the questions, it will be impossible to stop war.  Indeed, it is essential to understand how the mechanisms work.  Any sane person would hate war, doesn’t want anything about it or be near it.  And that is an appropriate response to war.

He hypothetically asks, “How many people have paid money to go to a cinema and be entertained by a Hollywood war movie?”  He believes most people would answer, yes, they have.  That is the crux of why war is so complicated.  If a room full of peaceful people find something compelling about war, “so do 20-year-old soldiers who have been trained in it.”

Junger tells us of his experience with an American combat unit in a dangerous valley in Afghanistan; the danger of daily enemy attacks, the deprivation (no cooked food, little water), there was nothing there that young men like (no cars, no girls, no television, no internet, no games).

There was nothing there but combat.  And they learned to like combat.

To understand that, you have to not think about combat morally (which is important) but think about it neurologically.  Think about what happens in your brain when you’re in combat.  According to Junger, the experience is very bizarre and unexpected.  Usually, you’re not scared during combat, but afterward, you might be.  Your attention is focused narrowly, like an altered state of mind.  The brain is getting an enormous amount of adrenalin, and this “need” for adrenalin is hardwired for men.

When asked of these combat veterans what they miss most about war, a not uncommon answer is they miss all of it.

What is it they miss?  To stop war in the future, we must honestly answer that question.  What they miss is the brotherhood of those they fight with.  They miss the opposite of killing; they miss the connection to the other men they are with.

Brotherhood is different than friendship.  Brotherhood has nothing to do about how you feel about the other person.  Brotherhood is the mutual agreement that in a group, you will put the welfare and safety of the group ahead of your own.  In effect, you’re saying, “I love these other people more than I love myself.”  The most challenging thing to realize and the most traumatic is that you cannot always protect everyone in your group.

Think about how brotherhood feels.  Very few are blessed with this primitive emotion.  There is nothing like it.  But when combat veterans return home, they are put back into society where they don’t know who they can count on for help, not knowing who loves them, who they can love, and not knowing what others could do for them if necessary.

That is terrifying.  That is alienating.

And that is what we must understand if we ever hope to stop war.


Please read my books:

  1. “55 Rules for a Good Life,” on Amazon (link here).
  2. “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” on Amazon (link here).
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I provide one article every day. My writings are influenced by great thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Jung, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Jean Piaget, Erich Neumann, and Jordan Peterson, whose insight and brilliance have gotten millions worldwide to think about improving ourselves. Thank you for reading my blog.

28 thoughts on “Why Soldiers Miss War

  1. Autistic Servent

    Just a quick note to say I appreciate these articles on important, human topics.

  2. Yusaf from Texas

    I’m late reading this article but wanted to put in my two cents worth. Gen. Satterfield has hit upon another idea that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. There is something about war movies, books on soldiers at war, magazine articles, all that are popular. Why to soldiers (combat vets) miss war is only the tip of the questions that should be asked. We need more like this from Gen. Satterfield (my favorite blogger).

    1. Qassim

      As always, great comment Yusaf from Texas (my favorite red state). Thanks.

  3. Jonnie the Bart

    “There was nothing there but combat and they learned to like it.” They learned to ‘love’ it. Combat is simple. The emotional response is highly complex and we simply don’t understand it.

  4. Bob Reilly

    I had a special love and brotherhood with those I fought with.
    I have the same love and brotherhood with those I am recovering with.

    I loaded my SUV with parkas one winter, and went off to give to homeless veterans in Philly.
    I handed the first coat to the first “customer” and he said, “Thank you, I love you , man.”
    I replied, “I love you, too.”
    And I meant it.

    I realized I did not ask if he was a veteran.

      1. Max Foster

        Sir, this article hit home with me and it also tells a lot about people …. well, a lot about men any way … it says that there are forces in us that push and pull us in different directions and there is no way such forces can be denied. I’m sure psychologists have names and concepts for these but my point is that they are inborn and cannot be ignored. Great commentary on why soldiers (or combat veterans) miss war. They miss the brotherhood. There is nothing like it. It cannot be artificially induced. Good.

  5. Plato

    Now this is a topic that Gen. Satterfield can expand upon and do so now. This is a key to understanding people and their deepest motivations. Good thing that we do not have a drug that produces the feeling of brotherhood (awkwardly written but you know what I mean) or the world would be destroyed from the inside. Best we get to the answer quickly and learn to push ourselves to use this brotherhood to good ends. Otherwise danger lurks on the outskirts of our civilization and one day it will arrive like the devouring lion of old.

  6. Rowen Tabernackle

    When asked of these combat veterans what they miss most about war, a not uncommon answer is, they miss all of it.

  7. Army Vet

    “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.” — Robert E. Lee. Well said.

    1. Bryan Z. Lee

      Bingo. While Robert E. Lee was a Confederate General during the American Civil War (and “cancelled” by our weak, effete, slobbering adult children of America), we can still learn from what the thought of war. His experience exceeds nearly everyone alive today.

  8. Pumpkin Spice

    This leads me to believe we will never fully understand war and thus never eliminate war. Altho there have been great strides in the last 10 years. But the war in Ukraine has turned that on its head.

      1. McStompie

        Ant man, I would not be so pessimistic because humans adapt and they are smart and they think. The kind of discussion we are beginning here ( in the most primitive form ) is surely an example of a beginning. Remember that these soldiers are often very young but the older soldiers have the same experience, just more able to put it into context. If you want to see this in action, watch “We were soldiers, once and young.” https://www.theleadermaker.com/movie-we-were-soldiers/ Gen. Satterfield gave us a short review and he recommends the film.

        1. Don Snow

          Great discussion. This is a don’t miss article. Why do soldiers miss war? And, why do we love our war movies? There is a connection here that can be explored.

  9. Doc Blackshear

    “Think about how brotherhood feels. Very few are blessed with this primitive emotion. There is nothing like it.” – Gen. Satterfield. The problem is here wrapped up in this sentence. There is, indeed, nothing like it. So what do we do about it? Some resort to drugs and they are, naturally, unsatisfying. Drugs are not a substitute that works.

  10. Army Captain

    This article gives me hope that some civilians can actually begin to understand what war is about and why it is so attractive and so horrible at the same time.

    1. catorenasci

      Army Captain, civilians will NEVER know brotherhood. They cannot. There is no forcing event in their lives that can push them to it. And they cannot understand how much it draws us to it. That is the problem. And, despite Gen. Satterfield often writing about ‘brotherhood’ we do need to discuss it further.

      1. Dead Pool Guy

        Right! Not their fault but they should stay out of the discussion since their understanding is too shallow.

        1. Pooch T.

          True enough but civilians should be in the discussion because it helps them understand the idea, even if they will never fully be aware.


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