Feature

Sebastian Junger’s fear of being afraid

Junger's most terrifying moments came while reporting on the civil war in Liberia.

Sebastian Junger is no adrenaline junkie, says Peter Keough in The Boston Phoenix. For more than a decade, the journalist and author has made his reputation writing about “compelling” situations like war and “necessary but very dangerous” occupations, from deep-sea fishing to smoke jumping. Junger’s Hemingwayesque subject matter would seem to suggest he gets a macho thrill from putting himself in the center of extreme peril, but he insists it’s not so. “If you’re in danger you’re scared, and being scared sucks,” Junger says. “It’s completely demoralizing to me. I hate that feeling.”

His most terrifying moments came while reporting on the civil war in Liberia—a conflict that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people—in the late 1990s. “Psychologically, it is extremely hard to be the lone white reporter in an African civil war with African soldiers, half of whom think you’re an American spy. The sense of incredible vulnerability was extremely hard to deal with. The guys that you’re with, you know they’re drugged-out 15-year-olds with AK-47s, and you can’t really trust them. I had people come up and poke me in the chest and say, ‘I’m gonna kill you later.’ That to me is the stuff of nightmares. That’s not even adrenaline. That’s like being injected with poison. I really don’t have the nerve for it.”

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