Addiction to combat: Sebastian Junger at the war correspondents Brooklyn Brewery series (VIDEO).

“Freebasing the Crystal Meth of Purpose”: How to Think About Addiction to War

“Freebasing the Crystal Meth of Purpose”: How to Think About Addiction to War

Dispatches from the front.
March 2 2015 1:52 PM

“They’re Freebasing the Crystal Meth of Purpose”

Why the pull of war is so strong for soldiers (and journalists) in combat zones.


Slate has partnered with Brooklyn Brewery and RISC to bring its hit war correspondent interview series to our readers. In this special sixth installment, Sebastian Junger—founder of RISC, and a best-selling author and journalist—sits down with Elliott Ackerman (author, Green on Blue), Jennifer Percy (author, Demon Camp), and Peter van Agtmael (photojournalist and author, Disco Night Sept. 11).

“They’re compelled by it. They’re compelled by it enough to want to go back to it—even suicidally so,” writer Sebastian Junger says on the unwavering pull that war has on soldiers (and war correspondents) exposed to its thrills and horrors. In the clip above, Junger explores this idea by asking Elliott Ackerman (a military veteran and the author of Green on Blue) and Jennifer Percy (the author of Demon Camp) to reflect on their own experiences, and how they might explain an addiction to war. “It’s this very crystalline sense of purpose,” Ackerman says of its effect on soldiers, especially. “If that purpose and happiness is a drug, they—at 19, 20, 21—they’re, like, freebasing the crystal meth of purpose.”

In the clip below, photojournalist Peter van Agtmael considers the same idea, reflecting on the thrills of—and damage wrought by—time in combat, and the effect that those experiences have had on him.

A.J. McCarthy is a speechwriter for New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and a former Slate writer and producer.

Chris Wade is a New York-based video and audio producer and an occasional contributor to Brow Beat.