#109: Freedom and The Non-News Media – Journalist & Bestselling Author Sebastian Junger (Sandlot Jax & GORUCK Games 2023 Series)

Wednesday July 19, 2023

What is Freedom? The human spirit at its core seeks two opposing ideals; to be free from the influence of others, yet to be part of a community of like-minded people. Journalist and Best-Selling Author Sebastian Junger joins Fran Racioppi live from the 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games to share how his new #1 New York Times Best-Selling book Freedom is exploring this simple, yet complex ideal of the human character. 

Through a 400-mile trip along Pennsylvania’s Amtrak line, Sebastian chronicles the nuances of human nature’s plight to forge their own path, while remaining reliant on the resources of their communities and government. He defines the differences freedom brings between the wealthy and the poor, and how despite our best efforts to be self-sufficient, there is no complete freedom of the human spirit. 

Fran and Sebastian also cover the state of the news media, the negative impact of the non-news commentary on America, and the bond between journalists and soldiers who often share the same experiences in war, but from very different perspectives. 

Learn more about Sebastian Junger and pick up your copy of Freedom or any one of his best-selling books on his website or follow him on social media

Read the full episode transcription here and learn more on The Jedburgh Podcast Website. Subscribe to us and follow @jedburghpodcast on all social media. Watch the full video version on YouTube.

Listen to the podcast here

Freedom and The Non-News Media – Journalist & Bestselling Author Sebastian Junger (Sandlot Jax & GORUCK Games 2023 Series)

Sebastian, welcome to The Jedburgh Podcast.

Thank you. Nice to be here.

This is a fantastic day, and I’m super humbled to sit down with you. I’ve seen your work over the last several years. Before we started, I was telling you how I feel like our paths have been so aligned in many ways in these parallel paths over the years because I have studied Journalism and, in my path to study Journalism, I went into the Army and became a soldier. You’ve covered soldiers as a journalist for the bulk of your career, I always wanted to be a war correspondent.Journalist and Bestselling Author Sebastian Junger joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

I made the decision after my junior year when 9/11 happened, that it was the period of time for me to go be on the other side, to go be the one that was reported on. If I wanted one day to be a reporter, and here we are in some form or fashion of that, then I would be able to do that later in life. There’s always been, in my mind, this kindred spirit between being a soldier and being a war correspondent and a journalist. To sit here and get your perspective on so many of those things is truly a humbling experience.

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here. There is a lot of overlap between the two. There have been situations where journalists have grabbed a gun because it was life and death for everybody. Galloway in Vietnam, in the Ia Drang Valley, I believe. I’ve never had to do that, thank God. For me, war reporting has nothing to do with the US military. When I was coming up as a journalist, the US was not involved in any wars. I grew up during Vietnam. It never occurred to me that the US would wind up in another ground war. Vietnam didn’t go well, it seemed like the nation learned its lesson, and it just never occurred to me that there’d be American ground forces anywhere else in the world.

Maybe a nuclear exchange with Russia, but not US ground forces. For me, my first war was Sarajevo, the siege of Sarajevo in 1993, 1994, when the Bosnian Serbs attacked. Bosnian split up during a three-way civil war. The Bosnian Serbs had besieged Sarajevo, and I was in there. 1 out of 5 civilians were killed or wounded during that siege. I was in Afghanistan in 1996 as the Taliban were taking over. Sierra Leone, Liberia, and finally in 2000, I was with Ahmad Shah Massoud as his forces were battling Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Badakhshan.

After 9/11, I rushed back to Afghanistan, a country that I just adored to watch, to my amazement, my own country’s involvement in that beautiful far off place. As an easy war turned into a hard one, eventually, I want to know what it’s like to be an American soldier. I never thought that chance would present itself to me, but I’m going to do it. Until finally, I was embedded with 173rd Airborne in Zabul Province in ’05, and then in the Korengal Valley in ’07 and ‘08.

You’ve been to all the nice spots in the world.Journalist and Bestselling Author Sebastian Junger joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

Yeah. I should say good people in all of them.

It’s true though. We talk about war and you talk about conflict, and you’ve seen the worst of the worst in so many ways as members of the military. There are good people, and there are good stories there. When you think about being a war correspondent, the stories you’re going to cover, the perspective that you might gain, how do you pick and choose that? How do you select those places to go to and those topics to cover?

I’m not a frontline daily update journalist working for a news organization. I read long-form magazine journalism. I might be gone for a couple of months, come back, and it might take me a month to write the piece, but it’s an in-depth piece about a forgotten heart of the world. What I would try to do is to go to conflicts, go to situations that were not being talked about, or go to places that were known, but look at unknown aspects of them. No one was talking about Sierra Leone. I went there, the Civil War broke out a few days after I got there. Suddenly it was like in the news, and I was there. It was a chance to talk about the illegal diamond trade and timber trade in West Africa and the role that Western countries have played in that and all kinds of important stuff.

What I try to do is pick stories that illuminate something important about humans and about the choices we face to live in a decent world and create a decent world around us. That brings you to some very poor countries because of course, that level of poverty and violence is grotesque and shouldn’t happen. I feel like it needs to be reported on.Journalist and Bestselling Author Sebastian Junger joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

You think about the basic human needs, Maslow talked about this, but at the end of the day, all people on all sides of conflict want the same thing for themself and their families. They want safety, food, and a roof over their head. it’s hard when you talk in a lot of your work about dehumanizing the enemy. We do that on both sides of conflicts. As you look at that and interact with these people, what is that common thread that you see from different societies in different parts of the world?

All people will die defending their families, defending their communities. Very few people are sociopaths. Most people want good things. They don’t want to be in a war. They want to be in peace at least so their children are safe. That’s true on every side of a conflict, even the worst conflicts. What throws a wrench into that is power and propaganda. Some people want power above all things. Charles Taylor in Liberia wanted power. He was willing to trade violence and death to stay in power.

[bctt tweet=”All people will die defending their families and communities. Powerful people will make them believe that they are actually fighting to defend their lives.” username=”talentwargroup”]

One of the ways that powerful people do that is by presenting propaganda to people that the people then believe that they’re fighting to defend their lives, when in fact they’ve fallen under the sway of propaganda and their lives are not in danger. That can happen in any country in the world. It happened in this country. The quest for power and the use of propaganda are one of the things that are necessary for civil unrest, civil violence, and war. It’s the thing that will turn good people into bad people when they believe those kinds of lies coming from anyone who’s in power.

You talk about propaganda and think about the media’s role that often gets thrust into that. That’s the medium by which so much information is put out. We’ve seen so much over the last couple of years about information disinformation. We used to live in a world in which there was print media. We didn’t have digital media. It wasn’t that long ago. I graduated college years ago. I didn’t have a cell phone. They didn’t exist. We had the brick.

Now our kids grow up and they don’t know anything. They know how to use the screens better than I know how to use them. What that’s done is it’s accelerated the news cycle. It’s created this almost limitless opportunity to put information out. Can you talk for a minute about your evaluation and assessment of how technology has changed media and media’s ability to interpret and present the news?

Journalist and Bestselling Author Sebastian Junger joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh PodcastThe interesting thing about social media and about the multitude of “news sources,” of course, a lot of them aren’t news. News is an objective delivery and analysis of facts. A lot of these media outlets are not news by that definition. If you’re partisan, you’re an activist, not a journalist. That eliminates an awful lot of these platforms. The problem with all of this is that people respond in a positive way to strong emotions. They respond weirdly. They respond in positive ways to anger and outrage. If you serve up things that outrage people and anger them, they don’t have to be true.

People will keep following that story because it’s producing an effect in their minds and in their bodies that, for some very complex biological reasons and evolutionary reasons, is gratifying. What the non-new media has done is figured out that they can monetize very core human survival instincts. They can monetize those by feeding essentially propaganda that perpetuates a cycle of extremism and outrage that eventually is going to split up the country. Eventually, that’s where it’s going to go. It’s un-American, anti-freedom, anti-democratic, totally nihilistic, and grotesque, but it’s happening in this country.

In these conversations, I’m always reminded about when I was a senior at Boston University, and Bill O’Reilly had been a graduate of the graduate program. He came back and he spoke, and whether you like him or hate him it doesn’t matter. The very first thing he said when he got up was, “I’m not a reporter. I’m a commentator.” In that talk, he foresaw the direction that things were going.

He talked all about how there was a change coming in journalism because there had been talking about the repeal of the fairness doctrine and what was going to happen when you don’t have to present both sides on these things. He said that it’s now going to be put onto the consumer to understand what they’re being fed. Is that the news? Is it objective reporting of the known facts or is it someone’s opinion about what they see for whatever their opinion might be biased or presented?

Even opinion’s fine. What’s not fine is distorting reality to produce a pre-formatted conclusion. CNN is clearly left-leaning. It’s not a Republican platform, but it’s left-leaning. Fox is clearly right-leaning. The difference between them, there’s a false equivalence between those two. They’re not mirror images of each other. Fox will not put on negative news about Donald Trump. They will just not do it. CNN is happy to post things that are critical of Joe Biden or Barack Obama.Journalist and Bestselling Author Sebastian Junger joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

Every news source is going to have a tilt in one direction or the other. It’s not a news source unless they are willing to critique their own. If they’re not, it’s propaganda. That’s where Fox is making a terrible decision about not calling out their own commentators when those people lie about very important things that go to the core of our democratic freedom. If there’s a definition of treason, that’s it. I don’t know why those people aren’t in court.

[bctt tweet=”Every news source is going to tilt in one direction or the other. But it’s not a news source unless they are willing to critique their own. It’s propaganda.” username=”talentwargroup”]

Do you think that the settlement from earlier in the week for the voting machines was an admission?

Fox isn’t going to say it’s an admission. They clearly didn’t think they could win the case. That’s an admission of sorts. Is it Jack Smith, the federal prosecutor? He’s investigating January 6th, 2021, and Mar-a-Lago. Those are criminal trials. Those are criminal trials looking at the very powerful people who misled and enabled. It’s the dupes that invaded the capitol and attacked our Congress. That’s not a civil trial with punitive damages. This is a criminal trial. People go to jail over this. That might finally bring him accountability to Fox because they were this disease vector that spread this toxic stuff from the White House. Without Fox News, that stuff wouldn’t have happened.

You gave a prediction about how this is going to negatively affect this drive and lack of objectivity. This commentary rise of social media and the lack of any controls on so much information is going to affect people. It’s so dangerous, I believe, to put this in the hands of the consumer. Many times, we don’t think that much and we don’t want to think that much about having to interpret what it is we’re listening to.

Everyone wants their beliefs confirmed. I do. You do. We seek information. It does that. If you love reading the New York Times, that’s where I get my news from. I read it. I don’t watch it. I consume my news with words. Occasionally, the Times will run a piece that goes against my preferred views on things. That’s great for me. A lot of people don’t want to do that. I don’t find it pleasant either. You have to rearrange your worldview and it doesn’t feel that good. It’s like finding out something unseemly about a close friend, “You did that.” “I’m so sorry. I know that.” There’s a little bit of that.

Where does that leave us? The news industry has to figure out how to draw a bright line between outlets that are propaganda and outlets that are at least trying to report an objective truth. I don’t know how you would quite do that, but there are labels on food, movies, and all kinds of things. We could devise a labeling system for the news media that ranges from nonpartisan straight news to outright propaganda, which is where Fox would be.

I vote Democratic. You could probably tell at this point, but the left is terrible about this. They’re just not terrible in the news media but on campus, they are horrific about distorting reality to conform to their preferred to their “woke” worldview. They’re liars. They’re lying about stuff, knowingly. It’s totally disgusting. They’re not doing it in the news media so much.

I want to ask you about embedded journalism because you talked about coming up in the Vietnam era, going to areas where we didn’t have the ground war. What we saw after the invasion, specifically of Iraq. If you think about the Persian Gulf War, so much of it was covered from afar.Journalist and Bestselling Author Sebastian Junger joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

It had to be. Journalists were not allowed with the soldiers.

In Iraq in 2003, they were, and we saw reporters on tanks, on vehicles going on the front lines. How did that change journalism?

Journalism had always been that. The US military was unique in not letting journalists have access to soldiers. After Vietnam, there were no mosques. Clearly, this doesn’t end well. We got to keep the press out of the front lines. In all the civil wars in the world, with a pack of cigarettes, you could bribe your way up to a frontline unit in Sri Lanka. All of it was embedded in journalism. You do a piece on the fire department in New York City, you’re embedded with the fire department. The word is a new word, but that’s what journalism always has been. Except between Vietnam in 2003, the United States Military said no journalists with frontline soldiers.

George Bush, who I didn’t vote for but I respect enormously for doing this, rescinded that. He thought it was going to be a quick win and wanted it on tape. He rescinded that and allowed journalists on the tanks. That was a great thing. It went back to being what journalism always has been, which is “embedded” with the topic that you’re reporting on.

This gave tremendous access. It provides a lot of insight into how these campaigns are fought. What’s been, in your mind, of all these conflicts that you’ve been to? What do you take away the most? I know they’re all different, but when you look back and you think about your own development, I talk a lot about leadership and I talk about building effective teams, building leaders. What do you take away when you look back on a career?

There’s an extraordinary amount of bravery and nobility in many people and ordinary people. You don’t have to be soldiers. Most of the people of Ukraine are incredibly courageous. I have no doubt that if America were somehow invaded in a fashion like that, we would rise to that challenge too. I’ve experienced enormous generosity from people in war towns. In fact, the worst the situation, the more generous people are. I walked through America along railroad lines, the only place I had a hard time was in wealthy towns. I go through poor towns. We called it high-speed vagrancy. It was the poor towns where people were really great. That’s almost a cliché.

[bctt tweet=”There’s an extraordinary amount of bravery and nobility in many ordinary people, not just soldiers.” username=”talentwargroup”]

The other thing I would say and most wars are fought, not entirely, but almost exclusively by young men. Young men are very easy to manipulate. They’re very strong. They’re very brave. They have enormous loyalty to each other. They will die for each other. They’re all the things that military commanders need to prosecute a war. I have a friend who made a film. She was able to interview Al-Qaeda captives who were being held in Saudi Arabia. She made a film called Jihad Rehab, and she got access to these Yemeni jihadists who had been in Afghanistan with Bin Laden.

I’m programmed to hate those guys. I’m from New York. What am I going to do with those guys? I was amazed at how just ordinary they were. She asked them, “Why did you join Al-Qaeda?” He said, “We needed to make money. We wanted excitement. We wanted adventure. We wanted to go to another country. We thought we were defending our society.” This is Al-Qaeda. You could ask American soldiers that same question. They’d say all the same things.

That’s a commercial for the US military.Journalist and Bestselling Author Sebastian Junger joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

In other words, there is something called a young male that has a set of psychological and physical needs that a lot of which are satisfied in the military even in a non-war and definitely in a war. That resource is almost always there to be used. The trick is to not let that be used by people who are seeking power and using propaganda and manipulation to inspire people’s capacity for violence. That’s the trick.

I don’t think America particularly does that, but to me, worldwide, that’s the thing. You have this incredible resource. You can kill 80% of the men in a country and it doesn’t matter. Within a generation, the population will rebound. Kill 80% of the women, the population never recovers. In some ways, there are no long-term evolutionary consequences for doing that. We have to use that resource reluctantly and with dignity and honesty. That doesn’t always happen.

Let’s talk about freedom in a couple of different ways. I want to talk about the book Freedom and about freedom in general because early on in the book, you define it in your words. When you think of the term freedom and its definition, how do you define freedom?

There are so many different ways to define it. You could say freedom is freedom from mortal threats. If you can be killed by someone who doesn’t face consequences, you’re not free. Some define it as economic freedom. If you can’t make enough money working as hard as you can to support yourself and your family, you’re not free. You’re in economic servitude. Too much of the world is in economic servitude.

It depends. There’s freedom from overbearing government. In the 1700s, people left the colonies and headed west along the Juniata River, which was a route that we traveled along railroad lines when we were high-speed vagrants into the Pennsylvania wilderness, which was “Indian territory” at the time. What these settlers did were super dangerous, and these were people with their families and children.

They’re trying to survive and trying to establish a farm. What they were leaving behind was, what the right-wing often likes to call, the tyranny of the government. The only way to survive out there was to collaborate within the community in self-defense. If you moved out there and you were not willing to defend the community against Indian attacks, you were not wanted. You were free of government oversight, but you were very much under community oversight.Journalist and Bestselling Author Sebastian Junger joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

If you didn’t abide by community norms, you were kicked out. In other words, there is no complete freedom. You either owe your life and your loyalty to your local community or to your government. There’s no way to have neither. You can go into the wilderness by yourself and you’re going to be dead in a few weeks. The only way to do this is to have some loyalty to something.

That loyalty constitutes a wonderful loss of freedom because loyalty to something actually feels extremely good.

You talked about having the perspective that you don’t have to have any allegiance to anything as being naive. I was talking to Nick Lavery who just wrote Objective Secure, and we were talking about the need to build community. We looking at something like this, the GORUCK Games and Sandlot JAX. It’s all about community and coming together and rallying around one thing. You talk to people who would say, “I’m fine on my own. I don’t need anything from anybody.” It’s not true.

They’re driving a car, they keep shooting a rifle, they’re wearing clothes, and they’re eating food. They have eyeglasses. If they need dentistry, they go to a dentist. Of course, they need things.

You have to be a scribe to something. For the book, you went on this journey through the Pennsylvania hillside, along the railroad track. I told you before we started that I was laughing as I was reading the book because my security company has taken on a project with Amtrak. It’s allowing us to have a very similar journey as you were walking about 500 miles of trek and conducting some work for them.

It is an amazing opportunity to not only see the different variations of the country, but when about the title of the book, Freedom, you’re out there and there’s this raw power of the train that’s combined with the technicality of the railroad itself. You described it in there and it was bringing me back to the last several weeks, but you think about all the work that has gone into this rail line over hundreds of years, and the amount of times that it’s been replaced and the distance between the railroad ties and how they’re perfectly spaced, where you can’t walk in a pure.

Journalist and Bestselling Author Sebastian Junger joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh PodcastIt’s super hard to walk on railroad ties. I don’t know who designed that. It’s right off stride. It’s crazy. I’m sure it was on purpose. The interesting thing about railroad lines game trails follow the easiest path through mountains, through terrain. The Indian trails follow the game paths. When the settlers got here, they followed the Indian trails. Eventually, the settler’s roads were on Indian trails. When they put the railroads in, they follow the settlers’ roads. The railroad tracks are taking a course often. Particularly in Pennsylvania, we walk from DC to Philly to Pittsburgh along the rail lines.

Often the rail lines, particularly through complicated territory terrain like Pennsylvania, are following routes that were once Indian trails and animal trails. That’s why they’re railroad lines that go up the Juniata. The Juniata is the only river that goes from West to East through the Allegheny Mountains to Susquehanna. It was a mobility corridor for thousands of years for the native people of that area and for game.

What drove you to take the walk?

It was years ago and I just trying to figure out something that would be contained some of the elements of what I liked about being overseas with American soldiers without the bang bang. I got a couple of guys from Restrepo and another journalist that I knew, a Spanish guy named Guillermo, and we started walking. We moved fast. We carried a lot of weight. We slept under bridges and abandoned buildings and got our water out of creeks and cooked over fires and had to dodge the police and sometimes the locals, whatever. It played to all of our sense of small-group survival, loyalty, and tactical awareness. That’s cool about the military that feels good. We had all of that, except it was in rural Pennsylvania. It was fantastic.

You talked about the fact that walking is the oldest form of movement. It’s the oldest form of transit and how, in so many ways walking, defines freedom. What do we do when we don’t like something, when we feel oppressed, when we feel that we’re threatened, and our freedom is threatened because we’re under attack as Green Berets, de oppresso liber, free the oppressed? That was our job. What do you do, walk away?

Yeah, run, or whatever. There are these two ways of dealing with the threat. You can be less mobile and more massive, defended, and powerful. This is true on a one-on-one street corner fistfight too. With the military, you can be massive, well-armored, and pack a big punch or you can be lighter, more mobile, and use fewer metabolic resources in the case of a one-on-one fight. That mobility is enormously effective in thwarting an empire’s attempt to control you. It’s very hard for an empire to control a mobile society. It takes them an enormous amount of resources to do it.

[bctt tweet=”Mobility is enormously effective in thwarting an empire’s attempt to control you. It’s very hard for an empire to control a mobile society.” username=”talentwargroup”]

If you look at Afghanistan, we are the greatest military, the most powerful military ever in history. The Taliban didn’t have an Air Force. They didn’t have tanks. They didn’t have artillery. Some of them didn’t have boots. After many years, we were like, “We can’t do this anymore.” We’re pulling out. They won. I hate to put it that way but they won because we left because we did not clinch the deal. We couldn’t clinch the deal. That’s true if you looked at mixed martial arts and all these other forms of martial arts. When small guys fight big guys, one of the small guys wins about half the time. They shouldn’t but they win because they stay just out of reach of the big guy until he is exhausted, until he is smoked, until his hands are on his knees, then it’s done. That’s where the US wound up after many years.

You talked a bit about going through these different areas of the country into some wealthy areas, into some poverty-stricken areas. The rail line goes through corridors that have been established forever and it has no care for the demographics of those different regions that have settled over the years. We’ve seen that on our trek and there might not be that much distance between some very wealthy areas and you cross the tracks literally. They’re in some very difficult areas. What have you seen and what is your assessment of the effect of wealth on freedom? Does it matter?

Journalist and Bestselling Author Sebastian Junger joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh PodcastWhat I would say is that wealthy people have enormous choices in their lives and that’s a form of freedom. They also are encumbered with financial obligations. If you’re a high-powered corporate lawyer and you’ve got a $5 million vacation home somewhere. You’re taking town $2000 an hour for your services. You’re making $2000 an hour. You can’t stop working or the dream goes away. The tune of $4 million on your house or God forbid you divorce your wife, then you’re completely screwed. You got to keep going. That’s not freedom.

Poverty is its own terrible form. It’s the opposite of freedom in a lot of important ways. The one thing that it doesn’t do is the wealthy get lured into a materially based existence that eventually captures them. They just have too many things. They’re dependent on too many things. They need the car. They need the house. They need this and that.

On some levels, I’ve talked to guys who were like homeless guys under a pitch, living in existence that no one I know would want. The guy’s like, “I’m good. I don’t owe anything to anybody. I can do what I want with my time. I can read this book. I can go to another town if I don’t like it here.” That’s a very real form of freedom. What I’d say is this modern industrial society with enormous accumulations of wealth. Cool. Great. You can do anything you want, but I’m not sure I would call those people free in some important ways.

I want to talk about the power of the trains because when we talk about freedom, we often equate freedom to power. You think about America and you talk about America’s ability and the fact that it is the strongest military in the world. We think about the size of our government and our country and we equate so many of those things with that’s what power is.

When you’re out in the wilderness, when you’re out even in a conflict zone, there are certain things that command respect. I have found through our experience over the last couple of months that the trains are one of those things because it doesn’t matter what is going on in the environment around you. When that train’s coming down the line, that is the dominant factor.

There was an overwhelming force in the land. If you’re a puny human walking along the tracks like the Acela blows through at 120 and that’s on the high-speed corridor, not in Pennsylvania. It sounds like the apocalypse is coming. It’s like God’s coming through the woods to crush you. It’s amazing. The freight trains don’t go nearly as fast, but the power in them. There were times when there was nowhere to sleep and we were sleeping literally within a couple of feet of the rail line. Literally, within a couple of feet of steel. That stuff would come through at two in the morning because the freights go at night. It just sounded like the earth was ending.

At one point, I was having a conversation with one of the guys, Brendan O’Byrne. He is a good friend of mine and knew him at Restrepo when he was a soldier. Smart kid. We were having this conversation about the trains and how awesome, loud, and powerful they are. I was like, “I wonder what would it take to stop a mile-long freight train that weighs 50,000 tons instantly? What wall would it take to just stop it on a dime? How big would that wall have to be?”Journalist and Bestselling Author Sebastian Junger joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

Brendan was like, “We wouldn’t need a wall.” I was like, “What do you mean? How would you do it?” He said, “You’d need another train going the same speed, weighing the same amount, going the opposite direction and they would each stop each other instantly.” I love that. If I ever write a book, it’s going in the book.

It’s physics. That’s very similar to the answer that they give you because I’ve asked that question of the Amtrak engineers and stuff and said like, “What stops the train?” You hear these stories of people throwing mattresses and cars and their answer is nothing will stop the train.

Except for another train on the same track.

One of the things that I saw that was absolutely fascinating is the lack of complacency that even the workers on the train line have after being there. These are 20 to 30-year folks who’ve worked on this train line every single day and respect the train for 30 years as much as they do their first day. As we were on our first days out there. You didn’t see the complacency we even would see in Special Operations where guys lack weapon discipline at times. You lack noise and light discipline. All these things go away over time, but their ability to continue to stay so focused on safety was amazing. You were there with none of this protection.Journalist and Bestselling Author Sebastian Junger joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

None of this training but we figured it out pretty quickly. Even our dog figured out after a couple of sharp commands from me, “Do not go on the tracks.” There were plenty of times we were walking between the rails because it was the only way on the side we could see the trains coming from a long way away. There’s also how we kept from being arrested because the cops would come. You’d see them a mile off. If they were looking for us, we’d walk at night and they have to have their headlights on. There was no way they could get close to us. We’d just step into the underbrush and they’re not using night vision goggles, so we were good.

We had a whole technique. We would do a thing where we would randomly look behind us. Every guy randomly look behind them every 30 seconds if we were worried that they were going to come up behind us. You just can’t get close to someone on railroad lines if they don’t want you to. You will see anyone approaching you plenty of time to disappear.

It was an incredible experience and it was incredible listening to you and hearing it from your perspective. It was amazing. As we close out because you got to talk to give here in a little bit. I got to let you go. This has truly been an honor to sit here and talk to you about all these different topics. The Jedburghs in World War II had to do three things as their habits and their foundations. You probably heard this term. They had to be able to shoot, move, and communicate. If they did these three things in their foundational skills, then they could focus their attention on more complex challenges that came their way because they weren’t worried about the basics. What are the three things that you do every day in your world to set the conditions for success?

I have two daughters. I’m married. First and foremost, above all else, I make sure to be emotionally and intellectually present with them. That’s the point of everything. We don’t distract them with screens. They don’t have access to smartphones and tablets that they can become addicted to. They’ll watch some stuff sometimes on a laptop because it’s nice child programming, but none of that vicious circle of addictive behavior on a smartphone. They don’t get any of that. They’re present too. First and foremost, that’s what I’m alive for right now is to be with them. I’m lucky to have had children.Journalist and Bestselling Author Sebastian Junger joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

Secondly, if you got to use your body, you got to exercise. We die physically, spiritually, and psychologically if we are not physically active. I run. I box. I’m a pretty intense athlete and I have been my whole life. If I stop doing those things, I immediately feel myself deteriorate a little bit. I play music every day. I play accordion actually, which is a very difficult instrument. I play all kinds of musical traditions, Irish, Mexican, and tango, but I play music every day for 1 hour or 2 every day. I’m a very camper if I do those three things.

Be present with your family. Exercise and play music.

Some discipline like that requires you to forget yourself and dedicate yourself to some craft. It’s like some discipline, whatever it is. It doesn’t have to be music.

I appreciate you taking some time with me. You’re going to give a talk here in a little bit. It’s been an amazing day out here in Jacksonville. You came from New York. I did too. I appreciate your time.

I enjoyed it. Thank you very much.


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