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Tribe (by Sebastian Junger)

During John Ford’s celebrated western film The Searchers, John Wayne’s character spends years hunting for his niece Debbie, kidnapped as a child by Comanche Indians.
When he finally finds her, she initially wants to stay with her Comanche husband rather than return home.

Although shocking in the film, it’s historically accurate. White people captured by American Indians (author Sebastian Junger’s preferred name for Native Americans) commonly chose to stay with their captors - and the book cites a case of a captive woman who hid from her would-be rescuers.

Return to the Tribe

Above:- Sebastian Junger argues in this book that people need to feel connected to others. During the war, people from different classes mixed in a way they hadn’t before and joined together in the face of a common enemy.

Even more astonishingly, from the earliest days of Europeans in America, settlers of both sexes ran away to join Indian tribes. This wasn’t just a few people, it was hundreds and hundreds. The practice was so rife that in the early 1600s, settler leaders made it an offence with harsh punishments, but over the following centuries people still ran off in huge numbers.

And it hardly ever happened the other way. Indians didn’t want to join white society.

The attraction, argues Junger, was the sense of community, the importance of the tribe, evident in other primates and in primitive human societies. The superficial attractions of American Indian life were obvious: sexual morals were more relaxed, clothing was more comfortable, religion less harsh.

But mostly it was the structure of Indian society that appealed. It was less hierarchical, essentially classless and egalitarian. As the people were nomadic, personal property hardly mattered, since it was limited to what you or your horses could carry.

What changed this natural way of living for humans was first agriculture, then industry. Accumulation of personal property led to people doing what they thought best for themselves, rather than for the common good. But, suggests Junger, we’re not happy like this. We’re wired to the lifestyle of the tribe.

Take the London Blitz during World War II. Before it began the government feared there would be riots and maybe even revolution as people fought one another for space in bomb shelters or for food.

In fact, exactly the reverse happened. People from different classes mixed in a way they hadn’t before and joined together in the face of a common enemy.
Historians credit the ‘spirit of the Blitz’ as the cause of the Labour landslide victory in the 1945 election, its strong feeling for community leading to the foundation of the NHS and a robust welfare state.

Junger, an American journalist and former war correspondent, gives many examples of what our modern way of living has cost us. In a modern city or suburb you can go through an entire day meeting only strangers. As affluence and urbanisation rise, rates of suicide and depression go up. According to the World Health Organisation, people in wealthy countries suffer eight times the depression rate of those in poorer ones. But when we revert to the tribe, things improve.

Those caught up in the bloody conflict in Bosnia often say they were happier during the war. The reason, they say, was they all pulled together, felt connected and part of something bigger than themselves.

Junger spent time embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and says he was never alone there. Soldiers slept a dozen to a shelter. You couldn’t stretch out an arm without touching someone. Men of all colours, classes and creeds bonded as they had to look out for one another. In a tribe the survival of the individual depends upon the survival of the group. The lack of this brotherhood is what makes it so hard for returning combat veterans to reintegrate into contemporary, fragmented societies.

Above all, people need to feel connected with others. It’s a good starting point for rethinking the way we live our troubled modern lives

Community spirit in the U.S. rocketed after 9/11. The suicide rate dropped dramatically. There were no rampage shootings in public places like schools and colleges for two years.

Interestingly, such shootings happen only in middle-class rural or suburban areas. There has never been one in a poor inner-city location, where gangs provide a tribal sense of belonging.

This sense of bonding with the larger group begins almost at birth. In less developed countries, children sleep with or in close proximity to their parents and often an extended family group.

It’s only in Northern European countries (and the U.S.) that small children sleep alone. It’s only here that they go through a well-known developmental stage of bonding with stuffed animals or so-called ‘comfort’ blankets.

In Junger’s small, but convincingly argued, book he quotes the self-determination theory, the things necessary for contentment. People need to feel competent at what they do. They need to feel authentic in their lives.

Above all, they need to feel connected with others. It’s a good starting point for rethinking the way we live our troubled modern lives.


It’s a shocking statistic - one of our British servicemen/women/veterans commits suicide at a rate of around one every two weeks. Nearly 400 troops killed themselves between 1995 and 2014.

In 2012 it emerged the number of British service personnel and veterans committing suicide had ¬outstripped the number that died fighting in battle. (Visit BBC NEWS -

That year 21 service personnel killed themselves, while 29 veterans committed suicide. Compare that with the 44 troops who died in Afghanistan, 40 of them in action.

So why?

The symptoms are obviously, more often than not, those of PTSD, or more accurately, Combat Stress; depression, flashbacks, guilt etc., but in veterans particularly, the causation is often hugely magnified by feelings of isolation.

Service personnel more commonly join up straight from school, where they continued to follow a 'regimented' lifestyle from their formative years, always being part of an organisation, and never having lived outside of a circle of people who share the same ethics, goals and experiences. When they join the military from school, that innate 'tribal' behaviour is encouraged, magnified, intensified, which is how basic training works; they are conditioned to persevere under the most demanding of all circumstances, knowing that if they falter, they will increase the burden on those around them, which is shameful to them.

As a nation, we ask our service personnel to give their all for their country, up to and including their lives. We send them around the world, sometimes to face the most harrowing and deadly combat. They are conditioned .

not to falter during the greatest stress the human mind will ever encounter, making split-second, adrenalin-fuelled, life and death decisions, seeing the consequences of those actions, and thereafter they are fated to live with them. They are faced not only with the deaths of enemy combatants, and their own feelings dealing with their part in that, but the deaths of comrades; brother/sisters in arms, to whom they were often closer than their own blood-siblings. This an aspect of their life in the military, and often it continues intermittently throughout their service career, in the insular world of the Armed Forces, from which they only 'visit' civilian life, when home on leave.

The military have their own medical, welfare, and social services, not to mention tight social circles, so it is very much an insular existence, but when their military service comes to an end, they are not 'reconditioned' to be like their school friends, who didn’t ‘join up’, and were supported as they become independent members of society. They are not taught the nuances and pitfalls of life in ‘Civvy Street’, guided by their parents, family and peers to become self-supporting, independent citizens, assisted in finding their first home, shown where to pay bills, to whom, and how. They have not started to climb the employment ladder, and often, despite success and promotion to positions of high responsibility in the military, the lives of their comrades often dependent on their decision-making skills, on ‘Civvy Street’, they more often than not, start at the very bottom.

They walk out of the gates for the last time, and are expected to cope alone in a world, which in many ways, is completely alien to them; a society in which it is very much 'every man for himself'. Other than resettlement courses, which are solely aimed at employment, they return with no experience or training on how to ‘survive in society’ emotionally, and because they have been conditioned to persevere, to endure, without burdening others, it does not occur to them to seek help, because that would be a failure.

More recently, this alienation of our veterans has been compounded by today’s “zero tolerance” world, where we place additional mental stress upon them. It is not just that we send men and women into combat to face the gravest of extremes, the 'rules of Engagement' are often so complex and constantly changing, that the soldier on the ground lives in constant fear of “doing something wrong.”

Soldiers returning from combat missions are debriefed by intelligence officers, but have the added worry of prosecution, in case they violated some civilian law during their latest operation. These young service personnel are expected not only to face their own deaths, but potentially a jury of their peers every time they survive a firefight.

The very government who send our service personnel on deployments, leave them vulnerable to prosecution and imprisonment over highly questionable and sometimes specious charges. They are sacrificing loyal and brave men and women, who have often faced their own demise for their country, to placate former enemies and faux allies in the interest of political expediency. We have shamefully even allowed these former enemies (who remain enemies to all of our veterans) to give evidence against our own people in order to crucify them.

What message are we giving to the service personnel and veterans? Is there any wonder that morale in the forces has reached an all-time low, and 400 soldiers a month are quitting the Army as these witch-hunts 'create a state of fear'?

The message seems to be; ‘we will send you into the most horrific situations imaginable, and if you fail to adhere to rules that your enemy does not follow, and have no place on the battlefield anyway, we will allow your life to be destroyed; we will sacrifice you on the altar of political pragmatism, or we will send you out into an uncaring society, alone, where you will languish and expire. If you take your own life we will then step in front of the microphones to express grave concerns, bolstering our own popularity with our feigned interest in the fates of veterans’.

The public are disconnected from veterans, because they have no comprehension of their experiences, and can barely bring themselves to say “thank you for your service” as they do in the US, never mind protesting at their treatment, as they move on with their lives. They applaud the veterans on Remembrance Day, as they, the veterans, remember their brothers and sisters who cannot stand beside them, but they stand awkwardly silent as servicemen and women are molested and treated like terrorists by the bottom-feeders, and simply move on.

At this point you will have recognised a theme; our veterans and servicemen are neglected, abused and abandoned by the very government that recruited them, and used them as chess pieces in their domestic and foreign policies.

Sebastian Junger, author of 'The Perfect Storm', and a war correspondent, draws on his experience and puts it quite succinctly in his Ted Talk. Sebastian Junger's 'Ted Talk' - Visit link here (this is well worth watching).

Veterans are helping themselves

The Breakfast Clubs provide familiar surroundings for service leavers, allowing them to remain a member of ‘a team’ of their peers, giving mutual support, ending isolation and allowing them to ‘return to the tribe’.

Service leavers will know they are not alone, and they can draw on the experiences of those that have already left service. They make the transition seem more like getting ‘posted’ to Civvy Street, significantly lessening the negative impact.

Service personnel near to the end of their service career should attend a Breakfast Club local to their final posting, to allow them to familiarise themselves with this resource. Local resettlement officers could attend Breakfast Clubs, as well as representatives from local T.A. units and the local council’s ‘Veterans Champion’, so that the Breakfast Clubs can become a ‘half-way house’ for new leavers; a mixture of military and civilian life, which the Breakfast Clubs by their nature already are.

People being released from prison are supported by organisations such as ‘NACRO’ (National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders), so why shouldn’t Service Personnel get the same, if not BETTER support?

Setting up support agencies and services, and expecting veterans to go to them has long been the normal practice, but from a psychological perspective, this clearly has its limitations when dealing with individuals who have been trained and conditioned to persevere and succeed under all circumstances, despite all adversities. This means that often, these organisations only become aware of individuals when the situation is already desperate. It makes more sense for the agencies to go to them, and exploit the peer pressure that Breakfast Clubs could bring to bear.

There should be familiarity for new leavers, and the Breakfast Clubs can provide this.