Michael's Reviews > The Forever War

The Forever War by Dexter Filkins
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's review
May 12, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction, american-foreign-policy
Read from May 12 to June 02, 2010

Filkins makes a narrative out of a war that is not by its nature a narrative, and in the process glosses over many of the political complexities of the crisis, but still creates a value document of cultures and real-life tragedies largely unknown to most Americans.


Through the horrible violence and loathing, the Afghan people have a resolve that shows in their humor and willingness to stay in the rubble of their own civilization. Afghan life seems to be a game of hot potato, where you switch sides, mujaheddin versus Talibs, and hope to be on the right side when all's done.

Filkins shows that elements in Iraqi society destroyed the little hope for successful reconstruction that there may have been, but he does not, at least at first, delve deep into those elements. Filkins seems to have less of a grasp on the Iraqis than he has on the Afghans. His strokes of poetry seem a bit heavy-handed, especially the forced airplane imagery, but when he lets the images and characters speak for themselves, as with the blond auction, this is powerful and literary. At times it seems as though certain Iraqis, and I'm sure there are similar people everywhere, have been driven to a horrific, lusty voyeurism that was not so long ago the domain of science fiction, though long before that public executions were run of the mill. Filkins does not allow himself time for reflection when it might be helpful, or even necessary, as when he and Ashley get a marine killed for a photo. One thing is strikingly clear, no American knows a clearly defined plan of action in Iraq and the random aimlessness of Filkins' narrative is not just a literary device. The desperation in Iraq is embodied by the CIA taking advantage of Filkins' fixer and capturing an insurgent based on a phone number. In his retrospective epilogue, Filkins creates a quiet isolation, the shell shock and alienation of any veteran of an unpopular war.

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