Dana Stabenow's Reviews > The Forever War

The Forever War by Dexter Filkins
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really liked it

Impossible to praise this book too highly. It doesn’t tell how we got into Iraq and Afghanistan, or how to get out of it, no blame assigned, no pointing of fingers, this isn’t that book. It’s just a reportorial account of what Filkins saw when he was stationed in both places as a journalist, a book that counts the human cost of war. He is an extraordinarily able writer, his prose is so sharp it leaves marks on your skin. Some examples:

[in Afghanistan:] Sometimes on the street a woman would pass and you’d hear something from behind the vent in her burqa. Sometimes it was light and flirtatious, sometimes a little darker.
“I was a teacher of Persian,” one of them said once from behind her vent. “This is like a death.”


[in Iraq:]…whenever the prospect of normalcy presented itself, a long line of Iraqis always stood up and reached for it…And they went to the slaughter. Thousands and thousands of them: editors, pamphleteers, judges and police officers…The insurgents were brilliant at that. They could spot a fine mind or a tender soul wherever it might be, chase it down and kill it dead. The heart of a nation. The precision was astounding.


“There were ugly moments and there were hopeful ones,” Filkins writes, “and they made me wonder not only what the Americans were doing to Iraq, but what Iraq was doing to Americans.” He goes on to describe an American raid on the village of Abu Shakur, where men, women and children were pulled from their beds in the early hours of the morning and found no guns or suspects in the subsequent search. “If you multiplied the raid on Abu Shakur a thousand times, it was not difficult to conclude that the war was being lost: however many Iraqis opposed them before the Americans came into the village, dozens and dozens more did by the time they left. The Americans were making enemies faster than they could kill them.”

I had to put the book down after chapter 11, “Pearland,” where he describes the battle of Falluja, and walk away from it for a while.

…Bravo Company’s three platoon leaders, each responsible for the lives of fifty men, were twenty-three and twenty-four years old,” Filkins writes, but he also goes on to say, “There wasn’t any point in sentimentalizing the kids; they were trained killers, after all. They could hit a guy at five hundred yards or cut his throat from ear-to-ear. And they didn’t ask a lot of questions. They had faith, they did what they were told and they killed people.

But he calls them kids, because that’s what they are. Just kids.

There is a brief chapter that describes his life when he returns home to America and the alienation he feels.

We drew closer to each other, the hacks and the vets and the diplomats, anyone who’d been over there. My friend George, an American reporter I’d gotten to know in Iraq, told me he couldn’t have a conversation with anyone about Iraq who hadn’t been there. I told him I couldn’t have a conversation with anyone who hadn’t been there about anything at all.

You should read this book. If you think you can bear it.
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Reading Progress

October 10, 2008 – Shelved
Started Reading
January 22, 2009 – Finished Reading

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