Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Book review: "The Forever War" by Dexter Filkins

We should be grateful for reporters like Dexter Filkins. In order to tell us what was happening in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he ventured into battle zones, waded into angry mobs, and met face to face with men who wanted to see Americans die. Frankly, he's fortunate to be alive.

It's gritty, first-hand reporting, and much of it is grim. In Afghanistan, he watches a beheading. In Iraq, soldiers in the battle for Falluja are gunned down and die in front of him. As important as the subject is, I'd actually suggest NOT trying to read too much of this book at once. It can be too depressing.

While many find these wars hard to fathom, Filkins' reporting leads to key insights. In Afghanistan, for instance, he notes that the loyalties of fighters could be quickly switched.

"Men fought, men switched sides, men lined up and fought again. War in Afghanistan often seemed like a game of pickup basketball, a contest among friends, a tournament where you never knew which team you'd be on when the next game got under way. Shirts today, skins tomorrow. ... War was serious in Afghanistan, but not that serious. It was part of everyday life. It was a job. Only the civilians seemed to lose."

On trying to find the truth in Iraq:

"It wasn't just that the Iraqis lied. Of course they lied. It was that they had more to consider than the Americans were ever willing to give them credit for. The Iraqis had to live in their neighborhoods, after the American soldiers had gone home. The Iraqis had to survive. They had their children to consider. For the Iraqis, life among the Americans often meant living a double life, the one they thought the Americans wanted to see, and the real one they lived when the Americans went home."

"The Forever War" gives you an up-close look at the wars that I doubt you'll find matched in any other book. Still, the book has some weaknesses. As good as the  stories are, there isn't much of a continuing thread to tie them together. Many chapters could be read out of order. And there isn't much connecting the sections on Afghanistan and Iraq. Perhaps they should have been separate books.

No comments:

Post a Comment