The Forever War

The Forever War

by Dexter Filkins


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National Bestseller

One of the Best Books of the Year:

New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Boston Globe, and Time


An instant classic of war reporting, The Forever War is the definitive account of America's conflict with Islamic fundamentalism and a searing exploration of its human costs. Through the eyes of Filkins, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, we witness the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s, the aftermath of the attack on New York on September 11th, and the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Filkins is the only American journalist to have reported on all these events, and his experiences are conveyed in a riveting narrative filled with unforgettable characters and astonishing scenes.


Brilliant and fearless, The Forever War is not just about America's wars after 9/11, but about the nature of war itself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307279446
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/02/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 201,914
Product dimensions: 5.24(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.78(d)

About the Author

Dexter Filkins, a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, has covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. Before that, he worked for the Los Angeles Times, where he was chief of the paper’s New Delhi bureau, and for The Miami Herald. In 2009, he was part of a team of Times reporters who won a Pulitzer Prize for covering Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has received a George Polk Award and two Overseas Press Club awards. Most recently, he was a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Only ThisThey led the man to a spot at the middle of the field. A soccer field, grass, with mainly dirt around the center where the players spent most of the game. There was a special section for the handicapped on the far side, a section for women. The orphans were walking up and down the bleachers on my side selling candy and cigarettes.A couple of older men carried whips. They wore grenade launchers on their backs.The people are coming, a voice was saying into the loudspeaker, and the voice was right, the people were streaming in and taking their seats. Not with any great enthusiasm, as far as I could tell; they were kind of shuffling in. I probably had more enthusiasm than anybody. I had a special seat; they’d put me in the grass at the edge of the field. In America, I would have been on the sidelines, at the fifty yard line with the coaches. Come sit with us, they’d said; you are our honored guest.A white Toyota Hi-Lux drove onto the field and four men wearing green hoods climbed out of the back. There was a fifth man, a prisoner, no hood, sitting in the bed of the truck. The hooded men laid their man in the grass just off midfield, flat on his back, and crouched around him. It was hard to see. The man on his back was docile; there was no struggle at all. The voice on the loudspeaker said he was a pickpocket.“Nothing that is being done here is against God’s law,” the voice said.The green hoods appeared busy, and one of them stood up. He held the man’s severed right hand in the air, displaying it for the crowd. He was holding it up by its middle finger, moving in a semicircle so everyone could see. The handicapped and the women. Then he pulled his hood back, revealing his face, and he took a breath. He tossed the hand into the grass and gave a little shrug.I couldn’t tell if the pickpocket had been given any sort of anesthesia. He wasn’t screaming. His eyes were open very wide, and as the men with the hoods lifted him back into the bed of the Hi-Lux, he stared at the stump of his hand. I took notes the whole time.I looked back at the crowd, and it was remarkably calm, unfeeling almost, which wasn’t really surprising, after all they’d been through. A small drama with the orphans was unfolding in the stands; they were getting crazy and one of the guards was beating them with his whip.“Get back,” he was saying, drawing the whip over his head. The orphans cowered.I thought that was it, but as it turned out the amputation was just a warm-up. Another Toyota Hi-Lux, this one ma-roon, rumbled onto midfield carrying a group of long-haired men with guns. The long hair coming out of their white turbans. They had a blindfolded man with them. The Taliban were known for a lot of things and the Hi-Lux was one, jacked up and fast and menacing; they had conquered most of the country with them. You saw a Hi-Lux and you could be sure that something bad was going to happen soon.“The people are coming!” the voice said again into the speaker, louder now and more excited. “The people are coming to see, with their own eyes, what sharia means.”The men with guns led the blindfolded man from the truck and walked him to midfield and sat him down in the dirt. His head and body were wrapped in a dull gray blanket, all of a piece. Seated there in the dirt at midfield at the Kabul Sports Stadium, he didn’t look much like a man at all, more like a sack of flour. In that outfit, it was difficult even to tell which way he was facing. His name was Atiqullah, one of the Talibs said.The man who had pulled his hood back was standing at midfield, facing the crowd. The voice on the loudspeaker introduced him as Mulvi Abdur Rahman Muzami, a judge. He was pacing back and forth, his green surgical smock still intact. The crowd was quiet.Atiqullah had been convicted of killing another man in an irrigation dispute, the Talibs said. An argument over water. He’d beaten his victim to death with an ax, or so they said. He was eighteen.“The Koran says the killer must be killed in order to create peace in society,” the loudspeaker said, echoing inside the stadium. “If punishment is not meted out, such crimes will become common. Anarchy and chaos will return.”By this time a group had gathered behind me. It was the family of the murderer and the family of the victim. The two groups behind me were toing-and-froing as in a rugby game. One family spoke, leaning forward, then the other. The families were close enough to touch. Sharia law allows for the possibility of mercy: Atiqullah’s execution could be halted if the family of the victim so willed it.Judge Muzami hovered a few feet away, watching.“Please spare my son,” Atiqullah’s father, Abdul Modin, said. He was weeping. “Please spare my son.”“I am not ready to do that,” the victim’s father, Ahmad Noor, said, not weeping. “I am not ready to forgive him. He killed my son. He cut his throat. I do not forgive him.”The families were wearing olive clothes that looked like old blankets and their faces were lined and dry. The women were weeping. Everyone looked the same. I forgot who was who.“Even if you gave me all the gold in the world,” Noor said, “I would not accept it.”Then he turned to a young man next to him. My son will do it, he said.The mood tightened. I looked back and saw the Taliban guards whipping some children who had tried to sneak into the stadium. Atiqullah was still sitting on the field, possibly oblivious. The voice crackled over the loudspeaker.“O ye who believe!” the voice in the loudspeaker called. “Revenge is prescribed for you in the matter of the murdered; the freeman for the freeman, and the slave for the slave, and the female for the female.“People are entitled to revenge.”One of the green hoods handed a Kalashnikov to the murder victim’s brother. The crowd fell silent.Just then a jumbo jet appeared in the sky above, rumbling, forcing a pause in the ceremony. The brother stood holding his Kalashnikov. I looked up. I wondered how a jet airliner could happen by such a place, over a city such as this, wondered where it might be going. I considered for a second the momentary collision of the centuries.The jumbo jet flew away and the echo died and the brother crouched and took aim, leveling his Kalashnikov at Atiqullah’s head.“In revenge there is life,” the loudspeaker said.The brother fired. Atiqullah lingered motionless for a second then collapsed in a heap under the gray blanket. I felt what I believed was a vibration from the stands. The brother stood over Atiqullah, aimed his AK-47 and fired again. The body lay still under the blanket.“In revenge there is life,” the loudspeaker said.The brother walked around Atiqullah, as if he were looking for signs of life. Seeing one, apparently, he crouched and fired again.Spectators rushed onto the field just like the end of a college football game. The two men, killer and avenger, were carried away in separate Hi-Luxes, one maroon, one white. The brother stood up in the bed of the white truck as it rumbled away, surrounded by his fellows. He held his arms in the air and was smiling.I had to move fast to talk to people before they went home. Most everyone said they approved, but no one seemed to have any enthusiasm.“In America, you have television and movies—the cinema,” one of the Afghans told me. “Here, there is only this.”I left the stadium and walked in a line of people through the streets. I spotted something in the corner of my eye. It was a boy, a street boy, with bright green eyes. He was standing in an alley, watching me. The boy stood for a few more seconds, his eyes following mine. Then he turned and ran.In the late afternoons the center of Kabul had an empty, twilight feel, a quiet that promised nothing more than another day like itself. There were hardly any cars then, just some women floating silently in their head-to-toe burqas.* Old meat hung in the stalls. Buildings listed in the ruins.One of those afternoons, a thin little shoeshine boy walked up to me. He was smiling and running his finger across his throat.“Mother is no more,” he said, finger across the neck. “Father is finished.”His name was Nasir and he repeated the phrase in German and French, smiling as he did. “Mutter ist nicht mehr. Vater ist fertig.” He dragged the finger across his throat again. Rockets, he said. Racketen. His pale green eyes were rimmed in black. He did not ask for money; he wanted to clean my boots. Then he was gone, scampering down the muddy street with his tiny wooden box.Kabul was full of orphans like Nasir, woebegone children who peddled little labors and fantastic tales of grief. You’d see them in packs of fifty and sometimes even a hundred, skittering in mismatched shoes and muddy faces. They’d thunder up to you like a herd of wild horses; you could hear the padding of so many tiny feet. Sometimes I’d wonder where all the parents had gone, why they’d let their children run around like that, and then I’d catch myself. The orphans would get out of control sometimes, especially when they saw a foreigner, grabbing and shoving one another, until they were scattered by one of the men with whips. They’d come out of nowhere, the whip wielders, like they’d been waiting offstage. The kids would squeal and scatter, then circle back again, grinning. If I raised a hand, they’d flinch like strays.If a war went on long enough the men always died, and someone had to take their place. Once I found seven boy soldiers fighting for the Northern Alliance on a hilltop in a place called Bangi. The Taliban positions were just in view, a minefield in between. The boys were wolflike, monosyllabic with no attention spans. Eyes always darting. Laughing the whole time. Dark fuzz instead of beards. They wore oddly matched apparel like high-top tennis shoes and hammer-and-sickle belts, embroidered hajj caps and Russian rifles.I tried to corner one of the boys on the hill. His face was half wrapped in a checkered scarf that covered his mouth. Abdul Wahdood. All I could see were his eyes. I kept asking him how old he was and he kept looking over at his brother. His father had been killed a year before, he said, but they fed him here and with the money he could take care of his whole family, $30 a month. “My mother is not weeping,” Abdul said. I could see how bored he was, and his friends definitely noticed because one of them started firing his Kalashnikov over our heads. That really got them going, laughing hilariously and falling over each other. Two of them started wrestling. My photographer and I calmed them down and asked them to pose in a picture with us, and they lined up and grew very grave. After that they stood behind us in a semicircle and raised their guns, not like they were aiming at anything but more like they were saluting. Then a couple of men appeared on the hilltop bearing a kettle of rice and the boys descended on it. The Taliban came down the road a few months later. I’ve got the boys’ picture on a bookcase in my apartment.I drove in from the east. I rode in a little taxi, on a road mostly erased, moving slowly across the craters as the Big Dipper rose over the tops of the mountains that encircled the capital on its high plateau. The cars in front of us were disappearing into the craters as we were climbing out of ours, disappearing then reappearing, swimming upward and then out, like ships riding the swells.I passed the overturned tanks of the departed army, the red stars faded on the upside-down turrets. I passed checkpoints manned by men who searched for music. I stopped halfway and drank cherry juice from Iran and watched the river run through the walls of the Kabul gorge. There was very little electricity then, so I couldn’t see much of the city coming in, neither the people nor the landscape nor the ruined architecture, nothing much but the twinkling stars. From the car, I could make out the lighter shade of the blasted buildings, lighter gray against the darkness of everything else, the scree and the wash of the boulders and bricks, a shattered window here and there. A single turbaned man on a bicycle.One morning I was standing amid the blown-up storefronts and the broken buildings of Jadi Maiwand, the main shopping street before it became a battlefield, and I was trying to take it in when I suddenly had the sensation one sometimes feels in the tropics, believing that a rock is moving, only to discover it is a living thing perfectly camouflaged. They were crawling out to greet me: legless men, armless boys, women in tents. Children without teeth. Hair stringy and matted.Help us, they said.Help us. A woman appeared. I guessed it was a woman but I couldn’t see her through her burqa. “Twelve years of schooling,” she said, and she kept repeating the phrase like some mantra, like it would get her a job.For the first time I was talking to a woman I couldn’t see. I could trace the words as they exited the vent, watch the fabric flutter as she breathed and spoke. But no face. No mouth. “Twelve years of schooling,” she said. She had a name, Shah Khukhu, fifty, a mother of five, missing a finger and a leg. She was hiking up her burqa to show me.*A burqua is a head-to-toe garment worn by women.

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Forever War 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 93 reviews.
Kay_Fair More than 1 year ago
Named one of the "10 best books of 2008" by the New York Times and brandishing a National Book Critics Circle Award, The Forever War by journalist Dexter Filkins has been leering at me from my Need-To-Read list for quite some time. "Consider the source," I warned myself as I first cracked it open; bracing myself for the far, far, far left wing swing I expected from a book written by a former reporter for both the L.A. and New York Times. "Be patient," my inner voice also advised, as I anticipated a long two-week trek of forcing myself through a dry and emotionless propaganda spew, chapter by painful chapter. Forty eight hours later, I was done. And I was so very, very wrong. There, I said it. The book begins with Mr. Filkins recounting some of his more colorful experiences in Afghanistan prior to the American military intervention. A barbaric judicial ritual, mangled bodies, and an emotionally, economically, and spiritually exhausted nation are the main take-aways. But then, without pause, explanation, or even the outline of a travel itinerary, Mr. Filkins is suddenly in Iraq. I can't be sure that he wrote this transition-less transition for the purpose of creating the impression it left readers (like me) with, but I hope so. It was a "wow, how did we end up here?" sort of a moment... much like the war itself. The United States was supposedly trucking right along in Afghanistan when, poof! Iraq, here we come! It was just that quick, and just that inevitable. (complete review at whatrefuge.blogspot)
cannonball More than 1 year ago
Presented as a series of vignettes, this book details war from the point of view of those who must slog through it. The Forever War is not a chronological history or a who's who of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rather Filkins offers tales of civilians, soldiers, and others caught in a confusing maelstrom of death and destruction. There is no attempt to make ultimate sense of the situation or to explain the logic behind the chaos. In a broad sense, the book represents a powerful portrayal of any war, any time. However, as an account of the recent Mideast wars specifically, the book brilliantly describes the meltdown of society in Iraq and the failure of authorities to understand it--let alone contain it. Filkins' adventures as a reporter, while at times bordering on the suicidal, capture the ambivalence of many Iraqis about being liberated as well as the isolation of the liberators themselves who stay well-protected inside Bahgdad's Green Zone. Written with great humanity, The Forever War is easy to read and hard to put down. It's an important book and a must read.
adamgn More than 1 year ago
I bought this after listening to Filkins' interview on NPR. I was immediately blown away from beginning to end. I gave it low ratings for "Topical Conversation" because I've found this to be the only book I've read in a long, long time that I don't know how to talk about. It's so powerful and moving that abbreviated descriptions can't explain it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dexter Filkins really solidifies himself as the top war correspondent of our generation with his gripping first hand accounts of what the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are really like. His drive and dedication to brave death again and again are remarkable as he brings the stories of men and women from both sides of this "Forever War" that is gripping the Middle East. This is an unprecedented account of the wars in the Middle East and will undoubtedly be a part of the foundation of numerous books to come in regards to what has occurred in the Middle East since 1998. This is a superb book and extremely eye opening. I would recommend anyone looking for insight to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or just a good book in general to read "The Forever War", it will not disappoint. It is as gripping as it is eye opening. It will both sober you and delight you. Terrific book, highly recommend it.
ger1959 More than 1 year ago
I urge anyone who wants to know about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but who have never served to read "The Forever War." Author Dexter Filkins. Dexter is a fearless throwback to the war corresspondents of the past who embedded on the front lines and captured a perspective rarely seen by anyone but combatants. The insights he provides based on his experiences in both combat zones are utterly harrowing and uniquely inspiring and candid. I have read almost all of the narratives written about Iraq and Afghanistan and by far, this is one of the best. Dexter's amazing ability to convey his experiences to written words is only surpassed by his unflinching willingness to go into harm's way to achieve the insights. He is the real deal and so is this book!
dbeveridge on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Vietnam was still fresh when I read Dispatches by Michael Herr. The intimacy and immediacy and apparent formlessness of the book unsettled me, but of course it felt like Vietnam, dark and frightening, shifting and hard to pin down. And now Dexter Filkins has done the same for this too too similar war. I find this even better and more compelling than Dispatches. Is that because I'm thirty years older and know more of the world? Whatever the reason, this is wonderful reporting, painful, brutal and ultimately frustrating as the war it tries to describe.
DRFP on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
To be honest, on one level I'm a little disappointed with this book. The title, I thought, promised some sort of explanation as to why Iraq / Afghanistan and the entire war on terror is potentially a perpetual conflict America (or the West) could get bogged down in and one it will find very hard to win. Filkins doesn't provide any analysis on that level. Nor does he bring much analysis to the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan besides some rather bland statements that things are tricky there because the people have been through a lot and naturally, as foreigners, they're not going to behave the same as we would.Having said that and been disappointed with it, I still think this is a very good book. If you go into it just wanting snapshots of what these countries were like, from a reporter who spent years on the ground there, then you'll get a very satisfying account. Many of Filkins' vignettes are extremely sad and provide details of the minutiae of life in these countries that get glossed over in the news reports or column inches devoted to these conflicts.So from that point of view I think this is an excellent book and one has to admire Filkins for putting himself in a lot of danger. It's just a shame the author couldn't draw some significant conclusions from everything he saw, instead of just relating the horrific events he witnessed. That would have made this a great book instead of just a good one.
Wheatland on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an outstanding collection of journalistic snapshots from the post-2001 wars, first in Afghanistan and then Iraq. Each chapter, or chapter section, relates a story or event in anywhere from three to a dozen pages. It's usually a war story in which the author figures personally, such as when accompanying US soldiers in combat, or interviewing politicians or combatants on all sides.The writing is fluid, focused, and not overstated. The author rarely quotes himself in his interviews or descriptions but lets others supply the dialogue while he freely relates his own state of mind and feelings.This method seems to work well, and he does not use this book as a preaching platform. He also acknowledges that his conversations with Afghanis and Iraqis was almost always through intrepid and amazingly brave interpreters.Not every episode or journalistic snapshot is dated in this book, nor are they presented sequentially, other than the ones involving Afghanistan appearing first. This timelessness, or absence of progressive narrative, is at times annoying, but it does contribute to the title's meaning--the war has been going on and on, and will continue to do so. Here the term "war" refers to the collection of actions and attitudes on the part of the US government that it calls the War on Terror.There's a statement made at the beginning of the film, The Hurt Locker, that war is a drug. If so, it would seem to apply to the author, who stayed on in Iraq, year after year, outside the Green Zone, putting himself through one dangerous situation after another. In the book's final sentences the author obliquely refers to the costs he paid in weaning himself off this drug.
norinrad10 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you read only one book about Afghanistan and Iraq this is it. The rare non-fiction that"ll make you want to cry. Strongly recommend.
kmmt48 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The author had a great deal of experience reporting from Afghanistan and Irag and gives detailed insight into the local situation during his time in each war arena. A more personal account of the actual participants then can be gleaned from news accounts.
choochtriplem on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An in depth look of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq by the people who live it night and day. The author goes to great detail (and sometimes great danger) to recount the stories of local populations, soldiers, politicians and even insurgents and how the war has effected them and their lives. The author gets various opinions from all sorts of people all over the region. It is a wonderful way to examine not only how American's on the ground view the war, but also local Iraqi's and how the cope with their backyard being a constant war zone. I would suggest this book to whoever wants an un-biased view on either the war in Afghanistan or the war in Iraq.
bblum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It is time to get out of this mess. The Afghan War will never end and we are not helping. Filkens is an interesting an observant reporter and I may be reading my own biases into this book.
emed0s on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Filkins manages to give the reader, what it feels like, an insider's view of the war. He was in Afghanistan when it was ruled by the Taliban and not only reflects the well know atrocities but completes the gloomy picture with the stories of individual Afghans. He was in Iraq and clearly depicts many views into the doings and misdoings of all sides, the Americans and the Iraqis and foreign fighters, from the Court Martial acts to the funny scenes and the Iranian links.
homan9118 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Forever War was an excellent, excellent, excellent book. It was not just an explanation of why the war in the Middle East is going on, but a first hand account of being over there as a reporter, and as a soldier. There are some very powerful passages. Highly recommended.
KendraRenee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Filkins's book is not so much a coherent story as it is a collection of multiple and, at times, repetitive vignettes, designed to hammer home his main point to the reader: that THIS WAR IS COMPLICATED. My god I've never seen so much gray in my life as I did when reading this book. Filkins does a fabulous job of painting an accurate, depressing, nuanced picture of what's *really* going on over there. Recommend to anyone who wants the facts about America's 10 years of war-mongering in the Middle East.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful: Great writing about horrific stuff. First off, let me say Dexter Filkins is one helluva good writer. Secondly, I have to tell you that I could only read this book in small portions, a chapter or two at a time, and then put it aside for a time to digest the horror and near hopelessness of what he was describing about his several years - yes,YEARS - spent reporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. During those months and years, Filkins made it a point to get to know the men and officers he worked with and wrote about them, unsentimentally, but still in ways that will break your heart. Here's a brief sample. "Corporal Nathan Anderson was dead. He was a lanky kid from a small town in Ohio who was always taking his buddies' spare change to raise money for his sister's college tuition. Af few days before, after we'd run through machine-gun fire to cross 40th Street, Anderson had braved gunfire to go back and rescue his friends. Anderson's buddies did the same here, charging into the gunfire to get him. He'd died in their arms." There are so many small stories of lives cut short here, they will make you weep. Cpl Romulo Jiminez, a hot rod fanatic from West Virginia, shot through the spine, dead. Sgt Lonny Wells, who loved to play poker and "knew all the probabilities," killed by gunfire crossing that same 40th Street. Cpl Gentian Marku, an Albanian immigrant who came to the US at 14, shot and killed on Thanksgiving day. I almost had to turn away as I read these short personal histories, but Filkins did his job; he told their stories. "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 and they did what they were told and they killed people ... Out there in Falluja, in the streets, I was happy they were in front of me." During his time in the wars, Filkins crossed paths with people you've read about in the newspapers - Paul Bremer, the various commanding generals who have come and gone in the two theaters of the "forever war" on terror. He even crossed the border into Iran and sat in on a meeting between Chalabi and Ahmadinejad. He takes you into the maze-like intricacies of intrigue and vengeance that are common in the tribal systems that have held sway in this region for centuries - things that western minds can simply not comprehend. He makes you feel the grime, the sweat, the unrelenting 100-plus degree heat that permeates everything - in Baghdad, Kabul, Kandahar and Ramadi. You will jog with Filkins along the Tigris river where he is pursued by packs of wild dogs and intimidated by Iraqi checkpoint guards - an insanely dangerous routine he can't seem to stop. Filkins put himself in harm's way repeatedly and always managed to narrowly avert capture and death, and not a few times because some young soldier saved him - at great sacrifice. He is still haunted by those times, and wonders if it was worth it, particularly when he is confronted by a woman who has just voted in the first democratic elections in Iraq - "'I voted in order to prevent my country from being destroyed by its enemies,; she said ... What enemies, I asked ... 'You - you destroyed our country,' Saadi said. 'The Americans, the British. I am sorry to be impolite. But you destroyed ou country and you called it democracy. Democracy,' she said. 'It is just talking.' ... " Filkins realizes with sadness that East does not meet West, that there is perhaps an uncrossable chasm between the two cultures that can never be bridged. THE FOREVER WAR is fine journalism, a book that should stand beside the works of Ernie Pyle and Bill Mauldin; a work to be shelved between Herr's Dispatches and O'Brien's The Things They Carried.
bruchu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Immorality of WarIf you read one book this year, Dexter Filkin's "Forever War" should be the one. Filkins has spent the past decade at the center of the two major conflict zones of this generation in Afghanistan and Iraq. To date, nobody has been able to capture the day to day events on the ground for the entire length of time as realistically as Filkins has done in "Forever War." It is truly a gem of a book. As a journalist for the New York Times, Filkins is uniquely positioned to witness the barbarity of war first hand and put that experience onto paper like no one else can. When compared to Evan Wright's "Generation Kill," I think Filkins is more polished, more accomplished and therefore there is a profound sense of professionalism throughout that is sometimes laking in "Generation Kill."The book is structured very much like a diary. Written in the first person, the stories are personal stories. Filkins writes about things that are happening to him and he mixes in some of the major news stories of both Afghanistan and Iraq such as John Walker Lindh, Jessica Lynch, the 4 contractors in Falluja, Nicholas Berg, or Jill Carroll. We get more than just canned reports from being inside the Green Zone. Filkins tells us what's happening in the streets. For example, in Afghanistan he writes: "In my many trips to Afghanistan, I grew to adore the place, for its beauty and its perversions... I sat in a mud-brick hut near Bamiyan, the site of a gnawing famine, and a man and his family pressed upon me, their overfed American guest, their final disk of bread." (p. 24).His selection of words, style of writing, its clear that Filkins is an accomplished writer in his own right. He writes: "So the war could go on forever. 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 frineds, a tournament where you never knew which team you'd be on when the next game got under way. Shirts today, skins tomorrow." (p 51). The writing is just so fluid, vivid, and ingenuousness. You can't help but stop, reread, and admire passages like that. Another major coup for Filkins is his impartiality. That is no easy feat for an American, reporting on Americans in foreign lands, there is a built-in bias which is hard to get away from. Filkins shows everything, he gives you the raw data, and he lets you the reader decide what to think. Obviously he has his opinions, but he keeps them mostly close to the vest. I think the following passage captures his sentiments perfectly: "There were ugly moments and there were hopeful ones, and they made me wonder not only what the Americans were doing to Iraq, but what Iraq was doing to the Americans. The struggle for the country was mirrored in the hearts of the men." (p. 152).The Battle of Falluja is one of the parts of the book (Chp Pearland) that will literally make you cringe. At times, the writing is so raw, unedited, and macabre you literally feel yourself inside the humvee, or on the street, or hunkered down behind a barricade. If there ever was a hell on earth, it certainly was Falluja in 2004. Last but not least, the story of Jill Carroll's kidnapping, and specifically Filkins role in attempting to find her and secure her release is just the perfect story that symbolizes the complex underground labyrinth of Iraq at war. I can tell that Filkins still thinks about those days quite a bit. I wouldn't be surprised if "Forever War" or portions of were made into a movie, or if it won the Pulitzer Prize, it really is that good. Filkins deserves every praise, every award for this incredible memoir.
iftyzaidi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
NYT journalist Dexter Filkins describes his experiences reporting from Afghanistan and Iraq over many years in a series of viginettes. Some reviewers have described this reporting without editorializing, but a more accurate description might be reporting without contextualizing, which can be a kind of editorializing in of itself. So for example, we get a series of viginettes from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, then one from ground-zero after 9/11, then more from Afghanistan once the regime is being toppled and then a shift to Iraq, where the rest of the book stays (except for a final more introspective chapter from Cambridge, Massachusetts after he has left the war zone). What the link between Iraq and 9/11 and Afghanistan is, and why the United States is engaged in a 'Forever War' there is really left to the reader to work out. Generally the on-the-ground reporting is very good, but for those who want a fuller overview of the post 9/11 wars, this should probably be read in conjunction with a different book
TheBookJunky on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fast read. War reporting, from the ground, gives us a view from 6 feet, and sometimes at 3 feet when they¿re crouching to dodge the snipers. The war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nothing new or unexpected, but gripping nonetheless.
Quickpint on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a well-written book that sheds a huge amount of light on the Iraq occupation. Dexter Filkins was in-country for five years, and seems to have stayed mostly out of the Green Zone, thanks in no small part to the New York Times, which ran its bureau like a military compound, and hired a small private army. Despite this one imagines it took some degree of courage on the author¿s part too, although he would probably frame his ¿risk-assessment¿ somewhat differently. Chiefly because of this, but also because of Filkins¿ previous time in Afghanistan, it¿s an invaluable text for anyone seeking an understanding of that time. I can tell you it is an infinitely superior work to anything written by British civil administrators in the CPA; Rory Stewart or Hilary Synnott, conceited British snobs who understood very little of what they saw. It has unfairly but inevitably drawn comparisons with Herr¿s Despatches. Despatches is a seminal but an entirely different work. Herr was present in a war that was saturated with media presence; Filkins in Iraq is a more solitary light. Also, Herr¿s work is infused with introspection, and a weird kind of lyrical war-poetry. What Herr saw was not intrinsically important in terms of reportage, what Filkins saw is. There are stories and anecdotes in this book which will open your eyes. While he makes several stylistic nods towards Herr, Filkins has something else to bring to the table. He has more to focus on. For all this it is still in parts an infuriating book. Filkins sees everything through American eyes, but this isn¿t so terrible, because he never pretends not to. He wears his subjectivity on his sleeve. A review of The Forever War in the Herald argued it was refreshing to read a book on Iraq that wasn¿t an argument, but there is an argument in this book, latently, or at least a tacit acceptance of the war as something without a moral dimension, as something that just happened, and that probably should have. There is too running through this the implication that the Iraq invasion wasn¿t a moral disaster, that Islam has something dark and violent and its heart, that the Americans that fought there were making some kind of positive contribution. Further, there is the old American insularity. There is far more scorn poured on the Iraqi people than on US soldiers. Political motivations back in Washington, George Bush, Bremer, American attitudes towards the Middle East and foreigners in general, these things aren¿t mentioned at all. When, concluding, he talks of those Iraqis and Pakistanis lucky enough to come into the New York Times¿ orbit, and thereby later get visas for America, his tone is slightly sickening. As if there was nothing really out there, beyond the borders of the States, no countries or cultures worth living in, nothing really to be built or saved. When he was in Iraq he might as well have been in outer space, he adds. I suspect Filkins¿ social alienation post-Iraq is not just the trauma of coming back from a war zone, but also the sign of a huge cognitive dissonance. It will remain so until he figures out an argument he can live with. As informative and competent as this book is, it¿s probably best to accompany it with a more thoughtful analysis. I would recommend Jonathan Steele¿s Defeat.
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