REVIEW: 'The Forever War,' by Dexter Filkins

When my good friend left for the war in Iraq, I hadn’t really done any reading about the situation over there. I did not know what to expect when he left, what the climate was across the sea, or even how to approach him without making a joke. Dexter Filkins’s book, The Forever War, has finally given me some small perspective on the war…and especially on the people who live through it every day. As Filkins mentions at the end of his book, I now know enough to realize I will never be able to truly understand the war unless I have been to Iraq or Afghanistan. But Filkins’ writing has at least paved the way for a tiny beam of essential illumination.

It is still hard for me to believe that some of these things are going on in 2009. I feel like the American government has done a tremendous job of keeping the war distant from us civilians at home. Filkins’s narrative changes all of that. His reporting is honest and for the most part unbiased. Most of the narrative is taken from his published articles, but is rewritten in a different form for the book. The most enlightening realization for me seems to be that the war isn't between just American and Iraqi anymore. It's American vs. Iraqi vs. Iraqi vs. Palestinian vs...everyone. There are a thousand smaller wars, civil wars, going on over there. We just umbrella them under "The Iraq War."

Filkins is a correspondent for The New York Times, and his reports of the people are what impacted me most. The divisiveness of everyone, American and Iraqi, Iraqi and Iraqi, American and American, was astounding. In a kind of Tim O'Brien-turned-reporter style, Filkins excellently documents the sentiment of everyone he interviews. And everyone’s sentiment is so different. From the American corporal who refuses to throw Iraqis in the Tigris river; to the woman who spits at Filkins, “I voted in order to prevent my country from being destroyed by its”; to the woman who cried, “I love you, I love you,” as she fled Baghdad; to the American soldiers who make decisions between letting women and children live, or killing the insurgents who attack them every day; to the officers who will do anything you could think of to protect their fellow soldiers from the media; to the soldiers who die playing a part in helping the media tell their story; this book is one large contradiction. But it’s not supposed to make sense. My professor, the Hemingway scholar, would say (as I believe did another soldier from the book): “It’s war.” What are you supposed to do?

Filkins made me realize that nothing is black and white, no matter how much you think it should be, or could be if we tried to make it that way. Nothing is black and white. Especially in wartime. I appreciated his recording both the stories of the American soldiers, and the Iraqi civilians, soldiers, and government officials. It certainly helped highlight the theme.

I got to see my soldier friend and his wife today before I came home. He is home for 10 days before he goes back overseas. We got to eat at Skyline, and ride in a Volkswagen. I thought about this book while I was talking to him, and whether I should bring it up or not. Maybe I’ll mention it in my next letter to him. I’m sure that any spare time he gets for reading he likes to dedicate to the letters from his family and friends anyway. He doesn’t need the book, he’s living The Forever War. But we do. We need it to remind us. And maybe to teach us something, too.

Next up: Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee

No comments:

Post a Comment