Thursday, January 7, 2010
Review: The Forever War
Whew. What a book. Dexter Filkins is a NYT war correspondent: he was in Afghanistan from 1998-2000 (until the Taliban kicked him out), then covered Ground Zero right after the attacks on 9/11, then covered the invasion of Afghanistan, then without being embedded with the military he DROVE OVER THE BORDER IN HIS CAR RIGHT BEHIND THE TANKS AS THEY WENT FROM KUWAIT TO BAGHDAD and covered the Iraq war from Baghdad from 2003-2008 which included embedding himself with a group of Marines during the assault on Falluja.
First off, he's a badass.
Second off, he's seen everything: from public Taliban executions, to burned out and long-looted luxury hotels in Kabul, to NYC firefighters pretending to try on Brooks Brothers sweaters in a blown out downtown Manhattan, to sneaking over the border during the invasion of Iraq, to going out and running 5 miles a day through downtown Baghdad, to nearly getting executed by various insurgent groups, to covering Ahmed Chalabi's campaigning (that included flying to Tehran to meet Ahmadinejad and then walking through an empty western contemporary art gallery that somehow remains in Tehran), to visiting with the families of fallen soldiers in Middle America, to seeing explosions, abductions, IEDs, senseless murder, warm hospitality, fierce loyalty, and the US military trying their darndest to figure out what the hell they're supposed to be doing.
Third off, he's able to tell this crazy story in an episodic manner that somehow makes sense. He throws in a bit of contextual narrative here and there so you know a bit of what things might mean.
At first I was frustrated that there wasn't more context. Here, Dexter's meeting with his source and finding this out about the death squads. Now here he's trying to cover X politician. Now here he's describing how this platoon commander can handle stress but this one really can't (and what it does to the men he's leading). Now here he's talking about the packs of feral dogs and how they're dealt with in Baghdad, or what makes a family in Anbar decide to finally flee Iraq, or how crazy it is to go through security to get into the Green Zone, or how the Shiites use electric drills and Sunnis just behead people, or how the CIA folks look just like regular people, only very still.
It's a frustrating narrative choice, until you realize that's what it was like to experience it. It was an insane inferno, and no one can really make sense of it. He just told his story, and he somehow got a decent slice of what it must have been like, and what it must be like, for people over there. Kudos.