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The Forever War

I am in awe of Dexter Filkins' nonfiction book, The Forever War. The story of his experiences in Iraq (and a little in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan) pulls you in and doesn't let go. My dad gave it to me to read this summer but I ran out of time so I set to read it over this break. Filkins is an American journalist who covered Iraq and Afghanistan for the New York Times. Filkins, through "gut-wrenching and touching vignettes," reveals the human side of war in his book. His book is "not about finger pointing. Nor is it about policy failures or prescriptions. [It] portrays and sympathizes with the men and women facing impossible challenges in Iraq." (x)
He writes about Iraq it in such a blunt manner, but it evokes his situation so clearly. There are so many unbelievable stories in this book, but the most poignant parts come from when he was with the Bravo Company in Falluja (a city in Iraq that was controlled by jihadists) in 2004. He opens the book in Falluja, on the brink of death, with chants of "Allahu Akbar" (god is great) ringing from the mosqus and "Hells Bells" by AC/DC pouring through the marines' loudspeakers. In eight days of fighting, Bravo Company "men had about a one-in-four chance of being wounded or killed in little more than a week." (x) Filkins traveled with Bravo Company with Ashley Gilbertson, an Australian photographer (I've included some of his pictures from Falluja after the break) (who also wrote a book on the Iraq War - Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: A Photographer's Chronicle of the Iraq War that I hope to read in the future). One of the many chapters on Falluja is one called Mogadishu, three pages long, and it is a legal advisor briefing marines before the assault on Falluja begins. Filkins presents what he says with no commentary, which makes it so much more powerful. "'Okay, guys, these are going to be the rules of engagement,' the adviser, Captain Matt Nodine, said. He looked across the room. It's going to be slightly different this time, so everybody listen up..." (186)

But the entire book is definitely not just about Falluja; it is about Iraq. It is about SunnisShiitessuicide bombersinsurgents, marines, soldiers, journalists, Abu Ghraib, the Green Zone... The extent to which Americans ignore Iraq is astounding. And that needs to change. But what I loved about The Forever War was that it didn't comment on this fact - it didn't criticize politicians, or campaign for antiwar causes - it simply reported the facts. It gave the readers the story, and let them draw their own conclusions. I don't know Filkins' perspective on the war, but does it matter? His stories helped form mine, which is truly awe-inspiring journalism. Rating: ★★★★★

more pictures and links after the break...

Marines run for cover after white phosphorus was accidentally fired at them by another company when Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, was somehow mistaken for a band of insurgents in Falluja, Iraq on November 9, 2004. (c) Ashely Gilbertson for the New York Times
Americans have failed to understand what is happening in Iraq. As a high school student in the post-9/11 world, we don't learn anything about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We learn American history, European history, but once we hit the end of the Cold War we stop. What I know about these wars is self-taught; I have read a few books, done a little research, and talked to my dad about what's happened. I thought by taking Foreign Policy class this semester, I would fill my gap in knowledge - but instead of picking up where 11th grade left off, we started with the election and issues pertinent to today's world (Benghazi, Israel/Iran, etc.). Iraq and Afghanistan were ignored. I learned so much from Filkins account of Iraq; I know have a desire to learn as much as I can.

Marines rest in a mosque after a heavy night of house-to-house fighting and an ambush that killed one marine and wounded seven more during the battle for Falluja in 2004. To the right, Brown and Miller sleep. They were both killed by the end of the week..(c) Ashely Gilbertson for the New York Times

In response to what he had learned from the Iraq War, Filkins wrote 
1. War ruins everything it touches. And everyone. 2. Iraq is the most complex place on earth. It is always changing, and changing fast, and nothing is as it seems. 3. It's impossible to know anything about a place so complex, and about a place in the middle of a war, unless you see it up close with your own eyes. In other words: beware of commentators talking from TV studios.  

Marines from Bravo company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment detain an insurgent after they shot him and his two comrades in the neighborhood nicknamed "Queens" during the battle for Falluja, Iraq on November 13, 2004. The insurgent claimed to be a student. The marines responded, "Yeah, right, University of Jihad, motherfucker."
If you're still unsure about reading the novel (which I hope you're not, it was truly a fantastic read) here are two excerpts that hopefully will get you hooked:
Rating: ★★★★★

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

Two Years!