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The Forever War


The Forever War Cover



Author Q & A

Q: Why did you write THE FOREVER WAR, and why did you choose that title?

Whenever I went home to the U.S., people would ask me: what’s it like over there? What does it feel like? What’s it like to be shot at? What’s it like to be woken up by a car bomb? What’s it like to sleep in a village with no electricity? How do you talk to a warlord? Hence my book: I want to show people what it feels like to be in Iraq and Afghanistan: the ambiguity, the heartbreak, the fear and the joy. It’s a visceral book, not really an intellectual one.

As for the title, I should say: the book makes no argument. It is very explicitly not a political book. The title, “The Forever War,” is more metaphor than literal truth. (At least I hope it is). The first chapter of the book takes place in 1998, at the Kabul Sports Stadium, at a public execution carried about by the Taliban on a Friday afternoon. It’s 2008 now, and we are still at war. I’ve expended much of my life’s energies in those wars. Many of us have. It already feels like forever, and it isn’t even over yet.

Q: There are less dangerous posts to be had in the world of reportingwhy did you choose to go to Afghanistan and Iraq?

There is a saying about the sea; you don’t really know it until you’ve seen it during a storm. The same is true of men and women, I think. In war, people find themselves in extraordinary circumstances, and in those circumstances they act in extraordinary ways. In war, you see people at their very best and their very worst, acting in ways you could never imagine. War is human drama at its most epic and most intense.

Q: You were based in Afghanistan in 1998, long before it was really in the news as far as many Americans were concerned. What was it like, reporting from such a war-torn, almost forgotten place? Were there many other journalists there, or did you feel a bit like the Lone Ranger?

It was a very strange time. The Taliban were so weird; it was like they were from another century, another galaxy. In those days I was just mystified by Afghanistan—what it was, where it was going. Any Westerner who was there—reporters or aid workers; we were about the only ones— felt exactly the same way. What the hell is this? Where is it going? We could tell things there were going bad, that they were headed toward some terrible end. We just knew; we could feel it. Once, I think it was in the summer of 2000—I actually told my editors back home: “Something really bad is going to happen here.” But of course I didn’t know what. When the planes hit the towers on September 11, it all came together.

K N O P F Q & A

Q: You write that the Iraqis had "two conversations" one amongst themselves and another where they'd "tell the Americans what they wanted to hear" so they'd go away and the Iraqis could get on with their lives. This must have made your reporting complicated. How were you able to determine who to trust?

I was a fly on the wall. That’s all a reporter really is. As a result, in Iraq, I was often privy to many things that American officials or American soldiers never saw. I’d be standing there, for instance, watching an Iraqi guy tell some American soldiers something and then, when the soldiers had walked away, say something totally different to his friends. And I’d be standing right there. You can do that if you’re a reporter. I didn’t have a uniform on. I didn’t have a gun or a checkbook. It was extraordinary, the things I witnessed.

Also, I should say: I could never have understood the first thing about Iraq without the Iraqis I worked with, Jaff and Razzaq and Waleed. They were brave and smart and savvy and tireless, and they were friends. We were very close; we trusted one another. They told me everything.

Q: You spent a lot of time face to face with Ahmad Chalabi, and you write that he was someone you "never missed a chance to follow around" and that "Chalabi was Iraq." What about him was so fascinating? How was he emblematic of the country itself?

Chalabi is extraordinary. If you were a novelist you could not—you would not—invent him. He is brilliant and unreliable and mysterious and funny and very, very fast. And, whatever I thought of him, he was important. He was in the middle of everything. I could not have been a responsible reporter had I ignored him; I just needed to be careful.

And yes: Iraq was Chalabi and Chalabi was Iraq—mercurial and manic and many-layered—all those things. He was the essence of the place.

Q: You must have strong opinions about the war on terror, and both the Iraq war and the way in which operations in Afghanistan have been conducted. Yet the book is almost apolitical. Why?

I think we’ve all heard our share of arguments about these wars. We’ve all heard a lot of moralizing—who was right and who was wrong. I’m exhausted by it; I think probably most people are. But in a deeper sense, I think much of the moralizing we’ve heard is self-indulgent. Moralizing is something you get to do from a TV studio, what someone at a cocktail party gets to do. If you are actually in Iraq or Afghanistan, you don’t get a chance to do a lot of that. People are dying. If my book is about anything, it’s about the reality on the ground. Down there, politics is irrelevant.

Q: Reporting from Iraq, you met many well-known people, like Chalabi and Bremer, but many whose names won’t be familiar to readers. Who among them stick out in your mind? Are you still in touch with servicemen and women you were embedded with, or any Iraqis you met there?

Yeah. There are a lot of people I’m still in touch with. Just yesterday, for instance, I got an email from Sam Williams, a 26-year-old sergeant from Northern Michigan who is on his fourth tour in Iraq. (Get that: twenty six and on his fourth tour in Iraq.) Sam’s an amazing guy; he lead me out of a terrible situation in 2004, where, but for him, I probably would have died.

Then there’s Farid Yusufzai. He was a translator for me in Afghanistan in 2000, when I was arrested and expelled by the Taliban. He was beaten and imprisoned and he escaped. I helped him get to the U.S. He’s a physician now in Atlanta. Incredible guy.

Q: You are a dedicated runner and regularly ran while based in Baghdad, which was risky and often unbearably hot. Do you think being out like thatoff duty, doing something that many Iraqis thought was a little crazywound up giving you a different perspective on things?

Well, it WAS crazy. I was still running in 2006, when Baghdad was in a state of total anarchy. It was reckless, but I needed to do it to stay sane. I couldn’t have stayed otherwise. In Iraq, especially in the really bad times, we were cooped up a lot—in a car, in people’s homes, in our bureau, darting from one interview to another. When I ran, I felt free.

Q: You have said that "the further you are away from Iraq, the more decisive you are… if you’ve spent any time on the ground there, you’re not too sure of anything." Have you found yourself becoming more decisive about things over the year and a half you’ve been back?

First all, it’s true. Any American who has spent time in Iraq or Afghanistan will tell you: the closer you get, the less certain you are of anything. If you are in Iraq, if you are in Afghanistan, everything is ambiguous. Everything is murky and gray and uncertain and possibly lethal. You are constantly asking yourself if what you are seeing is real, if it is what you think it is, if it will last. And then you go back to the hotel and turn on the TV, and some retired colonel in a studio in New York is telling you what happened in Iraq today. And if you disagree with him you are a traitor and a fool. Really, it’s jarring.

Am I more opinionated now that I have been away? No, I don’t think so. In 2006, when I left Baghdad, Iraq was collapsing and Afghanistan was on the mend. Today, the reverse is true. There is just no predicting what’s going to happen in these places.

Q: What are your thoughts on the surgehas it worked? Was it the "right" course of action? What do you think the future holds for the United States in Iraq?

Well, this is something I actually do feel strongly about. I wasn’t sure that the surge would work, but I thought it was worth a try. I felt we owed to the Iraqis. We toppled Saddam, after all, and we made so many mistakes in the aftermath that helped send the country into its tailspin. By late 2006, the country was headed toward the abyss. So I thought we owed to the Iraqis to stick it out and get it right. And it’s worked—at least for the time being. The violence is down dramatically. I’m in Iraq right now and the changes are just extraordinary. I can barely recognize the place.

Will it last? I hope so. But I won’t make a prediction about Iraq. That’s a fool’s game.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Shannon Geiger, October 17, 2008 (view all comments by Shannon Geiger)
This book had a profound impact on me. Dexter Filkins writes in such a way that I felt I was in Iraq with him, watching the country slide into anarchy.

The book is written telling stories of American soliders, Iraqi insurgents, ordinary Iraqis, and the American government personnel. He tells their stories in way that is poignant but not sappy.

I highly recommend this book.
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Product Details

America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014
Filkins, Dexter
Gall, Carlotta
Bolger, Daniel
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Military - Persian Gulf War (1991)
Military - General
Political Freedom & Security - Terrorism
Iraq War, 2003
Military - Persian Gulf War
Military-General History
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
9 x 6 in 1 lb

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Military » General History
History and Social Science » Military » Gulf Wars
History and Social Science » Military » Recent Military History
History and Social Science » Politics » General

The Forever War Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$9.95 In Stock
Product details 352 pages Knopf Publishing Group - English 9780307266392 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Filkins, a New York Times prize — winning reporter, is widely regarded as among the finest war correspondents of this generation. His richly textured book is based on his work in Afghanistan and Iraq since 1998. It begins with a Taliban-staged execution in Kabul. It ends with Filkins musing on the names in a WWI British cemetery in Baghdad. In between, the work is a vivid kaleidoscope of vig-nettes. Individually, the strength of each story is its immediacy; together they portray a theater of the absurd, in which Filkins, an extraordinarily brave man, moves as both participant and observer. Filkins does not editorialize — a welcome change from the punditry that shapes most writing from these war zones. This book also differs essentially from traditional war correspondence because of its universal empathy, feelings enhanced by Filkins's spare prose. Saudi women in Kabul airport, clad in burqas and stylish shoes, bemoan their husbands' devotion to jihad. An Iraqi casually says to his friend, 'Let's go kill some Americans.' A marine is shot dead escorting Filkins on a photo opportunity. Iraqi soldiers are disconcerted when he appears in running shorts ('They looked at [my legs] in horror, as if I were naked'). Carl von Clausewitz said 'war is a chameleon.' In vividly illustrating the varied ways people in Afghanistan and iraq have been affected by ongoing war, Filkins demonstrates that truth in prose. 5 photos. (Sept. 17)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , " is not facetious to speak of work like that of Dexter Filkins as defining the 'culture' of a war...This unforgettable narrative [represents]...a haunting spiritual witness that will make this volume a part of this awful war's history."
"Review" by , "Dexter Filkins's The Forever War, brutally intimate, compassionate, often poetic accounts of the battle against Islamic fundamentalism, is destined to become a classic."
"Review" by , "Dexter Filkins has seen the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan; he has stood in the ruins of the World Trade Center; he has been in the heat of battle in Iraq; indeed, no one else has been closer to the action than this courageous and thoughtful observer. This is a sensational book in the best sense."
"Review" by , "The Forever War is already a classic — it has the timeless feel of all great war literature. A lot has been written about Iraq and Afghanistan, but no one has seen as much, survived as much, and registered the horror with such sad eloquence as Dexter Filkins. His combination of courage and sensitivity is so rare that books like his come along only once every major war. This one is ours."
"Review" by , "[A] litany of war's savage absurdity...Filkins writes with candor and clarity....Sharing his deeply humbling, transforming journey, the author tempers numbing details of slaughter and carnage with affecting human stories."
"Review" by , "Filkins...marshals his broad experience to present a wide-ranging view of this struggle, told through a series of intense, vivid, and startling vignettes....A portrait of the difficulty, complexity, and savagery of a conflict that will be with us for some time."
"Review" by , "[An] extraordinary work of exorcism... like a pointillist Seurat, a neo-Impressionist juxtaposition of spots of pure color with black holes and open wounds."
"Review" by , "The work Filkins accomplishes in The Forever War is one of the most effective antitoxins that the writing profession has produced to counter the administration's fascinating contemporary public relations tactic."
"Review" by , "Much has been written about these wars....Probably less has been written from the ground up to the broken rooftops where so much of the fighting has been waged. And rarely has it been conveyed with the detail and tenacity of The Forever War."
"Synopsis" by , A high-ranking generaland#8217;s gripping insider account of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how it all went wrong.
"Synopsis" by ,
A sweeping history and powerful indictment of America's longest overt war, by the veteran New York Times journalist who was stationed in-country throughout the entire conflict.
"Synopsis" by ,
Carlotta Gall has reported from Afghanistan and Pakistan for almost the entire duration of the American invasion and occupation, beginning shortly after 9/11. She knows just how much this war has cost the Afghan people, and how much damage can be traced to Pakistan and its duplicitous government and intelligence forces.and#160;Now that American troops are withdrawing, it is time toand#160;tell the full history of how we have been fighting the wrong enemy, in the wrong country.

Gall combines searing personal accounts of battles and betrayals with moving portraits of the ordinary Afghanis who enduredand#160;a terrible war of more than a decade. Her firsthand accounts of Taliban warlords, Pakistani intelligence thugs, American generals, Afghani politicians, and the many innocents who were caught up in this long war are riveting.and#160; Her evidence that Pakistan fueled the Taliban and protected Osama bin Laden is revelatory. This is a sweeping account of a war brought by well-intentioned American leaders against an enemy they barely understood, and could not truly engage.

"Synopsis" by ,

A high-ranking generalandrsquo;s gripping insider account of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how it all went wrong.

Over a thirty-five-year career, Daniel Bolger rose through the army infantry to become a three-star general, commanding in both theaters of the U.S. campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. He participated in meetings with top-level military and civilian players, where strategy was made and managed. At the same time, he regularly carried a rifle alongside rank-and-file soldiers in combat actions, unusual for a general. Now, as a witness to all levels of military command, Bolger offers a unique assessment of these wars, from 9/11 to the final withdrawal from the region. Writing with hard-won experience and unflinching honesty, Bolger makes the firm case that in Iraq andand#160;in Afghanistan, we lost andmdash; but we didnandrsquo;t have to. Intelligence was garbled. Key decision makers were blinded by spreadsheets or theories. And, at the root of our failure, we never really understood our enemy. Why We Lost is a timely, forceful, and compulsively readable account of these wars from a fresh and authoritative perspective.

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