Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Forever War

Recently I completed The Forever War by New York Times correspondent Dexter Filkins. This is a eyewitness account of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and the war in Afghanistan. However Filkins primarily focuses on the US war against Iraq. Filkins does not hesitate to place himself in harm's way to see and experience the nature of war now at the beginning of the twenty-first century and in the current location that the US has chosen to wage war. Anyone who reads this book will immediately notice the vast credibility gap between the news of the war as written by Filkins and the watered down and colored news of the same events as portrayed on daily TV and in much contemporary media coverage. Most of today's news from current US wars comes from embedded reporters and is communicated in media that makes no effort to conceal it's right-wing biased support for military solutions to problems the US has with other nations. I highly recommend reading The Forever War as an antidote to apathy and complacency concerning US involvement in warfare. Reading it also might help to save some lives, that is US as well as Iraqi lives. Here are three quotes from the book:

Walking in, watching the flames shoot upward, the first thing I thought was that I was back in the Third World. My countrymen were going to think that this was the worst thing that ever happened, the end of civilization. In the Third World this sort of thing happened every day: earthquakes, famines, plagues. In Orissa, on the eastern coast of India, after the cyclone, the dead were piled so high and for so long that the dogs couldn't eat any more; they just lay around waiting for their appetites to come back. Lazily looking at one another. Fifteen thousand died in that one. Seventeen thousand died in the earthquake in Turkey. In Afghanistan, in the earthquake there, four thousand. This was mass murder, that was clear, it was an act of evil. Though I'd seen that, too: the forty thousand dead in Kabul. I don't think I was the only person thinking this, who had the darker perspective. All those street vendors who worked near the World Trade Center, from all those different countries, selling falafel and schwarma. When they heard the planes and watched the towers they must have thought the same that I did: that they'd come home (Page 44-45).

The most basic barrier was language itself. Very few of the Americans in Iraq, whether soldiers or diplomats, or newspaper reporters, could speak more than a few words of Arabic. A remarkable number of them didn't even have translators. That meant that for many Iraqis, the typical nineteen-year-old army corporal from South Dakota was not a youthful innocent carrying America's goodwill; he was a terrifying combination of firepower and ignorance (Page 116).

A few miles away, a woman stepped from the voting booth at Yarmouk Elementary School, named for the largely Sunni neighborhood where it was located. Yarmouk was slipping fast, but some of the Sunnis were still coming out to vote. Her name was Bushra Saadi. Like Batool al-Musawi, the young Shiite woman, Saadi covered her hair with a scarf tightly wrapped. But she was older than Musawi and carried herself with greater dignity. Her face was drawn, and her eyes looked as hard as little diamonds. Her neighbors shuffled past her to go inside.
Why vote at all? I asked Saadi. Why not just stay home?
She shot me a withering look.
"I voted in order to prevent my country from being destroyed by its enemies, " she said. She spoke English without an accent.
What enemies" I asked Saadi. What enemies are you referring to?
She began to tremble.
"You - you destroyed our country," Saadi said. "The Americans, the British. I am sorry to be impolite. But your destroyed our country, and you called it democracy" (Page 243-244).

The Forever War is one of those rare books that gives the reader an unforgettable picture of what our US government and military actually accomplishes by starting a war. It's also a grim reminder that it's much easier to start a war than to get it stopped.

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