The Forever War
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From the front lines of the battle against Islamic fundamentalism, a searing, unforgettable book that captures the human essence of the greatest conflict of our time.

Through the eyes of Dexter Filkins, the prizewinning New York Times correspondent whose work was hailed by David Halberstam as “reporting of the highest quality imaginable,” we witness the remarkable chain of events that began with the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s, continued with the attacks of 9/11, and moved on to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Filkins’s narrative moves across a vast and various landscape of amazing characters and astonishing scenes: deserts, mountains, and streets of carnage; a public amputation performed by Taliban; children frolicking in minefields; skies streaked white by the contrails of B-52s; a night’s sleep in the rubble of Ground Zero.

We embark on a foot patrol through the shadowy streets of Ramadi, venture into a torture chamber run by Saddam Hussein. We go into the homes of suicide bombers and into street-to-street fighting with a battalion of marines. We meet Iraqi insurgents, an American captain who loses a quarter of his men in eight days, and a young soldier from Georgia on a rooftop at midnight reminiscing about his girlfriend back home. A car bomb explodes, bullets fly, and a mother cradles her blinded son.

Like no other book, The Forever War allows us a visceral understanding of today’s battlefields and of the experiences of the people on the ground, warriors and innocents alike. It is a brilliant, fearless work, not just about America’s wars after 9/11, but ultimately about the nature of war itself.

Customer Reviews:

  • Do you think you know about Iraq and Afghanistan?
    Filkins is a reporter for The New York Times, and he covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for eight years. "The Forever War," is not a history of the wars in the way that "The Assassin's Gate" or "Fiasco" are, not a recounting of events, decisions, time lines and consequences. It is a personal history of many small events recounted inside a larger story.

    Do you think you know about Iraq or Afghanistan? Read "The Forever War."

    Filkins lived outside the Green Zone during his work in Iraq. He was shot at, mortared, nearly stoned by angry mobs, chased by assassins and kidnappers. He went on patrol with Marines assaulting Fallujah. He interviewed insurgents. Very few people experienced the war as closely or observed it as keenly as he did.

    There are the details you would expect from a reporter's war diary. The American general who can't pronounce the Iraqi prime minister's name and gruffly laughs about it. The degree of isolation of the bureaucrats in the Green Zone from the realities of life in Iraq. The names of young soldiers he'd known, the date, place and manner of their deaths.

    The image he most often evokes of the places in Iraq he visits is Dresden, the German city razed by Allied incendiary bombs.

    But Filkins' talked with many Iraqis and, more than any other reporter I've read, captures their perspective. He explains their beliefs, culture and attitudes towards the Americans (us). To wit: Our presence there is an "occupation." Our nation building efforts are tangential to the actual power struggles taking place. There is nothing we can do to improve the lives of Iraqis except leave.

    Here is one passage that stood out to me, "The Iraqis lied to the Americans, no question. But the worst lies were the ones Americans told themselves. They believed them because it was convenient--and because not to believe them was too horrifying to think about." What are the lies? Lie number one: we can rebuild their government and infrastructure. Lie number two: our good intentions and relentless optimism will turn the tide. Lie number three: if we stay the course, things will settle down and get better.

    After reading "The Forever War," I have decided that I am glad we're pulling out. Our misadventure in Iraq has gone on too long and only brought misery, pain, and chaos. The neocon notion that a Jeffersonian democracy would spring forth from the forehead of George W. Bush in Iraq is a blind absurdity.
    ...more info
  • Iraq War- non political day to day
    Outstanding from start to finish- a realistic view of the hour by hours lives of our soldiers and reporters...more info
  • A great first-hand civilian viewpoint
    Dexter Filkins has seen and experienced some pretty incredible stuff in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he conveys them to the reader with admirable clarity and straightforwardness. As a civilian student of counterinsurgency, I found that this book gave me a much better idea of how the wars would seem if I myself were to be embedded in a Marines unit or to interview a Taliban leader. (Well... I am a woman, so I guess I would not be allowed to interview a Taliban leader. But still!) It is well written and simply written, making it quick and easy despite being highly relevant and important. I highly recommend. ...more info
  • A "must" for anyone seeking a first-hand account of the War
    The "Forever War" is a "must" read for anyone seeking a greater understanding of the War. Mr. Filkins' writing style draws the reader in and conveys a sense of what it must be like to be present in the War- as a soldier, as a local, as a leader, as a victim. At times I was proud as an American of our presence, at other times I was humbled. Overall, this book helped me to grasp the complexity of the War while at the same time personalized the impact on individuals on all sides with numerous poetic and personal vingettes. It is as if a good friend is sharing his first-hand account. Highly recommend....more info
  • Required Reading
    This book truly is the "Dispatches" equivalent for the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Filkins creates a mosaic with beautifully written stories about the absurdity, chaos, hate, inhumanity, insanity and courage of these wars. A war based on lies resulting in the destruction of millions of lives because some ill-informed ideologues, politicians and militarists can make some money and win some senseless argument that has no answer - that war is the subject of this book and it is an invaluable contribution. Why? Because it captures the reality of this war so that Americans of all political stripes can gain insight into what their elected government has done in their name. If I had to suggest one change to the book, it would be the title: The Forever and Forgotten War - How Millions of Lives Were Destroyed and Nobody In America Noticed Other Than the Families of the Fallen.

    God Bless Our Soldiers. Thank you for your service. May America welcome you home with open arms and help you heal from your wounds in the coming years....more info
  • The Tim Page of the Islamic Wars...
    Tim Page is an Englishman who was addicted to the adrenalin rush that he fed by the action of the Vietnam War. He was a photographer, taking some of the greatest pictures of the war, and of the numerous books that he produced, one, Requiem, is a fitting memorial to the photographers who died in Vietnam. Due to his need to be "where the action was" he was wounded three times; the last time the doctor who first saw him wrote him off for dead. Dexter Filkins was also where the action was, at the very "front," in Afghanistan, the WTC on 9-11, and Iraq for almost four years, and took certainly more chances than Page--some, seemingly for no reason at all--like jogging in Baghdad during the period of kidnappings and suicide bombers. He managed to draw "three cards to an inside straight" on more than one occasion; he was never wounded. Filkins' book is an important one--he pushed the envelop to the breaking point on far too many occasions, and was thus able to see and report on matters that virtually no one else has. As a conscript I knew the adrenalin rush also, but never enjoyed it; and I had the time to ponder those who voluntarily sought it, like Page and Filkins, whose reportage was from a vastly different perspective. Filkins confirms that difference on page 227: "As an American--as someone who could leave Iraq anytime I wanted--I sometimes found myself taking cheap thrills from my brushes with death." A particular image seems to capture that difference: it is from the movie "Dr. Zhavigo." World War One has just been declared, and there is an image of young Russians throwing their straw hats into the air, happy to join the war, the great adventure. The wiser half-brother of Zhavigo stands to the side, perturbed by the joyous madness, and says: "Happy men don't enlist."

    Filkins tells his involvement in America's most recent wars as a series of vignettes. I disagree with the reviewers that say he "just reports the facts," and does not philosophize and analyze. Starting around a third through the book, he does allow numerous personal comments and judgments. For example, from page 115, he discusses the two conversations that were occurring in Iraq, the one in which the Iraqis were telling the Americans what they wanted to hear, the other between the Iraqis themselves. On page 130 he does a twist to the same theme: "The Iraqis lied to the Americans, no question. But the worst lies were the ones the Americans told themselves." In terms of the effects of American military actions in searching Iraqi villages, Filkins makes the point (on page 153) that others have about the Vietnam War: "The Americans were making enemies faster than they could kill them." Another echo from the Vietnam War is the exaggeration of the body count (p 206): "Still, it was a curiosity that we had seen so few bodies. The generals were reporting hundreds of dead, thousands even... but we weren't seeing many." Adding to the "Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam" theme, on page 312-14 he relates how the Marines took the Saddam Hospital in Ramadi, bringing the Iraqis in only after it was secure, and seeing it "spun" in the Baghdad version of the 5 o'clock follies: "This Iraqi Army-lead operation will deny the insurgents use of the Saddam Hospital." Finally, in terms of judgments, it would be hard to beat: "It was in the Green Zone that I would think the war was lost." (p230)

    I do agree with some other reviewers that the book is episodic, (typical, all too often, of accounts by journalists) and disjointed. At one point he goes back a year and a half. The chapter that he lists all the Iraqi opposition units seems to make as much sense as a catalog of American battalions in the war. But still, some chapters were enjoyable gems, such as the one entitled, suitably enough, "Proteus," on that slick character, Chalabi; another good chapter was "The Madhi," on Muqtada Sadr. And the ending, searching for Gertrude Bell's grave was all too fitting, and very well done.

    I do not feel this book deserves a full 5-stars, like the book of another courageous journalist, Neil Sheehan. Several statements and claims I am uneasy with, some certainly seem apocryphal. Take the story of the "Saudi women" flying to Kandahar, on page 43. Filkins later in the book while in Iraq admits he understands very little Arabic. So, the only way he could have obtained this story is through his "Afghan interpreter," Farid. Clearly Arabic was not Farid's first language, maybe not even his fourth. How well did he understand Arabic? Was he just telling Filkins a nice tale that he might want to hear? How many Arab jihadis were married? How many took their wives to war with them? How many would say: "I could be shopping in Paris..." Ah! Like the Iraqis who told the Americans what they wanted to hear, Farid almost certainly spun a tale with "good journalistic copy." I was also uneasy with the amount of driving around Iraq Filkins did during the invasion, with no mention of an interpreter, or guides, and even: "I pulled up to the gates of the presidential palace in Tikrit just before the marines." (p104). I was equally uneasy with "The Labyrinth," the kidnapping of Jill Carroll. Filkens feels obligated to tell the American Embassy about his contact, and where she might be, but then won't reveal the requested phone number.

    And then there were the "dogs that didn't bark;" what was missing. Four years in Iraq, during the period of the Abu Ghraib prison scandals, yet virtually no mention of same, and certainly no interviews with the perpetrators or the victims, which might have helped connect some dots with the insurgency. To what degree did Filkins feel constrained in what he reported? Americans don't like the word "censorship" in reference to their own media, but what degree of "guidance" did he receive from his editors? Did he ever file a "story that was too hot to handle"? Not mentioned. By in large, Filkins "supports the troops." They are usually portrayed as heroic, or at least "just doing their job," and no doubt, many are, but what of the others, the ones who have become thoroughly disillusioned with the mission? And to what degree is the military dependent on non-Americans to fill its ranks?

    As was said about Alexander Werth's book on the Soviet effort during WW II, a better account will almost certainly not be produced, essentially because he was the man there at the time, with the contacts. The same will be said of Filkins' book, but for all our sakes, it could have been better if he had been a bit more skeptical, and addressed some of the "missing" issues.
    ...more info
  • The Forever War a Must Read!
    You won't be able to put this one down. I can't immagine anyone going through the things that are happening in the middle east....more info
  • Impressions of the American wars in the Near East
    Contrary to much that has been and is being written on the Anglo-American (plus coalition) wars and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dexter Filkins' book "The Forever War" is not a political book. That is to say, it deals with political issues of necessity, but it does not make a political argument of any particular kind. Rather, Filkins, a war correspondent for the New York Times, has operated as a tabula rasa on which the war events he witnessed could make their impression, without any preconceived notions or arguments getting in the way.

    This has the definite advantage that Filkins does not add to the pile of increasingly irrelevant argumentation about the possibilities of ill-defined "success" in these regions, but rather lets the reader vicariously experience the reality of living and fighting in these war-torn countries. In a way, this is nonetheless a political argument on its own, as despite Filkins' good relations with the American soldiers he joined as an 'embedded reporter', it is clear from his experiences that not much is being achieved by way of either 'nation-building' or establishing lasting security in these countries, indeed the least any occupier with pretentions of superiority could do.

    The fact that Filkins does not explicitly make this argument, or any argument, is fairly pleasant in that it lets the experiences speak for themselves in a more subtle manner than newspaper moralizing often permits. However, this book also has clear downsides. Filkins does not give much, if any, background information on the combatant parties involved or even of the countries, other than the absolutely necessary. What's more, his war reporting uses a heavily colloquial style that is very grating initially and makes him seem to 'try too hard' to come off as cool, detached and rough - perhaps this is something that he took over from the Marines he was stationed with, but it does not in my view help the book's readability any. One does get used to it and over the course of the book he gets more serious, but the first few chapters are rather annoying.

    The main value of the book is probably the service it does to humanizing the people involved, both of the occupying armies and their opponents. They say that truth is the first casualty of war, but surely the greatest casualty of war is a sense of shared humanity. Indeed it is hard to get any group to fight any other without in some way dehumanizing them first, and all the political argumentation of the world does not suffice of itself to repair a warped view of this kind once it is dominant. What can do so is a vivid description of real people and their human traits and follies. It used to be that literature played this role, but the authority and impact of the writer has diminished; now perhaps journalists can take this over to some extent. Some people combine this with the political argumentation for the greatest possible effect, like Robert Fisk does for example, but even if one leaves out the politics, the experience of humanization alone is very valuable. This is what Filkins' book contributes....more info
  • Great Book
    This is a great book.

    Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., said that "it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived." By that standard, Dexter Filkins has earned a very high grade.

    In the epilogue, Filkins says he was "flattened" by his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's a good description. The tone of the book is almost laconic in spite of the vividly brutal events it often records. It is not, however, so matter-of-fact that it hides the affection and admiration Filkins feels for the people with whom he shared many extreme dangers, particularly the Marines in Fallujah. I very much appreciated that.

    I also appreciate that Filkins limited his writing to his street-level perceptions and leaves the moral judgments to the reader. It is a style which makes the moral impact of the book all the more compelling, and one I wish I found more frequently in more experienced and less confident authors.

    ...more info
  • One of the best......
    For all of his misdeeds and faults; G.W.Bush was correct when he informed the American public that we would be engaged in a new type of warfare. That the enemy and challenges we face are ignorance, radicalism; and the level of brutality our foes are willing to use have no boundaries. The present wars in Afganistan and Iraq have no foreseeable end. They truly are the "The Forever Wars." Most of the reviews on this page have correctly summarized this unique perspective on the conflicts in Iraq and Afganistan, as one that is void of political polymics or opinion. It is a personal story in which the details of daily life in these conflicts give the reader a view that is both sympathetic and tragic. Through Mr. Filkin's own experiences we feel, smell and experience the tragedy that has become Iraq. Of note, is his account on the battle of Falluja, which I think, is one of the most moving accounts of a conflict that I have ever read. It should go down as classic war reporting. If you've read "Fiasco" and the numerous other, very good books on the politics of Iraq, and you want a moving, cleared headed version from "on the ground", then definitely read this outstanding achievement by Mr. Filkins. ...more info
  • A real sense of the Iraq situation
    Wow. This should be required reading for all dummies in the State Department, Pentagon, etc. and anyone in charge of policy development in the Middle East. ...more info
  • The Forever War
    Judged to be among the Ten Best for 2008 by several sources... and deservedly so ! But don't read it if you want to think that "winning" in the middle east is simple....more info
  • just observations without analysis
    I found this book a little disappointing. It's just a log of the author's impressions, without any analysis or theme.

    For example, the book opens with the scene of a Taliban public execution. The author just describes what's happening; there is no background, no indication of what the author is thinking. It's almost impossible to go through such an experience without having an opinion about it : does he approve of this harshness ? think it's barbaric ? etc.

    Then the book just jumps to Iraq. Same complaint. There are lots of good "action sequences" where he accompanies marines on combat missions, etc. But what does the author think the war itself, one of the most controversial topics of the day ? Approves ? Disapproves ? Approve of the strategy, but critique the execution ? Etc.

    So the book left me unsatiated. To invent a term, I'd call it a journalist's book, and I don't mean it in a complimentary way. It's just a collection of incidents, with no unifying theme. I can get that just by reading the newspaper. The reason to buy a book is to hear a point of view. I might disagree with it, but I want to see one. ...more info
  • Filkins
    This book documents the human side of war beyond what we read in the papers and see on the news each night. It's a brutally honest and often disturbing account of the reality he saw whilst reporting in middle East. The book reads like a series of stories about everyday people and their experiences during the war. Filkins befriended a number of Iraqi's while there and provides a voice to their experiences through his writing. He introduces us to everyday people, from the young girl who would join him during his bare-legged runs along the Tigris River to average Iraqi citizens who spoke with open contempt of Americans for having destroyed their country (p. 244). ...more info
  • Forever War
    For those of us that don't understand Bush's War, this is a small insight into another world. More American's need to understand we are in a Global Society and we can hide behind our wealth and the 82nd Airborne
    Chuck...more info
  • Compassionate and frightening...
    In the hands of a less compassionate and brave journalist this book could have been a failure. But it manages to transcend journalism and becomes the testament of a man who has many stories to tell and who makes the situation in Iraq brutally clear. It can leave the reader breathless at times, too. Along with Lawrence Wright's "The Looming Tower", this formidable book should be read by anyone seeking a perspective on the conflict that has defined recent times.
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  • Great Journalism
    Through his accounts of personal experiences from before 9-11 in Afghanistan through his later experiences during Iraq's post-invasion sectarian war, Mr. Filkins truly presents us with a clear picture of what is going on on the war on terror and its sequel. There is no better way of describing a situation than actually living it and recording it for posterity. The image Mr. Filkins provides is frightening and after reading this now I truly believe that the only path left for the US is extricating itself from this war that has become a quagmire.

    The taliban enemy is tough and will never surrender, it will continue harrassing the US backed governmet of Afghanistan and running away to its sanctuaries in Pakistan, they will never change or bow to American power, they are the ultimate survivalists and religious bigots. They are cruel, ignorant, single minded and they will never stop until Afghanistan is again a strict muslim theocracy whithout any rights but what the elders and sharia law are willing to give their subjects and relegating women to mere objects. There will be no winning hearts and minds, there is no realistic way of concluding a lasting peace, this is a lost cause.

    In Iraq the US has become an unwilling ally to Iranian interests, as the majority Shiite population now controls government, the Sunni relegated from the power they controlled under Saddam and the Bath Party rule are never going to allow to subjugation and I believe will continue fighting. The answer to this will probably be partition and the real winner will be Iran. Americans have lost and dreams of creating a representative democracy that shines above it's neighbors in the Middle East will remain dreams.

    I believed the cause for US intervention was just and believed that some measure of order will be accomplished after an extended presence of US troops but that has not happened. I admired the outstanding conduct of the two wars, in Afghanistan with economy of force relying on technology and outstanding training of special forces and in Iraq with a clear demostration of technological and tactical superiority. But after that the occupation has made US servicemen only targets and aliby for violence for sectarian groups.

    The US has to quickly find a solution or a honorable way out but is not in the way it has been done, now it has only sown hatred in the Middle Esat and for the world's sake the image the US has to portray is decency and great capacity to solve problems. Radical Islamism is a tough enemy to western civilization and has to be dealt with before it gets stronger and better armed, I hope the US and its allies find the way.

    I give this book the highest rating, it is not sanctimonious or try to sell the author's conclusions but rather tells the story from the ground so that the reader can make its own conclusions, best book on the War on Terror I have read....more info
  • The Forever War a Must Read!
    You won't be able to put this one down. I can't immagine anyone going through the things that are happening in the middle east....more info
  • Good Read.
    There were so many stories in this book that really changed the way I looked at Iraq. This gives such a greater depth than all of the news stories in the last 8 years and is a great read. It goes by quickly too.

    I will say that this shouldn't be the only book someone reads to understand the on going conflicts. I also recommend "Three Cups of Tea" which is much more positive. The two books balance each other well. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time...more info
  • Opened my eyes
    This is a book about being on the front lines of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Dexter Filkins, a New York Times correspondent, relates his experiences from September 1998 through his return back to the United States. This is a story filled with carnage and sadness and gives a very visual understanding of the experiences on today's battlefields. In the book Mr. Filkins describes suicide bombers and street to street fighting with Marines and insurgents. He also relates the stories of the ordinary people struggling to get by with their country and cities in ruins. Many of them are in despair and yet each day endeavor to get by with their daily lives. This is one of the best books about war that I've ever read. I was struck by the gritty description of the battles that took place in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was amazed That Mr. Filkins had seen as many experiences and and survived the horror and tragedy of war. As an observer following the troops, he witnessed battles, as well as the reactions of the soldiers. I had a very hard time putting this book down. At times I would be on the edge of my seat, with white knuckles, turning the pages to find out the results of the battle.
    I would suggest this book to anyone that was interested in the war, or had any questions that they've secretly ask themselves about the purpose and need for this type of military operation. There were times I was shocked that the actions taken by the insurgents and their attacks on Americans and Iraqis. After reading this book I still don't understand the hatred and fury that some of the people in this book possess.
    I would give this book 4 stars. I don't know if I'll be reading this book again, but I found that I've been thinking and pondering the stories of these individuals for the last two weeks whenever I hear a story on the radio or article in the newspaper about the war in Iraq or Afghanistan. I have recommended this book to many people I know that enjoy reading simply because this book forced me out of my comfort zone. It was an enjoyable read because it was written about true experiences rather than fictional stories....more info
  • Strengths were also its weaknesses
    The Forever War is a good book and Dexter Filkins is a great journalist. Strong points: his anecdotes. Weak points: his anecdotes.

    The short 1 to 2-page anecdotes made for easy reading and were fascinating, funny, educational and moving stories. But they didn't point towards one thesis, or even several theses. I understand that you can't generalize about Iraq (or any other country for that matter), so I liked how he showed many, many sides of each issue. Iraqis like us. Iraqis hate us. Iraqis lie to us. Iraqis do horrible things. Iraqis do good things. This strength was also its weakness, as it was hard to take away a few main themes from his book except that Iraq is completely messed up.

    Anyway, that's my only critique. I learned quite a bit from this book. I liked Dexter's own story as much as his stories about others: being a journalist in a war zone, almost getting kidnapped, getting shot at, etc. It was definitely one of my favorite war books and I would recommend it to anyone....more info
  • As it is
    Mr. Filkins has written his story in understandable terms that anyone including those that have never seen combat can realize. He shows the hatred from both sides, the filth, the total lack of understanding of all and the distruction of a country that America is rebuilding as we go and dig our selves further into debt. He does not apoligize or complement either side but page after page brings to light further understanding. I feel this is one of the best on the war I have read. It clearly amplifys the reason we should be out of there. They do not want our Democracy and no matter what our government preposes will never be accepted. Lets get our men out of there and take care of America. Let them live in their ways as we insist on ours. ...more info
  • Must read
    Filkins writes a clear and startling narrative of war that is both emotionally jarring and necessary....more info
  • Fantastic Reporting From a Brave Reporter
    Be careful when you begin reading this book, you won't be able to put it down. One compelling story after another, all told from the viewpoint of a reporter who puts himself in situations that many would shy away from.

    This book really opened my eyes to the many challenges that Iraqis face as a people, the reconciliation of the different tribes and the many obstacles still ahead.

    Fantastic book....more info
  • Want tounderstand the Iraq situation?
    This book is essential reading for any American who has never been to the middle east, and for some that have. Dexter Filkins gives a rare non-bias, non-political look at the middle east mentality. What it really is like to try and overcome the hardships we face now, in the past and what our kids kids will endure need to be looked at through this book. One of the best war books ever written....more info