FOREVER WAR: DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
"I fared better than many of the people I wrote about in this book; yet even so, over the course of the events depicted here, I lost the person I cared for most. The war didn't get her; it got me."
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
How would you begin to describe the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as portrayed in Forever War? Compare and contrast the two situations, and attempt to account for the similarities and differences. How was Filkins' own experiences of the two wars different?
What do you think Filkins was trying to accomplish in the Forever War? Why did he write this account and what was his focus? How is his ground-level view linked to the book's strengths and weaknesses?
How would you his style and method? Does the book have coherence? What sources does he use to construct his account?
"There were always two conversations in Iraq, the one the Iraqis were having with the Americans and the one they were having among themselves," writes Filkins. ". . . The conversation they were having [not with us but] with each other was the one that really mattered, of course. That conversation was the chatter of a whole other world, a parallel reality, which sometimes unfolded right next to the Americans, even right in front of them. And we almost never saw it." (p. 115) How would you respond to Filkins's use of metaphor here and how effective do you think he is in recording this second conversation and in penetrating this parallel reality?
How does Filkins depict the Americans in Iraq? How would you begin to characterize his relationship as a journalist with the Marines amongst whom he is embedded?
How does he contrast the Americans with the Iraqis? What are the ways in which the Iraqis are most different? How would you compare and contrast his depiction of the insurgents in Iraq with the Taliban?
Filkins's kaleidoscopic approach blends several vignettes with brief character sketches of various individuals the author meets during his years of reporting. Included below is a list of several of these people. Identify and comment upon some of those whose stories seemed to be particularly interesting or illustrative of larger themes:
Sher Ahmad (hotel employee at the Kabul Inter Continental Hotel)
Mohammed Wali (Taliban minister for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice)
Nasir (Afghan jihadi from Saudi Arabia)
Yacob Yusef (headmaster of Baghdad College)
Wijdan al-Khuzai (female member of Independent Progressive Movement)
Sergeant Eric Schrumpf
Amal al-Khedairy (Baghdad artistic centre director)
Major Larry Kaifesh
Lance Corporal William Miller
Ahmad (Filkins's Iraqi fixer)
Lance Corporal Joseph Hamlin
Mamoon Sami Rashid (governor of Anbar Province)
Yusra al-Hakeem (Iraqi interpreter)
What does Filkins mean when he speaks of the "gray zone in the middle" that he identifies as such a feature of the war in Iraq? Can you provide some examples of this "gray zone"?
What most surprised you about the Forever War?
SOME ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
Dexter Filkins -- Times Topics: An anthology of Filkins's articles in the New York Times, including many from the years after publication of the Forever War.
"Dexter Filkins: The 'Forever War' In Afghanistan," Fresh Air, WHYY, June 2, 2009.
"Dexter Filkins: Afghanistan's 'Make Or Break' Time," Fresh Air, WHYY, April 20, 2010.
Dexter Filkins, "Letter From Yemen: After The Uprising," New Yorker (April 11, 2011).
Dexter Filkins, "Comment: Endgame," New Yorker (July 4, 2011).
Dexter Filkins, "Letter From Islamabad: The Journalist And The Spies," New Yorker (September 19, 2011).