Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Forever War?

I read today that the Obama Administration is attempting to do away with the phrase "the war on drugs." Let's hope it's not simply another broken promise and believe our eyes and not our ears. Still, it's refreshing to hear that, at least in spirit, the government may stop its war against its own people, many of whom are simply drug users, or addicts, who, like the client I represent who recently lost his case in the Eighth Circuit, finally get sober during long prison terms for conspiracy to distribute. Not the best way to spend taxpayer dollars, but a fitting way to fight a war where the truth is often the first casualty.

Maybe I'm just down on the term "war" as I've been listening to an excellent audiobook about it, Dexter Filkins' excellent The Forever War tells stories about what he saw as a war correspondent during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I highly recommend the book as brings the war "home," or as close as a book can bring it, without much commentary or editorializing, but simply with stories of what the author saw while on the ground, embedded with the men fighting it who seemed to be mostly poor kids in their teens or early 20's from a place Filkins had never heard of.

I've been riveted by the stories all week, just listening to the audiobook, sometimes wanting to drive around the block again to hear the end of a story. "Driveway moments" as NPR calls them, are frequent. He describes the 22-year old who sat beside him on the transport, who made a certain comment that stuck with the author and then was killed four days later, for example, or the kid who stuck his arm out and insisted on walking in front of Filkins up the stairs and whose head was then split open by a bullet.

Josh Karton says that "the enemy of all art is generality" and Filkins creates great art, or at least good and memorable stories, by avoiding it with simple, concrete stories that show rather than tell the action and avoid judgment or interpretation of it.

I can't recommend this book enough. I once wrote about a sign that appeared in Iraq stating "America isn't at war, it's at the mall." This book tells the stories of the kids, and others, who went to war instead and who are, in many cases, still there. The stories are good and a lot of good comes from simply hearing these stories that have gone untold amidst our trips to the mall.

It's a good read, or listen, especially on Memorial Day weekend.

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