Someone Else's Pain

The Forever War
Dexter Filkins
Alfred A. Knopf, $25, 384 pp.

Dozens of books have appeared about the U.S. invasion, occupation, destruction, and inept reconstruction of Iraq. Generals, ordinary soldiers, journalists, government officials, consultants, academics, politicians, and returned Iraqi exiles have told their stories, sometimes justifying, sometimes criticizing what they did and what they saw others do. These volumes along with reams of newspaper and magazine copy and miles of TV footage make the war in Iraq the most closely observed in history. And this leaves out the blogs and e-mails that tell the stories of the day-to-day lives of Iraqis and U.S. soldiers, which most of us never see.

Much of this voluminous information, even when it defends the invasion, ends up pointing to its dubious justification and incompetent execution. The announced reason for the war, Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, proved unfounded. The idea that Iraq posed a threat to the United States and to its neighbors was groundless. The plan that Iraq would spring up a functioning democracy was spectacularly in error. The war was not justified, and it has not been successful, unless the only goal was the end of Saddam Hussein’s rule. The war happened and it goes on; Saddam is long gone and the killing continues. Its pointlessness from beginning to end is beyond comprehension. It is an absurd war.

Dexter Filkins’s The Forever War does not try to do what other...

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About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.