I’m not a soldier, I’m not a politician, so the best I can do when we go to war is read about it. Lately that’s been Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile, The Dark Side by Jane Mayer, and The Forever War by Dexter Filkins.
Charlie Wilson’s War I can best describe as a tale of Robin Hood and his merry men, a bunch of Washington D.C. true believers who never got over the Vietnam War, robbing the federal government to give to what they called the Afghan freedom fighters virtually unlimited funds and war materiel to boot the Soviet’s invading army back across their own border. It is a very entertaining read, it’s well written and incredibly well researched, but reading now what happened then through the prism of current events, I’m left with a feeling of incredulity at the display of hubris on the part of Charlie and his merry men. I have also lost any faith I ever had in the oversight capability of Congress.
A much darker read is Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side, a painstaking and just amazingly detailed account of how extreme rendition (in English, kidnapping) and extreme interrogation (in English, torture) came to be public policy in the current administration. I can’t say you’ll enjoy reading this book, but it’s a book that should be read, at the very least as a cautionary tale as to just how far things can go wrong when nobody’s watching. It is reassuring to report that there are heroes, like David Brant, the head of NCIS, Alberto Mora, Counsel to the US Navy, the FBI agents who refused to have anything to do with the torture, and all those administration attorneys who, while they were hired because they had the correct conservative credentials nevertheless knew that kidnapping and torture are wrong, unconstitutional and unAmerican, and who fought the good fight against this program, some of them from the beginning, and some of whom were fired or forced to quit because of it.
The Forever War was written by Dexter Filkins, a New York Times reporter who has been on the ground in Afghanistan and in Iraq from the beginning, and whose prose never once gets in the way of the story he tells. Listen to this: “Sometimes I would walk into the newsroom that we had set up in the New York Times bureau in Baghdad, and I’d find our Iraqi employees gathered round the television watching a torture video. You could buy them in the bazaars in Baghdad; they were left over from Saddam’s time.” This book is as close to Iraq as you can get without being shot at, and that’s okay with me.