This weekend was the Palo Alto Art Festival. It takes place every August. As we strolled around, looking at the booths, we arrived at Borders. “60 to 70% Off!” screamed large signs. Self suggested to hubby that we scope out the merchandise, and hubby agreed. If there is anything guaranteed to restore hubby’s equanimity, it is the prospect of anything “70% Off.”
The last time self had been in this Borders, the sell-off sale was just beginning. Back then, the signs advertised “30% Off!” Amazingly, yesterday there was still a lot of merchandise on the shelves. Hubby went straight to the military histories. Self browsed the maps and travel books and then the blank journals. Somehow, hubby and self ended up at the “U.S. History” section almost simultaneously. Self didn’t expect to find anything, but then she did: a single copy of Dexter Filkins’ The Forever War, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Self has been exceedingly curious about this book! She began to read the Prologue: Falluja, Iraq, November 2004. It is 2 a.m., and the Marines have just landed. Mosques all over the city issue the call to the Faithful: “The Holy War! The Holy War! Get up and fight for the city of mosques!”
But over the din, a new sound. Filkins looks back, to the vacant lot where the American helicopters had landed minutes earlier, and he sees a group of marines setting up a gigantic loudspeaker. Suddenly, the sound of AC/DC blasts over the minarets, the mosques, the calls to the Faithful: I’m a rolling thunder, a pouring rain/ I’m comin’ on like a hurricane/ My lightning’s flashing across the sky/ You’re only young but you’re gonna die. AC/DC and the muezzins shriek at each other in a bizarre contest, each side ramping up the volume until everything is subsumed in the noise of a terrific artillery barrage.
Filkin’s next chapter is Kabul, Afghanistan, several years earlier, in 1998. He describes an eerie city: at twilight, a ghost town, only the shadows of women, “floating silently in their head-to-toe burqas. Old meat hung in the stalls. Buildings listed in the ruins.”
He writes: “Kabul was full of orphans . . . woebegone children who peddled little labors and fantastic tales of grief . . . If a war went on long enough, the men always died, and someone had to take their place. Once I found seven boy soldiers fighting for the Northern Alliance on a hilltop in a place called Bangi. The Taliban positions were just in view, a minefield in between. The boys were wolflike, monosyllabic with no attention spans. Eyes always darting. Laughing the whole time. Dark fuzz instead of beards. They wore oddly matched apparel like high-top tennis shoes and and hammer-and-sickle belts, embroidered hajj caps and Russian rifles.”
Where are these boys now? It is 2011, 13 years later. Self can hardly dare to hope that the children Filkins wrote about have recovered: that, for instance, their attention spans have improved, and that they now no longer speak in monosyllables. But, more likely, they have become angry 23-year-olds, skilled in the use of weaponry.
Naturally, self had to buy Filkin’s book. And she also happened on another by Jim Sheeler, Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives. It’s about the men who have to deliver the news of American casualties to their families back home. The first chapter is called “The Knock.” It contains a list of instructions for delivering news to the NOK (“Next of Kin”). For example:
- Item # 3: If the NOK does not offer entrance into the home, ask permission to enter. It is helpful if the NOK is seated prior to delivering the news.”
- Item # 4: Use good judgement and do not pass gory or embarrassing details.
Self has seen a movie based on material that might possibly have been taken from this book: It was called “The Messenger,” and starred Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson. In fact, self thinks Harrelson was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in that movie. Self decided to buy this book, as well. Both were 50 % off.
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Other Literature on 9/11:
- The 9/11 Commission Report: The Attack From Planning to Aftermath. The 2004 commission report is being re-released in a new commemmorative edition, with an afterword by Philip Zelkow, the executive director of the commission.
- And self highly recommends this book, which she has blogged about a few times: 102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers, by New York Times reporters Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn.
Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.