Week Notes: July 11, 2020

The Forever War

Last week I finished The Forever War by Dexter Filkins. It’s a chronicle of his years reporting from the Taliban’s Afghanistan to post-invasion Iraq and Afghanistan. Being published in 2008, it covers the descent of Iraq’s post-invasion hopes into brutal civil war, before any possible lights at the end of the tunnel can emerge. I think it is as good as Michael Herr’s Dispatches, the classic of Vietnam reporting, though Filkins’ book is less literary in style.

This was a very disturbing book. The Iraq insurgency was so, so awful, and the American response was so very ineffectual. We fooled ourselves with grand hopeful ambitions of building democracy in a society that no one understood. Did anyone predict that nationalist insurgents, Al-Qaeda terrorists, and religious zealots would dominate a fledgling civil society with murder, torture, and anarchy? Could they? Filkins makes it clear that a spiral of escalating violence was an explicit goal of Al-Qaeda’s accelerationist terrorists. Killings begat revenge killings, and so on. Sadly, they understood what they were doing, and it worked.

Reading The Forever War along with papers about the American Revolution is convincing me that violent revolution should be prevented at any cost. Prof. David Bell from Princeton’s history department has one way of saying it: revolutions have been messy, bloody, long, drawn-out affairs, where a lot of innocents die as a result of political violence being normalized. Essentially no revolutions have been quick successes. But we must consider the counterfactual cases: what would the U.S. be without the American Revolution, or royal France without its? Revolutions are how societies throw themselves off of local maxima, hoping to grow wings on the way down, in order to soar up even higher. At least, that’s what the successful revolutionaries wrote into history.

Finally, a historical-nihilist objection. What if your revolution doesn’t make a better system? What if all your bloodshed and trauma was for an evil cause? What if you’re on the wrong side of history?


In happier news, reading updates from projects I’ve backed brings me joy! I backed Travis Corcoran’s project, Escaping the City: a How-To Homesteading Guide. His updates are journal entries from a life worth aspiring to, where your work really makes a difference. The closest I’ve come to it was staying one night at a commune in New Hampshire, during a rock climbing trip. Humble beginnings…