Dexter Filkins: Covering War Distorts Everything

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Dexter Filkins

Guest host Sarah Jessica Parker talked to journalist Dexter Filkins about covering war and his experiences covering war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. He joined The New Yorker in January of 2011; before that he was with the New York Times since 2000.

Dexter Filkins arrived in Northern Afghanistan in October 2001. “In a situation like that, you’re constantly improvising. And it helps if you have, as I did at the time, a bag of cash…But the truth is, you can’t really prepare. And I didn’t really know what I was getting into.”

Filkins says that covering major events like the invasion of Afghanistan and the collapse of the Taliban can be a rush for a reporter: “You’re breathing pure oxygen.” He says that it’s not the violence that hooks war correspondents. “What you do get kind of really into is the largeness. How many times in your life do you get to really feel the continental plates shifting underneath your feet?”

Filkins described the tension for both soldiers and reporters in a warzone: ”Most of the time nothing’s happening, you’re just standing around. And everything’s strange.” He continues, “You’re in this really strange place and you’re kind of waiting for the guns to go off. And that does something to your psyche…The world’s never the same after that.”

Sarah Jessica Parker asked Filkins about the toll his job has taken on his personal life: “When you’re in one of these places, it’s not normal in any way. And it’s kind of destructive to you and to your relationships and to your friendships. Because it’s such an extreme experience.” He adds: “It’s not a life that’s really sustainable over a long period of time.”

“What’s most jarring is when you come back and nobody cares.” Returning from reporting on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he says, “What was most unsettling to me was just how disconnected the country was – and the country is – from both of these wars.”

Dexter Filkins is the author of The Forever War, about the battle against Islamic fundamentalism and about the remarkable chain of events that began with the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s, continued with the attacks of 9/11, and moved on to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.