American combat journalist Dexter Filkins gave a free lecture entitled “Tales from the Front Lines: Reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan” Wednesday night in Campbell Hall.
The talk stood as the first of a series of lectures and commentaries about the psychological and social challenges that American troops faced in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — wars that Filkins spent seven years covering. The series, titled “Fallout: In the Aftermath of War,” is sponsored by UCSB’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center and the IHC Harry Girvetz Memorial Endowment.
During the lecture, Filkins used many images taken by current photojournalists to give an element of visual reality to his words. He said he sought for his lecture to challenge the abstract obscurity of the wars by introducing to audiences the events he witnessed and reported about while on the field.
“What I want to try to do is take you through my experience,” Filkins said. “Every photo is what I was present for. I want to convey exactly what it feels like to be there.”
Many of the photographs Filkins presented focused on horrors of the wars and the poor, unsafe living conditions of the people that resided in those areas. Filkins also showed a set of images, however, that revealed the beauties of Iraq and Afghanistan that foreigners would not usually see.
According to Filkins, most people are so bombarded with images of bombs and guns that when it comes to these war zones, that they forget that these are still places of refuge for people, places of sanctuary. Filkins referred to these areas as the “land[s] that time forgot.”
He also said media tends to portray the wars in an abstract manner and people do not fully understand the intensity behind what occurs in battle.
“You can turn on the TV or you can pick up a newspaper and you can hear people talk about these wars in usually an abstract way,” Filkins said. “When I was in Iraq and Afghanistan, I couldn’t listen to that stuff when I came home, for the reason that it was too diluted from my real experience. It’s not like the movies, where the bomb just goes off. It was like an earthquake. A bomb does not go off and just go away. It shakes the earth for a long time.”
Filkins observed that the majority of American soldiers were young adult volunteers, and because of this people back home did not discuss the wars at great lengths.
“The first thing you notice is how young the [soldiers] are,” Filkins said. “Man, they are just kids. What’s most frustrating is that nobody in America talks about the war. They don’t really care. I think the reason for that is right here in these photographs of the young American troops. It’s because these guys who were fighting aren’t from Santa Barbara, West L.A. or Cambridge, Massachusetts. They’re from Kentucky, Mississippi or North Dakota. Nobody hears about them.”
Filkins said the complexities of the concept of war are difficult to grasp.
“War is such a strange thing; the cliche thing is that it’s one part foreign and one part terror, and that’s right,” Filkins said. “You will always remember the terror. But war is amazing because it’s like a human condition in extremes. You see people at their absolute worst and you see people at their best. When I was in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s an amazing thing: you can feel the historical plates shifting beneath your feet. You can see history unfold- ing right in front of you.”
A version of this article appeared on page 3 of January 18th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.