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Chris Hedges

War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning

 Chris Hedges 9781400034635 Books

The insanity of war July 31, 2004

By S. Freeman

Format:Paperback|Amazon Verified Purchase

Chris Hedges has written a deeply thoughtful and thought provoking book on the insanity of war. Myths and identified and exploded. Realities are presented, at times, in graphic detail.

Yet the book is an odd duck in some ways. Despite references to and quotations from the classics of literature, it is not an academic work; but neither is it a journalistic work. It is largely introspective; and in this sense, reminds me of the work of Joan Didion.

The title offends me as it asserts a truth I wish to deny. Yet, as combat veteran, having looked closely at the dead--of my brothers and of those we killed--having stared into vacant eyes looking off to some unseen horizon, I cannot deny the truth he asserts: War is a Force that gives us meaning. Fortunately, it is not the ONLY force, and needs not be THE force, as he makes clear toward the end. Indeed, a subtitle could be "Love is THE force which gives us true meaning.

I find the reviews of some of Hedges' critics rather amusing, and strongly suspect they have never worn the uniform, much less served in combat. If they did, they would realize some of their criticisms are, well, stupid.

This book, for example, is not anti-patriotic, though neither is it "patriotic", at least not in any usual sense of the word. Hedges' argument is our loyalties should not lie, at least not exclusively, not decisively, with any nation or government. Our patriotism should not be blind, nor should it be a means of manipulation. Rather, it should be grounded in love and understanding. Though Hedges does not say this specifically, I think he would agree that true patriotism entails both love of country AND love of humanity. To view our "enemies" as the epitome of evil, to present them as fanatics with no respect for human life, is to lower ourselves to the level we ascribe to them. Such false beliefs are inherently self defeating.

Cucolo does not seem to understand, as some great Americans have, that war is a narcotic, that patriotism often is used and abused by those who, themselves, have an inadequate understanding of humanity, and, therefore, inadequate respect for human life, who will sacrifice a nation's best for empire or to salve their own demented egos.

Having stood much closer to war than Cucolo probably sits to the screen showing John Wayne movies, Hemingway understood this: "There is noting sweet and fitting in dying for your country. You will die like a dog for no good reason."

John Quincy Adams also understood what Cucolo apparently does not: "And say not thou, `My country right or wrong'; nor shed thy blood for an unhallowed cause."

Real patriotism, true patriotism is far more than flying a flag outside one's home.

As Hedges argues, we are conditioned to believe war is some great cause, possessing some noble meaning that transcends us, that gives us some noble purpose in life which is far greater than anything we are likely to accomplish on our own, living our lives of anonymous insignificance, of "quiet desperation". War gives us the opportunity for heroics, to have our names, or at least the cause in which we served, inscribed in the annals (or should I say anals?) of history.

War summons up the courage ordinary men fear they lack. That "red badge of courage" shouts we ARE courageous, if not heroes. What else can we say of men willing to leave hearth and home, to kiss their loved ones good-bye, "leaving on a jet plane", not knowing if they will return again, even if in a box? What greater love is there, can there be than to lay down one's life for one's country? Certainly I understand this. Why else would I have marched off--as a volunteer--to fight in a war I actively opposed, and believed (then and now) to be an illegal, immoral, "unhallowed cause"?

In his last chapter, Hedges talks of how war is a false god. Life seems more "real" in combat. Things do get distilled down to very simple terms--life and death. Soldiers, especially those standing victorious on that day's battlefield, are as gods. As one of my brothers, imprisoned after the war because he had become too addicted to the violence of war, bringing that violence home where what he did in the Nam to great praise from his commanders was unacceptable, said: "We strode the earth as gods, dispensing life and death at will."

Hedges identifies three things which stand in contrast to the false meaning of life provided by war--meaning (purposefulness) of life, happiness and love.

To those whose souls are possessed by Thanatos--as Cucolo's may be--to talk of love is to talk of weakness: Love is the sentiment of weak women; war is what MEN do. They could not be more wrong as anyone who has served in combat knows. We LOVE our brothers, even if, as Hedges argues, it is not a complete love, for it is a love forged by a false god.

Major Michael O'Donnell, himself one of those "gentle heroes (we) left behind", clearly understood this as he wrote in his poem, "Vietnam":

"Be not ashamed to say

you loved them

though you may

or may not have always.

But anyone who has lain on a battlefield with bullets, mortars, rockets crashing around surely knows, we have never felt our love for our parents, our siblings, our girlfriends or wives--not before, nor since--so completely, so intensely as those moments when we faced death in battle.

Hedges has written a profound book, full of meaning and purpose, for anyone willing to open their minds to the possibility war is an inherently insane, inherently immoral narcotic. There are no winners in war, none, only savagery and inhumanity and destruction of the soul; and we need to know this without having to learn it first hand. rned's review of War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning

This review is from: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning (Paperback). Everything about Chris Hedges's book, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, is disturbing. The vivid eyewitness accounts of war crimes, the rambling disjointed highly personal style that mirrors the chaos of battle, the link between brutality and sexuality, the use of historical literature that obliterates the distance mankind has traveled from Troy to Kosovo, and his own deep addiction to the thrill of war as a long time war correspondent. Even the dust cover of the book was intended to be disturbing. The full color picture shows a multinational group of women and men with their arms raised and holding the hands of the person next to them. It is evening, but their faces, and the America flags they hold, are illuminated by candles. They are not angry. Indeed, they might be praying or singing, but clearly they rally to some significant and somber cause. In the background are the lighted skyscrapers of a large city. No doubt this city is New York and these people are responding to the events of September 11. This is one way the mythology of war constructs symbols of meaning and imbues us with its purpose. President George W. Bush's Afghanistan war had the broad support of the American people.

Hedges likens war to an addiction, the high of which is all-consuming. A sustained superbowl weekend of tribal bonding, adrenaline rushes, sex, and violence. A placed stalked by the losers of peacetime-petty thieves and thugs who understand domination as a matter of force and terror. War, Hedges concludes, forms a central part of the human condition. He notes that "the historian Will Durant calculated that there have only been twenty-nine years in all of human history during which a war was not underway somewhere." From a historical sweep humans have never stopped fighting. It is a very disturbing revelation.

But individuals, tribes, villages, city-states, empires, and nations have all witnessed both peace and war. And perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Hedges's narrative is trying to figure out why we ever stop fighting. For the only answer that he provides as to why we stop fighting is that we simply become bored by the slaughter. When killing becomes too routine it loses its luster and bogs down. And when it loses its luster, and we see it plainly, we are like a wife-beater who is temporarily sickened and ashamed. In the damaged faces of the innocents we can find no sustainable reasoning or meaning.

Hedges argues that Americans were temporarily sickened and ashamed by the Vietnam war. But now that our collective memory has faded and new generations have been raised on the elixir of paranoid patriotism, our willingness to wage war has been revitalized. The nation with more weapons of mass destruction than any other nation on earth-than any nation in the history of mankind-is primed by this force that gives us meaning. No doubt about it, those mothers and fathers on the cover of the book were New Yorkers. Our New Yorkers. We shall have our retribution. They kill us, we will kill them.

Hedges is a warrior, he is not a pacifist. Hedges is addicted to war and he knows it and he hates it. But he believes that somehow, some way, love is the answer. "To survive as a human being is possible only through love." Continuing, he somewhat clumsily argues, "It does not mean we will avoid war or death. It does not mean that we as distinct individuals will survive. But love, in its mystery, has its own power. It alone gives us meaning that endures." Hedges knows war much better than he knows love, but it is a start. Particularly a start for a nation that does not understand war.

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What Every Person Should Know About War Chris Hedges 9780743255127 Books

Chris Hedges is a cultural critic and author who was a foreign correspondent for nearly two decades for The New York Times, The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor and National Public Radio. He reported from Latin American, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He was a member of the team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for The New York Times coverage of global terrorism, and he received the 2002 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. Hedges, who holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School, is the author of the bestsellers American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle and was a National Book Critics Circle finalist for his book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. He is a Senior Fellow at The Nation Institute and writes… Read more

War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning Chris Hedges 9781400034635 Books



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