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War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning (2002)

af Chris Hedges

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1,6553410,456 (4.08)44
As a veteran war correspondent, Chris Hedges has survived ambushes in Central America, imprisonment in Sudan, and a beating by Saudi military police. He has seen children murdered for sport in Gaza and petty thugs elevated into war heroes in the Balkans. Hedges, who is also a former divinity student, has seen war at its worst and knows too well that to those who pass through it, war can be exhilarating and even addictive: "It gives us purpose, meaning, a reason for living." Drawing on his own experience and on the literature of combat from Homer to Michael Herr, Hedges shows how war seduces not just those on the front lines but entire societies--corrupting politics, destroying culture, and perverting basic human desires. Mixing hard-nosed realism with profound moral and philosophical insight, War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning is a work of terrible power and redemptive clarity whose truths have never been more necessary.… (mere)
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With the recent passing of Henry Kissinger and the current ongoing genocides in the Middle East I was drawn to read this Chris Hedges work from 2002. Sadly it is distressingly still relevant in every way today. His graphic telling of brutalities and overpowering repulsions of carnage suggest a pornographic attraction, which is one of the themes in this book about the personal impacts of being in war. Deep psychological effects are coupled with observations on propaganda campaigns selling wars to constituencies. He is well seasoned and carefully calculated in weighing his facts. His narrative is up close and personal. Yet the book is largely philosophical. Invoking literary references as well as other military sources, Hedges constructs a point of view that endures. In part this supports the man in the street perspective of how civilizations crumble into dust. While not offered as such it contributes at least little towards understanding how Israel and Hamas are hell bent on obliterating their homeland. This seems to be no middle ground and probably never has been, especially once at war. ( )
  UncleSamZ | Feb 17, 2024 |
examination of war
  SrMaryLea | Aug 22, 2023 |
I originally bought this book for a course on American politics in a media age that I took during the spring semester of the 2001/2002 school year, but I never read it then. The book was written on the eve of the war on terror and is probably best described by one of the quotes on the back: "while one may disagree with [the author] along the way, his basic message is irrefutable: that we should always feel sickened by war, even though we periodically have to wage it." The book points out how war only works as long as both sides see their selves as good and the other side is evil. Once people begin to acknowledge that their side commits atrocities and the other side may have some good reason for their hatred, people will start to realize the horror of what they are doing. As the author says at one point, there is no right side and wrong side, just an immoral side and a less immoral side. Overall, a very good and thoughtful read.
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
Hedges delivers a brutal analysis of war and its impact on individuals and society. I've admired his journalism for a long time and I appreciated his incorporation of his personal experiences, even his dark and fearful moments. Evoking classic Greek literature and Shakespeare also gave his argument a broad and weighty scope deeply rooted in a history of human experiences of war and he carnage it brings.
1 stem b.masonjudy | Apr 3, 2020 |
Chris Hedges wrote War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning after the events of September 2001, but before the Afghanistan and Iraq wars of the 21st century that make it all the more painful to read today. About two thirds of the text is memoir, but in the form of anecdotes pressed into service for a war correspondent's reflections about the perennial nature of war and what it does to societies and individuals. Many of these stories are grueling to read, and Hedges very consciously straddles a line on which he hopes to make patent the attractions of war without himself glamorizing it.

There are many literary references in this book, especially to the classics of antiquity which Hedges studied at Harvard during a hiatus in his work as a journalist. He gives these their due as evidence of the enduring attributes of war, but he avoids elevating them into sanction for it. He also returns at various points to his own need for literary sustenance in the midst of war (e.g. 90, 169).

In his introduction, Hedges disclaims a pacifist agenda. He writes that his aim is "a call for repentance" in the face of growing US military hubris. The book is concerned with the ways in which war is fostered by the dehumanizing falsehoods of nationalism, destroying culture and erecting an abstract "cause" to which life must be subordinated. Hedges proposes memory and love as the antidotes to the martial impulse, where these are rooted in lived contact with others, particularly across ethnic and religious divides. Unfortunately, this book is as timely now as when it was first published, and there is no real likelihood that it will become irrelevant in the foreseeable human future.
3 stem paradoxosalpha | Aug 30, 2019 |
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The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent.
When I finally did leave, my last act was, in a frenzy of rage and anguish, to leap over the KLM counter in the airport in Costa Rica because of a perceived slight by a hapless airline clerk. I beat him to the floor as his bewildered colleagues locked themselves in the room behind the counter. Blood streamed down his face and mine. I refused to wipe the dried stains off my cheeks on the flight to Madrid, and I carry a scar on my face from where he thrust his pen into my cheek. War's sickness had become mine.
In wartime the state seeks to destroy its own culture. It is only when this destruction has been completed that the state can begin to exterminate the culture of its opponents. In times of conflict authentic culture is subversive.
The Gulf War made war fashionable again. It was a cause the nation willingly embraced. It gave us media-manufactured heroes and a heady pride in our military superiority and technology. It made war fun. And the blame, as in many conflicts, lay not with the military but the press.
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As a veteran war correspondent, Chris Hedges has survived ambushes in Central America, imprisonment in Sudan, and a beating by Saudi military police. He has seen children murdered for sport in Gaza and petty thugs elevated into war heroes in the Balkans. Hedges, who is also a former divinity student, has seen war at its worst and knows too well that to those who pass through it, war can be exhilarating and even addictive: "It gives us purpose, meaning, a reason for living." Drawing on his own experience and on the literature of combat from Homer to Michael Herr, Hedges shows how war seduces not just those on the front lines but entire societies--corrupting politics, destroying culture, and perverting basic human desires. Mixing hard-nosed realism with profound moral and philosophical insight, War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning is a work of terrible power and redemptive clarity whose truths have never been more necessary.

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