Chis Hedges was a war correspondent for the New York Times in many of the defining warzones of our times: the Balkans, Central America, and the Middle East. He has reported on wars from the inside, surviving ambushes, diving for cover alongside his military escorts, and witnessing the aftermath of every atrocity imaginable. The psychological scars from knowing the face of mass produced death are still with him. In his travels around the world he’s found a recurring dynamic at work, the addiction of soldiers and citizens to the ecstasy of war. Hedges covers this topic exclusively in his book, War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning.
This book is journalistic, philosophical, and part social critique. It is effectiveness rests in analyzing the myth of war. He explains how it’s created, who perpetuates it, how it’s disseminated in society, what function it serves, its psychological effects, how it’s maintained, and what happens when it’s finally punctured by the undeniable reality of war. He cites his own experiences and the accounts of soldiers and citizens in war to illustrate where and how these recurring themes unfold in real life. These accounts include graphic accounts of murder, rape, torture, suicide, genocide that deflate the glorious lie which herds generations of men into battle. Yet amongst all this carnage there is a lust for combat and its incomparable rush that fills the emptiness felt by entire nations. No longer is anyone insignificant in the theater of war, we are elevated to the calling of destiny, and to push back against it feels almost impossible. To avoid its intoxicating effects is outright hopeless.
I have often wondered how people I’ve greatly respected for their intelligence and wisdom, people I have personally known, would become incapable of discussing war in any rational way. Their responses on every aspect of the War on Terror would be variations of the empty, clichéd reasons parroted from mainstream media; “they hate us for our freedom”, “Muslims are evil”, and “torture is permissible when we do it.” I wouldn’t accept such absurd reasons for going to war, and so I turned away from the news and began reading writers like Noam Chomsky who gave a grimmer picture of what’s going on. When I approached people with this newfound evidence they’d dismiss it all and hold tighter to robotic ways of thinking. I increasingly became an outsider, an intellectual minority. The whole time I’ve been wondering what this hypnotic like way of thinking is. Could it simply be effective propaganda? The answer is that war is a force that gives us meaning. It is a longing for death that is inside us all. We decorate and justify it with patriotic and glorious gestures, but that death drive is always there. This is a work that lays bare our naked desire for death and recognition. Nobody in our generation can afford to miss out on this highly enlightening work.