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on June 23, 2003
This book is provacative and disturbing in that it strips away the veneer of war by relating the author's eye witness accounts of the brutatily, fear, humiliation, destruction, physchological addiction and damage (and occasional acts of humanity) that war brings to those who participate in it or are simply caught up in it and unable to escape. The book is at its strongest in this regard.
The author does not attempt an analysis of the causes of war per se but does consitently attack the tenets of racism, nationalism and various ideologies used to promote and justify it and does a good job of exposing just who these promoters often are. He also includes a fair dose of self-criticism and angst concerning his own participation in covering war as a correspondent, and includes stories of other correspondents. He also touches upon the ways in which the media use and are used by war's promoters and participants.
The book is short, more of an extended essay, and not structured as an analysis or argument. The author strays in his philosphical take on issues of love versus war or friendship within war that I think distract from his essential point in writing the book --- exposing war for what it is. But again, this is an essay style book and not an historical or scientific analysis, so opine away he does and why not.
Perhaps some of the virulent criticism he has received emanates from his daring to lump America's own often-virulent nationalism and its own war promoters and war managers into the same basket as the more unsavory types inhabiting Central America or the Balkans. In so doing he insinuates that we Americans too are part and parcel of the horrors of war and not immune to its appeal. Poor fellow, in this post 9-11 world to question anything about 'us' is to invite rabid criticism.
I for one highly recommend this book. I found it to be at times insightful, at times disturbing, and always thought provoking. Why not an anti-war book? Everyone has a right to tell their story and give their opinion. For much more indepth historical and scientific analyses of the causes and lessons of war read anything by Hanson or Keegan -- but keep this little book in mind when you do.
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on October 5, 2002
Chris Hedges was a war correspondent for many years, covering the various wars and insurgencies in Central America, North Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans. This book is not so much a memoir (although Hedges draws deeply on his own experience) as it is a meditation on the effects of war and of the nationalist myths that often provide a basis for war -- how easy it is to be caught up by the myth of the hero, of noble sacrifice, of the utter depravity (inhumanity) of the enemy (the Other), and how difficult it is to recover from the inevitable disillusionment when the terror of war, the collapse of morality and the essential humanity of the Other is revealed. Hedges is at his best in discussing the aftermath of war -- the collective forgetting as history and memory are erased, lest the survivors be forced to face what they have done. Yet it is only by recovering the truth, acknowledging guilt and seeking reconciliation that society can begin to heal and move forward.
Hedges' message is an important one as we rush headlong into war, particularly for all who demonize the "axis of evil" without acknowledging the role we have played in creating the despair and rage that have turned men and women into terrorists. As Hedges shows, it is difficult for non-combatants to resist the national myth, to penetrate behind the approved rhetoric, to waver from the absolute, unquestioning patriotism demanded by the state. But some must do so if we are to keep our moral compass and begin to heal the world (i.e., to address the despair felt by both sides).
Although the message is strong, there are a few weaknesses in this book. Hedges tends to over-generalize based on his experiences in the Balkans, characterizing all war as though it involved marauding packs of criminals (otherwise known as militias). The Persian Gulf War, while certainly displaying many of the mythic elements necessary to any war, was either about freedom for the Kuwaitis or about access to oil -- and was certainly about power -- but in any event does not seem to have involved the kind of wanton depredation on the civilian population common to the Balkans and (to a more limited extent) the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Although the book is short, it does get repetitive after a while, as Hedges hammers home his points about what war does to (and for) us. We also lose contact to some extent with Hedges' personal experience, as he comes to focus more on the experiences of others as the book progresses, and the book loses some of the immediacy it had at the beginning.
Overall, a very worthwhile (and quick) read for anyone concerned about our future as we rush into the war on terror.
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on October 4, 2003
Chris is a journalist and war correspondent. He's covered
many of the bloodiest conflicts in the last 15-20 years.
In spite of the danger, he found himself addicted to the
rush of war.
If you ever want to read what war is really about and how
it psychologically damages not only the soldiers involved,
but also the "non-combatant" populations and so-called
leaders back home, this book is for you. He
talks about the amnesia-insanity of entire societies
that occurs when war happens. But he offers no solutions
for how to get off this relentless treadmill to hell.
His descriptions of personal experiences from covering
wars on several continents are like sucker punches to the gut.
One quote:
"The enduring attraction of war is this:
Even with its destruction and carnage it can give you
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
The best antidote? A real leader. Vote for Dennis Kucinich who
really understands the value of peace.
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on July 8, 2004
While the book is imperfect (other reviewers have, I believe, accurately noted the limited analytical material), it is very accessible, easily read, hits key points about the human propensity to make war, and articulates some of the elements that characterize all wars--plus, his spiels about the addictive nature of war are compelling, palpable. I could feel the adrenalin rush...I have shared this book with many friends and acquaintances precisely because it is so readable. It is a reminder to all of us--regardless of our political persuasion--about the mindset that takes over when a nation goes to war. I don't think we can hear too many such reminders.
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on May 23, 2003
War is A Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges is a gripping personal meditation by an author who has seen war up close in many parts of the world and who is not afraid to confront the myths of war that even journalists themselves foster in their work. I think this book is timely in the light of Gulf War II and the role of embedded journalists in that conflict.
I think this book can be used as a polemic against those who support the idea that war and just war reasoning really provide an answer to the failure of diplomacy. Hedges' experiences have not lead him to become a pacifist but it does make us evaluate the question of the 'good to be gained' by war which our government, media, and the majority of Americans seemed to avoid before engaging in a preemptive strike on Iraq in 2003.
Hedges takes us through the hell of war. Maybe if more people would take the journey with Hedges through his book they would be less inclined to support violent solutions to international problems or at least consider the arguments of millions of ordinary people around the world who question war's efficacy and see the evil of spending vast sums of money to prepare for future wars.
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on March 28, 2003
Chris Hedges, the author of the book is a former war correspondent for The New York Times. He's seen war up close in Latin America, the Balkans and the Middle East. He looks back at those years as a time of his own intoxication with the great myth of war's appeal. Indeed, it seems to give people a noble cause and a purpose for living. Years after a war the participants often look back and remember never feeling so much alive as during those dangerous times, when their lives were one long adrenalin rush.
Nationalism is one of the plagues used by ruffian leaders to fire up the populace into hate. There's a bonding and a glory. The result is also devastating. Lives are lost, culture is destroyed and people are murdered and tortured. Yet, there is a seduction in the drum roll to this perverse conclusion. Later, memory is often distorted as its the winners who write history. There are psychological reasons too, a connection between romance and death. And it all happens again and again.
I was caught up the 185 pages of this well written book. But yet, after each of the seven chapters, I had to put the book down and do something else. I needed to get away from concepts that he was laying bare to the reader. I needed to move out of the world of horror he created. It's a complex book on many levels, because in spite of the many examples of unspeakable horrors, it seduces the reader too. By the time I finished it I understood what he meant.
Although Mr. Hedges is not a pacifist, he has exposed the myths and lets us look clearly at what war is. His perspective is fresh and clear and certainly made me think. It saddened me too. It's a universal truth that I wish wasn't so. The words are easy to read but their effects have a lingering and troubling effect. Not a pleasant read. But highly recommended.
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on March 18, 2003
In this powerfully honest book by this Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times Journalist, we see through a glass darkly into war as necrophilia, war that in the beginning looks like love. Hedges, who has a Masters of Divinity from Harvard, speaks with brutal honesty of his own addiction to the adrenaline rush of war as he witnessed it in El Salvador, the Middle East and the Balkans. He writes about Thanatos, the death instinct in the human psyche in constant struggle with Eros, the impulse to love. He exposes what he calls the "god-like exhileration of destroying" that emotionally maimed veterans reflect on later as "nothing gallant or heroic, nothing redeeming." He shows us in graphic detail how he almost lost his soul, but was redeemed by love in partnership that recognizes both the fragility and sanctity of the individual. He warns us that this flirtation with weapons of mass destruction is a flirtation with our own obliteration, an embrace of Thanatos. With humility and grace, he reminds us that "love alone can save us." Hegdes' message is one that the world desperately needs to hear.
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on June 24, 2004
Plain and simple. There's no getting around it. No sentimentalizing over it. No being nostalgic about it. It's hell. And Hedges does a terrific job examing its "appeal" to the human race. This isn't a fun read, by any stretch of the imagination. Hedges describes atrocities he has witnessed throughout the world, but primarily in Kosova. War turns us into some form of sub-human species, but yet so many veterans refer to their time in a combat zone as the time they were the most alive. Our leaders sell us on the notion of war much like Madison Avenue sells us on the appeal of the latest toothpaste. At a certain point, we may wise up, but by then, it will no doubt be too late. We'll have destroyed ourselves. Hedges' book should be read by every member of Congress prior to giving any approval to an adventurous President's plans.
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on January 3, 2004
This is powerful stuff. Whether you think yourself a hawk or a dove, you'll never feel the same about the fanfare of war. Forget about glory, heros, and pulse-pumping excitement, Chris Hedges will extinguish those cheap thrills forever. A seasoned war correspondent, Chris Hedges knows of what he writes. He's no pacifist and severely chids the Clinton administration's slow response in the Balkans. But he lets no warmongers off free. In strong, poetic language, Hedges forces the reader to face the costs and subterfuges of war: hyperbolic nation myths, manufactured heros, "demon" enemies. Violence intoxicates, leaving combatants spent, disgusted, and scarred. Mass amnesia and shameless revisionism allow each generation to re-embrace war ignorant of the deeds of their predecessors. I can't recommend this book strongly enough.
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on May 23, 2003
In light of the incident wherein the author was booed off the stage at a college graduation ceremony, I felt that I had to give credence to this honest and telling depiction of war as seen through the eyes of one who reports it. Mr. Hedges is extraordinary in detailing that what is seen as necessary or justifiable is mostly simple cruelty. Those who have not seen combat imagine a fairly santized version of what actually occurs. It is with this expectation that the news media ensures what promenades before us when the news reaches our homes. Chris Hedges is a remarkable author in this era of irrational nationalism and one that should be given respectable audience.
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