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War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning by…

War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning (2002)

by Chris Hedges

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As the title suggests, this is a book about the attractions of war, its mythic appeal, and the ways in which that appeal is willfully distorted by media, government, and ideological forces. But also, more disturbingly, Hedges shows how war can hold a very real, authentic attraction for some--for those individuals who become obsessed with death, with being a hero, and for those movements and peoples who latch on to it as a source of collective identity and even feel nostalgia for the forces of social unification and individual intimacy it bears. ( )
  lukeasrodgers | Mar 1, 2014 |
Reviewed here.
  scott.neigh | Jan 19, 2014 |
The author is one of the most qualified reporters in the world. With a strong academic background in Starr King and Harvard Divinity, he served for decades as a war correspondence in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East, for major newspapers (Dallas Times, NYT). His expertise in describing American society is informed by global and historical perspectives.

I give this work a very rare 5-star rating. Not only is it well-written and documented non-fiction, but he wrote this in 2002, in the face of the lies told by the Bush Administration to the American people to justify launching three expensive and ill-conceived wars: Al Quaida (a global network), Afghanistan (religious herdsmen), and Iraq (secular oil producers).

"The Hurt Locker", the Academy Award-winning film about the Iraq War opens with a quotation from the book: "The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug." The full quote is found on page 3. Hedges is critical of the film, and Hollywood, for its participation and enablement of the fictions which support the War Machine. ( )
  keylawk | Dec 25, 2013 |
War brings death and destruction, but it also can give people a sense of purpose and comradeship. Chris Hedges was a war correspondent for 15 years, and speaks from experience how at the end of a war, many people, even those who were victims of the war, feel a sense of deflation. Yes, life is safer, but it seems flat and stale, meaningless. There is an intoxication to war, an addictive adrenaline rush, a feeling of living life fully. Hedges shows how despots and presidents instigate wars to solidify their position or prop up a failing regime, but he also shows it’s a mistake to think that citizens are blameless in the calculus of war and peace.

The book was originally published in 2002, and there’s a feeling that it was rushed into publication after 9/11. It’s too bad he didn’t wait a little longer since the buildup to war in Iraq in 2003 would have provided him with more material rooted here in the United States. In addition there are a lot of references to the wars in the former Yugoslavia that are very hard to follow so long after the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s.

Hedges ends with a nod to love, that maybe somehow love can save us. A little nebulous perhaps, like “Love Is All You Need,” but he did have some experience of love’s effect in war. He talks about how he slept badly whenever he was in a war zone, except when he was in the home of a couple in love. Then he felt peace surround him and he slept like a baby.

I used this book in a blog post about the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq: http://kathleenbrugger.blogspot.com/2013/03/a-force-that-gives-life-meaning.html ( )
  KatieBrugger | Jun 6, 2013 |
Hedges circles around and around this one Janus-faced idea: war has a myth that makes us love it and a drug that makes us embrace it, at the same time it is the most abhorrent of things.

An important idea and one worth circling a few times, but too many times and we get tired and numb. By all means read this book, but when you start feeling your heart glazing over move on to something else. ( )
  steve.clason | May 22, 2013 |
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Sarajevo in the summer of 1995 came close to Dante's inner circle of hell.
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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Drawing on the literature of combat, from Homer and Shakespeare to Erich Maria Remarque and Michael Herr, Hedges argues that human beings are conditioned to embrace what he calls "the myth of war"--The idea that combat is noble, selfless, and glorious, and yet, if human history is any guide, nations and imperiums have stumbled and even fallen when they believed the myths peddled about war and about themselves. The reality of war, asserts Hedges, with first-hand experience, is about the destruction of culture, the perversion of human desire, and the embrace, ultimately, of death over life.… (more)

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