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War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning (2002)

by Chris Hedges

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1,501319,295 (4.08)43
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.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
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 vote 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.
2 vote paradoxosalpha | Aug 30, 2019 |
The Goodreads description says it all. Not a book of platitudes. ( )
  badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
OK, I have tried to write this several times but I just keep coming up with review-babble. This book is hard to approach. Some points:

- The book is intelligent and well-structured, I for one thought his merging of anecdotes of multiple conflicts, from casualties of all sides, really worked. It highlighted his underlying point about eliminating the arbitrary boundaries we draw between the suffering of those who we're supposed to sympathize with and those of the "enemy".

- Hedges is not a pacifist, he acknowledges the necessity for war in certain situations but he is trying to make a point about how people think about war and the collective amnesia that develops in a society when the war machine starts cranking.

- This book is not about any particular conflict or an overview of Hedges career, but it is a book about the idea of War that Hedges unifies with comparisons to classical literature, Shakespeare and even George Orwell. For a philosophical book its very readable and, ten years later, still very relevant. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
"Drawing on his own experience and on the literature of combat from Homer to
Michael Herr, Hedges shows how ward 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." --back cover
  collectionmcc | Mar 6, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
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Sarajevo in the summer of 1995 came close to Dante's inner circle of hell.
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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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