War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning
General George S. Patton famously said, "Compared to war all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance. God, I do love it so!" Though Patton was a notoriously single-minded general, it is nonetheless a sad fact that war gives meaning to many lives, a fact with which we have become familiar now that America is once again engaged in a military conflict. War is an enticing elixir. It gives us purpose, resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble.
Chris Hedges of The New York Times has seen war up close—in the Balkans, the Middle East, and Central America—and he has been troubled by what he has seen: friends, enemies, colleagues, and strangers intoxicated and even addicted to war's heady brew. In War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, he tackles the ugly truths about humanity's love affair with war, offering a sophisticated, nuanced, intelligent meditation on the subject that is also gritty, powerful, and unforgettable.
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This afternoon, I read Chris Hedges’ War is a Force that Gives us Meaning. It made me wonder whether the wars of my generation: Afghanistan, Iraq, and all the others, have just re-taught lessons learned by other generations before. Much as we might hope that justice or democracy can be spread by such means, it now appears that our hopes were misplaced. What’s worse, perhaps, is the failure of many to understand what’s going on, or even make an honest effort to do so. There has been an absence of inquiry and, even worse, interest in the truth of the matter or, at least, the closest approximation of the truth we can reach. Whatever else the present American administration is guilty of, it has, at many points, been dangerously unhinged from reality - at least in terms of what it presents the public. I don’t mean to take a general commentary and direct it in a cliched and partisan direction, but the world is awash in evidence that war and truth are frequently incompatible.
Similar grim revelations accompany the missed opportunities to curtail bloodshed: Bosnia, the Congo, Rwanda, and elsewhere. These are, perhaps, the strongest reminder that simple pacifism isn’t an adequate answer to the problem of war. We have to wade into the more complex, the more ambiguous, terrain of responsibility and intervention.
Hedges’ many personal anecdotes - both stories of his own and stories acquired from others over the course of a long and distinguished journalistic career - form the heart of the book. Beside them, generalized philosophical reflections about warfare, nationalism, and culture seem to be lacking in poignancy. It is the role of journalism, perhaps, to deliver that poignancy to those for whom an event or conflict is just some distant abstraction: much as the ongoing genocide in Darfur is for almost all of us now.
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The Myth of War
The Plague of Nationalism
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