What Every Person Should Know About War
Acclaimed New York Times journalist and author Chris Hedges offers a critical -- and fascinating -- lesson in the dangerous realities of our age: a stark look at the effects of war on combatants. Utterly lacking in rhetoric or dogma, this manual relies instead on bare fact, frank description, and a spare question-and-answer format. Hedges allows U.S. military documentation of the brutalizing physical and psychological consequences of combat to speak for itself.
Hedges poses dozens of questions that young soldiers might ask about combat, and then answers them by quoting from medical and psychological studies.
• What are my chances of being wounded or killed if we go to war?
• What does it feel like to get shot?
• What do artillery shells do to you?
• What is the most painful way to get wounded?
• Will I be afraid?
• What could happen to me in a nuclear attack?
• What does it feel like to kill someone?
• Can I withstand torture?
• What are the long-term consequences of combat stress?
• What will happen to my body after I die?
This profound and devastating portrayal of the horrors to which we subject our armed forces stands as a ringing indictment of the glorification of war and the concealment of its barbarity.
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I read the Book online from a background of having spent 27 years in uniform, starting at West Point in 1946 and through both the Korean War and the Vietnam War as an Infantry officer, often engaged up close and personal in combat.
I have no problem with his dispassionate description of becoming a soldier and then being in combat, and what can happen to one. As far as it goes it is accurate.
It is where it does NOT go that I will criticize. And which omissions make the book far less than balanced.
1. In its section on why men enter the military, it is totally silent on the motivation of 'Patriotism' and desire to go to, and win, a war against the enemies of the US which have harmed it. Pearl Harbor and 9/11 were such events. Which motivation emerges especially just after America is attacked. Men flock to sign up to defend the nation. As described by Hedges, the reasons why men volunteer are entirely for narrow self-interest. That is innacurate.
2. In his discussion of 'why' there is hard discipline and the subordination of the self to the unit and readiness to obey, he omits what should be rather obvious, that the history of war has taught Armies and nations that only by the creation and sustainance of 'unit' cohesion and spirit can one force be brought to be willing to face destruction, wounding, or death, and defeat an armed enemy force. Mere collections of armed men who are motivated to confront enemies, is seldom enough. George Washington had to recruit Baron Von Steuben to instill ordered discipline in his rag tag Army before it could succeed against the trained and disciplined British.
3. He does not give any credit to the learned 'experience' of men joining an organization which attains the quality of Esprit de Corps, cameraderie and fellowship that most often is the most memorable legacy of men being part of the military - whether or not they ever hear a shot fired in anger. i.e. many men, joining an organization whose purposes are greater than their own for the first time, benefit the rest of their lives from the experience.
Since the reason Hedges wrote the book, is to dissuade Americans from ever joining the military, by stressing its difficulties and dangers, and loss of personal freedom, and the misleading lure of the glory of war. Trouble is, for nations, there is no free lunch. And unless a nation can call on its youth to join the military, it can, and will be, defeated repeatedly.
57 years ago, as a marginally trained 1st lieutenant, I was ordered to defend Hill 339 from the North Korean Army and seize Hill 347 from the Chinese Army - with my understrength rifle company. Our small and dwindling numbered Company K, 7th Cavalry, even though I lost all 6 of my subordinate officers, and 167 of my 197 enlisted men fighting two 600 man enemy battalions. I was left with 15 men standing. But we succeeded at those extremely difficult missions. And captured 192 Chinese Prisoners of War.
That Hill 347 today, 57 years later, still marks the Middle of the Demilitarized Zone northwest of Yonchon, and thus the division of the tyrannical but still dangerous North Korea from the free and prosperous South Korea. Which we, through the Korean War, liberated them from North Korean domination.
None of the handful of survivors of that series of battles, many of whom have died since from old age, expresses any regret at their military service then. And over 20 of the decendents of those who were killed or gravely wounded in action then, have asked for the details of those actions, and have taken comfort in the fact their kin did not 'die in vain.'