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« Mounds | Main | Stay of execution »

Feb 08, 2007


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John D. Young

Cranberg asks some very important questions about how and why the press failed to critically respond to the rush to war in Iraq. However, I think that Chris Hedges in his powerful book "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning" helps us to understand why this failure by the press happens over and over and why we continue to fall for the same old lies about the true nature of war over and over.

Hedges, long time war correspondent for the NYT says:

"I learned early on that war forms its own culture. The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug, one I ingested for many years. It is peddled by mythmakers -- historians, war correspondents, filmmakers, novelists, and the state -- all of whom endow it with qualities it often does possess: excitement, exoticism, power, chances to rise above our small stations in life, and a bizarre and fantastic universe that has a grotesque and dark beauty. It dominates culture, distorts memory, corrupts language, and infects everything around it, even humor, which becomes preoccupied with the grim perversities of smut and death. Fundamental questions about the meaning, or meaninglessness, of our place on the planet are laid bare when we watch those around us sink to the lowest depths. War exposes the capacity for evil that lurks not far below the surface within all of us. And this is why for many war is so hard to discuss once it is over.

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. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our airwaves. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble..."


While I wouldn't dispute everything Hedges says, his naturalizing of war forgets the fact that very powerful propaganda machines have been activated to stir up these supposedly innate evil feelings in humans, epecially since World War I. The relationship between human fascination with things we would tentatively label warlike and the mass mechanized slaughter of modern war is tenuous at best. I would speculate that war does not give meaning to most peoples' our lives. It's a lot less destructive to hate Duke two or three nights a year (ask Ed's new best buddy Will Blythe).
As to the media's trumpeting of the war, I would point out that this was largely on the part of the large corporate media, who rarely challenge corporate profit bonanzas like wars. This is not to argue that all corporations march in lockstep when it comes to abandoning morality, but John Dos Passos was right when he said that war was "good growing weather for the House of Morgan."


By the way, a really interesting book that might form a sort of counterpoint to Hedges's position is J. Glenn Gray's The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle.

John D. Young

Hedges book is also filled with powerful stories from the soldiers he covered over the last 20 years. Hedges ask us to realize that war seduces us. It is powerfully addictive and our society turns to its power for solutions. We eventually realize that war provides no lasting solutions and we look for a way out but war does not easily give up its addictive hold. Easy to start and almost impossible to end. War has great power and we all provide the mythology to give it great power. Hedges finds strong support for his ideas from combat soldiers who have many supportive stories of war's powerful addiction.

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