Academic journal article Parameters

War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. (Book Reviews)

Academic journal article Parameters

War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. (Book Reviews)

Article excerpt

War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. By Chris Hedges. New York: Public Affairs, 2002, 210 pages. $23.00.

We all know the adage, "War is hell." It isn't news to anyone that war is a grue-some, nauseating experience that grinds up innocence and spits out hatred. What Chris Hedges reminds us in War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, however, is that war also can be strangely compelling, even addictive. Those who live surrounded by chaos and conflict, stalked by an indiscriminant reaper of souls, have no time for the trivial. Their treatened existence takes on an intensity that is unmatched in peacetime. Friends become comrades worth dying for. Romantic attachments become loves that will last beyond the grave. Political, ideological, religious, and ethnic differences become causes that justify slaughter. Life in the face of war is at once more terrifying and more meaningful.

Chris Hedges has seen war, not as a combatant or a refugee, but as a journalist. Hedges spent 15 years as a foreign correspondent, during which time he bore witness to man's inhumanity to man in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia, Israel, Palestine, the Sudan and Yemen, Algeria, the Punjab and Romania, before covering the Gulf War, Kurdish rebellions in northern Iraq and Turkey, the Bosnian War, and the war in Kosovo. He remarks that he has been "in ambushes on desolate stretches of Central American roads, shot at in the marshes of southern Iraq, imprisoned in the Sudan, beaten by Saudi military police, deported from Libya and Iran, captured and held for a week by Iraqi Republican Guard during the Shiite rebellion following the Gulf War, strafed by MiG-21s in Bosnia, fired upon by Serb snipers, and shelled for days in Sarajevo with deafening rounds of heavy artillery that threw out thousands of deadly bits of iron fragments." His book is his attempt to piece together some insights from all that he ha s observed into a coherent picture of the disturbing attraction war seems to hold for humanity.

Hedges' project is a worthy one, but there are some faults with his realization of it. The reader is at once drawn in by his obvious sincerity and depth of feeling and put off by his sometimes pompous and ornate prose. Phrases such as "all the sacrifice had been for naught" seem antiquated against the gritty backdrop of modern combat. Of greater concern is Hedges' tendency to make sweeping generalizations about the nations and individuals who prosecute wars. In his desire to draw dramatic conclusions and definitive "lessons learned," he ignores the true moral complexity that defines our reality. For example, despite having previously noted that "war is not a uniform experience or event," he writes:

States at war silence their own authentic and humane culture. When this destruction is well advanced they find the lack of critical and moral restraint useful in the campaign to exterminate the culture of their opponents. By destroying authentic culture -- that which allows us to question and examine ourselves and our society--the state erodes the moral fabric. …

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