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The insanity of war,
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This review is from: War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning (Paperback)
Chris Hedges has written a deeply thoughtful and thought provoking book on the insanity of war. Myths and identified are exploded. Realities are presented, at times, in graphic detail.
Yet the book is an odd duck in some ways. Despite references to and quotations from the classics of literature, it is not an academic work; but neither is it a journalistic work. It is largely introspective; and in this sense, reminds me of the work of Joan Didion.
The title offends me as it asserts a truth I wish to deny. Yet, as combat veteran, having looked closely at the dead--of my brothers and of those we killed--having stared into vacant eyes looking off to some unseen horizon, I cannot deny the truth he asserts: War is a Force that gives us meaning. Fortunately, it is not the ONLY force, and needs not be THE force, as he makes clear toward the end. Indeed, a subtitle could be "Love is THE force which gives us true meaning.
I find the reviews of some of Hedges' critics rather amusing, and strongly suspect they have never worn the uniform, much less served in combat. If they did, they would realize some of their criticisms are, well, stupid.
This book, for example, is not anti-patriotic, though neither is it "patriotic", at least not in any usual sense of the word. Hedges' argument is our loyalties should not lie, at least not exclusively, not decisively, with any nation or government. Our patriotism should not be blind, nor should it be a means of manipulation. Rather, it should be grounded in love and understanding. Though Hedges does not say this specifically, I think he would agree that true patriotism entails both love of country AND love of humanity. To view our "enemies" as the epitome of evil, to present them as fanatics with no respect for human life, is to lower ourselves to the level we ascribe to them. Such false beliefs are inherently self defeating.
Cucolo does not seem to understand, as some great Americans have, that war is a narcotic, that patriotism often is used and abused by those who, themselves, have an inadequate understanding of humanity, and, therefore, inadequate respect for human life, who will sacrifice a nation's best for empire or to salve their own demented egos.
Having stood much closer to war than Cucolo probably sits to the screen showing John Wayne movies, Hemingway understood this: "There is noting sweet and fitting in dying for your country. You will die like a dog for no good reason."
John Quincy Adams also understood what Cucolo apparently does not: "And say not thou, `My country right or wrong'; nor shed thy blood for an unhallowed cause."
Real patriotism, true patriotism is far more than flying a flag outside one's home.
As Hedges argues, we are conditioned to believe war is some great cause, possessing some noble meaning that transcends us, that gives us some noble purpose in life far greater than anything we are likely to accomplish on our own, living our lives of anonymous insignificance, of "quiet desperation". War gives us the opportunity for heroics, to have our names, or at least the cause in which we served, inscribed in the annals (or should I say anals?) of history.
War summons up the courage ordinary men fear they lack. That "red badge of courage" shouts we ARE courageous, if not heroes. What else can we say of men willing to leave hearth and home, to kiss their loved ones good-bye, "leaving on a jet plane", not knowing if they will return again, even if in a box, gift wrapped? What greater love is there, can there be than to lay down one's life for one's country? Certainly I understand this. Why else would I have marched off--as a volunteer--to fight in a war I actively opposed, and believed (then and now) to be an illegal, immoral, "unhallowed cause"?
In his last chapter, Hedges talks of how war is a false god. Life seems more "real" in combat. Things do get distilled down to very simple terms--life and death. Soldiers, especially those standing victorious on that day's battlefield, are as gods. As one of my brothers, imprisoned after the war because he had become too addicted to the violence of war, bringing that violence home where what he did in the Nam to great praise from his commanders was unacceptable, said: "We strode the earth as gods, dispensing life and death at will." And we did.
Hedges identifies three things that stand in contrast to the false meaning of life provided by war--meaning (purposefulness) of life, happiness and love.
To those whose souls are possessed by Thanatos--as Cucolo's may be--to talk of love is to talk of weakness: Love is the sentiment of weak women; war is what MEN do. They could not be more wrong as anyone who has served in combat knows. We LOVE our brothers, even if, as Hedges argues, it is not a complete love; for it is a love forged by a false god.
Major Michael O'Donnell, himself one of those "gentle heroes (we) left behind", clearly understood this as he wrote in his poem, "Vietnam":
"Be not ashamed to say
you loved them
though you may
or may not have always."
But anyone who has lain on a battlefield with bullets, mortars, rockets crashing around surely knows, we have never felt our love for our parents, our siblings, our girlfriends or wives--not before, nor since--so completely, so intensely as those moments when we faced death in battle.
Hedges has written a profound book, full of meaning and purpose, for anyone willing to open their minds to the possibility war is an inherently insane, inherently immoral narcotic. There are no winners in war, none, only savagery and inhumanity and destruction of the soul; and we need to know this without having to learn it first hand.
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Showing 1-10 of 15 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 20, 2012 6:16:28 AM PDT
Stepan Spoonwalla says:
Great review. You've got a fair amount of insight into the matter, and you've made me more interested in the book than I was after hearing Hedges speak.
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 25, 2012 3:16:20 PM PDT
T. W. Day says:
I would have written a review of this terrible, painful, accurate portrayal of humanity at its worst and, rarely, at its best. However, you have said everything I might have written; better and more accurately. Thank you for your brilliant insights.
Posted on Aug 2, 2012 1:00:29 PM PDT
Donald Betzen says:
Having served in Vietnam, taking part in the attack on Hill 937 (Hamburger Hill), seeing good, good young men killed, after the trauma of it all; I had a hard time talking about it, much less giving an intelligent account of my experiences. I did say "my soul was burned", but I'm not sure anyone could know what I meant. This reviewer though, has articulated well truths that really, really, really need to be said. Thank you.
Posted on Aug 18, 2012 10:07:57 AM PDT
Jody Gentian Bower says:
Have you read "A Terrible Love of War" by James Hillman, the archetypal psychologist? He provides some excellent insights into why we can't let go of our love of war.
Posted on Sep 3, 2012 8:18:39 PM PDT
Carol Swenson says:
This is a deeply moving review -- really a testament to profound lessons learned through life. I have not read this book, though I shall now buy it. S. Freeman has shared some of the journey of his soul. Thank you.
Posted on Sep 14, 2012 11:02:09 AM PDT
T. Mcintyre says:
A true patriot loves his country and is not afraid to be its most severe critic when it goes astray. We sometimes speak of taking an errant politician "to the woodshed." These are times when almost all politicians deserve such a trip; they've become so blinded by hubris that their actions are destructive to our country and the world at large.
Posted on Nov 30, 2012 4:28:35 PM PST
Timothy Kniffin says:
this is just gorgeous.
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2012 5:23:38 PM PST
S. Freeman says:
Donald. Welcome home brother. I cannot tell you how grieved I am for all you suffered on that God forsaken hill. And for what? Thank you very much for your kind words. PTSD nearly destroyed my life. Like many Viet vets--perhaps you too--I kept a lot of things bottled up inside me; plus there were a lot of things I just did not understand. I learned it was important for me to talk about not only Viet Nam, but also war. Hedges book has been part of the healing process for me. I think it can/will be for others. God Bless you Donald. I hope whatever ghosts may have haunted you have been dealt with, and you have been made whole again.
Posted on Jan 12, 2013 8:14:39 AM PST
John McConnell says: