Enter your mobile number below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
Getting the download link through email is temporarily not available. Please check back later.

  • Apple
  • Android
  • Windows Phone
  • Android

To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.

Buy Used
$3.05
+ $3.99 shipping
Used: Good | Details
Sold by Best-Book-Depot
Condition: Used: Good
Comment: Used book at great price. Maybe Ex-lib, may have wear or marking, may not contain supplement such as CD. Prompt shipping and great customer service.
Have one to sell? Sell on Amazon
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See this image

War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning Hardcover

4.1 out of 5 stars 185 customer reviews

See all 16 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Price
New from Used from
Kindle
"Please retry"
Hardcover
"Please retry"
$9.91 $3.03
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Books with Buzz
Discover the latest buzz-worthy books, from mysteries and romance to humor and nonfiction. Explore more
click to open popover

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This moving book examines the continuing appeal of war to the human psyche. Veteran New York Times correspondent Hedges argues that, to many people, war provides a purpose for living; it seems to allow the individual to rise above regular life and perhaps participate in a noble cause. Having identified this myth, Hedges then explodes it by showing the brutality of modern war, using examples taken from his own experiences as a war correspondent in Latin America, the Middle East, and the Balkans. These examples highlight the devastating effects of war on life, community, and culture and its corruption of business and government. Hedges is not a pacifist, acknowledging that people need to battle evil, but he thoughtfully cautions us against accepting the accompanying myths of war. This should be required reading in this post-9/11 world as we debate the possibility of war with Iraq. For all libraries.
Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ. Lib., Parkersburg
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

1

The Myth of War

The ethnic conflicts and insurgencies of our time, whether between Serbs and Muslims or Hutus and Tutsis, are not religious wars. They are not clashes between cultures or civilizations, nor are they the result of ancient ethnic hatreds. They are manufactured wars, born out of the collapse of civil societies, perpetuated by fear, greed, and paranoia, and they are run by gangsters, who rise up from the bottom of their own societies and terrorize all, including those they purport to protect.

Often, none of this is apparent from the outside. We are quick to accept the facile and mendacious ideological veneer that is wrapped like a mantle around the shoulders of those who prosecute the war. In part we do this to avoid intervention, to give this kind of slaughter an historical inevitability it does not have, but also because the media and most of the politicians often lack the perspective and analysis to debunk the myths served up by the opposing sides.

The United States and the West based our responses in Bosnia, or perhaps it is better to say our arguments not to respond, on such myths: the myth of the Serbian warrior who would fight to the death against overwhelming odds; the myth that the Croats, Muslims, and Serbs, who speak the same language and are nearly indistinguishable, were different people; the myth that Yugoslavia, a country that Josip Broz Tito made an important player in international affairs, had failed to give its citizens a national identity. These myths, swallowed whole, permitted us to stand by as 250,000 human beings were killed and Sarajevo spent three and a half years under siege. Although the United States finally intervened, we did so because the United Nations mission collapsed in the summer of 1995, not because of any foresight or courage on the part of the administration of President Bill Clinton.

Look not to religion and mythology and warped versions of history to find the roots of these conflicts, but to the warlords who dominated the Balkans. It took Milosevic four years of hate propaganda and lies, pumped forth daily over the airways from Belgrade, before he got one Serb to cross the border into Bosnia and begin the murderous rampage that triggered the war. And although the war was painted from afar as a clash of rival civilizations, the primary task of Milosevic in Serbia, Franjo Tudjman in Croatia, and the other ethnic leaderships was to dismantle and silence their own intellectuals and writers of stature and replace them with second-rate, mediocre pawns willing to turn every intellectual and artistic endeavor into a piece of ethnic triumphalism and myth.

Lawrence LeShan in The Psychology of War differentiates between "mythic reality" and "sensory reality" in wartime.1 In sensory reality we see events for what they are. Most of those who are thrust into combat soon find it impossible to maintain the mythic perception of war. They would not survive if they did. Wars that lose their mythic stature for the public, such as Korea or Vietnam, are doomed to failure, for war is exposed for what it is--organized murder.

But in mythic war we imbue events with meanings they do not have. We see defeats as signposts on the road to ultimate victory. We demonize the enemy so that our opponent is no longer human. We view ourselves, our people, as the embodiment of absolute goodness. Our enemies invert our view of the world to justify their own cruelty. In most mythic wars this is the case. Each side reduces the other to objects--eventually in the form of corpses.

"Force," Simone Weil wrote, "is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he does, as it is to its victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates."2

When we allow mythic reality to rule, as it almost always does in war, then there is only one solution--force. In mythic war we fight absolutes. We must vanquish darkness. It is imperative and inevitable for civilization, for the free world, that good triumph, just as Islamic militants see us as infidels whose existence corrupts the pure Islamic society they hope to build.

But the goal we seek when we embrace myth is impossible to achieve. War never creates the security or the harmony we desire, especially the harmony we briefly attain during wartime. And campaigns, such as the one in Afghanistan, become starting points for further conflicts, especially as we find that we are unable to root out terrorism or maintain the kind of solidarity that comes in the days just after a terrorist attack.

The chief institutions that disseminate the myth are the press and the state. The press has been culpable since the telegraph made possible the modern war correspondent. And starting with the Crimean War, when the first dispatches were fed by newly minted war correspondents in real time, nearly every reporter has seen his or her mission as sustaining civilian and army morale. The advent of photography and film did little to alter the incentive to boost morale, for the lie in war is almost always the lie of omission. The blunders and senseless slaughter by our generals, the execution of prisoners and innocents, and the horror of wounds are rarely disclosed, at least during a mythic war, to the public. Only when the myth is punctured, as it eventually was in Vietnam, does the press begin to report in a sensory rather than a mythic manner. But even then it is it reacting to a public that has changed its perception of war. The press usually does not lead.

Mythic war reporting sells papers and boosts ratings. Real reporting, sensory reporting, does not, at least not in comparison with the boosterism we witnessed during the Persian Gulf War and the war in Afghanistan. The coverage in the Persian Gulf War was typical. The international press willingly administered a restrictive pool system on behalf of the military under which carefully controlled groups of reporters were guided around the front lines by officers. It could have never functioned without the cooperation of the press. The press was as eager to be of service to the state during the war as most everyone else.

Such docility on the part of the press made it easier to do what governments do in wartime, indeed what governments do much of the time, and that is lie. When Iraqi troops seized the Saudi border town of Khafji, sending Saudi troops fleeing in panic, the headlong retreat was never mentioned. Two French photographers and I watched as frantic Saudi soldiers raced away from the fighting, dozens crowded on a fire truck that tore down the road. U.S. Marines were called in to push the Iraqis back. We stood on rooftops with young Marine radio operators who called in air strikes as Marine units battled Iraqi troops in the streets.

Yet back in Riyadh and Dhahran military press officers spoke about our Saudi allies defending their homeland.

The potency of myth is that it allows us to make sense of mayhem and violent death. It gives a justification to what is often nothing more than gross human cruelty and stupidity. It allows us to believe we have achieved our place in human society because of a long chain of heroic endeavors, rather than accept the sad reality that we stumble along a dimly lit corridor of disasters. It disguises our powerlessness. It hides from view our own impotence and the ordinariness of our own leaders. By turning history into myth we transform random events into a chain of events directed by a will greater than our own, one that is determined and preordained. We are elevated above the multitude. We march toward nobility. And no society is immune.

Most national myths, at their core, are racist. They are fed by ignorance. Those individuals who understand other cultures, speak other languages, and find richness in diversity are shunted aside. Science, history, and psychology are often twisted to serve myth. And many intellectuals are willing to champion and defend absurd theories for nationalist ends.

By finding our identity and meaning in separateness the myth serves another important function: It makes communication with our opponents impossible. When the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat makes statements that call for moderation and peace he is accused by the Israelis of using words to conceal his intention to wipe out Israel. The Palestinians react in the same manner to statements by most Israeli leaders. It does not matter what they say, just as it did not matter what the Serb or Croat nationalists said to each other; the intentions of the other were predetermined by nationalist myth.

We often become as deaf and dumb as those we condemn. We too have our terrorists. The Contras in Nicaragua carried out, with funding from Washington, some of the most egregious human rights violations in Central America, yet were lauded as "freedom fighters." Jonas Savimbi, the rebel leader the United States backed in Angola's civil war, murdered and tortured with a barbarity that far outstripped the Taliban. The rebellion Savimbi began in 1975 resulted in more than 500,000 dead. President Ronald Reagan called Savimbi the Abraham Lincoln of Angola, although he littered the country with land mines, once bombed a Red Cross-run factory making artificial legs for victims of those mines, and pummeled a rival's wife and children to death. The mayhem and blood-letting we backed in Angola were copied in many parts of Africa, including Zaire and Liberia.

The myth of war sells and legitimizes the drug of war. Once we begin to take war's heady narcotic, it creates an addiction that slowly lowers us to the moral depravity of all addicts. War's utter depravity was captured in Shakespeare's play Troilus and Cressida, a work that as far as is known was never performed in Shakespeare's lifetime, perhaps due to its savage indictment of war and human society. Nearly every figure in the play, including Ulysses, lies to and tries to manipulate those around him: that is the trait of most leaders, no matter what political agenda they espouse. Here, unlike Henry V, Shakespeare excoriates the established order; the play is one that debunks national myth. There are only three characters who speak about war with any sanity or truth: Pandarus, who is a lecher and a coward; Cassandra, who is deranged; and Thersites, as described by Shakespeare, "a deformed and scurrilous Greek."3 Yet Thersites' bleak view of human nature and human folly is borne out by the play's end. We are left with the realization that characters who are, by the standards of civil society, the most retrograde stand above the baseness of those who prosecute war, if only because they speak the truth.

"Lechery, lechery, still wars and lechery, nothing else holds fashion," Thersites rails.4

War can be the natural outcome of brutal repression; witness Kosova or El Salvador. Or it can be manufactured by warlords intent on enrichment, as in Bosnia. It can also, although less and less, be the result of vying interests between nation-states, such as the Gulf War, fought over control of the oil fields in Kuwait. War, at times inevitable and unavoidable, is part of human society. It has been since the dawn of time--and probably will be until we are snuffed out by our own foolishness.

"We believed we were there for a high moral purpose," wrote Philip Caputo in his book on Vietnam, Rumor of War. "But somehow our idealism was lost, our morals corrupted, and the purpose forgotten."5

The employment of organized violence means one must, in fact, abandon fixed and established values. This is a truth made apparent in Troilus and Cressida. It is a truth Henry V ignores. Once war, and especially the total war that marked both the ancient and the modern way of battle, erupts, all is sacrificed before it. The myth of war is essential to justify the horrible sacrifices required in war, the destruction and the death of innocents. It can be formed only by denying the reality of war, by turning the lies, the manipulation, the inhumanness of war into the heroic ideal. Homer did this for the Greeks, Virgil for the Augustan age, and Shakespeare for the English in his history plays. But these great writers also understood what they were doing, and thus in the canon of their works come moments when war is laid bare.

Troilus, at the start of the play, states that he will not fight for Helen, a woman portrayed by Shakespeare as a mindless paramour. "It is," he says, "too starved a subject for my sword."6 Dying for this Helen, who has neither morals nor wit, is absurd. Yet I have seen men fight for even more ridiculous reasons. There was no reason for the war in Bosnia. The warring sides invented national myths and histories designed to mask the fact that Croats, Muslims, and Serbs are nearly indistinguishable. It was absurd nuances that propelled the war, invented historical wrongs, which, as in the Middle East, stretched back to dubious accounts of ancient history. I have heard Israeli settlers on the West Bank, for example, argue that Palestinian towns, towns that have been Muslim since the seventh century, belong to them because it says so in the Bible, a reminder that this sophistry extends beyond the Balkans.

The competing nationalist propaganda in Yugoslavia created a conflict in the country best equipped of all the Eastern European states to integrate with the West after the collapse of communism. Because there was no real reason to fight, there was an urgent need to swiftly turn a senseless fratricide, one organized by criminals and third-rate political leaders for power and wealth, into an orgy of killing, torture, and mass execution. This indiscriminate murder, these campaigns of ethnic cleansing, were used to create facts, as it were. The slaughter was carried out to give to these wars the justifications they lacked when they began, to fuel mutual hatred and paranoia, as well as to enrich the militias and paramilitary groups that stole and looted from their victims. Ethnic warfare is a business, and the Mercedes and mansions of the warlords in Belgrade prove it. Fighting for a Helen who is a strumpet, or Don Quixote's Dulcinea, looks noble by comparison.

____________________
Notes
1. LeShan, Lawrence, The Psychology of War (New York: Helios, 1992), Chapter Two.
2. Weil, Simone, 'The Iliad' or 'The Poem of Force,' (Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill Pamphlet, 1993), p. 11.
3. Shakespeare, William, Troilus and Cressida –"Dramatis Personae," (Boston: Riverside Shakespeare, Houghton Mifflin, 1974), p. 448.
4. Ibid., Act V, sc. ii, p. 486.
5. Caputo, Philip, Rumor of War (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1977), p. 345.
6. Shakespeare, William, Troilus and Cressida, (Boston: Riverside Shakespeare, Houghton Mifflin, 1974), Act I, sc. i, p. 450. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
NO_CONTENT_IN_FEATURE

China
Engineering & Transportation Books
Discover books for all types of engineers, auto enthusiasts, and much more. Learn more

Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0006I7EXW
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (185 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #596,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. Freeman on July 31, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
Read more ›
19 Comments 230 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
By A Customer on November 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
Everything about Chris Hedges's book, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, is disturbing. The vivid eyewitness accounts of war crimes, the rambling disjointed highly personal style that mirrors the chaos of battle, the link between brutality and sexuality, the use of historical literature that obliterates the distance mankind has traveled from Troy to Kosovo, and his own deep addiction to the thrill of war as a long time war correspondent. Even the dust cover of the book was intended to be disturbing. The full color picture shows a multinational group of women and men with their arms raised and holding the hands of the person next to them. It is evening, but their faces, and the America flags they hold, are illuminated by candles. They are not angry. Indeed, they might be praying or singing, but clearly they rally to some significant and somber cause. In the background are the lighted skyscrapers of a large city. No doubt this city is New York and these people are responding to the events of September 11. This is one way the mythology of war constructs symbols of meaning and imbues us with its purpose. President George W. Bush's Afghanistan war had the broad support of the American people.
Hedges likens war to an addiction, the high of which is all-consuming. A sustained superbowl weekend of tribal bonding, adrenaline rushes, sex, and violence. A placed stalked by the losers of peacetime-petty thieves and thugs who understand domination as a matter of force and terror. War, Hedges concludes, forms a central part of the human condition. He notes that "the historian Will Durant calculated that there have only been twenty-nine years in all of human history during which a war was not underway somewhere." From a historical sweep humans have never stopped fighting.
Read more ›
7 Comments 310 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
By A Customer on October 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
Chris Hedges was a war correspondent for many years, covering the various wars and insurgencies in Central America, North Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans. This book is not so much a memoir (although Hedges draws deeply on his own experience) as it is a meditation on the effects of war and of the nationalist myths that often provide a basis for war -- how easy it is to be caught up by the myth of the hero, of noble sacrifice, of the utter depravity (inhumanity) of the enemy (the Other), and how difficult it is to recover from the inevitable disillusionment when the terror of war, the collapse of morality and the essential humanity of the Other is revealed. Hedges is at his best in discussing the aftermath of war -- the collective forgetting as history and memory are erased, lest the survivors be forced to face what they have done. Yet it is only by recovering the truth, acknowledging guilt and seeking reconciliation that society can begin to heal and move forward.
Hedges' message is an important one as we rush headlong into war, particularly for all who demonize the "axis of evil" without acknowledging the role we have played in creating the despair and rage that have turned men and women into terrorists. As Hedges shows, it is difficult for non-combatants to resist the national myth, to penetrate behind the approved rhetoric, to waver from the absolute, unquestioning patriotism demanded by the state. But some must do so if we are to keep our moral compass and begin to heal the world (i.e., to address the despair felt by both sides).
Although the message is strong, there are a few weaknesses in this book.
Read more ›
1 Comment 213 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse

Most Recent Customer Reviews