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Customer Review

on November 13, 2002
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. It is a very disturbing revelation.
But individuals, tribes, villages, city-states, empires, and nations have all witnessed both peace and war. And perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Hedges's narrative is trying to figure out why we ever stop fighting. For the only answer that he provides as to why we stop fighting is that we simply become bored by the slaughter. When killing becomes too routine it loses its luster and bogs down. And when it loses its luster, and we see it plainly, we are like a wife-beater who is temporarily sickened and ashamed. In the damaged faces of the innocents we can find no sustainable reasoning or meaning.
Hedges argues that Americans were temporarily sickened and ashamed by the Vietnam war. But now that our collective memory has faded and new generations have been raised on the elixir of paranoid patriotism, our willingness to wage war has been revitalized. The nation with more weapons of mass destruction than any other nation on earth-than any nation in the history of mankind-is primed by this force that gives us meaning. No doubt about it, those mothers and fathers on the cover of the book were New Yorkers. Our New Yorkers. We shall have our retribution. They kill us, we will kill them.
Hedges is a warrior, he is not a pacifist. Hedges is addicted to war and he knows it and he hates it. But he believes that somehow, some way, love is the answer. "To survive as a human being is possible only through love." Continuing, he somewhat clumsily argues, "It does not mean we will avoid war or death. It does not mean that we as distinct individuals will survive. But love, in its mystery, has its own power. It alone gives us meaning that endures." Hedges knows war much better than he knows love, but it is a start. Particularly a start for a nation that does not understand war.
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