War is a force that gives us meaning

by Chris Hedges

Hardcover, 2002




New York, N.Y. : Public Affairs, c 2002.


As a veteran war correspondent, Chris Hedges has survived ambushes in Central America, imprisonment in Sudan, and a beating by Saudi military police. He has seen children murdered for sport in Gaza and petty thugs elevated into war heroes in the Balkans. Hedges, who is also a former divinity student, has seen war at its worst and knows too well that to those who pass through it, war can be exhilarating and even addictive. "It gives us purpose, meaning, a reason for living."Drawing on his own experience and on the literature of combat from Homer to Michael Herr, Hedges shows how war seduces not just those on the front lines but entire societies, corrupting politics, destroying culture, and perverting basic human desires. Mixing hard-nosed realism with profound moral and philosophical insight, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning is a work of terrible power and redemptive clarity whose truths have never been more necessary.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member paradoxosalpha
Chris Hedges wrote War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning after the events of September 2001, but before the Afghanistan and Iraq wars of the 21st century that make it all the more painful to read today. About two thirds of the text is memoir, but in the form of anecdotes pressed into service for a
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war correspondent's reflections about the perennial nature of war and what it does to societies and individuals. Many of these anecdotes are grueling to read, and Hedges very consciously straddles a line on which he hopes to make patent the attractions of war without himself glamorizing it.

There are many literary references in this book, especially to the classics of antiquity which Hedges studied at Harvard during a hiatus in his work as a journalist. He gives these their due as evidence of the enduring attributes of war, but he avoids elevating them into sanction for it. He also returns at various points to his own need for literary sustenance in the midst of war (e.g. 90, 169).

In his introduction, Hedges disclaims a pacifist agenda. He writes that his aim is "a call for repentance" in the face of growing US military hubris. The book is concerned with the ways in which war is fostered by the dehumanizing falsehoods of nationalism, destroying culture and erecting an abstract "cause" to which life must be subordinated. Hedges proposes memory and love as the antidotes to the martial impulse, where these are rooted in lived contact with others, particularly across ethnic and religious divides. Unfortunately, this book is as timely now as when it was first published, and there is no real likelihood that it will become irrelevant in the foreseeable human future.
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LibraryThing member lukeasrodgers
As the title suggests, this is a book about the attractions of war, its mythic appeal, and the ways in which that appeal is willfully distorted by media, government, and ideological forces. But also, more disturbingly, Hedges shows how war can hold a very real, authentic attraction for some--for
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those individuals who become obsessed with death, with being a hero, and for those movements and peoples who latch on to it as a source of collective identity and even feel nostalgia for the forces of social unification and individual intimacy it bears.
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LibraryThing member stubbyfingers
This book is definitely out of the realm of books I usually read, but I thought I would give it a try because my husband recommended it and hey, you never know. This book is written by a veteran war correspondent. War is bad, let me count the ways. At first I was kind of annoyed reading this
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because I already know that war is bad. It seemed highly repetitive to me. It's filled with story upon story of greusome things that people do to one another in war times. He used quotes from famous authors to illustrate the fact that war is bad. (I have to wonder though, is Shakespeare really an expert on war?) But the part that I found interesting about this book was how he explained the way the common people are almost always tricked into going to war by their leaders. I have to admit that these parts made me squirm a bit with embarrassment when I thought back to my reactions and feelings after the attacks of September 11th. At any rate, knowledge is like a worm in your brain wiggling around, giving birth to ideas, and with that in mind I'd probably recommend this book because hey, you never know.
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LibraryThing member xenchu
This is a terrible book because it is true. Chris Hedges spent 15 years reporting wars around the world. This book is the result of those experiences. It exposes war as it actually is, devoid of myth and glory. It should be required reading in every school but no government would allow it.

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has a reporter's view of war which somehow never reaches the newspapers or other media they work for. He speaks of how scum rises to the top through ruthlessness and amorality, the atrocities on all sides and the governments that crush truth in favor of myth to promote the wars they want.

The writing here is a professional product, well written and easy to read. He has an excellent knowledge of the classics and uses that knowledge well. I urge everyone to read this book.
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LibraryThing member Urquhart
One very fine book.. His main theme is war and how nations have used it historically and how people view it. Then he moves on to discuss what war is really like versus the public perception.

I would add one point in closing and that is that Chris Hedges has the unique ability to synthesize great
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works and make them relevant to today. His references to [Homer] and to [Shakespere] as well as his citing of examples of over 15 years of his experience in the battle fields does give it a unique credibility.

I think it should be required reading for people from all countries.
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LibraryThing member mminor1985
This book looks at the reality of war and how it has been treated through the ages. It details the reasons that war does occur and at the tragic aftermath of war. He details into the reasoning and myths behind war itself. He also talks about drug abuse among veterans and how hard it is for them to
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integrate back into civilian life. This book is a must read in order to understand how war is perceived and about the reality of war.
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LibraryThing member nbmars
A sense of guilt is the only reason I can think of that this book was a Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Its message is that war and killing are addictive drugs. We find them irresistible. We keep doing it. We can’t pull away. Various authors of note are cited testifying to
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the “ecstatic high of violence.” And this message is repeated over and over in a hundred different ways. The author, a former war correspondent, tells about his own experiences and atrocities he witnessed in Bosnia, Iraq, Gaza, and other recent scenes of some very nasty massacres. The media, he charges, are complicit in the glorification of war. So is the fact that war can so easily provide an answer to the search for meaning and significance in life. It not only gives us resolve and a cause; it enables us to seem noble. But violence breeds violence and in particular, war breeds unfeeling destruction. And so the corpses pile up. Ah, but there is a cure. Love. Love is the answer. All you need is love. What: is he kidding?

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LibraryThing member b.masonjudy
Hedges delivers a brutal analysis of war and its impact on individuals and society. I've admired his journalism for a long time and I appreciated his incorporation of his personal experiences, even his dark and fearful moments. Evoking classic Greek literature and Shakespeare also gave his argument
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a broad and weighty scope deeply rooted in a history of human experiences of war and he carnage it brings.
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LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
"War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning" is a darkly ironic statement, and one which explains Hedges' thesis. War can serve as a unifying agent in society, subsuming the individual will into a greater national cause - of course, this is not always a good thing.

Hedges examines, in a literary and
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introspective manner, the injustices and lies which political and military leaders use to justify wars. This is not to say that all wars are unjustifiable, but that we must always have cause to be suspect.

It is a mistake to characterize him as anti-patriotic or anti-American, despite his fierce criticism of Bush II.

Patriotism is not mindlessly waving a flag, buying ribbons and singing ballads, it is not hating those who are different or rewriting history to support your worldview, it is not destroying history or culture, or the addiction of violence, of being caught up in the narrative of war and good v. evil. It is standing for values and morality and, as cliche as it might sound, love.

There is another segment which I find particularly interesting - how war and violence are made appealing, perhaps through selective distortion of history, positive media, and 'other-ization' of the enemy.

Perhaps the only criticism I have of Hedge's sermonizing writing style - how can Hedges be more repetitive in 200 pages than Wililam T. Vollmann is in 3000? I don't say this because I disagree with him - on the contrary. I agree with nearly everything he's said. I cannot offer anything but the most subjective reasons of personal taste, and suggest you form your own opinions - especially with a book like this. It is proposing ideas far too important simply to be ignored.
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LibraryThing member gefox
It is indeed, but not a meaning that can endure in peacetime. War — like any life threatening disaster (tsunami, earthquake, volcanic eruption, plague) — makes priorities suddenly clear: first, to survive, and second to save whatever is most important to us. And when the bombs strike Sarajevo,
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what is most important becomes suddenly, magically clear, regardless of any existential doubts we may have had the nights before. The importance of this book is not that it tells us anything new — as Hedges reminds us, Homer and Shakespeare (especially in Troilus and Cressida) and many others have told us both the horrible and wonderful things that happen in the terrible excitement of war. No, Hedges does not claim to be saying anything new, but because he speaks not just from literature or watching CNN but from his own personal and often terrifying experience as a war correspondent for The New York Times and other media in many wars, of the addiction of violence, the intense but entirely circumstantial camaraderie of combattants, and the deliberate distortions and mythologizing by those at the homefront that make such destruction possible and recurrent, he makes us believe. We have to be grateful to him for living these experiences on our behalf, and for recounting them so vividly.
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LibraryThing member keylawk
The author is one of the most qualified reporters in the world. With a strong academic background in Starr King and Harvard Divinity, he served for decades as a war correspondence in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East, for major newspapers (Dallas Times, NYT). His expertise in describing
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American society is informed by global and historical perspectives.

I give this work a very rare 5-star rating. Not only is it well-written and documented non-fiction, but he wrote this in 2002, in the face of the lies told by the Bush Administration to the American people to justify launching three expensive and ill-conceived wars: Al Quaida (a global network), Afghanistan (religious herdsmen), and Iraq (secular oil producers).

"The Hurt Locker", the Academy Award-winning film about the Iraq War opens with a quotation from the book: "The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug." The full quote is found on page 3. Hedges is critical of the film, and Hollywood, for its participation and enablement of the fictions which support the War Machine.
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LibraryThing member beau.p.laurence
interesting read -- the author is both repulsed by war and addicted to the adrenaline rush of being a war correspondant
LibraryThing member steve.clason
Hedges circles around and around this one Janus-faced idea: war has a myth that makes us love it and a drug that makes us embrace it, at the same time it is the most abhorrent of things.

An important idea and one worth circling a few times, but too many times and we get tired and numb. By all means
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read this book, but when you start feeling your heart glazing over move on to something else.
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LibraryThing member janey47
One of the books that has meant the most to me. Hedges is a really interesting guy. He did most of a theology graduate degree at Harvard Divinity School and then became completely disillusioned and became a war correspondent. So he thinks and writes about issues from a perspective that most war
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correspondents don't have. This short book helps frame the issue that my cat Boo keeps asking about: Why is there war?
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LibraryThing member M.Campanella
Their are several thinkers these days shaping our thoughts. Many people you meet subscribe to the philosophies of Sam Harris, or Christopher Hitchens. Satisfied with neither of these two, I looked further and ultimatly came across Chris hedges, who, from interviews I have seen with him, seemed like
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the only person who thoughts matched mine, at least to some extent. Harris and Hitchens seemed to freverent in their blamming of Religion as the worst of the world. Hedges seemes like a good alternative.
Know then the full extent of my meaning when I say I was greatly disapointed by this book.
Well written, easy to follow, powerfull in its imagery, and very unbiased, this book was on its way to a higher score when I noticed what I found to be a large and fatal flaw.
A serious lack of sources to follow.
This is not to say I do not beleive his arguements, I am well informed enough in certain parts of recent history to know that what he says is true. But many people who may read this book will not. You can tell them that during the various Balkan Wars many of soldiers were nothing but local gangsters in uniforms, but frankly, considering the massive amount of disinformation that exisits this day in age, you must at least point an arrow in the right direction. I also understand that some of this evidence does not exists, but some still does. You cannot simply say it as common knowlegde, because it is not.
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LibraryThing member derekstaff
Hedges presents some great examples of the incredibly seductive and destructive nature of war. He also provides some very insightful passages on the way the "myth of war," as he puts it, distorts our perspective. I found the basic concepts very persuasive. But unfortunately the work is not well
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tied together. It often felt disjointed rather than flowing into a comprehensive vision.
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LibraryThing member amf0001
Slow to start, but builds beautifully and I was crying by the end. Sigh. Such a difficult topic. War and why we do it and how brutal/degrading/crazy it is, and why the myths persist and how it solves nothing. And how, the answer is always in the still small voice of love. How hard it is to hear it
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over the noise of war, and how important it is.
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LibraryThing member UncleSamZ
With the recent passing of Henry Kissinger and the current ongoing genocides in the Middle East I was drawn to read this Chris Hedges work from 2002. Sadly it is distressingly still relevant in every way today. His graphic telling of brutalities and overpowering repulsions of carnage suggest a
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pornographic attraction, which is one of the themes in this book about the personal impacts of being in war. Deep psychological effects are coupled with observations on propaganda campaigns selling wars to constituencies. He is well seasoned and carefully calculated in weighing his facts. His narrative is up close and personal. Yet the book is largely philosophical. Invoking literary references as well as other military sources, Hedges constructs a point of view that endures. In part this supports the man in the street perspective of how civilizations crumble into dust. While not offered as such it contributes at least little towards understanding how Israel and Hamas are hell bent on obliterating their homeland. This seems to be no middle ground and probably never has been, especially once at war.
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National Book Critics Circle Award (Finalist — General Nonfiction — 2002)



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