This afternoon, I read Chris Hedges’ War is a Force that Gives us Meaning. It made me wonder whether the wars of my generation: Afghanistan, Iraq, and all the others, have just re-taught lessons learned by other generations before. Much as we might hope that justice or democracy can be spread by such means, it now appears that our hopes were misplaced. What’s worse, perhaps, is the failure of many to understand what’s going on, or even make an honest effort to do so. There has been an absence of inquiry and, even worse, interest in the truth of the matter or, at least, the closest approximation of the truth we can reach. Whatever else the present American administration is guilty of, it has, at many points, been dangerously unhinged from reality – at least in terms of what it presents the public. I don’t mean to take a general commentary and direct it in a cliched and partisan direction, but the world is awash in evidence that war and truth are frequently incompatible.
Similar grim revelations accompany the missed opportunities to curtail bloodshed: Bosnia, the Congo, Rwanda, and elsewhere. These are, perhaps, the strongest reminder that simple pacifism isn’t an adequate answer to the problem of war. We have to wade into the more complex, the more ambiguous, terrain of responsibility and intervention.
Hedges’ many personal anecdotes – both stories of his own and stories acquired from others over the course of a long and distinguished journalistic career – form the heart of the book. Beside them, generalized philosophical reflections about warfare, nationalism, and culture seem to be lacking in poignancy. It is the role of journalism, perhaps, to deliver that poignancy to those for whom an event or conflict is just some distant abstraction: much as the ongoing genocide in Darfur is for almost all of us now.
Citation: Hedges, Chris. War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. Oxford: PublicAffairs, 2002.