War is a Force that Gives us Meaning

2006-02-01

in Bombs and rockets, Books and literature, Politics

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.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

B February 1, 2006 at 9:51 pm

Need I point out the irony that you are currently running for Secretary of the Strategic Studies Group?

Of course, that is entirely consistent with a desire to understand the contemporary nature of warfare…

Nevermind, then.

Anonymous February 2, 2006 at 2:19 am

I know something of what you mean.

There is a disconnected quality to this book, as you would expect from a catalogue of such senselessness and cruelty. It’s the kind of book that makes you ashamed to be a human being, and that makes you despair for the future.

Anonymous February 3, 2006 at 12:36 am

Gary Clyde Hufbauer of the Institute for International Economics (IIE), a Washington think-tank, warns against the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. That won’t bother Mr Bush, who is not known for his command of Latin.

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