HEDGING WAR by Sherry Chandler

I have been very slowly reading my way through Chris Hedges' War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning (Public Affairs, 2002). I find it very slow going because every page seems to rip my heart out. Hedges is a great writer; the book is riveting. It's a portrait of humankind at its most brutal.

I am slow in getting to this book because its publicity and its release date made me misconstrue what kind of book it is. Hedges was a war correspondent for The New York Times for 15 years, seeing action in South America, the Balkans, and the Middle East. But he studied English literature and Christian theology at Colgate University and Harvard Divinity School. He is a man who counted on memorized poems from Shakespeare and Yeats to keep him sane while held hostage during Iraq-the-first, who quoted to himself W. H. Auden's
"Epitaph on a Tyrant" while watching a woman and two small children drinking water from muddy puddles outside Kuwait City (pp 90-91). (See Michael Parker's Journal for a comment on this same incident.)

Hedges's book lays out a perfect roadmap of the United States' push into the current war in Irag. It's the way all countries go into a war of aggression. Hedges uses Argentina's failing regime and it's totally bogus war in the Falklands as a perfect exemplar: the hyperpatriotism, the portrayal of country-as-victim, revenge disguised as self-defense, the silencing of all dissenting voices.

Usually when I read books I find passages I want to share with my readers. The problem with War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning is that I want to share practically every word of every page. If you haven't read this book, you should. Though it isn't pretty.
One passage:

The ancient Greeks linked war and love. Aphrodite, the goddess of love and the wife of Hephaestos, the lame blacksmith who forged the weapons and armor for the gods, became the mistress of Ares, the god of war. It was an illicit affair. Ares, impetuous, quarrelsome, and often drunk, was hated among the gods. He loved battle for its own sake. His sister, Eris, spread rumor and jealousy to whip the winds of war. Ares never favored one city or party against another. He frequently switched loyalties, abandoning those he had once helped. He delighted only in slaughter. It was only Eris and Aphrodite, who had a perverse passion for him, who loved him. Hades honored him because of the legions of slain young men he dispatched to the underworld. (p.100)
At the risk of trivializing Hedges, who is devastating on the sick mixture of sex and violence that is war, I couldn't help but think of our current White House resident when I read this passage.

"Impetuous, quarrelsome, and often drunk" could be a description of George W. Bush, though he has given up the drink and is unlikely to indulge in an illicit affair. As much fun as it is to make jokes about pretzels and Condoleeza, Bush probably adheres to a conventional morality. Besides, he has none of the charisma or animal appeal Bill Clinton had. Clinton's sexiness was his Achilles heel (to stay with the classics), Bush, on the other hand, is essentially a sexless man, a boy really, caught in a fraternity mindset, asleep by nine o'clock.

So, I think, he loves to prance around in uniform, to play pilot and land on aircraft carriers because he wants to borrow a little bit of the sexiness, the charisma of the warrior. Thus evil presents itself as a dull man/boy playing dress-up. It is such a creature who leads us into perpetual war.


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