Friday, May 16, 2014

War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

I've spent a lot of time critiquing student papers.  It uses up the same energy and brain cells that good blogging uses.  So I'll just pass on this excerpt from a  review of Chris Hedges'  2002 book, War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning from Quaker Libertarians.
As the title suggests, Hedges pushes us all to think about what psychological benefits we may gain from war when we blind ourselves to its reality. “The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living” (3).

This is especially true in the age of declining religious participation. As Hedges observes, “because we in modern society have walked away from institutions that stand outside the state to find moral guidance and spiritual direction, we turn to the state in times of war. The state and the institutions of the state become, for many, the center of worship in wartime” (146-147).

The seductive lure of violence is one he frankly acknowledges out of his own experience, but he presents it as more a product of human nature than individual failing. Sadly, like a drug that can never offer true satisfaction, “War never creates the security or the harmony we desire, especially the harmony we briefly attain during wartime” (22).
 Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize winning foreign correspondent for the New York Times  before he quit after he was reprimanded by the paper for comments he made in a Rockford College graduation speech (see Wikipedia) in 2003.  I find him one of the most insightful writers today.  His years of experience as a foreign correspondent seem to give him insight in how the world works, that most Americans simply don't have.   In the graduation speech he said,
"We are embarking on an occupation that, if history is any guide, will be as damaging to our souls as it will be to our prestige and power and security."
Eleven years later, thinking about all the lives lost, the soldiers who have come home broken in body and spirit - not to mention those that didn't come home - and our slipping status in the world, and our failing infrastructure from roads to education that got deferred in part because of the costs of war, and our Congressional gridlock, I don't think he was wrong.  But in 2003 in America's heartland, no one wanted to hear what he was saying.  


  1. I look at the troubles faced by my university, my neighborhood, my community, my friends, and my family, and I see crumbling infrastructure. Chronic warfare has cost us not only our economy, but our humanity. Thanks, S, for this great blog post.

  2. Hello Steve,
    Thanks for linking to the review and sharing your thoughts. It sounds like we feel the same about the costs of war. I'm not sure what you mean by the comment about student papers, though. If you have pointers for me, I'd welcome your critique!

    1. Matt, I'd been grading papers and using up my blogging energy on that, so using an excerpt from somewhere else was an easy way to get started with the day's post. Thanks for having something important up.

    2. Ah, ok! I was all ready for a grammar take down. Phew! :) Thanks again for helping to spread the word. It's unfortunate that Hedges was hit with plagiarism charges. I am hopeful it will be an episode he transcends - he has an important message.


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