Monday, August 20, 2007

Considering war itself

I first read War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges about the time the Iraq war began. I found it compelling, yet strangely disturbing. Here was this veteran war correspondent, who'd covered conflicts around the globe and seen the horrors of war up close and personal, and he was describing war itself in terms of a drug, a highly addictive narcotic — and he loved it.

At the time, I was still conflicted a bit about the Iraq war. We'd already went into Afghanistan, and were after Osama bin Laden, but even that effort didn't seem to be going very well, as I recall.

And Iraq ... well, let's say I guess I read too much. I was skeptical about the Bush Administration's claims of weapons of mass destruction, and dubious of any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

On the other hand, so many relatives, friends and neighbors were proudly flying their flags, sticking yellow ribbons and patriotic bumper stickers on their cars.

And yet my doubts persisted. I just couldn't join in with the flag-waving crowd.

I picked up Hedges' book ... and looked into the abyss. Sometimes I'd angrily put it down, unable to read another paragraph. But I'd invariably return to it. Hedges knows. This man knows. This guy has really been there.

Hedges' writing in War is a Force has stayed with me since I first read it, so I thought it deserved a second look. I'll be posting excerpts from it over the next few weeks (a la Doug Wilson) and offering some of my own thoughts as well. Think of these posts as an online commonplace book.

This blog is about just war. But as we examine attendant issues like conscription, just war doctrine, the military-industrial complex, etc., we mustn't forget to look at war itself. What it is, what it does to those we call upon to fight. Chris Hedges examines war — places it under a microscope, if you will — for us.
I wrote this book not to dissuade us from war but to understand it. It is especially important that we, who wield such massive force around the globe, see within ourselves the seeds of our own obliteration. We must guard against the myth of war and the drug of war that can, together, render us as blind and callous as some of those we battle.

We were humbled in Vietnam, purged, for a while, of a dangerous hubris, offered in our understanding and reflection about the war, a moment of grace. We became a better country. But once again the message is slipping away from us, even as we confront the possibility of devastating biological or nuclear terrorist attacks in Washington or New York. If the humility we gained from our defeat in Vietnam is not the engine that drives our response to future terrorist strikes, even those that are cataclysmic, we are lost.

The only antidote to ward off self-destruction and the indiscriminate use of force is humility and, ultimately, compassion. Reinhold Niebuhr aptly reminded us that we must all act and then ask for forgiveness. This book is not a call for inaction. It is a call for repentance.

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