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Necessary Evil

Reading Chris Hedges’ book “War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning” brings to mind Oliver Stone’s 1986 Academy Award Winning Picture “Platoon. ” Both are cutting criticisms of the brutality of war borne out of the two individuals’ personal experiences and encounters with conflict-torn places and times: Hedges’ as a foreign correspondent in Central America, Africa, the Middle East, and the Balkans; and Stone’s as an Army combatant in the Vietnam War. Although obviously not involved in the actual combat, Hedges’ narrative nevertheless reveals a trauma on the same level as that of Stone’s as a soldier.

His opening lines in the book expose that much: War and conflict have marked most of my adult life. I have been in ambushes on desolate stretches of Central American roads, locked in unnerving firefights in the marshes in southern Iraq, imprisoned in the Sudan, beaten by Saudi military police, deported from Libya and Iran, captured and held for a week by Iraqi Republican Guards, strafed by Russian Mig-21s in central Bosnia, shot at by Serb snipers and shelled with deafening rounds of artillery in Sarajevo that threw out thousands of deadly bits of iron fragments.

“War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning” can therefore be interpreted as an attempt by the author to gain a deeper understanding of his violent—and often frightening—experiences. In the process of doing so he manages to demystify the “enduring attraction of war” by shattering the myths that are created to justify the righteousness of bloodshed. He bemoans the fact that these myths often involve the dehumanization and objectification of human beings for the sole purpose of peddling the idea of war to the tax-paying public, and ultimately gaining crucial support for it.

He asserts that wars serve the political and strategic interests of the powerful by stating that most wars ”are manufactured wars” that result from the failure of those who profess to safeguard humanity from evil and ends up destroying the very lives it purportedly protects: “there is a danger of a growing fusion between those in the state who wage war—both for and against modern states—and those who believe they understand and can act as agents for God. ”

Another myth which Hedges exposes is the one that involves creating an extreme notion of a world where everything is black and white. Almost always, he argues, the myths surrounding war take undue advantage of the people’s sense of national pride. Hedges contends that nationalism can breed arrogance and self-righteousness which dramatically reduces a people’s capacity for tolerance and respect for others. Through unabated myth-making in the media and other powerful conveyors of ideas, the “myth of war creates a new artificial reality.

” Thus, nationalism becomes a useful tool in propagating and sustaining a collective hatred and anger at the perceived common enemy, bloodlust, and appetite for cruelty and carnage, under the pretensions of heroism and bravery. The destruction and carnage of war therefore bear their imprints not only on every soldier sent to the battlefront but on the collective psyche of a nation since “war forms its own culture.

” War transforms the lives of millions it directly and indirectly touches in the way that it consumes, subverts, and appropriates cultural symbols for the exigencies of battle: national symbols become veritable rallying icons; avenues for artistic expression become limited and expression is censored; intellectual activity and discussion is stifled; and the meanings of life and death, honor and humiliation, joy and grief become exceedingly tied up with visions of “self-sacrifice and ultimately self-annihilation.

” In turn, war lends a feverish and dramatic pace to people’s lives and this, Hedges believes, is what makes the anticipation of war very appealing to many people. Wars create excitement in the otherwise boring lives of the citizens, allowing them to escape the “shallowness and vapidness of their lives,” which is why “war is an enticing elixir. ” It gives people a false sense of empowerment: it allows them to subvert dominant standards of morality. It allows them to kill and escape guiltless.

The moral ambiguity provided by war gives men a reason to believe that they are doing what is right and that their enemies are always doing wrong. Hedges expounds further: Once we sign on for war’s crusade, once we see ourselves on the side of the angels, once we embrace a theological or ideological belief system that defines itself as the embodiment of goodness and light, it is only a matter of how we will carry out murder. On the other hand, Hedges also believes that war awakens the basest and most primitive instincts in humans, as indicated by the fact that “there is in wartime a nearly universal preoccupation with sexual liaisons.

” This could explain why rape is often used to subjugate the enemy, a tool to assert power over one’s captive, which shows the self-destructive lust of war itself. To continue supporting the war, to accede to becoming a country’s warrior, the myths are continuously produced, recycled, and reinvented while the war is raging: “the alleged “war crimes” of the enemy, real and imagined, are played and replayed night after night, rousing a nation to fury.

” Audiences millions away from the battlefronts are bombarded with images that confirm the righteousness of the cause; and because “the images of war handed to us, even when they are graphic, leave out the one essential element of war” which is fear, the ugly and ruthless face of war is forgotten, and then “both the facts and the opinions become a celebration of ignorance, and more ominously, a refusal to discredit the cause that has eaten away at one’s moral conscience. ”

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