Saturday, March 23, 2024

Review of War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (09/28/2024)
Intriguing Connections = 1) War, 2) Why Conflict Occurs And How To Resolve Them?,  

Watch Short Review


“War makes the world understandable, a black and white tableau of them and us.  It suspends thought, especially self-critical thought.  All bow before the supreme effort.  We are one.  Most of us willingly accept war as long as we can fold it into a belief system that paints the ensuing suffering as necessary for a higher good, for human beings seek not only happiness but also meaning.  And tragically war is sometimes the most powerful way in human society to achieve meaning.” – Chris Hedges, Introduction, Page 10

“The imagined heroism, the vision of a dash to rescue a wounded comrade, the clear lines we thought were drawn in battle, the images we have of our own reaction under gunfire, usually wilt in combat.  This is a sober and unsettling realization.  We may not be who we thought we would be.  One of the most difficult realizations of war is how deeply we betray ourselves, how far we are from the image of gallantry and courage we desire, how instinctual and primordial fear is.  We do not meditate on action.  Our movements are usually motivated by a numbing and overpowering desire for safety.  And yet there are heroes, those who somehow rise above it all, maybe only once, to expose themselves to risk to save their comrades.  I have seen such soldiers.  I nearly always found them afterwards to be embarrassed about what they did, unable to explain it, reticent to talk.  Many are not sure they could do it again.” – Chris Hedges, Chapter 1: The Myth Of War, Page 39

“States at war silence their own authentic and humane culture.  When this destruction is well advanced they find the lack of critical and moral restraint useful in the campaign to exterminate the culture of their opponents.  By destroying authentic culture – that which allows us to question and examine ourselves and our society – the state erodes the moral fabric.  It is replaced with a warped version of reality.  The enemy is dehumanized; the universe starkly divided between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.  The cause is celebrated, often in overt religious forms, as a manifestation of divine or historical will.  All is dedicated to promoting and glorifying the myth, the nation, the cause.” – Chris Hedges, Chapter 3: The Destruction Of Culture, Page 63


Is This An Overview?

To prevent a war that results in self-obliteration, requires an understanding of what war provides.  How war functions and changes behavior.  War is a destructive act, but tragically also has value.  War can become an addition, like any other.  War provides excitement, power, purpose, and meaning.  War removes the trivia, the shallowness of life.  Allows people to rise above the divisiveness.  War makes reality more understandable, by simplifying reality.  A clear dividing line is made between us and them.  Makes people ready to pursue suffering for a higher good.  Enables people to do evil, that is difficult to reconcile with after the war. 

War is perpetuated by myths, news, entertainment, and history.  Myths twist all information to serve the myth.  The myths are meant to separate people, to prevent communication with the opposition.  Myths invoke a threat to community’s sacred values, with the community perceived as the victims who are justified in their violent reciprocation.  With the myths, the opposition is demonized, with their values inverted to justify cruelty.  Wars that lose their mythic stature, are doomed to fail.  Without the myths, war becomes recognized as organized murder. 


By What Cause?

The cause needs to be just to fight.  Wars are difficult without an appropriate cause.  Which is why states take tremendous time and effort to promote their cause.  At war, the state becomes the guide for moral righteousness.  To try to expose the myth, would mean removal from the group.  Reporters provide legitimizing support for the for the state. 

Death of innocent ignite conflicts.  The innocent builds the cause.  Each group perceives themselves as victims.  Sharing and distorting the excess of others.  Victimhood is cultivated by showing the injustice carried out against their group.  Atrocities are justified by the atrocities of the opposition.

The dead do not have equal value.  The dead of others mean little, while the dead of supported group matter.  The opposition lacks humanity for killing, but the killing done by the supported group is praised.  War turns people into killers.  For want of power, or under peer pressure.  Martyrs provide a way to prevent arguments for compromise or tolerance.  The dead speak and ask for revenge.


Who To Silence?

The dissidents to conflict are the earliest to be silenced, for they are the most dangerous, as they provide an alternative way to think.  The opposition is not silenced, for they enable the sought after conflict.  Most people self-censor their views to not be branded as outsiders to their community.  Unwilling to help neighbors to prevent being attacked themselves. 

States destroy their own culture to prevent the people from finding critical and moral restraint.  Without the restraint, states are more effective in their attack against the opposition.  Replacing authentic culture with a warped reality.  Generating a conflict between good and evil.  To glorify the myth.  Seeing the humanity of the enemy makes for ineffective soldiers.  Therefore states obliterate self-awareness and self-criticism.  War removes individual consciousness and responsibility, in favor of communal effort.

The problem with silence, is that the silence of past atrocities, enables further atrocities.  War does not free people from ethics of responsibility.  But at times, immoral behavior needs to be reciprocated with less immoral behavior. 

The press sees itself as part of the war effort.  War is perpetuated by the news, as wars garner more views.  The press is being shown only what the military wants them to see.  The press share only what the state wants people to see.  The press show little of reality.  Reporting what makes people feel better about themselves. 


Is There A Difference Between How War Is Portrayed And Actual War?

Real conflict is very different than what is portrayed by the entertainment industry.  Most people do not behave the way they expected to in actual combat.  Imagined heroism is quick to fall apart.  Individuals betray themselves, for want of safety.  To avoid the primordial fear.  There are few heroes, who usually do not support what they did.  Combat humiliates.  Words used to inspire, become hollow and repugnant.



This book covers many sensitive topics, sensitive wars, sensitive traumas.  A diverse history is provided to support the claims.  But the history is limited.  To understand the history of the various conflicts would require more research.

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•How to understand war?
•How does war function?
•How does war change behavior?
•What does war provide?
•How does war change how reality is perceived?
•What is the effect of myths?
•Why do people do evil and commit atrocities during war?
•By what cause do wars start?
•How are wars perpetuated?
•Who are the victims?
•Who are the innocent?
•How do states justify war? 
•What efforts do states take to justify war?
•What do reporters report?
•How does the news effect war?
•How do people take death?
•Who is silenced in war?
•How is culture effected in war?
•How do people behave in actual combat?
•How does the entertainment industry make war look like? 
•What happened to language during conflict? 
•How does war effect sex? 
•Can love be found in wartime?
•What happened to the Armenians? 

Book Details
Edition:                   First Anchor Books Edition
Publisher:               Anchor Books [Random House]
Edition ISBN:         9781400034635
Pages to read:          185
Publication:             2003
1st Edition:              2002
Format:                    Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall          5