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  • Tuesday, December 14, 2004


    Chris Hedges

    I went to school with Chris Hedges long ago and but only recently became aware of his work as a war correspondent. I think I also saw him on a panel on C-SPAN within the last year or so. His book, "War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning," is a thoughtful examination of the nature of war. I respect his experience in war zones and his ability to articulate the costs of war for the survivors of war. The dead and wounded are easy to count. (well, except for the Iraqis.) What the living bring back is less tangible and quantifiable. The following is from an interview with YES! Magazine named War is not a Noble Enterprise:

    Sarah van Gelder: We tend to think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a medical or psychological condition. But your book suggests that there are also issues of morality and identity involved.

    Hedges: I think you raise a good point. Morality does play deeply into that sense of trauma, because when you're in a combat situation (and I think you have to go there to understand), your reactions have to be instantaneous. If you hear a sound behind a door, you don't have time to ask questions, so often you shoot first and ask questions later. And this we have seen in Iraq, where soldiers and Marines at road blocks have fired on cars filled with children and families that they initially feared were hostile.

    When you are in a combat situation like that, you realize how easy it is to commit murder, how easy it is to commit atrocity, because you are so deathly afraid -- and with good reason. But the consequences are devastating, because what you have done is to shed innocent blood, and often the blood of children. So you bring back not only the trauma of the violence, but that deep darkness that you must carry within you for the rest of your life -- that you have been responsible for the death of innocents.

    So it isn't just an issue of trauma; it is, as well, an issue of morality. This is a horrible burden to inflict, especially on a young life. It's why war should always be waged as a last resort, because the costs are so tremendous, not only to families who lose loved ones and will spend the rest of their lives grieving, but for those who return and for the rest of their lives bear these emotional and psychological burdens.

    People cope with that in different ways. Some of course deny it. Some, even combat veterans, will try to perpetuate the mythology of glory and honor and heroism and patriotism. Others, who have more courage and more honesty will confront what they did by trying to live a life of atonement, by seeking a kind of redemption for the acts they carried out. I think that leads them to a much healthier response, and hopefully sets many on the road to recovery. I think we saw this with the conflict in Vietnam, although not exclusively with Vietnam, because my father and all my uncles fought in World War II -- the supposedly "good" war -- and they hated war when they came back.

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