Thursday, December 20, 2007

War is a force...

For some holiday uplift, I am reading War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges. It is truly frightening because the book was published in 2002, just as BushCo was beginning to beat the lie drums for the Iraq war. Referring mostly to the first gulf war and the Balkan Wars, Hedges predicts exactly how things have gone since the book was published. All wars, even "good" ones, tend to evoke the same powerful ambivalences in those who fight them. There's less ambivalence for the armchair cheerleaders, who avidly consume the myth of war, but never see the reality. The title of the book sort of says it all, but:

In mythic war we imbue events with meanings they do not have. We see defeats as signposts on the road to ultimate victory. We demonize the enemy so that our opponent is no longer human. We view ourselves, our people, as the embodiment of absolute goodness. Our enemies invert our view of the world to justify their own cruelty. In most mythic wars this is the case. Each side reduces the other to objects--eventually in the form of corpses. [....]

The potency of the myth is that it allows us to make sense of mayhem and violent death. It gives a justification to what is often nothing more than gross human cruelty and stupidity. It allows us to believe we have achieved our place in human society because of a long chain of heroic endeavors, rather than accept the sad reality that we stumble along a dimly lit corridor of disasters. It disguises our powerlessness. It hides from view our own impotence and the ordinariness of our own leaders. By turning history into myth we transform random events into a chain of events directed by a will greater than our own, one that is determined and preordained. We are elevated above the multitude. We march toward nobility. And no society is immune (23-24).

Isn't it interesting that the religious right, who claim to have so much meaning in their lives in the form of God and Jesus and the unwavering certainty of their own goodness--that these are the people who scream loudest for war, whenever the possibility even faintly appears? I thought we atheists were the ones who pathetically had no meaning in our lives, who were dangerous because of it. (We don't think God is watching us, so we naturally are immoral; even as adults, Christians apparently do the right thing only because they fear punishment.) Yet it would seem the fanatics are the meaning-starved ones. Their religion proves inadequate; they must have blood and sacrifice (of others), and still they aren't satisfied. Will someone please, please give these peoples' lives some real meaning? And is that what W, that empty shell of a human, is really craving?

Oh, and in case you were wondering, war correspondents and the press generally don't see their role as uncovering the realities of war. Hedges, who was a war correspondent for years, points out that the press is "eager to be of service" to the myth. The fact that we're now seeing more negative reports about Iraq is a reflection of American public opinion turning against the war. The press follows the trajectory of the myth, bolstering it till they can no longer credibly do so.

I'm grateful to the many bloggers out there who have kept the press more honest in this war than perhaps in any other. Though a lot of crap has slid through the cracks, war-myth making might be harder in years to come.

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