Book: The myths & mystique of war

By : Jim Pinto,
San Diego, CA.

Perhaps war is a human addiction. It causes renewed nationalism and patriotic fervor that is intoxicating. It is seldom justified, but there are always those who claim that it is right. In its wake it brings devastating effects on all involved. But the pain is eventually forgotten and then war again reoccurs, like some awful addiction that cannot be kicked.

This article was published by:
San Diego Mensan, September 2003

A few months ago, just as the Iraqi war commenced, I happened to click on C-SPAN TV; Chris Hedges, the veteran NY Times journalist who had covered several wars, was reading extracts from his book: "War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning". His theme gave me shivers of significance, especially while all the other channels were reporting on the war already in progress.

Hedges compares war to an addiction, a sustained super-bowl spirit of tribal bonding, adrenaline rushes, violence awaiting victory. In war, people unite in a feeling not of friendship but comradeship. It brings a sense of nationalism and patriotism, more than what is right, or just. War appeals to the human psyche. It provides a purpose for living. It allows individuals to rise above regular life and participate in a noble cause.

Once a war has commenced, it is difficult to penetrate behind the barrage of media rhetoric, to go beyond unquestioning patriotism. We are captivated by the bravery of our heroes, their noble sacrifice, the utter depravity of the enemy. There is very little communication outside of the clichés. A new war vocabulary becomes everyday jargon, the accepted axioms of a society that remains captive within the power structure.

Our captivity continues. Whatever disquiet we feel, the words to express it are considered unpatriotic. The myths predominate - built around glory, heroism, self-sacrifice and national nobility. It’s a kind of intoxication. People lose individual conscience as they participate in communal vengeance.

Only eventually, if things continue to go terribly wrong, if the excuses run out, if the promises of victory fall prey to continued failure, if the toll in human lives escalates beyond endurance, does the slow but sure democratic process bring the backlash.

But the regrets and repercussions remain, mostly remembered by veterans in wheelchairs and photographs of lost loved ones on the mantelpiece. But even that pain is eventually forgotten by new generations that have not been touched by the horrors. And then war again reoccurs, like some awful addiction that cannot be kicked.

The veteran war correspondent draws on his experiences covering wars all over the world to examine what makes it so intoxicating for soldiers, politicians and ordinary people. He describes the devastating effects on life, community and culture, the corruption of business and government. He discusses the outbreaks of nationalism, the wartime silencing of intellectuals, the ways in which the press glorifies the battlefield.

Chris Hedges acknowledges that people need to battle evil. He argues not for pacifism, but for responsibility on the part of those who wage war. You might like to read his book as you witness the reality of recurring wars in a militant world.

Review & buy the book
War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning - by Chris Hedges

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Copyright 2003 : Jim Pinto, San Diego, CA, USA