Sunday, November 21, 2004

Chris Hedges and the Mythology of War

(reposted this after reading Matt's post Further PSYOPS Watch and Michael's Returning Amputees to the Battlefield)

Chris Hedges is a veteran war correspondent who wrote a very important book called War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2003). It is a passionate call for us to reconsider the roots of the human addiction to war through a careful consideration of the realities of warfare and our necrophiliac relationship with the symbols, rituals and displays of military culture.

Chris Hedges later gave a commencement speech at Rockford college that was disrupted and caused a nationwide controversy. Hedges showed great courage in sticking to his beliefs and not backing down. He is no simple-minded pundit attempting to manipulate the masses for profit and power, but a considerate, thoughtful, former divinity student, shocked by the violence he has seen in the world, but hopeful that we may still change.

Chris Hedges' controversial May graduation speech at Rockford college:

Audio Version of the Speech

Transcript of the Speech

Rockford Register Report on the Campus Debate That Followed

AlterNet now has an interview with Hedges online: The Silencing of Dissent on Graduation Day.


Democracy Now interview:


Excerpts from “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning”:


More writings by Chris Hedges:

Hedges' Writings

1 Hour audio lecture on “The Mythology of War”:

Audio Lecture interview:


Chris Hedges and “Enforced Conformity”:

Enforced Conformity

Interview a month before the speech on “Dangerous Citizen”:

Dangerous Citizen

PBS interview about “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning”, includes streaming video of the interview:

PBS Interview

Further sources:

Barbara Ehrenreich's Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passion of War (1998)
Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism (1973)
Erich Fromm's The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1992)
Carolyn Marvin's and David Ingle's Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag (1999)
Alexander Laban Hinton's edited collection Annhilating Difference: The Anthropology of Genocide (2002)


Matt Christie said...

Thanks Thivai, I look forward to reading these. (Doris Lessing also comes to mind, as does Susan Sontag and Arendt of course...although sometimes I find these thinkers frustrating in ways (but of course!)

Is there a difference, I wonder, when male voices speak out regarding the complex psychology of wartime and its accompanying myths...given what might be described as their somewhat unique historical investments? Anyway. Will certainly take a look.

Michael said...

I've read Arendt's "The Origins of Totalitarianism" (hefty book, with lots of information, but so worth the effort) and it works very good with Girogio Agamben's Means Without Ends and Richard Rubenstein's Cunning of History to examine the process (horrifying for my mind) whereby the state (or some other power) designates beings as non-existent as legal entities and thus no longer deserving of humane treatment (interestingly I watched the movie Ned Kelly last night and they did a good job of demonstrating this through the official designation of "outlaw" a person who one is legally no longer human and which British citizens where legally bound to kill on-sight)... but this is more the powers of state where you where originally asking about the psyche of the soldier under stress.

Erich Fromm I believe would supply some interestiung insights for our contemporary situation in which war is depersonalized and often eroticized through technology (in particular his The Anatomy of Human Aggressiveness)

Marvin's and Ingle's Blood Sacrifice and the Nation is more an examination of the symbolic relationship between war, nationalism and the sacrifice of young men in nationalistic endeavors...

The novelist and world traveling reporter William Vollmann in his mammoth seven volume treatise on violence Rising Up and Rising Down could also supply some insights into this...

Chris Hedges in his book talks about the addictive nature of high-intensity conflict (for some) ... and the difficulties of re-adjusting to everyday life back home (and these are war journalists)...

Michael said...

As for the differences between male and female in their perceptions or impressions in regards to war it would seem to be that there could be some differences due to socialization in patriarchal societies and prior involvement/participation in acts of collective violence... I'm not sure and haven't seen the case made...

Two other sources off the top of my head would be Frantz Fanon who ran a sanitorium in Algeria during the Algerian resistance to French imperialism. In this he had close observations of the effects of French soldiers who broke down under the pressure of a continuous need for brutality in order to retain control (similar to what American soldiers would face in Iraq) and the fracturing of colonized minds under a colonial system. I remember this being discussed in the documentary Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask and his book of the same name...

Also of interest might be Lidia Yuknavitch's "Allegories of Violence: Tracing the Writing of War in Late Twentieth-Century Fiction" ... in fact fiction would be a great source for understanding the impact of war upon the individual soldier's psyche. Are you familiar with the works of Tim O'Brien of Michael Herr's Dispatches?

Sorry, this is interesting and you have me thinking... thanks!

Matt Christie said...

O'Brian, Fanon, Agamben-yes. Fromm, Hedges, the others-no, not yet.
But I am still a young man, with many years of glorious reading ahead.

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