Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Alternet features Sara Ruth van Gelder's interview with Chris Hedges. Hedges is the author of "War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning". Hedges served for 20 years as a war correspondent, and now writes for the New York Times.

These are excerpts from the interview:

van Gelder: "What do well publicized incidents, such as those at Abu Ghraib, contribute to the burden of people returning from war"...?

Hedges: "Abu Ghraib is the natural consequence of war and has happened in every single war that has ever been fought. What you are doing in war is turning human beings into objects either to provide gratification or to be destroyed, or both"...

"In wartime, perversion and hedonism spiral out of control"..."the psychosis of war involves an active effort to destroy feelings of tenderness and compassionate love."

"...the moral order is flipped upside down; prostitution, rape, and abuse all rise as the level of violence rises. That happened in every conflict I was in. In Serbia, for instance, as the violence proliferated you also had a proliferation of pornography and snuff films. It always goes hand in hand, because what you are destroying is the humanity of the other, you are turning the other into an object, which is precisely what torture or pornography does."

"So what we saw in Abu Ghraib was a window into the perversion that is always the case in war. This flies in the face of the image that we are given of war by the entertainment industry, or even quasi-historians like Stephen Ambrose who want to ennoble war."

"War is not a noble enterprise. I'm not a pacifist; I think there are times when war is a sad inevitability. But it is certainly not noble."

van Gelder: "In this fall's election, it seemed to me that we were still fighting over how to interpret the experience of Vietnam."

Hedges: "My problem with the way the election was run is that we pandered to the lie and not the truth."

"If you read what John Kerry said immediately after the war, he understood what Vietnam was about. But the election became about war as a glorious enterprise -- war as reporting for duty, war as noble, war as a test of manhood and courage. And while physical courage is often on very impressive display in war, you almost never see moral courage, which is very different, because it requires standing up to the crowd -- often opposing those around you -- and in that opposition being shunted aside. So I think that the problem in revisiting the Vietnam experience is that we've forgotten all the lessons of Vietnam."

van Gelder: "In your book, you say, "Lurking beneath the surface of every society, including ours, is the passionate yearning for a nationalist cause that exalts us...the kind that war alone is able to deliver." That yearning suggest[s] that we're always going to be either at war or on the brink of war. Do you see any forces [that] can temper that tendency?"

Hedges: "The only force that is powerful enough to subvert the force of war is love. Love is never organized. Love is always individual love. Love is a force that is built between two human beings. In wartime, everything is done to subvert that force."

"I don't know that there's an organized force that can stand up to the allure of war, which gives us a sense of empowerment -- allows us to be part of a cause, to ennoble ourselves, to rise above our small stations in life."

"The need to find meaning like that, I think, is an indication of the huge deficit of our emotional life. In conflict after conflict, those who are able to remain sane, who were never able to hate the perfidious enemy (who, in places like the Balkans, were often their neighbors), were those who had good relationships, those who were in love."

"I think particularly, in the war in Bosnia, of a Serb woman and her husband who took in two Muslim children and cared for them during the conflict, although they were ridiculed for it by everyone else in town."

van Gelder: "...we were out on the streets protesting, trying to persuade our government not to take us to war. I think many of us feel powerless and frustrated, and a great deal of grief about what has happened in Iraq."

Hedges: "...Focus on what you do this day: don't give in to cynicism, because then you are defeated. To get up and carry out an act that may seem not only insignificant but absurd gives you a sense of worth and meaning, and allows you to participate in an act (however small) of resistance."

"I think the cumulative effect of taking a moral stance, over time, is slow and hard and frustrating. If you go back and read Martin Luther King's autobiography, you see what kind of despair he faced in the early years of the Civil Rights movement."

"Sustain yourself through community and try not to become too focused on what you can accomplish, because it may very well be that, by the time we're gone, the world may be a worse place. But we have to validate our own existence, our own morality, our own life. And that comes by taking a stance, by standing up and remaining human. And there are times when remaining human is the only resistance possible."


Post a Comment