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June 19, 2005 - Hedging Your Bets

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As readers here may know, I have a close relative in the Army, now in Iraq.  This week he was transferred from Mosul to Baghdad.  (His photos from Mosul can be found here - and the last one on the page shows where he's working right now, one of the palaces in the Green Zone.)  A graduate of West Point, he an avid reader.  A year or more ago his Christmas list included a book by Christopher Hedges – "War is the Force that Gives Us Meaning" – so I found that, gift-wrapped it, and gave it to him.  The book was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

He was surprised by it.  Hedges has been a war reporter for fifteen years and doesn't much like what he saw – or he liked it too much, as he explains.

The book puzzled my Army relative.

Then there's this other Hedges book - "What Every Person Should Know About War" (2003) – and I don't think I'll send him that now.

Here's Hedges this month - "We are losing the war in Iraq.  We are an isolated and reviled nation.  We are pitiless to others weaker than ourselves.  We have lost sight of our democratic ideals."

That's from this:

War: Realities and Myths
June 11, 2005, antiwar.com

Key points (with my emphases) –


There is no more candor in Iraq or Afghanistan than there was in Vietnam, but in the age of live satellite feeds the military has perfected the appearance of candor. What we are fed is the myth of war. For the myth of war, the myth of glory and honor sells newspapers and boosts ratings, real war reporting does not. Ask the grieving parents of Pat Tillman. Nearly every embedded war correspondent sees his or her mission as sustaining civilian and army morale. This is what passes for coverage on FOX, MSNBC or CNN.

… This myth, the lie, about war, about ourselves, is imploding our democracy. We shun introspection and self-criticism. We ignore truth, to embrace the strange, disquieting certitude and hubris offered by the radical Christian Right. These radical Christians draw almost exclusively from the book of Revelations, the only time in the Gospels where Jesus sanctions violence, peddling a vision of Christ as the head of a great and murderous army of heavenly avengers. They rarely speak about Christ's message of love, forgiveness and compassion. They relish the cataclysmic destruction that will befall unbelievers, including those such as myself, who they dismiss as 'nominal Christians.' They divide the world between good and evil, between those anointed to act as agents of God and those who act as agents of Satan. <B< of the short in violence, apocalyptic for call but fear, and hatred exclusion, only not one is The corrupt. castigating hypocrites attacking Anti-Christ, battling demons, out casting action, man Right, Christian Jesus, impotent. spiritually physically male American rendered have that told, are believers forces, homosexuality Feminism ideology. their pervades violence esthetic masculinity cult>

As the war grinds forward, as we sink into a morass of our own creation, as our press and political opposition, and yes even our great research universities, remain complacent and passive, as we refuse to confront the forces that have crippled us outside our gates and are working to cripple us within, the ideology of the Christian Right, so intertwined with intolerance and force, will become the way we speak not only to others but among ourselves.

In war, we always deform ourselves, our essence. We give up individual conscience – maybe even consciousness – for contagion of the crowd, the rush of patriotism, the belief that we must stand together as a nation in moments of extremity. To make a moral choice, to defy war's enticement, to find moral courage, can be self-destructive.

The attacks on the World Trade Center illustrate that those who oppose us, rather than coming from another moral universe, have been schooled well in modern warfare. The dramatic explosions, the fireballs, the victims plummeting to their deaths, the collapse of the towers in Manhattan, were straight out of Hollywood. Where else, but from the industrialized world, did the suicide bombers learn that huge explosions and death above a city skyline are a peculiar and effective form of communication? They have mastered the language we have taught them.

… War is always about... betrayal. It is about the betrayal of the young by the old, idealists by cynics and finally soldiers by politicians. Those who pay the price, those who are maimed forever by war, however, are crumpled up and thrown away. We do not see them. We do not hear them. They are doomed, like wandering spirits, to float around the edges of our consciousness, ignored, even reviled. The message they bring is too painful for us to hear. We prefer the myth of war, the myth of glory, honor, patriotism and heroism, words that in the terror and brutality of combat are empty, meaningless and obscene.

We are losing the war in Iraq. We are an isolated and reviled nation. We are pitiless to others weaker than ourselves. We have lost sight of our democratic ideals. Thucydides wrote of Athens' expanding empire and how this empire led it to become a tyrant abroad and then a tyrant at home. The tyranny Athens imposed on others, it finally imposed on itself. If we do not confront the lies and hubris told to justify the killing and mask the destruction carried out in our name in Iraq, if we do not grasp the moral corrosiveness of empire and occupation, if we continue to allow force and violence to be our primary form of communication, if we do not remove from power our flag-waving, cross-bearing versions of the Taliban, we will not so much defeat dictators such as Saddam Hussein as become them.


My relative serving in Baghdad, has, of course, read Thucydides.  But I don't think I’ll send him this.

From our Australian friend in Paris –


Spot on.  This kind of thing should be spammed across the American nation for as long as it takes Jesus to return to us.


Ah, yes, and the meek shall inherit the earth?  Or carry the day?  The next task for the evangelical pro-war Christian right?  Proof that Jesus may have SAID that, but he didn't MEAN that.  He was a kick-ass kind of guy.

Making this implicitly a holy war may have been a bad idea, and my relative isn't buying into that part of it, as far as I know.  Still, he believes in what he is doing, and that what he is doing is good.  And maybe it is.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, asks a logical question – where did my relative hear about this first Hedges book, and what did I think he expected it to be?

What did I think he had expected the book to be?  Well, when I did some net surfing to see who had it in stock - it was sold out at a lot of stores - I read the reviews.  (Actually I had known what the book was about - a war reporter confessing he liked war too much.)  I really did wonder why he wanted this one.  Frankly, I think he liked the title.  He has a habit of skimming lists of new military books.  And I figured it would be good for him to read this.

His only comment a few weeks later - "That wasn't what I thought it was."

No kidding.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta – "No kidding, indeed, you tricky SOB!"

Who, me?

Hey, no one was ever harmed by reading a book, as they say.  Folks should read everything on all sides.  And too, when possible, you should get your relatives what they ask for on their Christmas lists.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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