Tuesday, March 15, 2005

War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

Perhaps the best book I read last year was War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by NY Times journalist Chris Hedges. A veteran war correspondent, he's plainly a very damaged man after witnessing wars in Yugoslavia, Central America and the Middle East and their effects. Not only does he relate the utter misery of death, injury and psychological damage on those in and around the fighting. Just as tragic is the ripping asunder of cultures as societies turn inwards into the narcissism of national-self love. Steeped in the classics and
educated as a theologian at Harvard, Hedges offers some of the most powerful prose on war since Thucydides. Commenting on Shakespeare's play, he writes:

Troilus, at the start of the play, states that he will not fight for Helen, a woman portrayed by Shakespeare as a mindless paramour. "It is", he says, "too starved a subject for my sword." Dying for this Helen, who has neither morals nor wit, is absurd. Yet I have seen men die for even more ridiculous reasons. There was no reason for the war in Bosnia. The warring sides invented national myths and histories designed to mask the fact that Croats, Muslims and Serbs are nearly indistinguishable. IT was absurd nuances that propelled the war, invested historical wrongs, which, as in the Middle East, stretched back to dubious accounts of ancient history. I have heard Israeli settlers on the West Bank, for example, argue that Palestinian towns, towns that have been Muslim since the seventh century, belong to them because it says so in the Bible, a reminder that this sophistry extends beyond the Balkans.
The cast of warlords in the former Yugoslavia was made up of the dregs of society. These thieves, embezzlers, petty thugs and even professional killers swiftly became war heroes.

Whatever war is, its amoung the greatest evils in human society, seducing us towards our own destruction. I certainly don't consider myself immune to this.