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War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

4.14  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,622 Ratings  ·  435 Reviews
As a veteran war correspondent, Chris Hedges has survived ambushes in Central America, imprisonment in Sudan, and a beating by Saudi military police. He has seen children murdered for sport in Gaza and petty thugs elevated into war heroes in the Balkans. Hedges, who is also a former divinity student, has seen war at its worst and knows too well that to those who pass throu ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published June 10th 2003 by Anchor (first published January 1st 2002)
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Dec 07, 2007 James rated it it was ok
The imagery and polemic of this book are strong. His take on war is brutal and honest enough that I found myself deeply affected at many points. And his prose is wonderful. Ergo, I can't say I didn't like it, but I wanted to like it more than I did.

But the style was off-putting to say the least. Like any good journalist, Hedges does an excellent job relaying experience and retelling stories from others. But each chapter is filled with episodes he recounts, that seem haphazardly thrown together.
Jun 20, 2008 Ryan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: George W. Bush
Shelves: favorite
Read this book to be disturbed. The author is a seasoned war correspondent who's been in the thick of warfare from El Salvador and Guatemala to Iraq and Bosnia. It is an anti-war treatise by a man who admits being addicted to war.

Hedges describes that he is "hooked" on the narcotic of war, on the rush that it gives. It's a world where power is all that matters. The meek do not inherit the Earth; they are murdered, and then often mutilated. The book is a philosophical inquiry into What War Is. It
Maru Kun
My first insight into man's inhumanity to man came to me as a seventeen year old one evening in Amersham, a well off London dormitory suburb. I was standing in queue after pub-closing time, waiting to buy a kebab.

I had joined the queue behind two girls out for the evening. In front of them was a drunk looking hard man and in front of him a guy, let's call him the victim, who was just about to take a bite out of a gently steaming, newly purchased kebab.

Without warning the hard man punched the vic
Jul 27, 2012 Bobby rated it it was amazing
I think I'm finally ready to review this book. I've given it a few weeks to settle in my mind.

I'm prepared to say that this book is important enough that everyone should read it. It asks questions of us as a society that need to be considered and answered by each individual before we take measures to begin or escalate any armed conflict.

Hedges does an amazing job of forcing these questions to the table in a concise and direct way respecting both the philosophical dimensions and the actualities i
Aug 10, 2012 Hadrian rated it really liked it
"War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning" is a darkly ironic statement, and one which explains Hedges' thesis. War can serve as a unifying agent in society, subsuming the individual will into a greater national cause - of course, this is not always a good thing.

Hedges examines, in a literary and introspective manner, the injustices and lies which political and military leaders use to justify wars. This is not to say that all wars are unjustifiable, but that we must always have cause to be suspect.
Natylie Baldwin
Apr 26, 2015 Natylie Baldwin rated it really liked it
I have read many accounts of the horrors of war, including first person narratives of the Holocaust and Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried." As part of my research on the war in Ukraine, I viewed footage of civilian bodies -- dead and dismembered -- including women and children, from artillery shells, bombs, and shrapnel; bloated and blackened bodies of fighters scattered in fields and on the sides of roads.

Yet, I never seem to become inured to it. I still wince and feel my stomach curdle,
Larry Bassett
War makes the world understandable, a black and white tableau of them and us. It suspends thought, especially self-critical thought. All bow before the supreme effort. We are one. Most of us accept war as long as we can fold it into a belief system that paints the ensuing suffering as necessary for a higher good, for human beings seek not only happiness but also meaning. And tragically war is sometimes the most powerful way in human society to achieve meaning.

There are two statements in the in
Apr 17, 2013 Dan added it
Shelves: 2012
though heartfelt, inspiring and disturbing, i can't say i wholeheartedly loved this book. it deals with some HEAVY topics - genocide, rape, xenophobia - and it's written with an intimate awareness of how such atrocities arise, escalate, disappear and return. many of the observations remind me of george orwell, whose fantastic essay "politics and the english language" seems to have (at least partially) influenced hedges' thoughts on language. actually, these are the most informative sections of t ...more
Jan 15, 2008 Lubna rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: evereyone
Everyone should read this book. Its amazing & lays bare the lies that surround the glorification and promotion of war. It shows war for what it is - a messy, ugly, evil that brings out the worst in humanity. Hedges, a war correspondent, intersperses his eyewitness accounts of war with ruminations on the nature of war and what it is that attracts humanity and keeps us in a state of war. His conclusions - that the pursuit of truth is necessary to pierce the lies that surround war and that indi ...more
To say that war is a hellish horror is one of the great clichés, and it's become something of an international-journalist mainstay to report on one's own experiences with the aforementioned hellish horror. You hear the same stories told again and again, recombined, in various settings: Bosnia, Vietnam, Iraq, Peru, the Congo. It all starts to sound the same.

Hedges to his credit, is an excellent reporter, and while he sometimes falls into that trap-- the "you ain't seen what I've seen, been where
Dec 20, 2015 Wayne rated it it was amazing
“There are always people willing to commit unspeakable human atrocity in exchange for a little power and privilege.”
― Chris Hedges, 'War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning'

Chris Hedges, a longtime war reporter and witness to the atrocities of ethnic conflicts around the globe, argues that war, in spite of its utter destruction and inhumanity, gives us what we need: a shared sense of meaning and purpose and identity. Through the ages, the architects of war and conflict have long understood and fine
Ismael Galvan
Mar 17, 2013 Ismael Galvan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Chis Hedges was a war correspondent for the New York Times in many of the defining warzones of our times: the Balkans, Central America, and the Middle East. He has reported on wars from the inside, surviving ambushes, diving for cover alongside his military escorts, and witnessing the aftermath of every atrocity imaginable. The psychological scars from knowing the face of mass produced death are still with him. In his travels around the world he’s found a recurring dynamic at work, the addiction ...more
Jan 29, 2008 Leah rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who likes war movies because they wish they were in them
Outstanding book. The author (a former war reporter) discusses the addictive nature of war, both for soldiers and the public. "War" becomes an idealized fiction that we rally around--that "gives us meaning," gives us a purpose, gives us a way to join together as a nation, but that the actual reality of what a war is and what it entails is beyond any experience that one can truly describe. War is beyond hell. A true experience of war is something that can never be captured in a movie, book, or ne ...more
Jul 08, 2008 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Sarah by: Jonathan Morgenstern
So excellent.

Question: Why do you feel so intensely in war? Yet it fades so quick?
"There are few individual relationships- the only possible way to form friendships- in war. ... Comrades seek to lose their identities in the relationship. Friends do not... Friends find themselves in each other and thereby gain greater self-knowledge and self-possession. They discover... unknown potentialities for joy and understanding. The struggle to remain friends, the struggle to explore the often painful re
Will Byrnes
Oct 25, 2008 Will Byrnes rated it really liked it
Hedges is a particularly effective analyst. This is an outstanding look at the forces behind decisions to go to war, whether public ornot.
George Polley
Oct 12, 2013 George Polley rated it it was amazing
Curious title, isn't it? If war is a force that gives us meaning, how does it give us meaning? The answer lies in the underlying myth that supports it, and has supported it, from the dawn of the human species. This is the Warrior Myth, and it is part of every culture and society. We see it in familiar stories of great warriors, heroes, heroines and gods, all of whom fight great battles to defeat "the enemy". In these tales, it is the warrior that is held up to be emulated by the young, especiall ...more
Mar 01, 2013 Sarah rated it it was ok
I was really excited to read this book when I found out it was assigned for one of my classes. I was disappointed. I found it more annoying than anything else.

1) Structurally, it was a mess. He has chapter titles that ostensibly correlate with the subject of each section, but he'll stick to that topic for about a page and a half before going back to rambling on about whatever the hell he felt like writing about. It's really annoying and the disorganization made the book seem even more self-indul
Jun 10, 2008 Tracy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theory
This is a wonderful and brutal book.

Hedges draws on a number of brilliant thinkers...and he draws on his own experience in order to describe the effects of war on us.

He says, in part, that we humans crave meaning, and war gives us meaning in a more intense fashion than anything else. What else could so quickly and easily delineate who the enemy is? It's the person trying to kill me! What else could shape life so perfectly but the need to save my own skin?

Hedges experienced this directly in many
Mar 22, 2007 grace rated it it was amazing
one of the most powerful books i have ever read. my review (posted on my blog immediately after reading it):

War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, writes Chris Hedges, and upon completion of what The New York Times called his "powerful chronicle of modern war... a potent and eloquent warning," I do not feel guilty or ashamed of being human-- no, instead I am paralyzed with fear. Hedges takes no sides in his painfully poignant work, except perhaps the side of humanity, which as Freud writes and he
May 28, 2010 Brett rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy, war, terrorism
An extraordinary and lucid account of the effect of war on societies. War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning is both the title and thesis of this book. Chris Hedges is a long-time war correspondent for national news publications and witnessed conflicts in central America, Sudan, Iraq, Gaza, and the Balkans. He describes with great clarity the incredible excitment of war that can motivate a whole society, as well as the unbearable cruelty of conflict.

Hedges is no pacifist, but he is frank about ac
Keith Akers
Nov 14, 2014 Keith Akers rated it really liked it
I read this book about six years ago and didn't finish the book, and so didn't feel fully qualified to add a review. I read the first half and the last chapter of "War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning." The part that I read was great and I can enthusiastically recommend it if you want to know about war. In fact, I'm quite confident (without reading it) that the rest of the book is excellent as well.

I didn't finish it because the book was too good --- I found the violence just disturbing and it g
Chris Hedges was a war correspondent for 15-20 years. He saw, first-hand, wars in El Salvador, Kosova, Iran, Iraq, Gaza, and on and on. He saw murders and atrocities being committed. He dodged sniper's bullets. He witnessed absolute horror. If anyone can speak with authority about the morals of war, he can. And, while he was in the thick of it, he can also speak to the addictive “rush” that comes along with living on the very edge of life and death. This is a rush to which soldiers and war corre ...more
Oct 23, 2013 T-bone rated it did not like it
Constant references to classical literature may have helped the author understand his experiences but they just got on my tits. Eg., "In war we may deform ourselves, our essence, by subverting passion, loyalty, and love to duty. Perhaps one could argue that is why Virgil's Aeneas appears so woefully unhappy in The Aeneid." Such insights make me woefully unhappy. Also had to take a star off for the silly title.
Dec 08, 2014 Orde rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is a little heavy on the descriptive side. By this I don't mean that it is very graphic in cruel details but that the author likes to narrate stories from his experience and illustrate his point in a somewhat lengthy manner instead of just making it. Maybe it's just a matter of taste but you don't need to convince me that nationalism is basically built entirely on myth and that during war or crisis societies tend to become paranoid, racist and not exactly scrupulous about truth or for ...more
Jan 20, 2008 jeremy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"the whole truth may finally be too hard to utter, but the process of healing only begins when we are able to at least acknowledge the tragedy and accept our share of the blame."
Jim Kisela
Sep 10, 2014 Jim Kisela rated it really liked it
This is a disturbing and troubled book that I keep thinking about even though I finished it a week ago.
The detailed anecdotes from Hedges' own reporting experience are horrifying, even if some critics challenge his credibility as a truth teller.

I am disturbed by the feeling I get from the title: "War is a force that gives us meaning" in that it seems so positive because "giving life meaning" to me seems like it should be a good thing, but what Hedges documents is war's dehumanizing impact that b
Apr 05, 2009 Ryan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who believe in glory
This book was an unexpected gut-shot to my moral understanding of war. I was tempted to add a fifth star.

As a war correspondent for 15 years, Hedges covered conflicts from El Salvador and Nicaragua to the West Bank and Gaza; from Sudan and Algeria to the first Gulf War and Kosovo. He bore witness to some revulsive acts of violence and became intimate with the victims and crimes of war. And yet he also became "addicted" to war, to the rush of combat and the sense of purpose that "allows us to be
Oct 07, 2012 Benito rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most amazing books I have ever read. It may be one of the finest books about war, and mankind’s addiction to it, ever written. I devoured it in two sittings after being handed it by a friend. Immediately after opening it I wanted to sit down and not stop reading. It is addictive, and addiction, as well as the competing passions of Eros (love) and Thanatos (death), are it's subject.

Hedges is a self-confessed war addict who describes the memories that haunt him from his decades
Mar 10, 2011 Trishnyc rated it really liked it
This is a very well written book that explores and examines war, its meanings, reasons and justifications. It tries to take on all sides of war, the victors and the victims and how they view the outcome of their struggles. I liked how the author discussed the ways in which war allows those who wage it to see the world in as black and white, absolutes with little shades of gray in between. "They" are bad and "We" are good. This kind of thinking allows the suspension of introspection and make many ...more
Jennifer Campaniolo
Nov 10, 2010 Jennifer Campaniolo rated it it was amazing
This book really made me question some of the beliefs I have about war that I've never questioned before, such as the US is always the good guy in war and that whomever we fight are inherently evil. It's obviously more complex than that, and Hedges explores that complexity with eloquence and the hindsight that comes from a being a thoughtful foreign war correspondent. War is hell, but it can also be addictive, Hedges says, a powerful narcotic for people looking for meaning in their lives (hence ...more
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Christopher Lynn Hedges is an American journalist, author, and war correspondent, specializing in American and Middle Eastern politics and societies.
Hedges is known as the best-selling author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction.
Chris Hedges is currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute in New York Ci
More about Chris Hedges...

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“There are always people willing to commit unspeakable human atrocity in exchange for a little power and privilege.” 72 likes
“The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living.” 34 likes
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