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War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

4.14 of 5 stars 4.14  ·  rating details  ·  3,037 ratings  ·  394 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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Ryan
Jun 20, 2008 Ryan rated it 5 of 5 stars
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...more
Bobby
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...more
James
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....more
Hadrian
"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....more
Aidan Watson-Morris
first nonfic book i've read outside of class since...what, freshman year? which means it was preceded by either the insufferable chuck klosterman or the simply awful richard dawkins. so the bar was not very high, i'll admit. but god if hedges isn't able to see through the fog of the very institutions he is apart of to the heart of the matter, all with a strong sense of compassion & empathy so often lacking in political rhetoric. he is the first to implicate himself in every chapter, & th...more
Lubna
Jan 15, 2008 Lubna rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Dan
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
Andrew
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...more
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...more
George Polley
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
Sarah
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...more
Tracy
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...more
Leah
Jan 29, 2008 Leah rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
grace
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...more
Sarah
Jul 08, 2008 Sarah rated it 5 of 5 stars
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...more
Kate
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
T-bone
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.
jeremy
"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."
Will Byrnes
Hedges is a particularly effective analyst. This is an outstanding look at the forces behind decisions to go to war, whether public ornot.
Jon

If in smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro Patria mori.
Wilfred Owen, Dul
...more
Ryan
Apr 05, 2009 Ryan rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
Benito
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...more
Trishnyc
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
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
Daniel Roy
Hedges' lucid and haunting examination of war feels like a punch to the gut. Yet it's not so much an anti-war manifesto - Hedges downright comes out in support of war in specific circumstances, such as NATO intervention in Bosnia - as a brutally honest introspection of the forces at play during conflict.

Frankly, this book should be required reading for anyone who ever considered the fallacy of 'just war'. As much as it doesn't condemn war outright, Hedges' essay carefully deconstructs the notion...more
Stuart
Feb 11, 2010 Stuart rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Foreign policy hobbyists, soldiers
First off, here is my (limited) background related to this subject. I've lived in one country involved in a war, Israel in 1973. The closest I got to the fighting was when I was visiting a friend near the Golan Heights. I remember waking up in the middle of the night from the explosions of bombs in fields a few hundred yards away. To say that I was filled with fear is an understatement.

That war was a "just" one from the Israeli standpoint. It resulted in the death of thousands and was emotionall...more
Ismael Galvan
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
Paul
I put this under religion-personal because the book is basically about the deepestdestructive force known to man. I could not put the book down and I did not want to pick it up.

I was impressed, as you were, by his ending. But I do wonder about his motivations. On p. 161, he quotes Aristotle, "Aristotle said that only two living entities are capable of complete solitude and complete separateness. God and Beast."

For Aristotle, that was correct because the uncaused cause,the first mover, is in som...more
Richard
Nov 14, 2008 Richard rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those seeking to understand war and the human tendency toward violence.
Recommended to Richard by: Peter Walters
I just finished the short book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges. A friend of mine offered me $1000 to read it.

At first I thought this book was just another liberal anti-war rant. It's not. It's a well-written, wise and thoughtful warning to those who would rush into war, promote war or support it; we should be very hesitant and very careful about taking upon us the burden of war. War is more evil than we think it is. It is has far more consequences than we realize. We cannot...more
Liam
So far what's captivated me is the description of how war really changes people and societies. It is interesting how the former nation of Yugoslavia went from a state dominated by the ideology of Marx, to a nation dominated by fascist nationalism on all sides. Hedges spends the majority of book comparing the dark side of war with his experiences and observations, not just in Yugoslavia, but in central America during the 1980's, aswell as Kuwait/Iraq during the gulf war. Written before the Bush a...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
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“There are always people willing to commit unspeakable human atrocity in exchange for a little power and privilege.” 59 likes
“In the beginning war looks and feels like love. But unlike love it gives nothing in return but an ever-deepening dependence, like all narcotics, on the road to self-destruction. It does not affirm but places upon us greater and greater demands. It destroys the outside world until it is hard to live outside war's grip. It takes a higher and higher dose to achieve any thrill. Finally, one ingests war only to remain numb.” 28 likes
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