Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” as Want to Read:
War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  5,504 ratings  ·  582 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 Books (first published January 1st 2002)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Kevin Klein He examines the cliche but true notion that we are all capable of evil - and shows us the path of how individuals and groups succumb to this power. Hi…moreHe examines the cliche but true notion that we are all capable of evil - and shows us the path of how individuals and groups succumb to this power. His purpose is not purely anti-war - according to him war is inevitable - it is a thing that must be experienced to understand, and usually understanding is repressed once it happens (because it is something so dark, so beyond our senses that many individuals and societies can only tuck it deeply away). (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.13  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,504 ratings  ·  582 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
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
Jun 14, 2008 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
Dec 05, 2007 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.
Aug 15, 2009 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
Kaelan Ratcliffe ▪ كايِلان راتكِليف
***** The exposure of War in less than 200 pages *****

I recently made the decision to start marking certain books that I'm reading in real time. If I find anything important in the pages of the novel I'm reading, I mark it. Something probably not new to many people who enjoy literature, but it's only just been implemented in my reading life.

Unfortunately, I don't think I could have chosen a worse book to start this system with.

I lack the proper indexing tabs at the moment to mark my books, so I
Aug 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning has been one of the most influential books on war that I have ever read. After reading the Hedges book, to me, the title is somewhat misleading because while war does give meaning, in the process of that meaning, Hedges chronicles why it mostly destroys humanity in more ways than one.

Unfortunately, when Hedges delves into polemical politics, even though it is necessary, his own personal political preferences may turn readers with an opposing political viewpo
Nov 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a counteragent to the human animal's inner need to glorify war (or at least justify its devastating consequences), Chris Hedges' sobering, often brutal, account of his experiences as a war correspondent serves extremely well.

Shifting between philosophical ruminations on this ancient human enterprise, the various institutions that keep the myth alive (media, government) and anecdotes from Hedges' personal remembrances, this is structurally a rather sloppy book. It's a criticism that's leveled
Guillermo 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
Nov 25, 2007 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 individu ...more
Chris Dietzel
Jan 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I love Hedges and everything he writes, and this book is no different. His experiences as a war correspondent exposed him to the results of genocide, mass killings, and intense civilian suffering, and he takes all of the things he saw during that time to write this assessment of how war corrupts people, politics, and popular culture. I often thought of Smedley Butler's War is a Racket while reading this. The two books compliment each other nicely and could be read together. If you are anti-war, ...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
Oct 21, 2015 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
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
Nov 18, 2012 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 29, 2008 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
Apr 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: terrorism, philosophy, war
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
Will Byrnes
Oct 25, 2008 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.
Natylie Baldwin
May 15, 2014 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,
George Polley
Oct 12, 2013 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 22, 2007 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 18, 2008 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
Feb 20, 2013 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 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
Dec 27, 2012 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. ...more
Jan 20, 2008 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." ...more
Oct 07, 2012 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 decade
Vikas Erraballi
Feb 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
War journalist Chris Hedges describes the allure of war, before, during, and after. How the myth of patriotism and the enemy is created by the leaders, the soldiers, and the media; the vicious cycle of hatred that fuels itself - the division lays the ground for hatred, the hatred causes more division. How the moral universe changes during times of war, how what is acceptable, normal is ultimately a mental construct with as much reality as any dream. How even the nature of relationships, between ...more
Sep 11, 2008 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
When you follow a writer through many of their written and spoken thoughts, there is no expectation to fully agree with all their stances; you focus on their principles and thought-processes.

Recently, Hedges as been called out by some on the Left for being an armchair Liberal for his critique of Antifa tactics, which resembles his past critiques of Black Bloc anarchist tactics. Yes, I find his views on these topics debatable and thus worthy of debate, but the irony of smearing Hedges as an armc
Nov 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
Hedges spent two decades as a war correspondent before writing this anti-war book. He doesn't call himself a pacifist, but has found it difficult to find any good in war. He saw the wars in El Salvador, Serbia, Angola, and more. In this book he writes of the common denominators in all of them. War corrupts even the best of people, turning them into bloodthirsty savages. But worse, it unleashes criminals and gives them moral cover for their wickedness. War leaves absolute destruction in its wake, ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Down and Rising
  • My War Gone By, I Miss It So
  • The Management of Savagery: How America's National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump
  • Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People
  • Shot Down: The True Story of Pilot Howard Snyder and the Crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth
  • Hate Inc.: Why Today's Media Makes Us Despise One Another
  • What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America
  • The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power
  • Daughters of the Night Sky
  • Because We Say So (City Lights Open Media)
  • The Mismeasure of Man
  • Parade's End
  • Every Day We Get More Illegal
  • How Will Capitalism End? Essays on a Failing System
  • The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power
  • The Mass Psychology of Fascism
  • The Anatomy of Fascism
  • Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy
See similar books…
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

Related Articles

  Luvvie Ajayi Jones—author, cultural critic, digital entrepreneur—might be best described as a professional truthteller. Her crazily popular...
50 likes · 0 comments
“There are always people willing to commit unspeakable human atrocity in exchange for a little power and privilege.” 97 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.” 44 likes
More quotes…