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War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

Book Review

 

Title:

War is a Force That  Gives Us Meaning

Author:

Chris Hedges

Publisher:

Perseus Books Group, Cambridge, MA

ISBN:

1-58648-049-9

Reviewed By:

Frank Fogg

Review Date:

June, 2003

Rating:

In War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Chris Hedges makes an extended and impassioned argument against war in all its forms. This is a hardcover book of about 200 pages that is based upon the author's firsthand impressions of war from the front lines.

War is a Force That Gives Us MeaningWritten  from the perspective of a war correspondent with over fifteen years experience, this book takes a look from the author's viewpoint of the true casualties of war. While one expects the first-hand accounts of the brutal deaths of soldiers and civilians alike, Chris Hedges takes it one step further by showing that humanity, kindness and generosity become victims as well. He uses actual events to demonstrate that insanity grips nations during wars and a complete denial  and collective loss of memory occurs once the war is over. He illuminates the early euphoria among the troops as the war begins, then shows how horror quickly  causes many of the participants to lose their grip on reality. Killing becomes easy, while mercy becomes impossible, and their lives are forever altered.

Although much of the material used to accentuate the author's points is based  on his time in the Balkans during the fight for Bosnia, he also draws in accounts of conflicts from the Greek and Trojan eras, both World Wars, and Vietnam when they further highlight some important issue. He also tells how the same events seem to repeat in each conflict, such as the euphemisms used for the dead (including "disappeared", "kidnapped", "transferred", and  "relocated"), the propaganda that builds hatred of the enemy, and the rise of criminals to warlord status under a veil of legitimacy. His points are supported in many cases by quoted first hand accounts by battlefield participants,  with each telling a sad story of loss and hardship.

Most unusual is the comparison of the elements of war to various Shakespearean dramatic plays. The author frequently returns to scenes from these plays as  support for the concept he is presenting. As opposed to books that are based  more in research of other existing books or documents, this work is deeply rooted in the author's personal knowledge of wars around the globe, with the smell  of the dead and dying lingering behind each description of atrocity and crime.

While many may find the author's views and feelings uncomfortable or distasteful,  his words will force the reader to re-examine their feelings about war in all its forms. He demonstrates that modern conflicts eerily follow the same script over and over with a predictable pattern of behaviors leading to results that  are often unexpected for both sides. He further stipulates that the onset of genocidal conflicts is rooted in the origins of the World War One and that death  on such a large scale provided the basis for later criminal behavior in the  World War Two and most minor conflicts thereafter.

In conclusion, this book argues that most wars are unjustified, unnecessary, the rarely accomplish what the aggressor has set out to do. The author uses first hand accounts and anecdotal evidence to demonstrate the ever increasing  number of civilian casualties are based upon a shift from accomplishing military  goals to merely terrorizing the real or perceived enemy. It is one book that clearly shows the sickening losses on the battlefield and the effect of war  on civilized ideas and behavior for all whose lives it touches.

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