It's about self-destruction
March 14, 2003 7:21 AM   Subscribe

The most powerful narcotic invented by humankind is war. Former NYT war correspondent Chris Hedges talks about WAR. Frightening and timeless interview.
posted by samelborp (15 comments total)
No snark intended but also discussed here and here.
posted by y2karl at 7:51 AM on March 14, 2003

Though the book has been previously discussed, the interview is worth a read.

"Once you use the blunt instrument of war, it has all sorts of consequences when you use violence on that scale that you can't anticipate. I'm not opposed to the use of force. But force is always has to be a last resort because those who wield force become tainted or contaminated by it. And one of the things that most frightens me about the moment our nation is in now, is that we've lost touch with the notion of what war is."
posted by grabbingsand at 8:05 AM on March 14, 2003

Ouch! it's becoming harder and harder not to repeat topics this days... I searched, but I suppose you can't catch every single comment inside a thread...

At least I said timeless! ;-)
posted by samelborp at 8:06 AM on March 14, 2003

I searched, but I suppose you can't catch every single comment inside a thread...

It's a touchy subject and not all that well presented hitherto, samuelborp. I have seen any number of our own armchair generals with considerably less combat time than Hedges blow him off unread here.

Three quotes:

Well, I don't think you can justify unleashing 3,000 precision-guided missiles in 48 hours because Saddam Hussein is a torturer, which he is. And I covered that whole withdrawal of the Iraqi forces from Northern Iraq. I was not only in the subterranean bowels of the Secret Police Headquarters where we found not only documentation but videotapes of executions. Horrible torture centers. People being— you know where the meat hooks were still sort of fastened into the ceiling of soundproofed rooms.

And then these mass graves. We were digging up as many as a thousand, 1,500 people. But that does not give you a moral justification to carry out what is, quite candidly, indiscriminate attack against civilians. That's what's going to happen when you drop this number of high explosive devices in an urban area.


How do you explain the phenomenon that while we venerate and mourn our own dead from say 9-11, we're curiously indifferent about those we're about to kill.

Because we dehumanize the Other. We fail to recognize the divinity of all human life. We— our own victims are the only victims that hold worth. The victims of the Other are sort of the regrettable cost of war. There is such a moral dichotomy in war. Such a frightening dichotomy that the world becomes a tableau of black and white, good and evil.
You see this in the rhetoric of the Bush Administration. They are the barbarians. I mean we begin to mirror them. You know for them we're the infidels and we call them the barbarians.


How do we protect ourselves, defend our security, do the right thing and yet not be taken by surprise again?

By having the courage to be vulnerable. By not folding in on ourselves. By not becoming like those who are arrayed against us. By not using their rhetoric and not adopting their worldview. What we did after 9/11 was glorify ourselves, denigrate the others. We're certainly, now at this moment, denigrating the French and the Germans who, after all, are our allies. And we created this global troika with Vladimir Putin and Ariel Sharon. One fifth of the world's population, most of whom are not Arabs, look at us through the prism of Chechnya and Palestine. And yes, we certainly have to hunt down Osama bin Laden. I would like to see those who carried out 9/11, in so far as it is possible, go on trial for the crimes against humanity that they committed. But we must also begin to address the roots of that legitimate rage and anger that is against us.
It has to be a twofold battle. We are not going to stop terrorism through violence. You see that in Israel. In some ways, the best friend Hamas has is Ariel Sharon, because every time the Israelis send warplanes to bomb a refugee camp or tanks into Ramallah, it weakens and destroys that moderate center within the Palestinian community.

And essentially creates two apocalyptic visions. One on the extreme right wing of Israeli politics. And certainly one on the extreme wing of the Palestinian community. And when these apocalyptic visionaries move to the center of society, then the world becomes exceedingly dangerous. And that's what I fear. And that's what— and, but that requires us not to resort, which is a natural kind of reaction, a kind of almost knee-jerk reaction, to the use of force when force is used against us.

posted by y2karl at 8:17 AM on March 14, 2003

...war is always about betrayal. It's about betrayal of soldiers by politicians. And it's about betrayal of the young by the old.
posted by signal at 8:48 AM on March 14, 2003

Fascinating interview.
posted by Espoo2 at 8:48 AM on March 14, 2003

In the same vein, "Why we love war", by Lawrence LeShan (a missing list of 10 differences is here)
posted by mediaddict at 10:11 AM on March 14, 2003

HEDGES: Well, I think the war is illegitimate not because civilians will die. Civilians die in every conflict. It's illegitimate because the administration has not, to my mind, provided any evidence of any credible threat. And we can't go to war just because we think somebody might do something eventually.

Credible threat? How about another pbs article directly linking osama and hussein. According to Sabah Khodada (defected former Iraqi army captain) the 9/11 terrorists were trained in Iraq. I suppose you kooks will say the pictures of the Boeing 707 sitting in Salman Park [secret service training park used to teach assassination, kidnapping, hijacking, etc...] was photoshopped by the government right?

As for the age old argument that we can't do [whatever] because of what someone might do is false. If there is a credible threat (like a drunk driver swerving on the highway) we can do something about it. We don't have to wait until he smashes his car into oncoming traffic. When there is a credible threat, a majority of people (75% - USA TODAY/Gallup/CNN) think it should be stopped.

Unfortunately I'd venture to guess that 75% of the anti-war crowd would still be against war if Iraq admitted they were responsible for 9/11. I still can't ever get a response from anti-war folks on how badly we have to be hit by Saddam before war is justified. Is it 5000? 50,000? A major city > some random number? Just what does it take? What is a credible threat? How much proof do you need? Do we really have to be hit before hitting back?
posted by stormy at 10:34 AM on March 14, 2003

Stormy, accuracy in reporting?

When posting the link to the PBS article (interviewing Sabah Khodada on 10/14/01), you ignored the sidebar which included the following: "(Editor's Note: Although U.S. officials acknowledge terrorists were trained at Salman Pak, they say it is unlikely that these activities were related to the Sept. 11 attacks. It should also be noted that the two defectors interviewed for this report have been brought to FRONTLINE's attention by members of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a dissident organization seeking to overthrow Saddam Hussein.)"

If U.S. officials believed the accusation by Sabah Khodada, don't you think it would have been used as evidence by the administration in a public campaign to justify military action against Iraq?
posted by bathtime at 11:14 AM on March 14, 2003

How do you explain the phenomenon that while we venerate and mourn our own dead from say 9-11, we're curiously indifferent about those we're about to kill.

Because we dehumanize the Other. We fail to recognize the divinity of all human life. We— our own victims are the only victims that hold worth. The victims of the Other are sort of the regrettable cost of war. There is such a moral dichotomy in war. Such a frightening dichotomy that the world becomes a tableau of black and white, good and evil.

Hedges may have been reading Simone Weil's "The Iliad or the Poem of Force," in which she discusses why it's a fundamental mistake to regard an individual or a people as barbarous or evil, and why war takes its toll on both conqueror and conquered. Here is the opening paragraph of the essay:

The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad is force. Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force before which man's flesh shrinks away. In this work, at all times, the human spirit is shown as modified by its relations with force, as swept away, blinded, by the very force it imagined it could handle, as deformed by the weight of the force it submits to. For those dreamers who considered that force, thanks to progress, would soon be a thing of the past, the Iliad could appear as an historical document; for others, whose powers of recognition are more acute and who perceive force, today as yesterday, at the very center of human history, the Iliad is the purest and the loveliest of mirrors.

For anyone interested in a metaphysical foundation for making an argument against war, Weil's essay, written at the beginning of WW II, is a must read....
posted by poorhouse at 11:54 AM on March 14, 2003

lists by LeShan linked by mediaddict:
Sensory Reality - Peacetime

 1. Good and Evil have many shades of grey. Many groups with different ideas and opinions are legitimate.
 2. Now is pretty much like other times.
 3. The great forces of nature, such as God or human evolution, are not often evoked in our disputes.
 4. When the present period is over, things will go on much as they have in the past.
 5. There are many problems to be solved and their relative importance varies from day to day. Life is complex.
 6. All people act from pretty much the same motives.
 7. Problems start on different levels - economic, political, or personal - and must be dealt with on these levels.
 8. We are concerned with what causes the problems we are trying to solve.
 9. We can talk to those we disagree with.
10. All people are fundamentally the same.

Mythic Reality - Wartime

 1. Good and Evil are reduced to Us and Them. There are no innocent bystanders; there are only those for or those against us. Crucial issues are divided into black and white, and opinions about them are either right or wrong.
 2. Now is different from all other times. Everything hangs in the balance; whoever wins now wins forever. It is the time of the final battle between good and evil.
 3. 'God is on Our Side,' 'History will absolve us,' and other such slogans indicate our belief that great cosmic forces are with us.
 4. Everything will be vastly different after the war. Things will be better if we win and terribly worse if we lose. Winning or losing will change the meaning of the past and the shape of the future.
 5. There is only one major problem to be solved. All others are secondary. Life has one major focus.
 6. They act from a wish for power. We act from self-defence, benevolence, and reasons of common decency and morality.
 7. The real problem started with an act of will by the enemy and can only be solved by breaking his will or by making him helpless to act on it.
 8. We are not concerned with causes, only with outcomes.
 9.Since the enemy is evil, he naturally lies. Communication is not possible. Only force can settle the issue. We tell the truth (news, education). They lie (propaganda).
10. The same actions are 'good' when we do them and 'evil' when the enemy does them. There is doubt that 'we' and 'they' really belong to the same species.

posted by y2karl at 1:42 PM on March 14, 2003

Two quotes:

F.T. Marinetti:
"War is beautiful because it establishes man's dominion over the subjugated machinery by means of gas masks, terrifying megaphones, flame throwers, and small tanks. War is beautiful because it initiates the dreamt-of metalization of the human body. War is beautiful because it enriches a flowering meadow with the fiery orchids of machine guns. War is beautiful because it combines the gunfire, the cannonades, the cease-fire, the scents, and the stench of putrefaction into a symphony. War is beautiful because it creates new architecture, like that of big tanks, the geometrical formation flights, the smoke spirals from burning villages, and many others...Poets and artists of Futurism...remember these principles of an aesthetics so that your struggle for a new literature and a new graphic art...may be illumined by them!"

Walter Benjamin:
"This is evidently the consummation of l'art pour l'art. ..[Mankind's] self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first degree."
posted by jann at 3:10 PM on March 14, 2003

I knew a Muslim soldier, a father, who fought on the front lines around Sarajevo. His unit, in one of the rare attempts to take back a few streets controlled by the Serbs, pushed across Serb lines. They did not get very far. The fighting was heavy. As he moved down the street, he heard a door swing open and fired a burst from his AK-47 assault rifle. A 12-year-old girl dropped dead. He saw in the body of the unknown girl lying prostrate in front of him the image of his own 12-year-old daughter. He broke down. He had to be helped back to the city. He was lost for the rest of the war, shuttered inside his apartment, nervous, morose and broken. This experience is far more typical of warfare than the Rambo heroics we are fed by the state and the entertainment industry. The cost of killing is all the more bitter because of the deep disillusionment that war usually brings.

Chris Hedges


...Fundamental questions about the meaning, or meaninglessness, of our place on the planet are laid bare when we watch those around us sink to the lowest depths. War exposes the capacity for evil that lurks just below the surface within all of us.

And so it takes little in wartime to turn ordinary men into killers. Most give themselves willingly to the seduction of unlimited power to destroy, and all feel the peer pressure. Few, once in battle, can find the strength to resist.

The historian Christopher Browning noted the willingness to kill in
Ordinary Men, his study of Reserve Police Battalion 101 in Poland during World War II. On the morning of July 12, 1942, the battalion was ordered to shoot 1,800 Jews in the village of Jozefow in a day-long action. The men in the unit had to round up the Jews, march them into the forest and one by one order them to lie down in a row. The victims, including women, infants, children and the elderly, were shot dead at close range.

Battalion members were offered the option to refuse, an option only about a dozen men took, although more asked to be relieved once the killing began. Those who did not want to continue, Browning says, were disgusted rather than plagued by conscience. When the men returned to the barracks they “were depressed, angered, embittered and shaken.” They drank heavily. They were told not to talk about the event, “but they needed no encouragement in that direction.”

posted by y2karl at 4:26 PM on March 14, 2003

OK, so most of us can agree that war is generally a bad thing. But in any specific case, many people are convinced of the justness of their war. Going by the Mythic Reality list, many Americans currently hold those beliefs. In the past Serbs and Rwandans held the same beliefs. How can we be certain we are in the right?

Please don't jerk the "moral relativism" knee - instead add a current belief to the list that differentiates the immoral case from the moral (without the benefit of hindsight, since that would imply we have to go to war and wait for history, written by the victors, to decide the morality.)
posted by mediaddict at 4:50 PM on March 14, 2003

"Becoming Evil"
posted by troutfishing at 8:39 AM on March 17, 2003

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