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War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaningby Chris Hedges
The eruption of conflict instantly snuffs out the headache and trivia of daily life. It gives us purpose. It is exciting. It takes precedence over all the mundane tasks and noisome clutter we face each day. The communal march against an enemy generates a warm, unfamiliar bond with our neighbors, our community, our nation, wiping out the unsettling undercurrents of alienation and dislocation. Patriotism, a thinly veiled form of self-worship, celebrates our goodness, our ideals, our mercy and bemoans the perfidiousness of those that hate us.
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. And given a choice between a vapid life of ease or one of danger, adventure, hardship and even violence most of us willingly choose the latter, at long as we can fold it into a belief system that paints the ensuing suffering as necessary for a higher good. We will always choose meaning, even if it entails suffering, over a hollow life in the pursuit of happiness. For it is not happiness we seek but meaning. And war is perhaps the most powerful engine in human society to achieve it.
But war is a god, as the ancient Greeks and Romans knew, and its worship demands human sacrifice. We urge young men to war, making the slaughter they are asked to carry out a rite of passage. And this rite has changed little over the centuries, centuries where there has almost continuously been a war raging somewhere on the planet. We call on the warrior to exemplify the qualities of manhood necessary to prosecute war--courage, loyalty and self-sacrifice. The soldier, neglected and even shunned during peacetime, is suddenly held up as the example of our highest ideals, the savior of the state. He is who we want to become, although secretly many of us, including most soldiers, know that we can never match the ideal held out before us. And we all become like Nestor in the Iliad, reciting the litany of fallen heroes that went before to spur on a new generation. That the myths are lies, for those who went before us were no more able to match the ideal than we, is carefully hidden from public view. Indeed, the whole purpose of the Iliad was to hold up a golden age of heroes that later Greeks were meant to measure themselves against. The tension between those that know combat, and thus know the public lie, and those that propagate the myth, always ends with the myth-makers working to silence the witnesses of war. But I often wonder if they even have to bother. Few want to listen.
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History and Social Science » American Studies » Culture Wars