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War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning


War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning Cover



Reading Group Guide

1. War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning seems, at first, like a misleading title. In what ways is it an appropriate title for the book? Why might Chris Hedges have chosen it?

2. In his introduction, Hedges makes the startling suggestion that “the rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug, one I ingested for many years” [p. 3]. How does Hedges support this claim? In what sense is war “a drug”? Who are its peddlers? How could something so horrific exert such power over so many people?

3. Hedges believes that “the only antidote to ward off self-destruction and the indiscriminate use of force is humility and, ultimately, compassion” [p. 17]. In what ways has America moved away from these virtues in the past decade? How can humility and compassion, individually and collectively, restrain nations from going to war? Why is it so difficult, and so important, to feel compassion for ones enemies? What memorable examples of compassion does the book provide?

4. What distinctions does Hedges make between sensory and mythic accounts of war? What reality does the myth of war conceal? Why are such myths necessary?

5. Hedges argues that “the nationalist virus” in the former Yugoslavia “was the logical outcome of the destruction of the countrys educational system that began in the 1950s under Titos rule” [p. 56]. What role did this nationalism play in the war that followed? How does nationalism distort and manipulate history? How might an independent and more objective educational system have prevented the war?

6. What is the relationship between sexual perver-sion and war, eroticism and death? Why, in Hedges view, does war seem to unleash the basest forms of lust? How does war affect the way the body is perceived and valued?

7. Hedges writes that, after every war, “some struggle to tell us how the ego and vanity of commanders leads to the waste of lives and needless death, how they too became tainted, but the witnesses are soon ignored” [p. 115]. Why do citizens of post-war nations prefer not to listen to such accounts? Why is it important that they be heard? In what ways is Hedges own book just such an act of witnessing?

8. What role does the press usually play in wartime? Why does Hedges believe that in the Gulf War, the press “wanted to be used” by the military? What role should the press play?

9. In his introduction, Hedges writes that the deadly attraction of war is that “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” [p. 3]. At the end of the book, he writes that love “alone gives us meaning that endures” [p. 184-85]. How can we ensure that love, rather than war, remains the force that gives meaning to our lives?

10. What do Hedgess frequent references to Homer, Cicero, Shakespeare, and other classical writers add to the book? Why does he take such pains to place more recent wars in the historical context provided by such writers?

11. How does Hedgess own experience—the violence he has witnessed in El Salvador, Bosnia, Iraq, and elsewhere—lend weight to his arguments? What are the most compelling examples he offers to support his views? Do Hedgess firsthand accounts make him a more trustworthy critic of war than those who have never been in battle?

12. In what ways is War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning relevant to the tensions between the United States and Iraq, and to other conflicts around the world today? Does the book offer new and more hopeful ways of thinking about war and peace?

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dreeves1, February 7, 2007 (view all comments by dreeves1)
Although Hedges is not a pacifist, by any means, he makes for a strong argument that human beings and governments are shaped by their wars. His first account view of war leaves the reader with a deep and meaningful idea of the lessons that war has to teach us as a people.
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Product Details

Hedges, Chris
Anchor Books
New York
Military - General
Military Science
War and society
Military history, Modern
War and civilization
Political Freedom & Security - International Secur
Ethics & Moral Philosophy
Military-General History
war;politics;non-fiction;history;philosophy;journalism;current affairs;sociology;psychology;military history;culture;violence;current events;military;cultural studies;society;religion;nationalism;political science;peace;bosnia;social commentary;middle eas
Edition Number:
Reprint ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
June 10, 2003
Grade Level:
7.96x5.26x.60 in. .51 lbs.

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » American Studies » Culture Wars
History and Social Science » Military » General
History and Social Science » Military » General History
History and Social Science » Politics » Activism and Peace Studies
History and Social Science » Politics » General
History and Social Science » Politics » United States » Culture

War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning Used Trade Paper
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Product details 224 pages Anchor Books/Doubleday - English 9781400034635 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

"The title might give the impression that this book would be at home on Patton's shelf, but a glance at the chapter headings shows the book's true heart and mind: 'The Myth of War,' 'The Plague of Nationalism,' 'The Highjacking and Recovery of Memory,' etc. A former seminary student, Hedges is a longtime war correspondent for the New York Times who has seen enough of death and killing. He has seen many governments use the same manipulation of facts to generate support for war and quash dissent."

"Staff Pick" by ,

"War is seductive," Hedges tells readers in this powerful and intelligent book. Throughout our history, it has appealed to the human mind by providing a false sense of purpose and the opportunity to rise above everyday life. Using examples from his experiences as a veteran war correspondent, Hedges debunks the ennobling myth of war, showing its brutality and its devastating effect upon community, life, and culture. Hedges, who's no pacifist, smartly cautions us against assenting to the myths that accompany war. This invaluable work should be required reading, especially now.

"Review" by , "[Hedges'] book is an example of the best kind of war journalism: It is bitterly poetic and ruthlessly philosophical. It sends out a powerful message to people contemplating the escalation of the 'war against terrorism.'"
"Review" by , "A brilliant, thoughtful, timely and unsettling book...it will rattle jingoists, pacifists, moralists, nihilists, politicians and professional soldiers equally."
"Review" by , "Hedges is not a pacifist, acknowledging that people need to battle evil, but he thoughtfully cautions us against accepting the accompanying myths of war. This should be required reading in this post-9/11 world as we debate the possibility of war with Iraq."
"Review" by , "If...I thought Bush and Blair would give it time I would happily send them a copy to read."
"Review" by , "Hedges' account of the horrors of war follows a confession of rare and frightening honesty."
"Review" by , "I highly recommend Chris Hedges' splendid little book....His understanding is profound and was earned on the ground."
"Review" by , "[I]n a category all its own....[His] extremely moving book should be read by anyone fascinated by this least understood and most terrible of human follies, and especially by those who have any responsibility for conceiving, planning, or conducting future wars."
"Review" by , "[P]ainfully and profoundly illustrates how conflict destroys those it engulfs, not only in the sense of physical death but in terms of individual and collective spirit, culture and polity....[A]n insightful, provocative and elegantly written work."
"Review" by , "In times of increasing flag-waving, Mr. Hedges' book is bracing, essential."
"Review" by , "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning has found an audience and a place in the discussion about the war in Iraq and its consequences."
"Review" by , "Rarely is a book so timely as Hedges' latest...a refreshing jolt of cerebral and emotional clarity to war's all-encompassing destruction..."
"Review" by , "Chris Hedges has written a powerful book, one which bears sad witness to what veterans have long understood....[A] somber and timely warning to those — in any society — who would evoke the emotions of war for the pursuit of political gain."
"Synopsis" by , A veteran New York Times war correspondent presents a thought-provoking reflection on how life is lived during times of war, and tackles the ugly truths about humanity's love affair with war, offering a sophisticated, intelligent meditation on the subject that is also gritty, powerful, and unforgettable.
"Synopsis" by , In this exposé of the seductive and corrupting power of war for individuals and societies, Hedges draws upon his own experiences and events he has witnessed as a correspondent in far-off lands. He also balances these with writings on war by writers from the Classical period to the present day. A New York Times Notable Book for 2002.
"Synopsis" by , US
"Synopsis" by , 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 through it, war can be exhilarating and even addictive: “It gives us purpose, meaning, a reason for living.”

Drawing on his own experience and on the literature of combat from Homer to Michael Herr, Hedges shows how war seduces not just those on the front lines but entire societies, corrupting politics, destroying culture, and perverting the most basic human desires. Mixing hard-nosed realism with profound moral and philosophical insight, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning is a work of terrible power and redemptive clarity whose truths have never been more necessary.

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