Speaker reveals terror of war

Leslie Combs

In the end it was the smell of death that brought acclaimed war correspondent Chris Hedges back from the trenches of war.

After living and working among the most violent conflicts the world has witnessed in the past two decades, the brutal death of a young Palestinian in Gaza during the Second Intifada in 2002 finally snapped Hedges’ desire to risk his own life any longer.

Speaking to the University community Tuesday as part of the Center for Peace and Justice’s Peace Building series, Hedges explained that his decision to pull out of the war zones partly resulted from the fact that he had seen too many friends and co-workers murdered by ceaseless violence. With the love and responsibility he felt toward his own family, it just became too much. He realized he had too much at stake; the fighting would never end, but his life might.

“My children did affect me a lot,” Hedges, father to a son, 13, and daughter, 9, later recalled. “It was pretty big. I couldn’t take those kinds of risks anymore.”

Although no longer covering battles, his pen has not been idle. Returning to the United States from the Middle East, Hedges joined the New York Times investigative team looking into the global terrorist network. His team won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism for their reporting. Since leaving the investigative team last year, Hedges has been writing a column for the New York Times while finishing up work on his second book that will explore the 10 Commandments in relation to war.

His first book, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, published last June, describes the addiction society has to war, and how war is a myth that only brings destruction, even to those who appear victorious.

Hedges is well qualified to explain the horrors and meaning behind war after spending extensive time in the midst of bloody confrontations in the Middle East, Bosnia, Kosovo, El Salvador and other Central and South American countries facing violent conflicts. While reporting during the Gulf War in 1991 Hedges was captured by the Iraqi Republican Guard with whom he spent eight days under heavy combat before being released.

Addressing the packed auditorium he delivered an oratorical explanation of the web of deceit war brings to all who encounter it.

“I have breathed death into my blood,” Hedges said. “We are trapped in a bloody war of attrition we know little about.”

The reason we know little about the true face of war, according to Hedges, is because of the inaccurate picture the media paints in America.

“Truth is the first casualty,” he stressed when discussing the myriad of victims that war controls physically and mentally.

He cited the “war machines” of the Bush administration as builders of an imperialistic American society in which the public is only given information that its leaders want it to know.

“War was carefully packaged,” Hedges said. “The titillation was there but in small portions we could digest. It was clean and neat and wildly out of context.”

Gone from the media were the horrific images, the destruction and the poverty that Hedges and others saw first-hand.

This act of omission by the apparently timid press is, for Hedges, “disgraceful.”

Yet, this mythological war and strategy that the Bush administration is selling to America is not only inflicting harm upon its political opponents according to Hedges, but is nailing America’s own coffin one nail at a time.

As an avid fan of the classics, receiving his undergraduate honors in 1979 from Colgate in English Literature, a Master of Divinity from Harvard in 1983 and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard from 1998-99, Hedges often used his background in reference to warfare’s modern conflicts.

Comparing America’s quest for power and democracy to Athens at the height of its rule, Hedges decried America’s current route.

“The tyranny Athens imposed on others it finally opposed on itself.”

Now far from the physical crossfire, Hedges is still fighting an uphill battle as he tries to educate the misinformed of the realities of war and the romantic misconceptions of enforced power.

Along with his writings he has taught journalism at New York University and Princeton University and has been called to be a guest commentator for CNN, NPR, the BBC, Public Television, Fox News, Swiss Radio, Radio France and MSNBC.

When asked if he missed the action and the excitement of war, Hedges emphatically said no. “You don’t miss it, I was lucky to get out alive.”

“War is the most potent narcotic invented by human kind,” he said added.

Knowing full well the horrors and mutilation of nations and peoples and cultures, Hedges is a truthful voice speaking out against the mechanisms that drive war in a world controlled by an elite few.