An Enticing Elixer

Chris Hedges has spent 15 years as a foreign correspondent, 10 of them with The New York Times, covering conflicts in Central America, the Middle East, and the Balkans. He spoke recently with Sojourners’ Molly Marsh about his new book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (PublicAffairs), which describes the myths of war and the destruction our enthusiasm for war brings to the world and to ourselves.

You state that you wrote your new book to understand war, not necessarily to dissuade us from it. What do you understand about war that you didn’t before?

Hedges: War as it’s presented in society is mythic. We don’t understand war. You have to be engaged in a war or caught up in a war to finally understand it. And perhaps it’s impossible for a state or an imperium to prosecute a war unless they nurture and sustain that myth. The myth is sustained by the state, the entertainment industry, the press—it’s that myth of glory, heroism, nobility, the myth that somehow you cannot finally test yourself unless you engage in or subject yourself to that kind of violence. The biggest thing I understood is that war as it’s portrayed in society is a lie.

You liken war to a drug, a drug you used for a long time. Did writing the book help you figure out your attraction to war?

Hedges: Anybody who gets caught up in combat, even noncombatants, can get addicted to that rush, that sense of purpose that allows you to step outside the small daily concerns of your life and live for a great cause, to endow yourself with a kind of nobility. War is a drug—perhaps the most potent narcotic known to humankind.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2003
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