Monday, September 24, 2007

Busting the Myth of Redemptive Violence- book review

Book review for "War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning" by Chris Hedges

Busting the Myth of Redemptive Violence, September 1, 2007
This book and its message is NOT an assertion that all war is inherently wrong and that there is no distinction between the administration of justice and the return of evil for evil. It is an assertion that aggressive militarism, the glorification of warfare, the failure to recognize that it is born of sin and human failure and the pimping of it by religious and political institutions is misguided at best and possibly disastrous when not discerned and/or allowed to go unchecked by Godly, moral reflection.

Very often, pacifism is equated with passiveness, even though there is no linguistic link between the two words. Therefore, the application of pacifism, or anything approaching pacifism, is regarded as disastrous. In a certain sense perhaps pacifism and passiveness are similar. To be passive means to receive or be subject to an action without responding or initiating an action in return. But passiveness also implies that one is not participating, that one is inert. In this sense nothing could be farther from the truth.

At any rate, Hedges does not profess to be a pacifist- although I believe in a certain sense of the word that he is. Nowadays I consider myself a pacifist or peacemaker with regards to warfare. What that means to me is not a belief that all violence is always wrong no matter what. It does mean that I judge any given situation with a spiritual discernement. It means that I choose violence as a solution last... not first. It means that I do not hate my enemies, but rather love them and consider my ultimate enemy not my fellow man... but the spiritual forces of darkness in the celestial realm as the Bible teaches. It means that I know that the power to give life is far greater than the power to kill and destroy. It means that I think eternally and act spiritually inasmuch as I am able as a weak and pitiful sinner and carnal man. It means that I leave room for God's plan and God's sovereign right to vengeance before my own. It means that I do not fear death... and am thus not controlled by fear in my actions or reactions... inasmuch as I am able. I believe that this book ul;timately reveals that Mr. Hedges feels essentially the same way.

Chris Hedges is the son of a Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Thomas Hedges. He has a B.A. in English Literature from Colgate University and a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School, where he studied under James Luther Adams. Thus, Mr. Hedges' view of the world and of warfare are undoubtedly colored by theology. Hedges is currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute in New York City and a Lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and the Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University. He spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than fifty countries, and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, where he spent fifteen years.

Hedges' has a stinging, no punches pulled, no holds barred style of writing that I personally find very strong and inspiring. This book "War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning", is one of the few books that so deeply inspired me that I read it straight through as quickly as possible. The book left me a bit disenchanted and in a brooding mood in the end. The realization of the validity of Hedges' perspective and cultural commentary is a bitter pill to swallow for anyone who values true freedom and moral truth. This is heavy material for a moral, freethinking person to reflect on.

Here are two excerpts from the book that I discovered when skimming through it at the bookstore that made me buy this book:

1. "We make our heroes out of clay. We laud their gallant deeds and give them uniforms and put colored ribbons on their chests for acts of violence they commit or endure. They are our repositories of glory and honor- of power, self righteousness, patriotism and self worship - all that we want to believe about ourselves. They are our plaster saints of war- the icons we cheer to defend us and make us and our nation great. But they are part of our civic religion- our love of power and force. Our belief in our right as a chosen nation to wield this force against the weak and rule. This is our nation's idolatry of itself- and it has corrupted our religious institutions just as it has corrupted religious institutions in other nations- fusing the will of God with the will of the State to create a potent and deadly form of idolatry."

2. "War from a distance seems noble. It gives us a feeling of belonging, of comradeship, of power, a chance to play a small bit in the great drama of human history. It promises to give us an identity as a warrior, a patriot, a believer- as long as we go along with the myth- the one the war makers need to wage war. But, up close, war is a soulless void. The world of war descends to barbarity, perversion, pain and an unchecked orgy of death. It is a state where human decency and tenderness is crushed- where those who make war work overtime to reduce all love and sensitivity to smut and filth.
In war the moral order is turned upside down. All that is repulsive and feared in peacetime is lauded and cheered in war. The noise, the stench, the cries of pain, the eviscerated bodies, the bloated stinking corpses spin us into another universe. And in this moral void, often blessed by the church or the mosque or the synagogue- the hypocrisy of our social conventions, our strict adherence to religious edicts and virtues and utter refusal to honor others comes unglued. War, for all its horror, has the power to strip away the trivial and the banal, the empty chatter and self righteous obsessions that fill our days. It lets us see."

Whether you agreee with Mr. Hedges' take or not... his offering is/should be an important part of the dialog on these topics. I give the book my highest endorsement.

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