Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Exit145 Spotlight: Chris Hedges

Today I had the opportunity to see Chris Hedges speak at Politics n Prose in Washington. He was discussing his new book, Losing Moses on the Freeway. I am a big fan of Hedges' writing, which has focused primarily on the horrors of war, and has been informed by his twenty years spent as a war correspondent for the New York Times and other newspapers. I first became a fan when I randomly read interviews he had given about his experiences with war, and then from his book, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning.

Hedges touched on a lot of topics during his talk. First, he explained that his dissatisfaction with the Church and his experience at Divinity School at Harvard led him to "hate liberals" (i.e. his professors) because they were out of touch with the oppressed and poor people whose interests they purported to represent. He thought the best way for him to fight fascism and assist the poor and oppressed would be to travel to El Salvador, where a civil war was occurring, and to report on it. His experience in war led him to believe, though, that it is nothing more than a destructive force that invades and corrupts every aspect of society. There is no glory in war, only pain, suffering, and death. And, finally, he touched on how the modern Christian Right constitute northing short of a powerful, fascist movement in America right now, which is the topic of a recent cover story he wrote for Harper's Magazine (and the topic of his next book). Hedges noted that they preach hatred and intolerance - of gays, liberals, and non-believers of any kind - and advocate the elimination of all who are not one of them. He commented that their movement is being legitimized by the left who has - for whatever reason - begun to engage and consequently further legitimize them.

The question and answer section was lively, and not very satisfactory. I asked Hedges two questions. One, what advice he would have for an aspiring war correspondent (sorry Dad). He said that he would first tell them not to do it, that they would have to be insane to do so, and began to list off the various ways in which the job destroys your mental and physical well-being. I interrupted him, though, and asked him if he regretted it. He said "no, because it enabled me to see the truth about war." When I spoke to him after the talk, he told me "don't go to war" and I said "you are not very persuasive when you say you did not ultimately regret it." I also asked him, "You write so articulately on the horrors of war, yet I know you are not a pacifist. With all due respect, when is war justified?" Hedges replied that indeed he was not a pacifist, that a discussion of pacifism among the Sandanista rebels would result in laughter. Pacifism is not an option when you are under attack. Before I could follow-up and ask Hedges if he theoretically supported wars, then, by foreign powers intervening on behalf of an oppressed people, he had already called on another questioner. The rest of the questions focused primarily on the current power of religion in American politics, and Hedges discussed the righteousness of MLK's message, and how religiosity should always be a personal thing, and should never be intermingled with power, or attempted to be legislated. He does not think that the Religious Right should be engaged or legitimized, because in the end, they are not intellectually awake, and cannot be convinced that their hatred and intolerance and power-mongering is anti-Christian and anti-Religious.

Hedges looked a lot older in person than I expected. He said that when he wrote War is a Force he was living in a studio apartment in New York with just a futon and a computer, and that a lot of afternoons he was unable to write because he would sit at his desk and just cry. He also said he had post-traumatic stress disorder, though not a debilitating case of it. I happened to overhear someone else ask him why he had stayed on as a war correspondent for 20 years when it was so obviously destructive to his physical and mental health. He said that part of the reason was that he had become addicted to the adrenaline rush of war, but partially it was loyalty to his fellow war correspondents who had been killed. He felt he was honoring their legacy.

I want to finish Moses on the Freeway and think more about what he said before commenting much further on Hedges. And while I do respect the man greatly and think he has a lot of fascinating and insightful things to say, I am skeptical about how his beliefs translate into a coherent foreign policy, or at least one that does not embrace an isolationist pacifism.
-- Eric

33 Comments:

Blogger M. Simon said...

Had we stopped warring in 1943, Germany would have run the camps until they ran out of "undesireables."

Given that this Century's fascists have promised to do the same to the Jews and other undesireables if they get into a position to do it, I'd say waring on them is preventive.

What France should have done to Germany in 1936.

11:57 AM  
Blogger poster said...

The post was not meant to present a case for or against war in Iraq. Also, if "preventive" wars are always necessary, we should then be engaged everywhere people are oppressed across the globe. Which is of course unreasonable.
-- Eric

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