War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
|September 3, 2002|
War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (ISBN 1586480499) is a 2002 non-fiction book by journalist Chris Hedges. In the book, Hedges draws on classical literature and his experiences as a war correspondent to argue that war seduces entire societies, creating fictions that the public believes and relies on to continue to support conflicts. He also describes how those who experience war may find it exhilarating and addictive. The book was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year, as well as a national bestseller.
Hedges writes in the Introduction that he wrote the book "not to dissuade us from war but to understand it... - so that we, who wield such massive force across the globe, see within ourselves the seeds of our own obliteration."  Reviewer Abraham Verghese concludes that "war's seduction and inevitability and sometimes even necessity are a recurring theme in this book." 
Chapters include "The Myth Of War," "The Plague Of Nationalism," "The Destruction Of Culture," "The Seduction Of Battle And The Perversion Of War," "The Hijacking And Recovery Of Memory," "The Cause," and "Eros And Thanatos." In them, Hedges explores the causes of war, such as nationalism, the uses of myth to justify it, and the opposing forces of Eros and Thanatos, that is, love and death, that lie behind its attraction.
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The book is available as an unabridged audio book, read by the author.
Abraham Verghese, reviewing the book in the New York Times wrote that after being a foreign correspondent, "Hedges hung it up." He has "stepped back to reflect on the carnage he witnessed. The result is a brilliant, thoughtful, timely and unsettling book whose greatest merit is that it will rattle jingoists, pacifists, moralists, nihilists, politicians and professional soldiers equally." War, Hedges finds, "exposes the capacity for evil that lurks not far below the surface within all of us."
The entire text of Jeffrey M. Perl's review in the journal Common Knowledge was "So much for meaning."
Lawrence F. Freedman, writing in the journal Foreign Affairs, said "this is an angry, articulate -- an act of therapy summed up by its ironic title." He continues that "Hedges' thoughts on why wars start are at best sketchy, but his explorations of what happens when they do make this book a compelling read and a valuable counterweight to the more antiseptic discussions common among strategic analysts."
The Hurt Locker, an Academy Award-winning film, opens with a quotation from the book: "The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug." The full quote is found on page 3: "The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug, one I ingested for many years." Hedges critized the film in the "Hollywood and The War Machine" episode of the Al Jazeera English series Empire.
- Hedges (2002), p. 17.
- Abraham Verghese, "Wars Are Made, Not Born," New York Times 29 September 2002
- Perl, Jeffrey M. (2004), "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (review)", Common Knowledge, 10 (no. 2): 367
- Lawrence F. Freedman,"War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (Review)," Foreign Affairs March/April 2003
- Hedges, Chris (2002). War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. New York: PublicAffairs. ISBN 1586480499.