Thursday, October 29, 2009

"war is a force that gives us meaning"

I'm reading a book called War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, and when I first saw it, it was sitting on my roommate's desk and I had to do a doubletake. It gives us meaning? What, like it has inherent meaning, and we've got to have war in order to have that meaning? My first thought: well, less a thought and more of reaction, equal parts stunned and disbelief. Just sort of like, really? Are you serious? But then it turned more into, well, what is this? What's this actually about? And I kept seeing it when I'd get dressed in the morning so I finally asked my roommate about it and started to read it this weekend.

It hasn't been what I expected. He's talked mostly about the negative effects of war, how it feeds off of and bolsters lies between people, how destructive it is, how it becomes alluring, a drug even, because it allows people to be what they aren't outside of war, allows them to help in ways they might not have normally. A lot of interesting things. Sometimes I'm reading and I'm seeing pretty eye to eye with him, and other times I want to put the book down and not pick it back up. He's pretty against any sort of organized religion because of the conflict he says it causes. And oh goodness, I wish I could really write about what he's talking about, but you'll have to read it. It's interesting, to say the least. And I'm learning a ton about all the conflict between the Serbs, the Muslims, and the Croats. And considering the potential proximity I might be having with Muslim communities (more on that later), it's fascinating.

Anyway, from the introduction, after he (Chris Hedges) has written for sixteen pages about all the evils of war:

"And yet, despite all this, I am not a pacifist. I respect and admire the qualities of professional soldiers. Without the determination and leadership of soldiers like Wesley K. Clark we might not have intervened in Kosovo or Bosnia. It was, in the end, a general, Ulysses S. Grant who saved the union. Even as I detest the pestilence that is war and fear its deadly addiction, even as I see it lead states and groups towards self-immolation, even as I concede that it is war that has left millions of dead and maimed across the planet, I, like most reporters in Sarajevo and Kosovo, desperately hoped for armed intervention. The poison that is war does not free us from the ethics of responsibility." (emphasis mine)

I don't really know where I stand with all of this. I don't want to say either way because, as with most things political in nature (or just controversial anyway), I don't feel like I'm informed enough to say. And even if I were, I haven't given it nearly enough thought or conversation to have formed any thoughts I won't change my mind on later.

That said, that last line blows me away. Sounds like something I can stand behind.

And even as I type that I'm listening to the soundtrack to Blood Diamond, thinking about Sierra Leone and the RUF and how in the movie, how in 1999 they were cutting off people's arms. And King Leopold did this in the Congo. There is no justice in that. That is not just, nothing about it is right or fair or good. And if I say that I am a de facto pacifist, if I say that I hope for peace among the nations--and I do--does that mean that by default of my political ideologies, I do nothing?

The things is--and I'm still figuring this all out, but--I don't think so. What does that mean for me? For Sara, college student, very limited realm of influence? Well, I'm not sure. But it moves in me, makes me want for some sort of action, justice. I just don't know what that looks like yet.


  1. We can't really make someone see us eye to eye regarding some issues. Yes, even war. Different people have different takes on it.

  2. oh, for sure. i agree completely, particularly with something like this. if i can't decide one way or the other on it, if i'm sort of splitting the fence in some ways, how could i expect everyone to fall on just one side of it? i do think people are entitled to their opinions, and i also know that can make things really messy but i don't think i could really condone forcing beliefs about things, although there are certain beliefs that i hope others can come to believe as well. i don't know. this is all hypothetical, of course. war's like faith in that way, i think, everyone having a different take on it. except i still don't know how i feel about war--mostly it's just thoughts floating around right now.

    anyway, thanks for reading and for the comment! =)

  3. Patton said, "Magnificent! Compared to war all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance. God help me, I do love it so!"

    In one sense, he's absolutely right: after getting bombed or shot at, the things that frustrate me day to day... would somehow seem less important.

    Which means that in a sense war takes meaning away from everything else? If it makes us think about what's really important, that might be a good effect. But as Churchill said, "Jaw, jaw is better than war, war." I hear/read about people whose homes are destroyed, whose loved ones are killed, and ... what heartbreak.

  4. mm, yes. that's exactly it, 'what heartbreak.' and so then i find myself asking, what can i do? can i do anything? i don't mean what can a government do, what can a political group do. but what can one person do, what should he do? or shouldn't he? probably once i work that out i'll tackle questions like what sort of responsibility the church has, if it has any (and here i mean the body, as opposed to individuals), i have no idea. right now i'm stuck at the part where it breaks my heart to hear and see this, and i suppose it's the would-be idealist in me wondering if it can be ended. and then the realist in me answers, well it won't /all/ be ended, not this side of Jesus coming back, but isn't there something, aren't there small things that can be done? just trying to find somewhere to land on this, although i don't expect it'll be as clear as i want it to be. hrmm.