War, Love and the Divine

A war correspondent with a divinity degree talks about the only force more powerful than war

After graduating from Harvard Divinity School in the early 1980s, Chris Hedges began his career as a war correspondent that took him to El Salvador, Sudan, Iraq, Israel, Bosnia and other places where armed conflict has defined recent history. His first book, "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning," is less a memoir of his 15 years at the front than a meditation on how war affects those who fight. Calling battle a lethal addiction and nationalism a plague, Hedges writes about how myths drives nations into war and sustain soldiers in combat. Beliefnet's Paul O'Donnell talked to him recently about America's response to 9/11, "the fog of war" and the future of Iraq.

You call Bush's with-us-or-against-us stance a jihad. What do you mean by that?

We use overtly religious language. It's the same language the Islamic radicals use, both to sanctify the cause and demonize the enemy. That's not uncommon. In war, we raise the conflict to a battle between light and dark. That's part of endowing the conflict with the mythic quality it requires to propel it forward.

What religious language have you heard Bush use?


The speech he gave at Ellis Island, the last line was taken directly from the gospel of John. Probably much more than the public realizes, he has repeatedly used biblical language and metaphors to explain the event. And of course this is very dangerous.

Dangerous how?

Dangerous because we believe we can carry out the will of God. That's a step away from viewing ourselves as God. That puts you in the same class as those arrayed against us. You fail to see the divinity in the other. You fail to recognize your own sinfulness, your own cupability. Rheinhold Niebuhr said we must always act and then ask for forgiveness.

As [St.] Paul pointed out, we look through a glass darkly-it's not in our power as human beings to fully understand God's will, and how God works on Earth. We lose our humility. In a broader sense, we fail to understand how others see us because we've exalted ourselves, and in that exaltation have pushed the other down.

By speaking about the conflict this way, we rob ourselves of the ability to critique what we're doing. Everyone speaks in cliches handed to them by the state. You can see it in "the war on terror." It's not a war, and we're not fighting terror--you can't fight an idea. It's only when we can recover a common language with those who oppose us that we can talk of peace.

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