Reflections on “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” by Chris Hedges
“The prospect of war is exciting. Many young men, schooled in the notion that war is the ultimate definition of manhood, that only in war will they be tested and proven, that they can discover their worth as human beings in battle, willingly join the great enterprise.” —Chris Hedges
The Force of War
We have all felt the excitement of competition, the exhilaration of victory. For those, who are engaged in hand-to-hand combat, these feelings are energized so strongly that all of their hopes, all of their allegiances, all of their righteousness, all of their support are focused on their side winning. They can’t think about the other side’s humanity, they don’t feel compassion for the other’s injuries, they don’t question the morality of their actions, they don’t reflect on who is innocent and who is the enemy. Combat is the time for action, for destroying and killing the enemy on the one hand, and on the other, for protecting and saving their compatriots. It is not the time for moral quandaries.
The kinetic force of combat, being fed by the positive potential of victory and the negative potential of defeat, cannot be controlled within the warrior. The intense force of war is controlling the warrior. To control it within would require a diverting force from within, but in combat all the force is committed. There’s nothing left to control it. War is in control by the commitment and submission of the warrior. The force of war is directed toward killing and destruction and reduces the mind of the warrior to the fight-or-flight instinct. Gone is the ability to discern moral choices. Gone is the ability to foresee long-term consequences. And gone is the ability to restrain destructive actions. The force of war is just too strong for subtle considerations. The force of war overcomes morality. If you’ve ever felt overcome by rage or fear, you know that.
The War of Forces
There is nothing war-like about forces except when we direct the forces against each other. As in physics, we expend effort that is wasted on the friction of resistance, the heat of hostility, and the noise of frightening chaos. But the stronger force overcomes the weaker only when they are in direct opposition. A smaller force applied at the right occasion, in the right place, and in the right direction can redirect the stronger force and overcome it. With so much history that shows us that strategy is more important than force, it is foolish to build weapons whose force of destruction would bring suicide. Ever since we dropped atomic bombs on two cities, we have become the victims of our weapons. We delude ourselves into thinking that high-tech weapons are more precise, that innocent civilians can be spared; but in truth the collateral damage, the friendly fire, just gets worse. In our worship of power we have created weapons that could destroy our planet many times over. Our weapons have become frightening and we are held hostage by them. To prevent others from getting that destructive power we will go to war. Their very power has become a justification for war. The destructive force of our weapons is making paranoia, reasonable; and self destruction, inevitable.
The Meaning of War
Hedges wrote that, “War finds its meaning in death.” Death is a powerful motivator that changes our actions and perceptions. The world takes on a different meaning. Every soldier killed on our side is a justification for retaliation. Every soldier killed on their side is a justification for celebration. War justifies two moralities, a compassionate one for our side and a hateful one against theirs. These opposite moralities are at war within the mind. This is the war mentality, a mind at war with itself. Compassion and hate, can’t live together; but war can’t live without them. The world becomes divided, separating evil from good. The mind becomes divided, separating the morality of hate from the morality of compassion. The meaning of war is that it justifies with death the morality of hate, which then justifies the morality of killing.
The War of Meanings
Each side of war has its own history, its own justifications, and its own pride portraying opposition to the other side. Everything that was shared is blamed against the other for ruining. Cooperation is seen with suspicion, as traitorous. The other side is deluded by deceivers and provocateurs. Our side is true by the righteous and the wise. The strategies of battle are the strategies in word-war. Attack those who oppose the war by silencing them no matter how. Each side has its own meaning that denies legitimacy to the other. With two meanings at war with each other, war destroys the bridge between meanings.
The Meaning of the Force of War
Might makes meaning. If we have the power, then we can compel people to do our bidding, to make things as we want them to be, to change the meaning of situations by changing the situations. By making history, we create meaning. By making war, we make meaning. But it is the making of meanings in conflict. And the force of war is powered by the hate within the mind, the hate that distorts truth, the hate that gives purpose to killing, the hate that is the potential energy that feeds war. And one-sided-justice is hate’s justification, the mis-meaning of multi-sided-truth. For although might can make meaning, only truth makes right.
The Force of the Meaning of War
Kill or be killed. There is no more urgent and powerful force within the mind. It is the instinct to live, to survive; and we all have it. It is the force of life, and we all share it. It is the hub of morality, and we all live by it. When we cut out someone, some group by denying their right to live; we become less, we hold back, we dismantle our morality. Such a division has its own force, its own dialectic. We verses they, polarized power, from a dualistic mind where fighting for good is good. And fighting against evil is good too. Where fighting against evil is fighting for good is doubly good. The power of fighting is doubled, one for good and one against evil. It become clear, what to do. Unhindered by compassionate restraint, justified by hateful righteousness, the force is focused, decisive, and powerful. The potential of hate becomes the kinetic energy of anger, of destruction, of killing, of war. War turns the force of living into the force of killing. But don’t hate war; have compassion for those addicted to its allure.
“A soldier who is able to see the humanity of the enemy makes a troubled and ineffective killer.” —Chris Hedges