[…] War time always brings with it this comradeship, which is the opposite of friendship.
Friends, as J. Glenn Gray points out in his book “The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle,” are predetermined. Friendship takes place between men and women who possess an intellectual and emotional affinity for each other. And many of us will admit that we never really had a friend, and even the most fortunate of us have very few.
But comradeship, that ecstatic bliss that comes with belonging to the crowd in war time, is within our reach. We can all have comrades. The danger, the external threat that comes when we have an enemy, does not create friendship, it creates comradeship. And those in war time are deceived about what they are undergoing. This is why once the war ends these comrades again become strangers to us. This is why, after war, we fall into despair.
In friendship, there is a deepening of our sense of self. We become, through the friend, more aware of who we are and what we are about. We find ourselves in the eyes of the friend. Friends probe and question and challenge each other to make each more complete. They draw the secrets out of us and know our inner core of being. For we reach and change others, and we ourselves are changed when we plunge to the depths of our inner life, the depths that expose our insecurities, our incompleteness, those depths that often lie beyond articulation.
In comradeship, the kind that comes to us in patriotic fervor, there is a suppression of self-awareness, self-knowledge, self-possession. Comrades lose their identities in war time for the collective rush of a common cause, a common purpose. In comradeship, life is ecstatic and corporate, as opposed to friendship, where life is singular and individual.
In comradeship, Gray reminds us, there are no demands on the self. This is part of its appeal and one of the reasons we miss it and seek to recreate it. This is why once the war is over, once the danger that linked us together is past, these feelings are instantly extinguished.
Sebastian Haffner, who was a lawyer in Nazi Germany, wrote of this comradeship in his book “Defying Hitler.” He noted that comradeship destroys the sense of responsibility for oneself, be it civilian or, worse still, the religious sense. Comradeship always sets the cultural tone at the lowest possible level accessible to everyone, he wrote. It cannot tolerate discussion. In the chemical solution of comradeship, discussion immediately takes on the color of whining and grumbling. It becomes a mortal sin. Comradeship admits no thoughts, just mass feelings of the most primitive sort. These, on the other hand, are inescapable. To try and evade them is to put oneself beyond the pale. In war time, when we feel threatened, we no longer face death alone, but as a group. And this makes death easier to bear. We ennoble and self sacrifice for the other, for the comrade. In short, we begin to worship death, and this is what the god of war demands from us.
Think, finally, of what it means to die for a friend. It is deliberate and painful. There is no ecstasy. For friends, dying is hard and bitter. The dialogue they have and cherish will perhaps never be recreated. Friends do not, the way comrades do, love death and sacrifice. To friends, the prospect of death is frightening and this is why friendship – or let me say, love – is the most potent enemy of war. […]
nicolasholzheu on Aug 6, 2011
Excerpt from the lecture ‘War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning’ (October 11, 2004 UC Santa Barbara) by Chris Hedges.
Chris Hedges on comradeship and friendship (2004)
Chris Hedges spent two decades as a foreign reporter covering wars in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. His latest books are Death of the Liberal Class, and The World as It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress.
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