with Chris Hedges
TheWritersFestival on Jan 26, 2010
Chris Hedges reads from his book Empire of Illusion at the Ottawa International Writers Festival.
Excerpt from pages 197 and 199:
“In Joseph Roth’s book The Emperor’s Tomb, which chronicles the decay of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he wrote that at the very end of the empire, even the streetlights longed for morning so that they could be extinguished. The undercurrent of a world like ours, where people are reduced to objects and where there are no higher values, where national myths collapse, triggers a similar longing for annihilation and a moral decline into hedonism and giddy, communal madness. The earth is strewn with the ruins of powerful civilizations that decayed—Egypt, Persia, the Mayan empires, Rome, Byzantium, and the Mughal, Ottoman, and Chinese kingdoms. Not all died for the same reasons. Rome, for example, never faced a depletion of natural resources or environmental catastrophe. But they all, at a certain point, were taken over by a bankrupt and corrupt elite. This elite, squandering resources and pillaging the state, was no longer able to muster internal allegiance and cohesiveness. These empires died morally. The leaders, in the final period of decay, increasingly had to rely on armed mercenaries, as we do in Iraq and Afghanistan, because citizens would no longer serve in the military. They descended into orgies of self-indulgence, surrendered their civic and emotional lives to the glitter, excitement, and spectacle of the arena, became politically apathetic, and collapsed.”
“But even if we fail to halt the decline, it will not be the end of hope. The forces we face may be powerful and ruthless. They may have the capacity to plunge us into a terrifying dystopia, one where we will see our freedoms curtailed and widespread economic deprivation. But no tyranny in history has crushed the human capacity for love. And this love—unorganized, irrational, often propelling us to carry out acts of compassion that jeopardize our existence—is deeply subversive to those in power. Love, which appears in small, blind acts of kindness, manifested itself even in the horror of the Nazi death camps, in the killing fields of Cambodia, in the Soviet gulags, and in the genocides in the Balkans and Rwanda.”
Chris Hedges: Love is the Most Potent Enemy of War
Originally posted August 14, 2011
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.
“[…] 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. […]”
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