By Chris Hedges / Original to ScheerPost
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My father, who was an army sergeant in North Africa in World War II, was active in the Vietnam antiwar movement, a decision that angered many in his Presbyterian congregation in the farm town in upstate New York where we lived. He was a vocal supporter of the civil rights movement at a time when, in rural white enclaves, Martin Luther King was one of the most hated men in America. Finally, he was an outspoken advocate for gay rights — his youngest brother, my uncle, was gay — which infuriated the Presbyterian Church that finally pushed him out.
You cannot teach morality. You can only show it. In 2003, I was in the office of an assistant managing editor of The New York Times, where I was handed a written reprimand demanding that I cease speaking out in opposition to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq; I had been the paper’s Middle East Bureau Chief, spent seven years in the region and was an Arabic speaker. I knew the guild rules: You give the employee the reprimand. If they violate the prohibition a second time, the company has grounds to fire you. I had a choice. I could pay fealty to my career and remain silent, but to do so would be to betray my father. I would resign. I walked out of the building on 229 West 43rd Street and articulated, for the first time, the real gift my father had given me. Freedom. I did not need the imprimatur of The New York Times to tell me who I was. I knew who I was. I was my father’s son.
There would be other confrontations with institutions, which, as the theologian Paul Tillich wrote, are always demonic, unable to achieve the morality of the individual because their primary concern is with perpetuating themselves. When the publisher of Truthdig decided to fire the Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer and refused to address a series of labor violations, I organized the staff to go on strike. We were all fired.
When the invasion of Ukraine began, I publicly denounced Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine as a “criminal war of aggression” in a column titled “War is the Greatest Evil,” published on ScheerPost, Salon and many other sites. I expected this to set me on another collision course with authority. My show “On Contact” was on RT America and RT International, which received significant funding from the Russian government. A future confrontation was preempted by the swift deplatforming of the network and its decision to cease broadcasting, long the aim of the U.S. government. The result was the same. My show had gone dark.
And this brings me to Substack, or really, to you, my viewers, and readers. When I first began writing at Truthdig in 2006, there were all sorts of conventions about writing on digital platforms. Keep it short. Keep it simple. Keep it entertaining. Don’t get bogged down in complex ideas or nuance. I ignored all these rules. I posted columns that were four or five thousand words. I peppered my writing with quotes and observations, as I do in my books, from Karl Marx, Max Weber, Rosa Luxemburg, W.E.B. Du Bois, Reinhold Niebuhr, Walter Benjamin, Sheldon Wolin, Hannah Arendt, Antonio Gramsci, Sigmund Freud, George Orwell, and James Baldwin. I drew on drama, poetry, and literature, turning to William Shakespeare, Herman Melville, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Anton Chekhov, George Eliot, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Alice Walker, August Wilson, Amiri Baraka, Toni Morrison, W. H. Auden, and Lorraine Hansberry. I reached back to classical Greece and ancient Rome, the Crusades, the European conquest of the Americas, the colonial settler projects by the British and later Israel, Weimar Germany, and the Cold War. In short, I filled my work with the canon, now being lost in an age where images replace words, the subject of my book Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. And I refused to blog, often spending four or five days crafting my words.
I have never tried to reach a broad public. I write for those like myself, grounded in the world of ideas, uncomfortable with the easy cant that infects public discourse, searching for the right questions, able to cope with complexity, nuance, and ambiguity, distrustful of dominant narratives, willing to do the hard labor of trying to understand how those in other cultures and societies see us. Outsiders. Searchers. Not easily labeled. And over the years, I have had the honor of meeting many of you. Not only have you always made me feel that what I do is worthwhile, but I always see myself in you. Ironic points of light flashing out wherever the just exchange their messages.
I was a journalist for many years. But as my friend Stephen Kinzer once said, “You are not really a journalist. You are a preacher pretending to be a journalist.” This is true, for the best journalists, like the best preachers, are concerned with truth. As a reporter, my job was to manipulate facts. I could spin those facts to placate the powerful and bolster my own career, to obscure what really happened, or I could use them to impart the truth, a truth many did not want exposed. This is also the task of the preacher, to speak the hard and difficult truth. You can be attacked for this truth. My father was. So was I. The message system in my phone at The New York Times was daily filled with death threats for my denunciation of the Iraq War.
My fate is now in your hands. By subscribing to Substack, you make it possible for me to continue my show, called “Days of Revolt” when it was on TeleSur, and “On Contact” when it was on RT, where I interview writers and dissidents, including Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, David Harvey, Heather Ann Thompson, Gerald Horne, Wendy Brown, Glenn Greenwald, and Matt Taibbi, as well as write my columns. I will produce a show and a column a week. Those on the subscriber list will receive these links a day or two before they go public. There will be space for more intimate conversations on Substack — I am hoping once a month. There will be bonus material on Substack that follows the half-hour interviews with guests to discuss points we should have raised and missed. And there will be, as there has been through the years, us, our community, separated from the herd, striving to march to the beat of a different drummer.
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