Chris Hedges Forever Wars Media

Chris Hedges: Writing on War and Living in a World from Hell

Chris Hedges reflects in a deeply personal way on two decades as a war correspondent.
Illustration by Mr. Fish

By Chris Hedges / TomDispatch

As this century began, I was writing War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaningmy reflections on two decades as a war correspondent, 15 of them with the New York Times, in Central America, the Middle East, Africa, Bosnia, and Kosovo. I worked in a small, sparsely furnished studio apartment on First Avenue in New York City. The room had a desk, chair, futon, and a couple of bookshelves — not enough to accommodate my extensive library, leaving piles of books stacked against the wall. The single window overlooked a back alley.

The super, who lived in the first-floor apartment, smoked prodigious amounts of weed, leaving the grimy lobby stinking of pot. When he found out I was writing a book, he suggested I chronicle his moment of glory during the six days of clashes known as the Stonewall Riots, triggered by a 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village. He claimed he had thrown a trash can through the front window of a police cruiser.

It was a solitary life, broken by periodic visits to a small antique bookstore in the neighborhood that had a copy of the 1910-1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the last edition published for scholars. I couldn’t afford it, but the owner generously let me read entries from those 29 volumes written by the likes of Algernon Charles Swinburne, John Muir, T.H. Huxley, and Bertrand Russell. The entry for Catullus, several of whose poems I could recite from memory in Latin, read: “The greatest lyric poet of Rome.” I loved the certainty of that judgment — one that scholars today would not, I suspect, make, much less print.

There were days when I could not write. I would sit in despair, overcome by emotion, unable to cope with a sense of loss, of hurt, and the hundreds of violent images I carry within me. Writing about war was not cathartic. It was painful. I was forced to unwrap memories carefully swaddled in the cotton wool of forgetfulness. The advance on the book was modest: $25,000. Neither the publisher nor I expected many people to read it, especially with such an ungainly title. I wrote out of a sense of obligation, a belief that, given my deep familiarity with the culture of war, I should set it down. But I vowed, once done, never to willfully dredge up those memories again.

To the publisher’s surprise, the book exploded. Hundreds of thousands of copies were eventually sold. Big publishers, dollar signs in their eyes, dangled significant offers for another book on war. But I refused. I didn’t want to dilute what I had written or go through that experience again. I did not want to be ghettoized into writing about war for the rest of my life. I was done. To this day, I’m still unable to reread it.

The Open Wound of War

Yet it’s not true that I fled war. I fled my wars but would continue to write about other people’s wars. I know the wounds and scars. I know what’s often hidden. I know the anguish and guilt. It’s strangely comforting to be with others maimed by war. We don’t need words to communicate. Silence is enough.

I wanted to reach teenagers, the fodder of wars and the target of recruiters. I doubted many would read War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. I embarked on a text that would pose, and then answer, the most basic questions about war — all from military, medical, tactical, and psychological studies of combat. I operated on the assumption that the simplest and most obvious questions rarely get answered like: What happens to my body if I’m killed?

I hired a team of researchers, mostly graduate students at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, and, in 2003, we produced an inexpensive paperback — I fought the price down to $11 by giving away any future royalties — called What Every Person Should Know About War

I worked closely on the book with Jack Wheeler, who had graduated from West Point in 1966 and then served in Vietnam, where 30 members of his class were killed. (Rick Atkinson’s The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Point’s Class of 1966is the story of Jack’s class.) Jack went on to Yale Law School after he left the military and became a presidential aide to Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, while chairing the drive to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.

He struggled with what he called “the open wound of Vietnam” and severe depression. He was last seen on December 30, 2010, disoriented and wandering the streets of Wilmington, Delaware. The next day, his body was discovered as it was dumped from a garbage truck into the Cherry Island Landfill. The Delaware state medical examiner’s office said the cause of death was assault and “blunt force trauma.” Police ruled his death a homicide, a murder that would never be solved. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

The idea for the book came from the work of Harold Roland Shapiro, a New York lawyer who, while representing a veteran disabled in World War I, investigated that conflict, discovering a huge disparity between its reality and the public perception of it. His book was, however, difficult to find. I had to get a copy from the Library of Congress. The medical descriptions of wounds, Shapiro wrote, rendered “all that I had read and heard previously as being either fiction, isolated reminiscence, vague generalization or deliberate propaganda.” He published his book, What Every Young Man Should Know About War, in 1937. Fearing it might inhibit recruitment, he agreed to remove it from circulation at the start of World War II. It never went back into print.

The military is remarkably good at studying itself (although such studies aren’t easy to obtain). It knows how to use operant conditioning — the same techniques used to train a dog — to turn young men and women into efficient killers. It skillfully employs the tools of science, technology, and psychology to increase the lethal force of combat units. It also knows how to sell war as adventure, as well as the true route to manhood, comradeship, and maturity.

The callous indifference to life, including the lives of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, leapt off the pages of the official documents. For example, the response to the question “What will happen if I am exposed to nuclear radiation but do not die immediately?” was answered in a passage from the Office of the Surgeon General’s Textbook of Military Medicine that read, in part:

Fatally irradiated soldiers should receive every possible palliative treatment, including narcotics, to prolong their utility and alleviate their physical and psychological distress. Depending on the amount of fatal radiation, such soldiers may have several weeks to live and to devote to the cause. Commanders and medical personnel should be familiar with estimating survival time based on onset of vomiting. Physicians should be prepared to give medications to alleviate diarrhea, and to prevent infection and other sequelae of radiation sickness in order to allow the soldier to serve as long as possible. The soldier must be allowed to make the full contribution to the war effort. He will already have made the ultimate sacrifice. He deserves a chance to strike back, and to do so while experiencing as little discomfort as possible.

Our book, as I hoped, turned up on Quaker anti-recruitment tables in high schools.

“I Am Sullied”

I was disgusted by the simplistic, often mendacious coverage of our post-9/11 war in Iraq, a country I had covered as the Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times. In 2007, I went to work with reporter Laila Al-Arian on a long investigative article in the Nation, “The Other War: Iraq Veterans Bear Witness,” that ended up in an expanded version as another book on war, Collateral Damage: America’s War Against Iraqi Civilians.

We spent hundreds of hours interviewing 50 American combat veterans of Iraq about atrocities they had witnessed or participated in. It was a damning indictment of the U.S. occupation with accounts of terrorizing and abusive house raids, withering suppressing fire routinely laid down in civilian areas to protect American convoys, indiscriminate shooting from patrols, the large kill radius of detonations and air strikes in populated areas, and the slaughter of whole families who approached military checkpoints too closely or too quickly. The reporting made headlines in newspapers across Europe but was largely ignored in the U.S., where the press was generally unwilling to confront the feel-good narrative about “liberating” the people of Iraq.

For the book’s epigraph, we used a June 4, 2005, suicide note left by Colonel Theodore “Ted” Westhusing for his commanders in Iraq. Westhusing (whom I was later told had read and recommended War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning) was the honor captain of his 1983 West Point class. He shot himself in the head with his 9mm Beretta service revolver. His suicide note — think of it as an epitaph for the global war on terror – read in part:

Thanks for telling me it was a good day until I briefed you. [Redacted name] — You are only interested in your career and provide no support to your staff — no msn [mission] support and you don’t care. I cannot support a msn that leads to corruption, human right abuses and liars. I am sullied — no more. I didn’t volunteer to support corrupt, money-grubbing contractors, nor work for commanders only interested in themselves. I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored.

The war in Ukraine raised the familiar bile, the revulsion at those who don’t go to war and yet revel in the mad destructive power of violence. Once again, by embracing a childish binary universe of good and evil from a distance, war was turned into a morality play, gripping the popular imagination. Following our humiliating defeat in Afghanistan and the debacles of Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, here was a conflict that could be sold to the public as restoring American virtue. Russian President Vladimir Putin, like Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein, instantly became the new Hitler. Ukraine, which most Americans undoubtedly couldn’t have found on a map, was suddenly the front line in the eternal fight for democracy and liberty.

The orgiastic celebration of violence took off.

The Ghosts of War

It’s impossible, under international law, to defend Russia’s war in Ukraine, as it is impossible to defend our invasion of Iraq. Preemptive war is a war crime, a criminal war of aggression. Still, putting the invasion of Ukraine in context was out of the question. Explaining — as Soviet specialists (including famed Cold War diplomat George F. Kennan) had — that expanding NATO into Central and Eastern Europe was a provocation to Russia was forbidden. Kennan had called it “the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era” that would “send Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.” 

In 1989, I had covered the revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Romania that signaled the coming collapse of the Soviet Union. I was acutely aware of the “cascade of assurances” given to Moscow that NATO, founded in 1949 to prevent Soviet expansion in Eastern and Central Europe, would not spread beyond the borders of a unified Germany. In fact, with the end of the Cold War, NATO should have been rendered obsolete.

I naively thought we would see the promised “peace dividend,” especially with the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev reaching out to form security and economic alliances with the West. In the early years of Vladimir Putin’s rule, even he lent the U.S. military a hand in its war on terror, seeing in it Russia’s own struggle to contain Islamic extremists spawned by its wars in Chechnya. He provided logistical support and resupply routes for American forces fighting in Afghanistan. But the pimps of warwere having none of it. Washington would turn Russia into the enemy, with or without Moscow’s cooperation.

The newest holy crusade between angels and demons was launched.

War unleashes the poison of nationalism, with its twin evils of self-exaltation and bigotry. It creates an illusory sense of unity and purpose. The shameless cheerleaderswho sold us the war in Iraq are once again on the airwaves beating the drums of war for Ukraine. As Edward Said once wrote about these courtiers to power:

Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires, as if one shouldn’t trust the evidence of one’s own eyes watching the destruction and the misery and death brought by the latest mission civilizatrice.

I was pulled back into the morass. I found myself writing for Scheerpost and my Substack site, columns condemning the bloodlusts Ukraine unleashed. The provision of more than $50 billion in weapons and aid to Ukraine not only means the Ukrainian government has no incentive to negotiate, but that it condemns hundreds of thousands of innocents to suffering and death. For perhaps the first time in my life, I found myself agreeing with Henry Kissinger, who at least understands realpolitik, including the danger of pushing Russia and China into an alliance against the U.S., while provoking a major nuclear power.

Greg Ruggiero, who runs City Lights Publishers, urged me to write a book on this new conflict. At first, I refused, not wanting to resurrect the ghosts of war. But looking back at my columns, articles, and talks since the publication of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning in 2002, I was surprised at how often I had circled back to war.  

I rarely wrote about myself or my experiences. I sought out those discarded as the human detritus of war, the physically and psychologically maimed like Tomas Young, a quadriplegic wounded in Iraq, whom I visited recently in Kansas City after he declared that he was ready to disconnect his feeding tube and die.

It made sense to put those pieces together to denounce the newest intoxication with industrial slaughter. I stripped the chapters down to war’s essence with titles like “The Act of Killing,” “Corpses” or “When the Bodies Come Home.”

The Greatest Evil Is War has just been published by Seven Stories Press. 

This, I pray, will be my final foray into the subject.


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Chris Hedges
Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning NewsThe Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of show The Chris Hedges Report.

20 comments

  1. Those of us who stood up against the death and destruction in Vietnam as COs and resisters keep up the struggle against war. Yes, we were “radicalized” by the peace movement to organize against Vietnam, a good and true radicalization for the sake of peace and against the blood soaked military industrial complex. Now, we know that retirement is no longer an option, we must rise each day and find more ways to stop the killing of soldiers and innocents, give aid and support to Code Pink, AFSC and other courageous groups waging peace. After a lifetime, this is the true meaning of life; diplomacy, peace and reconciliation. Thank you Chris for your service.

  2. Wow, just began to scan the article, but it will read it entirely later as I have to go out. But I will have to get this book.

    Your description of your tiny apartment in NYC really grabbed me, and the grubby, grimy pot-smoking landlord …

    I was a CO during Vietnam but only have my convictions about war; you lived in its midst. I can only imagine the horrors of it. Good that you wrote about it.

  3. Chris Hedges, You are one of my few heroes, among them Ralph Nader, Che Guevara, Rachel Carson, and a very few other truth-tellers. Bravely dealing with ever-more-severe interference with your works, you carry on.
    Yes, you ought to be President, but I understand “they” wouldn’t allow it, even if you would run. Still, you have influenced me and I’m sure millions of others with your genuinely moral truths in speeches and writings……Long live!
    I shall, of course, buy your new book, even though it will be painful to read. I was out in the streets in the 1960’s for civil rights, anti-war, women’s rights, and then and continuing fighting to save a livable planet.
    The rulers are trying to move us back around 200 years re people’s rights and mode of living. We are about to go get thrown back into feudalism, if we’re lucky, and worse if we’re unlucky in our leaders, which it appears we are.

  4. obviously hedges immorality causes him to side w nazis; Hegel explicit distinguished between moral and immoral wars. Russian troops have terminated american imperialism in ukraine—-“USA is the most warlike nation in history”. Jimmy Carter…..and all USA wars are genocidal—something observed by Philip Slater….

    1. What are you talking about? Since when is Hedges “siding with Nazis”? Are you out of your mind? Did you read this article?

  5. My husband and I bought ‘War is a force that gives us meaning’ when it was first published and it remains one of our all-time favorite books to this day and one that we regularly recommend to friends.

  6. Thank you, Mr Hedges, for your piece. I count you as one of my foremost heroes.

  7. Thanks Chris.
    It’s a pity the Ghouls who rule only read their own balance sheets and CIA reports.

  8. Lactantius, (late 3rd century) (The Divine Institutes): “In order to enslave the many, the greedy began to appropriate and accumulate the necessities of life and keep them tightly closed up, so that they might keep these bounties for themselves. They did this not for humanity’s sake (which was not in them at all), but to rake up all things as products of their greed and avarice. In the name of justice they made unfair and unjust laws to sanction their thefts and avarice against the power of the multitude. In this way they availed as much by authority as by strength of arms or overt evil.”

    Inhuman oligarch nature hasn’t changed at all more than 1700 years later.

    Putin and Russia did everything possible to avoid this war. Not giving them any choice was the deliberate US-NAYOYO strategic plan devised and brought forward by every President since Carter, who gave them a strategic excuse via Mackinder.

    Simon Bolivar: “The United States appears to be destined by Providence to plague America [and the world] with misery in the name of liberty.”

    US-NAYOYO deliberately did everything in its power to start this war with the intent of fatally weakening Russia. It involves isolating attacks on Russia’s economy no matter how damaging to the world. It involves directly threatening legitimate Russian leadership and government. It involved training and arming Banderite Nazis, supporting their genocidal goals against every argument for peaceful settlement, even against their own government, leaders, and ‘democratic system’. Most recently, the destruction of the NordStream pipelines, obviously by US Navy resources, signalled there will be no peace negotiations.

    Eduardo Galeano: “My great fear is that we are all suffering from amnesia. It’s not a person. It’s a system of power that is always deciding in the name of humanity who deserves to be remembered and who deserves to be forgotten.”

    The US, now and always, makes allies of the most corrupt, violent collaborators. Recently, US trained military yahoos have committed 8 coups in West Africa. Of course, military coups are cheaper than honestly negotiating Oil & Gas rights with responsible, democratically elected, popularly supported leadership. ‘Los Zetas’, Mexico’s worst narco gang were trained and armed by US ‘special forces’. Honduras, where democracy was recently restored after a US-OAS coup installed a president and family now facing decades in US prisons for drug trafficking. El Salvador, where ex-President Cristiani is facing murder charges for the executions of 6 Catholic priests, housekeeper and young daughter, that advocated for negotiations and peace. NAYOYO welcomes military coups and death squads everywhere so long as it favours corporate greed and human rights violations that terrify popular dissent. Only the most savage, racist, drug-dealing monsters are embraced as worthy NAYOYO allies because they have NO LOCAL support. These collaborators know their lives and future depend on following CIA instructions. These are only the most recent iteration of Western Quislings put in power to serve US greed.

    Eduardo Galeano: “My great fear is that we are all suffering from amnesia. It’s not a person. It’s a system of power that is always deciding in the name of humanity who deserves to be remembered and who deserves to be forgotten.”

    “It’s impossible, under international law, to defend Russia’s war in Ukraine, as it is impossible to defend our invasion of Iraq. Preemptive war is a war crime, a criminal war of aggression.” To write this suggests Mr. Hedges knows nothing about war or the assholes who revel in its cruelties. Ukraine and its AFU are controlled by Nazis and corrupt oligarchs.

    Homer: “Hateful to me as the gates of Hades is that man who hides one thing in his heart and speaks another.”

    US And NAYOYO abandoned international law decades and centuries ago. White Western media cloaca would know it, if they remembered any history. It was abandoned in Latin America with decades of School of the Americas torture instructions and death squad formation. It disappeared with the Monroe and Carter Doctrines. It sank with the USS Maine in Havana harbour, and was slaughtered in Philippine villages. It was tortured to death on Latin American military bases, and in Con Son Island tiger cages. It was laughed at in CIA Black sites as they tortured hooded, naked, innocents. Millions of ‘Prisoners without names, in Cells without numbers’ screamed for International law. Women begged for their children, children sobbed for their parents, and the White West won’t hear them.

    Winston Churchill: ‘Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.’

    The idea that mumbling ‘peace’ and ‘international law’ at the UN would have changed anything or prevented Bandera monsters from slaughtering ethnic Russians wholesale is contemptible. The US has violated every standard of morality since the US Constitution denied humanity to everyone but rich white Yankee males.

    GFW Hegel, The Philosophy of History, “What experience and history teaches us is that people and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WlbQRoz3o4
    Leonard Cohen – The Future (Live in London)

  9. I don’t think that the younger generation has a clue. My own nephew and niece don’t don’t even know where Vietnam is let alone what occurred there. I was attached to a medical squadron so I know that the human cost of war does not stop with the cessation of hostilities.

    I saw men with parts of their bodies missing but the most frightening experiences were seeing men and woman with psychological trauma. Some people were so traumatized they could not find their way around outside their hospital room. Some did not know who they were. Some remade their identity because they had such terrific guilt. Some hid under furniture a growled like animals. Some were given illegal orders which caused severe depression. Others would wake up at night screaming in terror. And frankly what really pisses me off is that the Veterans clinic system continues to be steeped in a cauldron of unrelenting bureaucracy.

    I had hoped that the United States population would have stopped to get in touch with their true feelings about sending young folks out to get killed and or maimed in some foreign environment. I wish people would give up senseless nationalism and racism, and reflect on what it really means to be a human being on planet earth. And I wish that congress would cut out all the political shit and fix the problem.

    But instead warfare is accelerating and intensifying. More biological weapons and more sophisticated mechanical and energy weapons systems are being rapidly developed. So I think Mr. Hedges is correct in stating and re-stating that this propensity of the “corporatized” hierarchy to keep wars going will take us down.

    I wonder what the reaction of the richest of the hierarchy will be when they dig up out of their bunkers and see the world that they have destroyed.

    1. They won’t get it even then. They will feel that they are guiltless. Fuck the rich.

  10. It is ironic that the new Netflix sponsored film, All Quiet on the Western Front, was released this week. I read the book as a teenager and by sheer luck avoided America’s decade long war in Vietnam.

    During that time, I pondered what I would do if I was drafted and sent to Vietnam? My father and all my uncles served in WWII. A younger uncle was an “advisor,” flying helicopter missions in South Vietnam in 1963.

    I decided that I wouldn’t move to Canada. I had no idea of what life for an African American would be like in the “frozen north.”

    But what haunted me then, and to this day, wasn’t a fear of dying, it was a deep fear of how easily I might adapt to killing.

    Among my few friends who served, none ever spoke of the killing. My Vietnam vet uncle who did his second tour in 1968 told me “war stories” including body parts flying around as he unleashed a rocket attack from his helicopter. He died too young of a heart attack that I’m sure was in part stress related.

    I’ve read on brief review of All Quiet. It describes the film as “one of the best military films.” I remember it as a profound and moving statement against the utter madness of war.

    I hope that those who see the film are moved by that message. But I despair that with today’s special effects, its real message might be lost.

    I’ve read some of the liberal Democrat’s caustic response to the modest letter sent to Biden by some “progressives” to at least consider a diplomatic effort toward a cease fire. But I fear that no one is listening, especially in Washington.

    I’ve spent most of my entire adult life in witness to and in active opposition to American wars. And I fear that the next one will be the last one. Not because of some sudden enlightenment, but because we and the Russian’s will have stumbled into a nuclear holocaust.

  11. After 60 years, my father, a radio operator/side gunner finally began talking about the carnage in the sky. As far as he was concerned, the come-ons that Chris talks about to entice boys to war were unnecessary. “We were young and stupid” was all that was needed.
    It’s not clear to me, despite the stupidity and bear-poking the US engaged in, that Putin’s invasion wasn’t inevitable. We’ll never know so it’s probably best to just shut up about it. The “solution” might be to not respond to these annexations by despots and hope that in a few hundred years the world will come to its senses. Doesn’t seem that humans are quite ready for democracy.

    1. I shudder reading “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” yet again. The line “… they washed me out of the turret with a hose.” captures one essence of war for me, although it is perhaps a solace to considering what sort of casualties soldier and civilian survive and ‘live’ on.

  12. Why is it, when so many people worldwide denounce war, that there is the anomaly, that we vote in people who promote war, enjoy war, require war, as part of their agendas? It is because the people put up for political positions are skillfully selected by the Fascist Corporate State/Military Industrial Complex to serve only their interests, and provide the image only of doing the work of the people. This slight of hand/ huge lie is self-evident in looking at the military budget. No matter what the people think or say, the budget grows incessantly. The machine behind the politicians is evident in the teleprompted premade speeches written for and not by the President. He does not have the time to sit and write one speech, let alone the many he doles out each day. It is a carefully choreographed lie that is played out in front of us. And we buy it. Or most of us buy it. It is time that we made politicians accountable to the people once and for all. Term limits, no lobbying. Eliminate the Immunity from suit for Pharma, Eliminate the CIA, NSA, IRS, NRO, the FED and fix the FBI. Establish banks and a monetary system run by ordinary people, answerable to the people equally with no preferences.

    1. Here’s your answer. Go to any airport and see how many people wear masks to protect others, let alone themselves. The ideal “enlightened” human is a myth.

  13. In this article, Chris Hedges writes in an autobiographical way about his personal experiences with war.
    I can only respect that. Firstly because it takes moral courage to take a view that differs markedly from that of the prevailing culture, secondly for formulating that point of view coherently, and thirdly for exposing so much of his personal motivation.

    Having said this, this by no means implies that I am willing to adopt his point of view, let alone share his conclusions. I deeply respect his person, but I don’t feel any restraint in disagreeing with him or criticising his views or his conclusions. And neither do I think I should. In my opinion, a discussion of ideas should not, in general, automatically halt because it clashes with someone’s sensitivities or strongly held convictions.

    The patronage of this website will probably not like what I’m about to write, but here goes.

    (1) The Author’s point of view is based on the pain he has experienced and shared. Well, most of the world population has not and will for that reason alone _not_ share his sensitivities.

    (1.a) It’s not that people ‘never learn’, it’s that we have a constant influx of people who haven’t ‘never learned’ and hence might not take his views into consideration. If that makes you despondent, I understand. But it makes no difference to the reality of this world.

    (1.b) I submit that focusing on a personal perspective is totally unsuited for obtaining a clear picture of where the world as a whole is going. This is important since it constitutes an evaluation of Western policy making since the 1946’s (as the world has largely been steered by Western policies). A much better perspective can be found in global statistics such as shown here: https://ourworldindata.org/war-and-peace . And that means that the aura of despondency that surrounds the author’s personal narrative is unwarranted and misleading. I will not dispute that the effects of war are quite terribly for the victims but I do maintain that for the world as a whole this suffering is most regrettable but not ultimately decisive.

    (1.c) For that reason I also submit that for the purpose of setting policy, a personal view (the author’s) is _not_ a good guide to setting policy.

    (1.d) Most of the world population will not share the author’s experiences and hence will not have his sensitivities on the subject and will therefore act in ways someone with his views would not. It also implies that his personal experiences will not motivate others who don’t share his particular experiences of the way in which he processed them (although writing up his experiences in book form is very useful).

    Unfortunately this makes that the author’s world view unsuitable for predicting most people’s behaviour. That alone make is dangerous to use his views to shape policy, at least insofar as it pertains to anticipating what people are going be willing to do.

    (1.e) A point in case is Nationalism. Whether that’s Russian nationalism, US nationalism, Chinese nationalism or Indian nationalism (to mention the worlds leading powers). Nationalists are prepared to commit violence (i.e. go to war) in order to redress a perceived (or real) slight or tort to their nation. Unless and until you realise that, you will (a) fail to appreciate that some people are willing to start a war for their conviction (from which they can only be dissuaded through deterrence, if at all) and (b) fail to understand that wishing for peace and acting peacefully will not, in and by itself, ensure that you get peace.

    (2) The author makes a number of statements about warfare and the means employed to conduct it. I would like to comment on a few.

    (2.a) The author writes: “The military is remarkably good at studying itself (although such studies aren’t easy to obtain). It knows how to use operant conditioning — the same techniques used to train a dog — to turn young men and women into efficient killers. It skillfully employs the tools of science, technology, and psychology to increase the lethal force of combat units. It also knows how to sell war as adventure, as well as the true route to manhood, comradeship, and maturity. ”.

    That’s all true. I won’t dispute a single word of it. But where does that lead us? To the conclusion that one should be inefficient when involved in warfare? If you are, you will lose your war for certain, no matter the probity of your cause. Unless you want to advocate that, you will admit that there is only one way to pursue warfare: with maximum efficiency (bounded only by international conventions of war that serve to keep both belligerents away from a spiral of unnecessary savagery that benefits no-one but only brings greater suffering all around).

    (2.b) The author writes: “The callous indifference to life, including the lives of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, leapt off the pages of the official documents. For example, the response to the question “What will happen if I am exposed to nuclear radiation but do not die immediately?” was answered in a passage from the Office of the Surgeon General’s Textbook of Military Medicine that read, in part: [Fatally irradiated soldiers should receive every possible palliative treatment, including narcotics, to prolong their utility and alleviate their physical and psychological distress. Depending on the amount of fatal radiation, such soldiers may have several weeks to live and to devote to the cause. Commanders and medical personnel should be familiar with estimating survival time based on onset of vomiting. Physicians should be prepared to give medications to alleviate diarrhea, and to prevent infection and other sequelae of radiation sickness in order to allow the soldier to serve as long as possible. The soldier must be allowed to make the full contribution to the war effort. He will already have made the ultimate sacrifice. He deserves a chance to strike back, and to do so while experiencing as little discomfort as possible. ]”

    Again, I won’t dispute a word of it. But what exactly is the alternative? Take personnel that has taken a lethal dose of radiation off-line to let them die in peace? How is that better? How can one dispute this:

    “He will already have made the ultimate sacrifice. He deserves a chance to strike back, and to do so while experiencing as little discomfort as possible. ”

    Serious responses only please, and redirect any invective to dev null.

    (2.c) The author writes: “We spent hundreds of hours interviewing 50 American combat veterans of Iraq about atrocities they had witnessed or participated in. It was a damning indictment of the U.S. occupation with accounts of terrorizing and abusive house raids, withering suppressing fire routinely laid down in civilian areas to protect American convoys, indiscriminate shooting from patrols, the large kill radius of detonations and air strikes in populated areas, and the slaughter of whole families who approached military checkpoints too closely or too quickly. The reporting made headlines in newspapers across Europe but was largely ignored in the U.S., where the press was generally unwilling to confront the feel-good narrative about “liberating” the people of Iraq. ”.

    Once again, I will not dispute any of this. It is a black mark on the US military (and more specifically on the ‘Blackwater’ mercenaries the US employed). However, the story isn’t one-sided. Iraq itself wasn’t a country as much as an argument which a certain Saddam Hussain had kept the lid on for decades through brutality, terror, and torture as Iraq’s top dog. As soon as the US toppled that top-dog, the underlying conflicts re-erupted. Sunnites against shiites, former Baath party members against everyone else, Kurds against Arabs, and everyone else. In effect, a ful-blown civil war.

    That meant that large parts of the population had become belligerents, with Islamic extremists part of the mix. US forces naturally caught the brunt of that (who is happy to see a foreign occupier when one is about to kill one’s neighbour, and what better way to express one’s Islamic faith than to snipe or employ IED’s at a pack of infidels?). Totally understandable.

    Unfortunately this brought out the worst in occupying US troops who had somehow counted on being hailed as saviours but found themselves knee-deep in counter-insurgence operations after winning the conventional war. I’m not trying to whitewash what US forces did, but I am saying that it was far from a one-sided affair and that a certain amount of understanding of the US forces is in order.

    (2.d) The author writes: “I naively thought we would see the promised “peace dividend,” especially with the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev reaching out to form security and economic alliances with the West. In the early years of Vladimir Putin’s rule, even he lent the U.S. military a hand in its war on terror, seeing in it Russia’s own struggle to contain Islamic extremists spawned by its wars in Chechnya. He provided logistical support and resupply routes for American forces fighting in Afghanistan. But the pimps of warwere having none of it.”

    Europe embraced the peace dividend. Starting with a drastic draw-down of its military forces (which seemed totally reasonable at the time). Europe certainly constituded no military threat to Russia after the dissolution of the USSR.

    Unfortunately Russia, after the dissolution of the corrupt and despotic USSR, lapsed into anarchy which allowed predatory behaviour to flourish across all its territory. The ‘olicharchs’ came into being, who took the opportunity to turn political connections (and bribes) into ultra-profitable ownership of recently privatised state enterprises. Especially those exploiting natural resources.

    This led to a complete mafia state, which remains in power today. With one addition: the emergence of a strongman with close ties to the former KGB who, in the best traditions of the Czars, exacted a toll from all of the new ‘nobles’ and did a deal with the population: “Let me handle politics and pay me for protection and I’ll leave you alone. Be a nuisance and die.”.

    It is this Russia that opted to focus its economy on the production and sale of arms and natural resources (both of them profitable) and follow a foreign policy based on supporting former USSR clients and trying to re-absorb all recently independent countries (the Baltics, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazachstan etc.) by any means necessary.

    It is this Russian attitude that prompted the Baltics and Poland to seek protection by joining NATO. NATO didn’t expand, countries wanted to join it. Unless of course one wishes to contend that the verbal agreements and Russian paranoia merits the suspension of the right of sovereign self-determination for Russia;s neighbours. I’m certain that many on this forum are willing to do exactly that. I however am not.

    (2.e) As regards the Ukraine, I suggest that we let the Ukraine decide whether or not it wishes to fight for its occupied territories. By all accounts the morale among Ukrainian soldiers and the civillian population is sky-high and in favour of eviting the Russian occupiers by force. I find myself in complete disagreement with those who would deprive the Ukraine of the means to defend itself against its large neighbour because “it condemns hundreds of thousands of innocents to suffering and death.”.

    As to Mr. Kissinger the author cites, yes, as usual Mr. Kissinger advocates Realpolitik. As in: “Let those Ukrainians drop dead. It’s not worth the cost or the risk to us to help them.”. Well, I respect that stance. At least it’s honest and well thought through. It might even be in the US best interest, ultimately speaking. Doesn’t mean that I agree with it though.

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