Chris Hedges, author of “War is a Force that Gives us Meaning”, on Iraq, reviewing two books in the NYRB.
These Marines have learned the awful truth about our civil religion. They have learned that our nation is not righteous. They have understood that there are no transcendent goals at the heart of our political process. The Sunday School God that blesses our nation above all others vanishes in war zones like Iraq. These young troops disdain the teachers, religious authorities, and government officials who feed them these lies. This is why so many combat veterans hate military shrinks and chaplains, whose task is largely to patch them up with the old clichés and ship them back to the battlefield. It is why they feel distance and anger with those at home who drink in the dark elixir of blind patriotism, and absorb mythology about themselves and war.
One of the Marines in the book returns to California and is invited to be the guest of honor in a gated community in Malibu, a place where he could never afford to live. The residents want to toast him as a war hero.
“I’m not a hero,” he tells the guests. “Guys like me are just a necessary part of things. To maintain this way of life in a fine community like this, you need psychos like us to go out and drop a bomb on somebody’s house.”
. . .
We are losing the war in Iraq. There has been a steady increase in the assaults carried out by the insurgents against coalition forces. The attacks over the past year have risen from about twenty a day to approximately 120. We are an isolated and reviled nation. We are tyrants to others weaker than ourselves. We have lost sight of our democratic ideals. Thucydides wrote of Athens’ expanding empire and how this empire led it to become a tyrant abroad and then a tyrant at home. The tyranny Athens imposed on others it finally imposed on itself. If we do not confront our hubris and the lies told to justify the killing and mask the destruction carried out in our name in Iraq, if we do not grasp the moral corrosiveness of empire and occupation, if we continue to allow force and violence to be our primary form of communication, we will not so much defeat dictators like Saddam Hussein as become them.