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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

April 9, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 4



It is such a 'sanitized' version of war 'as to make it unrecognizable for those of us who have been to war.'

-- Chris Hedges, author and journalist

global perspective

We are seeing myth, created narrative, not war

by Tom Roberts, editor of NCR

What we’re seeing on our evening newscasts is not war but “a giant commercial for the U.S. military,” said Chris Hedges, The New York Times reporter and former war correspondent.

I caught up with Hedges by phone as he was heading for a Midwest airport. He is on the road constantly these days, giving interviews and lectures, mostly on college campuses, based on his book, WAR Is the Force that Gives Us Meaning (PublicAffairs, $23.) The book, incidentally, is selling well and the interest in Hedges’ point of view -- that patriotism is “often a thinly veiled form of collective celebration of collective self-worship” and that war requires both a myth and a lie -- is apparently also high despite the current war fervor. His book was the basis of a cover story and interview in the Nov. 29 issue.

Though claiming not to be a pacifist, but a realist and a reporter who has to “see the world as it is, not as I want it to be,” Hedges is nonetheless unsparing in his critique of the military and of the current war and of those who bring us reports of the war.

“We are not seeing war,” he said in a phone interview yesterday. “We are seeing myth, created narrative.” It is such a “sanitized” version of war “as to make it unrecognizable for those of us who have been to war.”

What we get, he said, “is what is palatable, and war is unpalatable.”

Even with all the embedded journalists? Maybe we’ll get more of the real story when the journalists return home?

Hedges, who was a war correspondent for 15 years and covered conflicts from El Salvador to the Middle East to Eastern Europe and the first Gulf War, said he thinks most journalists feel restrained while in the field from reporting the most horrible aspects of war. And when they get home, he said, they discover that no one really wants to talk about what they’ve seen. In the news industry, he added, many “want to believe the myth of war.”

Hedges also believes the current war in Iraq “is completely unjustifiable,” in that Iraq is not an imminent threat to the United States. He said pre-emptive war is a fundamental breach of understanding that has existed among nations and international organizations for decades.

Between speaking engagements and his work for the Times, Hedges has completed another book, What Every Person Should Know About War (Free Press), due out in June. It is a reportorial project in which Hedges primarily uses military documents and studies commissioned by the military to answer basic questions about the conduct of war.

“The military has used science and technology to create a more efficient killing machine, and I wrote about it,” he said. In the manuals and the studies, he said, “you get quite a powerful dose of the horror that war is and what it is they are trying to create and why.”

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