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Does God Love War? with Chris Hedges

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Event Name: Does God Love War? with Chris Hedges
Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 5/9/2019
Transcript Version: 1

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so let me introduce you to our first
speaker again there I feel like there's
half the people in this room no one
speaker a lot about one speaker the
other half knows a lot about the other
speakers so if it's you already know
this bear with me Chris Hedges has been
a reporter for the New York Times and he
was its Middle East bureau chief in the
mid 90s he's reported from conflicts and
Wars all around the world starting with
El Salvador in the 1980s he has written
from 50 different countries and he's
written a lot about conflict and war and
seen a lot and he's also written two
books that are related to that topic one
which was a fascinating book with a very
transmitting title which is war is a
force that gives us meaning that's the
title of his book is available in case
you want it second one is more recent
one losing Moses in the freeway the Ten
Commandments in America and he as I
understand it he's working on another
book which should come out soon we hope
and he teaches a friend soon as I
mentioned right now so before I bring
him up here I want to read one quote to
you from him and this is taken from the
introduction to Wars a force that gives
us meaning he's just a paragraph and I
just want to read it for you I've been
in ambushes on desolate stretches of
Central American roads shot at the
marshes of southern Iraq imprisoned at
in Sudan beaten by Saudi military police
deported from Libya and Iran captured
and held for a week by Iraqi Republican
Guard during the Shiite rebellion
following the first Gulf War strafed by
Russian mig-21s in Bosnia fired upon by
Serb snipers and shelled four days in
sarajevo with the deafening round of
heavy artillery that throughout
thousands of bits of iron fragments i
have seen too much of violent death i
have tasted too much of my own fear i
have painful memories that lie buried
and untouched most of the time it is
never easy when the surface
ladies and gentlemen please welcome
Chris Hedges
thank you very much and thank you Sofia
it's just a tremendous honor to be here
with Sheikh Hamza and this great
community in San Francisco the
vanquished no war they see through the
empty jingoism of those who use the
abstract words of glory honor and
patriotism to mask the cries of the
wounded the senseless killing war
profiteering and chest pounding grief
they know the lies the victors often do
not acknowledge the lies covered up in
stately war memorials and mythic war
narratives filled with stories of
courage and comradeship they know the
lies that permeate the thick
self-important memoirs by immoral
statesmen who make wars but do not know
war the vanquished know the essence of
war death they see that war is a state
of almost pure sin with its goals of
hatred and destruction they know how war
Foster's alienation leads and evitt ibly
to kneel ISM and is a turning away from
the sanctity and preservation of life
all other narratives about war too
easily fall prey to the allure and
seductiveness of violence as well as the
attraction of the godlike power that
comes with a license to kill with
impunity but the words of the vanquished
come later sometimes long after the war
when grown men and women unpacked the
suffering they endured as children what
it was like to see their mother or
father killed or taken away what it was
like to lose their homes their community
their security and be discarded as human
refuse but by then few listened the
truth about war comes out
but usually too late and we are assured
by the war makers that these stories
have no bearing on the glorious violent
enterprise the nation is about to
inaugurate and lapping up the myth of
war and its sense of empowerment we
often prefer not to look
the current coverage of the war in Iraq
does not expose the pathology of war we
see the war from the perspective of
troops who fight the war or the equally
skewed perspective of foreign reporters
holed up in hotels hemmed in by drivers
and bodyguards and translators and
official minders there are moments when
wars face appears to these voyeurs and
professional killers perhaps from the
backseat of a car or a small child her
brains is e'en out of her head lies
dying but mostly it remains hidden and
all our knowledge of the war in Iraq has
to be viewed as lacking the sweep and
depth that will come one day perhaps
years from now when a small Iraqi boy or
girl reaches adulthood and unfolds for
us the sad and tragic story of the
invasion and bloody occupation of their
nation I have spent most of my adult
life in war I began two decades ago
covering wars in Central America where I
spent five years than the Middle East
where I spent seven and the Balkans
where I covered the wars in Bosnia and
Kosovo my life has been marred let me
say to formed by the organized
industrial violence that year after year
was an intimate part of my existence I
have watched young men bleed to death on
lonely Central American dirt roads and
cobblestone squares in Sarajevo I have
looked into the eyes of mothers keening
over the lifeless and mutilated bodies
of their children I have stood in way
houses with rows of corpses including
children and breathe death into my lungs
I carry within me the ghosts of those I
worked with my comrades now gone we make
our heroes out of clay we laud their
gallant deeds and give them uniforms
with coloured ribbons on their chests
for acts of violence they commit or
endure they are our repositories of
glory and honour of power
self-righteousness patriotism and self
worship all that we want to believe
about ourselves
they are our plaster saints of war
the icons we cheer to defend us and make
us and our nation great but they are
part of our Civic religion our love of
power and force our belief in our right
as a chosen nation to wield this force
against the weak and rule this is our
nation's idolatry of itself and it has
corrupted our religious institutions
just as it has corrupted religious
institutions in other nations fusing the
will of God with the will of the state
to create a potent and deadly form of
idolatry when those who return from war
find the courage and the honesty to
disrupt our festivities our love affair
with ourselves our worship of this Idol
we cast them out like lepers we condemn
those who returned from war for their
own mutilations we listen only when they
speak from the script we hand them if
they speak of terrible wounds visible
and invisible of lies told to make them
kill of the false Civic religion and
Idol we worship we fill our ears with
wax not our boy as we say not them bred
in our homes endowed with goodness and
decency blessed by our God for if it is
easy for
to murder and kill if the nation is not
blessed and righteous and glorious what
does this mean about us and so it is
simpler not to see we do not listen to
the angry words that pour forth from
their lips wishing only that they would
calm down be reasonable
get some help go away we the deformed
brand are returning profits as madmen
and cast them into the desert wars come
wrapped in religious and patriotic
slogans calls for sacrifice honor
promises of glory they come wrapped in
the claims of divine providence it is
what a grateful nation asks of its
it is rut what is right and just war is
waged to make the nation in the world a
better place to cleanse evil and war is
touted as the ultimate test of manhood
where young men can find out what they
are made of war from a distance seems
noble it gives us a feeling of belonging
of comradeship of power of a chance to
play a small bit in the great drama of
human history it promises to give us an
identity as a warrior a patriot a
believer as long as we go along with a
myth the one the war makers need to wage
war but up close war is a soulless void
the world of war descends to barbarity
perversion pain and an unchecked orgy of
death it is a state where human decency
and ten tenderness is crushed where
those who make war work overtime to
reduce all love and sensitivity to smut
and filth in war the moral order is
turned upside down all that is repulsive
and feared in peacetime is lauded and
cheered in war the noise the stench the
fear the cries of pain the eviscerated
bodies the bloated stinking corpse
spin us into another universe and in
this moral void often blessed by the
church or the mosque or the synagogue
the hypocrisy of our social conventions
our strict adherence to religious edicts
and virtues and utter refusal to honor
others comes unglued war for all its
horror has the power to strip away the
trivia and the banal the empty chatter
and foolish self-righteous obsessions
that fill our days it lets us see the
Reverend William William Mahaney a
Catholic chaplain in Vietnam tells of a
soldier a former altar boy in his book
out of the night the spiritual journey
of Vietnam vets who says to him hey
chaplain how come it's a sin to hop into
a bed with a mamasan but it's ok to blow
away gooks in the bush consider the
question that he and I were forced to
confront on that day in a jungle
clearing may Haiti writes how is it that
a Christian can with a clear conscience
spend a year in a warzone killing people
and yet place his soul in jeopardy by
standing spending a few minutes with a
prostitute if the New Testament
prohibitions of sexual misconduct are to
be stringently interpreted why then are
Jesus's injunctions against violence not
binding in the same way in other words
what does the commandment thou shalt not
kill really mean of all the commandments
that are broken the Torah says only
those who murder can never be certain of
forgiveness for forgiveness the Torah
says can only be granted by the murdered
victim murder leaves a stain it marks
you the Hebrew word to kill rosh appears
in the hebrew scriptures 46 times and
the commandment is probably better
translated as do not murder although
this remains debated by biblical
scholars there is a difference between
killing someone
is trying to kill you and killing
someone who does not have the power to
hurt you
the first is killing and the second is
murder but killing and murder are both
sinful and those who kill even in
self-defense must harbour the pain of
taking another life within them the
failure of religious institutions whose
texts are unequivocal about murder to
address the sinful state of war has left
them unable to cope with the reality of
war these institutions have little or
nothing to say in wartime because the
God they worship is often a false god
one that promises victory and blesses
violence we all have the capacity to
commit evil it takes little to unleash
it for those of us who have been to war
this is the knowledge that is hardest
for us to digest the knowledge that the
line between the victims and the
victimizers is razor thin that human
beings often find a perverse delight in
destruction and death and few can resist
the pull Wars may have to be fought to
ensure survival but they are always
tragic always sinful they always bring
to the surface the worst elements of any
society those who have a penchant for
violence and a lust for absolute power
it was the criminal class that first
organized the defence of Sarajevo and
when these criminals were not manning
roadblocks to hold off besieging bosnian
serb forces they were looting raping and
often killing the Serb residents who had
remained in the city war exposes the
existence of original sin of the sin of
the world in theological terms war is
sin Reitsma Haiti this has nothing to do
with whether a particular war is
justified or whether isolated incidents
soldiers war were right or wrong the
point is that war as a human enterprise
is a matter of sin it is a form of
hatred for one's fellow human beings it
produces alienation from others and
niall ism and it ultimately represents a
turning away from God the Marines and
soldiers who fight in Iraq did not plan
or organize this war they do not seek to
justify it or explain its causes they
were taught in school in worship at home
to Mel the rhetoric of the state with a
rhetoric of their religion they were
taught to believe the symbols of the
nation and their faiths were inner woven
and the will of God became the will of
the nation but this trust this belief is
shattered in war and those who face
combat see the myth used to send them to
war implode they see into Wars essence
which is death war is always about
betrayal betrayal of the young by the
old of idealists by cynics of soldiers
by politicians the institutions
including religious institutions who
mold us into compliant citizens can
often never be trusted again after war
and this betrayal is so deep that many
fun never find their way back to faith
they nurse a self-destructive anger and
resentment understandable but also
crippling ask a combat veteran
struggling to piece his shattered life
back together about God and watch the
words of raw vitriol spew out of his
lips an anger that races like a
cascading torrent from within his soul
it is this betrayal that causes the
great chasm
between those who have been to war and
those who have not the occupying troops
in Iraq live in what the psychiatrist
robert jay lifton calls atrocity
producing situations in this environment
where troops are surrounded by a hostile
population simple acts such as going to
a store to buy a carton of coke means
you can be killed the fear and stress
leaves troops viewing everyone around
them as the enemy and when the enemy is
elusive shadowy and hard to find they
begin to project blame for the attacks
against them on all Iraqis the rage
soldiers feel after a roadside bomb
explodes killing their comrades is one
that is easily directed lifts and argues
to innocent civilians who may in fact
not support these the insurgents but it
is a short psychological leap and a
massive moral evil it is a leap from
killing to murder and in wars such as
Vietnam Iraq or the Israeli occupation
of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip
murder soon begins to dominate the
conflict a hostile environment means
that the occupying forces swiftly become
socialized to commit atrocities these
killing projects are never described as
such at home they are put in terms of
the necessity of improving the world of
political and spiritual renewal you
cannot kill large numbers of people
without a claim to virtue our own
campaign to rid the world of terror is
expressed this way as if once we destroy
all so called terrorists we destroy evil
but the reality on the ground is
undeniable as any soldier marine who has
watched his unit fire on an iraqi car
too close to a checkpoint and then
peered into the backseat to see the
gruesome remains of a murdered family
knows war especially modern industrial
warfare sees the raising of villages the
aerial bombing of towns the deadly toll
long after the war is ended of landmines
strewn about the countryside and the
spread of disease poverty and birth
defects caused by the poisons and
destruction left behind murder is always
an intimate part of war but at an
insurgency such as Iraq murder outstrips
killing the local population is viewed
as a base of support for armed
insurgents and soon targeted and the
emotional cost is corrosive and
debilitating all this unleashes a crisis
of faith the god these soldiers and
marines knew or thought they knew fails
them they go to war unprepared for the
capacity we all have for atrocity for
evil that is carried out in the name of
God freedom and democracy and many
combat veterans are burdened by this
betrayal this is why they return and
often turn their backs on organized
religion not because they have become
godless but because they have been
misled by religious leaders leaders who
choose perhaps because of their own
naivete not to teach them about the
capacity we have for evil and the
hollowness but the hollowness of a
religious Creed
that worships the nation and the self
where is God in war it is the question
all of us who have been to war must face
I think the answer is God is not there
for war is a godless endeavor and when
love compassion and human kindness are
replaced by the vast grotesque panorama
of violence and destruction of war God
is banished human beings who have the
freedom to choose good and evil cannot
expect to feel the power of the divine
when they embrace a world of sin at that
moment they shut out the divine in war
we face our demons we discover the
darkness that allows us when restraints
are cut to commit acts of horror against
the weak and defenseless including
children we discover the ghoulish
delight human beings can take in killing
we discover that all is not right with
the world as we had been taught that
honoring nation and family and a god
that leads to victory and righteousness
and success does not mean that will be
we will be saved or indeed victor