Hedges, Chris (Christopher Lynn Hedges)
Hedges, Chris (Christopher Lynn Hedges)
Education: Colgate University, B.A.; Harvard University, M.Div.
Journalist. Interim minister, Boston, MA; National Public Radio, Washington, DC, correspondent; Christian Science Monitor, Boston, El Salvador correspondent; Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX, Central America bureau chief, Middle East bureau chief; New York Times, New York, NY, reporter, Middle East bureau chief, Balkans bureau chief. Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, New York, part-time faculty member, spring, 2003; Princeton University Council of the Humanities, Princeton, NJ, faculty member, fall, 2003.
Inter-American Press Association award for spot news reporting, 1986, and for continuing attention to inter-American affairs, 1987; Ernie Pyle Award, Scripps-Howard, for feature writing, 1991; New York Times publishers award for foreign reporting from Bosnia, 1996, Serbia, 1997, and Kosovo, 1998; Prix Bayeux des Correspondents de Guerre, 1998; Nieman fellowship, 1998-99; Francis Frost Wood Courage in Journalism Award, 1999; Amnesty International global award for human-rights journalism, 2002; member of New York Times team awarded Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism, 2002; Lannan Foundation literary award, 2006.
War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, PublicAffairs Books (New York, NY), 2002.
What Every Person Should Know about War, Free Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Fear This: A Nation at War, photographs by Anthony Suau, Aperture Foundation (New York, NY), 2004.
Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America, Free Press (New York, NY), 2005.
American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Free Press (New York, NY), 2006.
I Don't Believe in Atheists, Free Press (New York, NY), 2008.
Contributor to books by others, including the introduction to Iraq: A War, photographs by the Associated Press, Olive Branch Press (Northampton, MA), 2007; contributor to newspapers and magazines, including Washington Post, Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), Harper's, and Foreign Affairs.
Chris Hedges's career as a war correspondent, which began in the early 1980s when he was a recent divinity school graduate interested in the conflicts in Central America, has taken him to battlefields in that part of the world plus the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Having produced prize-winning coverage for the New York Times and other media outlets, Hedges used his experience of war and his study of others' experiences in writing his first book, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.
In this book, Hedges examines why people engage in war and how they justify it to themselves. War, he argues, can give a nation's citizens a common bond and a sense of purpose; they convince themselves they are working together for a noble cause and that their adversary is fighting for an evil one. These, he argues, are the myths of war, as addictive as the most potent drug and the cause of incalculable suffering over the centuries—suffering he describes in graphic detail. Although he concludes that war is sometimes necessary, he writes: "There are times when the force wielded by one immoral faction must be countered by a faction that, while never moral, is perhaps less immoral." He calls on humanity to develop a mind-set that will help avoid armed conflict, "some new way given to speak that lays bare the myth as fantasy and the cause as bankrupt."
Hedges has written "a brilliant, thoughtful, timely and unsettling book whose greatest merit is that it will rattle jingoists, pacifists, moralists, nihilists, politicians and professional soldiers equally," commented Abraham Verghese in the New York Times Book Review. Hedges, Verghese continued, has made a case that "we are all culpable" in the making of war. As Nation contributor Joseph Nevins explained, "All wars, even those waged by sides … [Hedges] supports, are based on national myths, most of which are, at their core, racist, he contends. They are racist in that they assert the inherent goodness of ‘us’ over the evil of ‘them.’ This black-and-white thinking allows us to kill the enemy without conscience, while celebrating our success in slaying without mercy those who oppose us…. We all have the capacity for great evil, a capacity that war helps to realize." Hedges believes that Americans' faith in the myths of war lessened greatly just after the war in Vietnam, but he sees this faith as having risen again since the 1980s and likely to gather more strength in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Those who oppose their country's leaders in wartime are also sometimes guilty of buying into myths, according to Hedges. He deals with the fact that "the political left in the United States and Europe, for example, has disposed at times of its moral precepts and critical faculties in supporting anti-status quo forces," Nevins related. But, Nevins remarked, there sometimes are genuine moral differences between opposing parties, and partisans of one or the other are not necessarily fooling themselves; in his skepticism about opposition movements, Hedges displays an "occasional tendency to generalize about entire groups of people unflatteringly."
Unlike some people in these movements, Hedges does not identify as a pacifist. "Despite detesting war," noted George Jaeger in the New Leader, "he argues that where the industrial nations can save lives … they have a responsibility to take quick and effective action." National Catholic Reporter reviewer Tom Roberts commented that "while Hedges accepts that some wars must be fought, his critique of war is so total that it is difficult to see how any might be legitimate." This critique, Roberts added, includes "personal witness" to "an indescribable amount of grotesque death and human suffering," and these accounts make the book "more than just another treatise on the futility of war."
Nevins pointed out that "this book does not offer any concrete prescription for those struggling for a better world, one without the horrors of war its author so compellingly describes," but Hedges does urge compassion for all, including wartime adversaries, and recognition of their common humanity. "In this sense," Nevins wrote, "Chris Hedges ultimately does put forth a radical utopian vision—or at least the beginnings of one—especially if we understand, and thus contest, mass violence in all its roots and manifestations." Similarly, New York Times contributor Robert Mann observed that Hedges's book "is a persuasive call for humility and realism in the pursuit of national goals by force of arms." To Hedges, Jaeger added, "the only antidotes to war's inhumanity and self-destruction are humility, compassion and brave acts of love. These qualities may not always triumph or avert massive damage, but they can at least help expose the myths and keep us human, as the author's most moving stories demonstrate." Verghese concluded that Hedges's "ultimate aim" is for readers, particularly Americans, "to recognize war for what it is, so that ‘we, who wield such massive force across the globe, see within ourselves the seeds of our own obliteration.’"
Christian Century reviewer Lillian Daniel noted that in Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America, "perhaps the most interesting character … is Hedges himself, a man whose spiritual life is in constant motion even as he reconciles himself to the end of a career chasing wars from one end of the world to the other." Hedges includes a chapter that chronicles his 2003 commencement address at Rockford College in which he spoke out against the American occupation of Iraq. He was jeered by the crowd, forcing him to discontinue his speech, and was taken to task by the conservative media.
Hedges expressed the thoughts in this book in a series for the New York Times. His own life and observations of man's frailties lead him to his reflections on the Ten Commandments. He does not advocate that they be publicly posted or formally taught or recited, but rather, wrote Daniel, "stands under them as a disciple schooled in the ugliness of death as well as the beauty of life. He turns a jaded journalist's eye toward the stories of real people, and there reveals the promise of the commandments as well as the pain of the broken word." Lillian called the book "a serious, level-headed reflection on life in the fast lane from a seasoned sojourner whose travelogue is worth reading."
Reviewer Mark E. Rondeau wrote in America that in American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, "Hedges convincingly depicts a movement more concerned with gaining political power, promoting extreme capitalism and affirming righteous violence than with reflecting a God of love." Hedges examines books that promote the right-wing Christian agenda, including the "Left Behind" series, written by former John Birch Society employee Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.
Hedges elaborated on his opinions during an interview with Emiliano Huet-Vaughn for National Catholic Reporter. Hedges said: "I want to first of all be very clear that the Christian right—more properly called Dominionism as a movement which seeks political power—it doesn't come out of traditional fundamentalism or traditional evangelicalism. This is a new and radical mutation. It fuses the iconography and language of Christianity with the iconography and language of American nationalism. And this movement is exceedingly dangerous and very powerful."
Hedges contends that the growth in Dominionism has been fueled by the large number of the disenfranchised, poor and working-class people who put their faith in the idea that God has a plan for them, that he will protect and save them. Hedges said: "And once—I think we're talking about tens of millions of Americans—once these people become removed from a reality-based world, they become impossible to reach in terms of rational discussion. They no longer operate on a rational plane."
In comparing the fascism he sees as being the vehicle through which Christian extremists increase their number of followers with historical fascism, as was experienced in totalitarian Nazi Germany and Italy, he notes similar characteristics, including the fact that people who are recruited tend to want to belong, and by becoming followers, they feel that they achieve status.
Progressive reviewer Chris Pepus wrote: "American Fascists is filled with chilling, powerful stories of religious extremism." As Hedges points out, the federal government has funded Christian churches and organizations with taxpayer dollars. Pepus noted that Hedges "makes a very useful suggestion when he recommends legal challenges to the tax exemptions of ‘megachurches that promote "Christian" candidates.’ When dealing with a religious movement in which God has long taken a back seat to mammon, it is a good idea to focus on the money."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, October 31, 2005, Mark E. Rondeau, review of Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Com-mandments in America, p. 27; May 14, 2007, Mark E. Rondeau, review of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, p. 26.
Booklist, May 15, 2005, Vernon Ford, review of Losing Moses on the Freeway, p. 1615.
California Bookwatch, May, 2007, review of American Fascists.
Christian Century, June 27, 2006, Lillian Daniel, review of Losing Moses on the Freeway, p. 32; April 17, 2007, Todd Shy, review of American Fascists, p. 38.
Christianity Today, July, 2005, D. Brent Laytham, review of Losing Moses on the Freeway, p. 57.
Foreign Affairs, March-April, 2007, Walter Russell Meade, review of American Fascists, p. 171.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2005, review of Losing Moses on the Freeway, p. 400.
Library Journal, May 1, 2005, James A. Overbeck, review of Losing Moses on the Freeway, p. 92.
Nation, November 18, 2002, Joseph Nevins, review of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, p. 50.
National Catholic Reporter, November 29, 2002, Tom Roberts, review of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, p. 11; April 1, 2005, Rebecca Beyer, "Journalist Aims to Expose the ‘Fascism’ of Christian Right," p. 8; September 21, 2007, Emiliano Huet-Vaughn, "A Danger to Democracy: Author Warns of Parallels between Fascists, America's Christian Right," interview, p. 5.
New Leader, September-October, 2002, George Jaeger, review of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, p. 22.
New Statesman, February 5, 2007, Giles Fraser, review of American Fascists, p. 54.
New York Times, October 22, 2002, Robert Mann, review of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, p. E5.
New York Times Book Review, September 29, 2002, Abraham Verghese, review of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, p. 21; January 7, 2007, Rick Perlstein, review of American Fascists, p. 15.
O, the Oprah Magazine, June, 2005, Francine Prose, review of Losing Moses on the Freeway, p. 162; January, 2007, Francine Prose, review of American Fascists, p. 144.
Progressive, March, 2007, Chris Pepus, review of American Fascists, p. 40.
Publishers Weekly, May 16, 2005, review of Losing Moses on the Freeway, p. 58; November 13, 2006, review of American Fascists, p. 46.
St. Louis Journalism Review, March, 2007, Ed Bishop, review of American Fascists, p. 19.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (January 8, 2007), Michelle Goldberg, "The Holy Blitz Rolls On," interview.