War, Hedges said, is a narcotic. After spending five years in El Salvador, he had a nervous twitch in his face. He had been evacuated three times by the U.S. Embassy because of information that death squads planned to kill him. "Yet each time I came back. I accepted with a grim fatalism that I would be killed in El Salvador. I could not articulate why I should accept my own destruction and cannot now."

Is the war lust, he asks, taking hold of us as a nation? "We too, are strapping explosives around our waists. Do we also have a suicide pact?

"America is not immune. We mourn the victims of the World Trade Center attack. Their pictures cover subway walls. We mourn

By Chris Hedges
New York: Public Affairs, $23
ISBN: 1400034639
the firefighters, as well we should. But we are blind to those who we and our allies in the Middle East have crushed or whose rights have been ignored for decades. They seem not to count."

The docility of the media makes it easier for governments to manipulate public opinion. "The blunders and senseless slaughter by our generals, the execution of prisoners and innocents, and the horror of wounds are rarely disclosed ... Only when the myth is punctured, as it eventually was in Vietnam, does the press begin to report in a sensory rather than a mythic manner. But even then it is reacting to a public that has changed its perception of war. The press usually does not lead."

Hedges is an unusually erudite newsman. In addition to several modern languages he has studied Greek and Latin, and his analysis of war is deepened by references to the Iliad, the Odyssey and Shakespeare. "Let me have a war, say I: It exceeds peace as far as day does night; it's spritely, waking, audible, full of vent" (Corialanus, IV, V).

Sigmund Freud, he reminds us, divided the forces in human nature between the Eros (love) instinct, the impulse that drives us to be close to others, and the Thanatos (death) instinct that seeks the annihilation of all living things, including ourselves. He fears that the United States is moving to the Thanatos side of the balance.

"The question is whether America now courts death. We no longer seem to be chastened by war as we were in the years after the Vietnam War. The Bush administration has revived its 'Nuclear Posture Review' to give us 'more flexible nuclear strike capacities.' Washington wants 'more options' with which to confront contingencies 'immediate, potential and unexpected,' for smaller but more effective mega-tonnages to be deployed. This flirtation with weapons of mass destruction is a flirtation with our own obliteration, an embrace of Thanatos."

If we are to survive as individuals and as a nation, he insists, we must reverse our course. Instead of using our enormous power and resources to destroy, we must use them for the good of others as well as ourselves. "To survive as a human being is possible only through love. And when Thanatos is ascendant, the instinct must be to reach out to those we love, to see in them all the divinity, the pity, and pathos of the human. And to recognize love in the lives of others - even those with whom we are in conflict - love that is like our own. It does not mean we will avoid war or death. It does not mean that we as distinct individuals will survive. But love, in its mystery, has its own power. It alone gives us mean that endures. It alone allows us to embrace and cherish life. Love has power to resist in our nature what we know we must resist, and to affirm what we know we must affirm. And love, as the poets remind us, is eternal." •

More by Gary Maceoin



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