Veteran reporter Chris Hedges tells Brooke about his addiction to the drug he calls war. In his 15 years of reporting, Hedges was imprisoned in Sudan, expelled from Libya, ambushed in Central America, and shot at in Kosovo. His book, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, explores how the myth of war shapes a country and its politics.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: "War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning" is the title of a memoir by Chris Hedges, a New York Times reporter who has spent most of his professional career dodging bullets. Hedges was shot at in Kosovo, expelled from Central America, and taken captive in Iraq. When we spoke to him back in 2002, he tried to explain why he kept putting himself in harm's way.
CHRIS HEDGES: It's a kind of addiction. You know, I jumped from war to war to war for almost two decades. It was no accident that I was covering the war in Kosovo with people I had covered the war in Central America with 20 years before.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How did you justify going to war after war after war, seeing the other same correspondents there in the field over and over again?
CHRIS HEDGES: I mean, I thought what was happening in Sarajevo was a crime. I still think it was a crime. You know, I went there because I was outraged. And the same reason I went to El Salvador when the death squads were killing eight-hundred to a thousand people a month, and that hasn't changed. I mean, there was a very idealistic streak that drove me to these conflicts. In Kosovo I still believe the work that we did was good. The Serbs would go into a village and kill Kosovar Albanians and block all the roads, and we'd walk in and get it. Now, coupled with that was the adrenalin rush, was the sort of intoxication with the whole milieu of war and the exaltation of ourselves and, I mean, all of that stuff. I mean, motives are always mixed. But that's how I justified it and I think others justified it. I think what we're less honest about is talking about how this kind of a lifestyle can become an addiction. You know, the rest of life seems rather trivial and dull and slow. You know, Freud called it "the notion of the uncanny," where everything familiar becomes strange. And, I mean, you have that. And you miss that fraternity. I mean, that -you know, there is a fraternity of war correspondents, and you sort of long to get back into the conflict. Combat soldiers have this, as well.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You had some turning point, some Rubicon that you decided you would cross and not go to war any more. What was it?
CHRIS HEDGES: It was gradual. I'm not sure it was one thing. I got caught about a year or two ago in a very bad ambush in Gaza. A 19 year old kid about ten feet from me was shot through the chest and killed. I lost my closest friend in Sierra Leone. I lost two friends, one whom I was very close with, Kurt Schork. They were killed in an ambush. I mean, these aren't the first people I've worked with who died. But I I think I realized that if I didn't step back and stop, you know, my luck was going to run out. Nobody stays lucky forever. I think that I've pretty much washed my hands of it, and I've spent three years doing that. I think there'll always be a kind of nostalgia for it. There's a passage in the book about friends of mine in Sarajevo sitting around after the war and they're lamenting, you know, the fullness that that experience gave them. They had a sense of purpose, a sense of ennoblement. You know, they were able, through war, to rise above the sort of petty concerns of daily life and become engaged in something epic. And I think one also has to remember that there is this huge communal sense that we have in wartime, and it allows us to suspend individual conscience. Suddenly we all know what the goal is. I mean, this is all powerful stuff. And you even saw it after 9/11. There was a kind of nostalgia in the city for that kind of glow.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Chris Hedges is the author of "War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning." That was an excerpt from a conversation we had in 2002. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, why the British press keeps mum about the London bombers, and two writers who threw literary and rhetorical grenades.