Horrible Things

In order to settle their scores, human beings have more often than not resorted to the barbaric act of war. Many other reasons have been pointed out as contributory factors to war namely greed and power. Masterpieces of literature have been written just so to reflect on the unfortunate actions of mankind that has claimed staggering numbers of lives. An example of such works include War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning which was authored by Chris Hedges, a journalist with the New York Times and 2002 Pulitzer Prize winner for explanatory reporting of global terrorism. For that matter, this paper will address the question, Is war a force that gives us meaning? with the incorporation of writings by Hedges and others like White and Pinker.

War: A force that gives us meaning?

Hedges’ title is a paradox since the surreal account of war he relates speaks volumes as to how war shutters its victims leaving them hopeless. As a way of bringing out this paradox, he says,

The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it gives us what we all long for in life. It gives us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our news. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble (Hedges, 2002, p.3).

Hedges, as one of the veterans of some of the horrendous war experiences, acknowledge that it is never easy to deal with the painful memories if they resurface. This clearly highlights the traumatic effects war inscribes on the human memory and one that keeps exorcizing the victim of circumstances. Moreover, in his epic story, he tries to bring to our attention some of the reasons why instead of hating war, our society is seduced by it.

In the same breath, Steven Pinker strives to use his expertise in explaining the cause of war. Pinker uses the advances in science of the mind, evolution, genes and the brain to refute the theory of human nature as an explanation to human behavior (Radford, 2009). His perspective of looking at humans is imperative in trying to unravel the motivators and causes of war among humans.

In debunking the three doctrines of the theory of human nature, “the blank slate, the noble salvage and the ghost in the machine”, Pinker settles for what the behavioral geneticists believe: “all behavioral traits are partially heritable.” He goes on to note that human genetic has proved that in addition to the inherent qualities, humans exhibit a tendency towards violent crime, lack of a conscience, and an antagonistic personality. After giving counter arguments against the theory of nature by delineating issues like the fear of imperfectability, the fear of inequality, the fear of nihilism and the fear of determinism, Pinker argues “that nothing makes life more meaningful than a realization that every moment of consciousness is a precious gift.” This position, therefore, seems to justify the notion that if one was be caught up in a war scenario, then this would make one realize the meaningfulness of life (Pinker, 2002, p. 70, 71).

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In crunching the figures of war casualties, White endeavors to bring to our attention the causalities of the horrible happenings he describes in his book, The Great Big Book of Horrible Things. As mentioned by Hedges “The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living”, it seems that this notion is true since in white’s masterpiece, it is ironical that religions ranks the highest as far as responsibility for mass killings is concerned (White, 2011; Hedges, 2003, p. 6). Out of the 100 worst mass killings, religion claims 13 of them which is equivalent of 47 million deaths. The fact that religion has been responsible for these mind-boggling figures of massacre supports the premise that war is a force for meaning- a meaning that only the theists who fuelled the murders understand. Perhaps, the meaning that theists draw from engaging in combat is that war is unifying and provides a sense of self-sacrifice in championing the beliefs of a particular religious affiliation. The Jihadist for instance, are gratified by their participation in war since they staunchly believe that it is for a holy course and hence stand to be rewarded for the bold and selfless antics they display in protecting Islam.

Furthermore, Instead of being perceived as repugnant, war has been glorified and even peddled by myth makers such as war correspondents, historians, film makers, the state and novelists as Hedges point out while writing about “war as a culture” in his renowned book. Hedges note that the myth makers have endowed war with exoticism, excitement, power, a chance to rise above the small stations in life and “a bizarre and fantastic universe that has a grotesque and dark beauty.” Moreover, Hedges (2003, p. 9) says concerning the attacks on World Trade Centre,

The dramatic explosions, the fireballs, the victims plummeting to their deaths, the collapse of the towers in Manhattan, were straight out of Hollywood. Where else, but from the industrialized world, did the suicide hijackers learn that huge explosions and death above a city skyline are a peculiar and effective form of communication? They have mastered the language. They understand that the use of disproportionate violence against innocents is away to make a statement.

In addition, Hedges says that “[a]rmed movements seek divine sanction and the messianic certitude of absolute truth… Patriotism provides the blessing. Soldiers want at least the consolation of knowing that they risk being blown up by land mines for a greater glory, for a New World.” So, the end here which is Patriotism, justifies the means which is war and hence endowing it with the meaning that war is a noble venture. Consequently, war serves to give the soldiers a sense of purpose and meaning in life as they are considered heroes. Hedges (2003, p. 8, 9) relates a story of Ljiljan, a victim of Serbian violence who after lamenting their days of living in hunger and fear admit that “those days may have been the fullest of their lives.” Hedges continues,

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Peace had again exposed the void that the rush of war, of battle, had filled. Once again they were, as perhaps we all are, alone, no longer bound by that common sense of struggle, no longer given the opportunity to be noble, heroic, no longer sure what life was about or what it meant. The old comradeship, however false, that allowed them to love men and women they hardly knew, indeed, whom they may not have liked before the war, had vanished.


It is thus clear that the glorification of war in the social media and the real world serves to satisfy the desires of mankind and hence give meaning to their life. In speaking about the Iliad, Hedges concludes that the “elixir of violence and the bitterness of bereavement” are there to fulfill the ambitions and egos of “competing warlords and its commanders” (Hedges, 2003, p. 12). It is thus true that War is a force that gives us meaning.

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