War Really Does Give a Certain Type of Meaning

John ArmstrongCurrent Affairs

Christopher Hedges, in a controversial and moving book written before we entered the war in Iraq, said that war is a force that gives us meaning (War is a Force That Gives us Meaning, Anchor, 2003). I think about his trenchant observations very often as the war in Iraq drags on, strongly defended or strongly vilified by almost everyone who has an opinion. “The communal march against an enemy generates a warm, unfamiliar bond with our neighbors, our community, our nation, wiping out unsettling undercurrents of alienation and dislocation," writes Chris Hedges, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times. Hedges looks at what makes war so intoxicating for soldiers, politicians and ordinary citizens. It is the "intoxicating" quality of our "war on terror" and our struggles in Iraq that I think most defenders of war do not get at all. A little humility would help a great deal, especially among Christians.

I was reminded of all this today when I read the story of our American GIs planning the rape of an Iraqi woman, then killing the three other members of her family to cover up their actions. At least four soldiers face possible a death sentence in the case, if convicted. The soldiers appear to have studied their victim for a week before they acted. One soldier has already admitted that he had a role in attacking the family. A military official says the rape and killings were a “crime of opportunity.” One of the family members killed was a child. The event was allegedly first revealed by a soldier during a routine counseling-type session. The ramifications, especially in a Muslim country, are far bigger than most of us can imagine.

Other such stories have surfaced in Iraq recently. These things are not uncommon in times of war, underscoring how dehumanizing war really is. Anyone who thinks that war is a good thing, or who takes up the spirit of unfettered nationalism in such times, needs to think again. Even military defenders of war know otherwise. No matter how you frame it “war is hell” as the old saying goes. I just wish more Christian nationalists would humbly admit this obvious fact.