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Chris Hedges and the ‘Other War’

Posted on Aug 8, 2007

Camilo Mejía was one of 50 combat veterans interviewed for the article.

Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges talks about his landmark article in The Nation magazine, “The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness,” the result of seven months of interviews with troops about their experiences in Iraq.

Click here to listen to this interview.


James Harris: Thank you for joining us here on Truthdig.  This is James Harris along with Josh Scheer.  On the phone we have Truthdig contributor Chris Hedges.  And we’re here to talk about his new article that he’s written along with Laila Al-Arian titled “The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness.”  What these are are firsthand accounts of soldiers’ return from the war in Iraq, and some of the things you read will be emotionally disturbing.  They will give you an image of this war that I think more Americans need to see on a much more regular basis.  Because if we saw and heard the things that these soldiers are sharing, we might be a bit more active about making a change in Iraq.  One soldier that Chris and Laila interviewed said that every good cop carries a throw-away.  If you keep someone and they’re unarmed, you just drop one on them.  Chris, how telling are these confessions about troop behavior in previous wars, like, you know, Vietnam and World War II?

Chris Hedges: Well, I think we have to be clear that there are different types of war.  Many of which I’ve covered.  I covered the civil wars in Central America, for example, in the early 1980s.  I covered the first Gulf War, which was a conflict between conventional armies in a depopulated area, if we exclude the bombing of southern Iraq, which did inflict civilian casualties before the war; the actual fighting took place in the open desert, and a war like Iraq.  Which is, bears all the hallmarks of traditional colonial occupations.  And by that I mean it’s where you have foreign forces that are culturally, historically and linguistically illiterate.  Who come in from the outside, speak exclusively to the people they are colonizing, through the language of force.  You end up fighting an elusive, shadowy enemy—an insurgency that is homegrown that has broad popular support.  And these kinds of wars are perhaps the most pernicious, because you get a situation where American soldiers and Marines will spend an entire tour in Iraq and never see the people who are killing them.  And yet the attacks on the occupation forces are of a tremendous potency.  I mean, these improvised explosive devices or these vehicle-borne explosive devices are massive.  I mean, leaving huge craters in the street, destroying humvees.  And you have a situation where every time the soldiers and marines leave the perimeter of their heavily fortified compound, they are in tremendous danger and yet they can’t see or make contacts with the very people who are carrying out the attacks.  And this leads to a kind of indiscriminate use of violence, a kind of identification of all Iraqis as the enemy.  And we sought to give not only snapshots of the war through convoys or how checkpoints are run, or how suppressing fire is laid down after an IED goes off, but ultimately to get a critical mass.  Which is why we spent seven months interviewing 50 Iraqi veterans all on the record; all of these records were taped, thousands of pages of transcripts to explain the patterns of the war.  And I think one walks away from reading this 15,000-word piece realizing that the war in Iraq, like the war in Vietnam, like most colonial occupations, one would think of the French war in the war of independence in Algeria, had just become one huge atrocity.

Harris: Did you find any ray of hope, any thing that the soldiers said to you or your partner that was encouraging about their presence in Iraq?


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Hedges: The ray of hope is that they have the courage to speak out.  This was, let’s not venomize what it took for these people to talk on the record.  Some of them are still in the military, but even those who are not, you know, they’re going to take a lot of heat for this.  They are going to alienate and anger friends and former military colleagues.  So I think the ray of hope is that from within their own ranks of the American military that there were enough people of conscience and integrity to stand up and chronicle, and many of this is not only an indictment of the forces, but many of these people were indicting themselves for their own behavior.  You know, the fact that they can get out and speak the truth, that’s the ray of hope.

Josh Scheer: I want to know was this also an emotional release for the soldiers to speak their minds?

Hedges: Yeah.  Very much so, Josh.  In many of these interviews they broke down.  And it was extremely difficult; this was not an easy task on the part of these veterans.  Laila, interestingly enough, is an observant Muslim; wears a headscarf.  And we wondered at the beginning how they would react.  And what was fascinating is that the fact that she was an observant Muslim who wore a headscarf was an asset.  Because there was a deep desire on the part of many of these veterans to not only confess, but, I think, seek a kind of forgiveness or understanding and they, I would say, most of them found it moving to reach out to an observant Muslim.  So, yeah, these were emotionally laden, you know, these interviews—you listen to the tapes and it’s quite moving.  You know, long pauses while we wait for these people to compose themselves; you know, these people had real guts.

Harris: Let’s move the conversation over to George Bush.  Given the growing frequency of tragedy in Iraq, what precedence do you think it says that Congress has been unable to affect George Bush’s policy and his war in Iraq at all?

Hedges: Well, it’s a product of the imperial presidency.  It’s what Bob Scheer wrote about the other day.  You know, the Congress has essentially reneged, or walked away from the powers invested in them by the Constitution, that is to oversee foreign policy and to declare and manage wars: That the president should be the administrator of conflicts, not the policymaker.  And that is the problem that we do have an imperial presidency, and Bob captured that very well in his column.

Scheer: Now what do you think about the soldiers?  I mean, what do you think their solution to the problems there are, and the people you’ve talked to, the Iraqis, what do you think the future holds for these kind of people?  Is there any kind of way to bridge the gap, make this country [Iraq] successful again?

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By John Borowski, September 17, 2007 at 1:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The dissertation by Kem Patrick #95871 confirms what I have always believed in. This is an evil and insane society on the cusp of nuclear extinction. If you think that human kind is made in the image and likeness of a god that should tell you what kind of god you believe in.

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By John Borowski, September 10, 2007 at 11:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Worry not about an attack on Iran. With the stock market in intensive care and the little guys (The smart ones) putting their money in their mattresses. Ignoring the fact some are heavy smokers; any attack will be postponed. That is all the stock market and the US economy needs, especially if the attack on Iran goes badly.

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By Douglas Chalmers, August 23, 2007 at 4:16 am Link to this comment

#Chris Hedges: Well, I think we have to be clear that there are different types of war….....

This is, of course, historically correct but, as Hedges shows us, is also relevant as far as the emotional impact on American troops is concerned. As invaders and usurpers, they soon lose what moral courage they have and then they soon being to lose their humanity.

That doesn’t keep them from the consequences of extreme and constant stress, though. Even when off-duty behind the walls of their compounds, they are subject to the pressures of the thoughts of what has happened, what will happen and what might happen.

A well- written story, an excellent interview (even if Scheer jr can’t pronounce Iraq) and further indication that Truthdig only understands politics as regards this illusory war and little else. Perhaps Scheer + Scheer should even produce a “Boys Own Annual” 1900-style of manly stories of empire and derring-do as their ultimate trip, uhh!?!?

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By joe46, August 22, 2007 at 9:06 am Link to this comment

Wars are good for arms merchants and undertakers.

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Outraged's avatar

By Outraged, August 21, 2007 at 9:30 pm Link to this comment

RE: #95871 by Kem Patrick on 8/19 at 12:16 am

Excellent post. Thank you for being right on the mark and bringing more of this catastrophe to light.

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By Kem Patrick, August 19, 2007 at 1:16 am Link to this comment

The one crime of the two Gulf Wars that our American press seldom if ever mentions, for it is a no-no to mention it for some strange reason, is the type of weapons used in those wars. The United States government is guilty of the greatest crime against humanity EVER committed in recorded history. This crime will kill tens of millions of people within the next ten to twenty years and ‘forever’ steralize the lands of the Mid-East for safe habitat for any.

Those statements may sound dramatic, but they are absolutely factual and true, in fact they may be classified as under-statements. The use of depleted uranium in weaponry has assured, that anyone who has been to Iraq for even one day, is going to suffer from radiation poisoning and it will eventually kill them. The longer a person has been there the sooner the symptoms of the incurable disease will appear.

Here is just one example of many. In the year 1991, there were 32,000 cases of cancers in children in Iraq. In 1997, that figure had risen to 130,000. I do not have any statistics for the cancer rate in children after the year 1997, but last year, the radiation readings in Baghdad were 2,000 times the normal background readings. An increse of ten would be cause for concern, a rise of 2,000 is cause for stating, the U.S. is guilty of mass murder-genocide__ which still goes un-reported.

There are over one million sites avlaible on the web related to the subject of DU weapons. Some are spin put out by our government to hide the truth; why not do everything possible to hide such a crime? Here are some facts written by esteemed doctors and scientists on the subject of DU, that are un-arguable.

DU in a solid form, such as the ten pound warhead of the type used for an Abrams tank shell, is relatively harmless to handle, as is any depleted uranium in solid form. When fired however, the projectile burns and the resulting cloud of smoke, is filled with trillions of microscopic specks of deadly uranium #238. The wind will carry those specks of invisible death for miles and if inhaled, a single speck will insure lung or brain cancer.

Nano-particles of DU, smaller than one billionth of a meter, when inhaled through the nose, can cross the olfactory bulb and pass directly to the brain and cancer is assured. It may also effect the mitochondria and serious diseases such as Parkinsons, Hodgkins, Lou Gehrigs, and others can result. DU in the body will alter DNA, and attack the immune system. Inhaling a single speck of DU is a disaster for the body, if one is in Iraq for any length of time, they can bet they will inhale many more than just one.

Our government began testing DU weaons in the late 1960s here in the United States on military firing and bombing ranges. We have expended many thousands of tons of the atomic waste material since that time in our own country. One should keep in mind, there are five billion specks of the deadly dust in a single cupfull. There are trillions times trillions of specks drifting in our air from firing thousands of tons. Finally, DU is indestructable, only time will destroy it. DU’s half life,___ is 4.5 billion years.

Google depleted uranium and check it out. Please do not take my word, see what the experts have to say on the issue; beware of those who deny, they either have monetary or political reasons for denying or avoiding the issue.

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By againstneocons, August 14, 2007 at 1:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Quote - typical US poli-tick’n:
“Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney avoided Vietnam with his Mormon missionary work, and high draft lottery number. Last week, after delivering a speech in Bettendorf, Iowa, calling for a “surge of support” for our forces in Iraq, Romney was asked why none of his 5 sons had joined the military. “They are showing support for their nation,” said Romney, “by helping me get elected because they think I’d be a great president.” Romney’s net worth exceeds two hundred million dollars.”

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By richard kobzey, August 14, 2007 at 4:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Chris Hedges is boring.

How long has this thread been sitting here?

20 comments now…

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By againstneocons, August 13, 2007 at 2:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Was It Really Worth It, Mrs. Albright?

By Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair

What moved those kamikaze Muslims to embark, some many months ago on the training that they knew would culminate in their deaths as well of those (they must have hoped) of thousands upon thousands of innocent people? Was it the Koran plus a tape from Osama bin Laden? The dream of a world in which all men wear untrimmed beards and women have to stay at home or go outside only when enveloped in blue tents? I doubt it. If I had to cite what steeled their resolve the list would surely include the exchange on CBS in 1996 between [Bill Clinton’s (Zionist) Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright and then US ambassador to the United Nations and Lesley Stahl. Albright was maintaining that sanctions had yielded important concessions from Saddam Hussein.

Stahl: “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And you know, is the price worth it?”

Albright: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price ­ we think

the price is worth it.”

They read that exchange in the Middle East. It was infamous all over the Arab world. I’ll bet the September 11 kamikazes knew it well enough, just as they could tell you the crimes wrought against the Palestinians. So would it be unfair today to take Madeleine Albright down to the ruins of the Trade Towers, remind her of that exchange, and point out that the price turned out also to include that awful mortuary. Was that price worth it too, Mrs. Albright?

Well, the typists and messenger boys and back-office staffs throughout the Trade Center didn’t know that history. There’s a lot of other relevant history they probably didn’t know but which those men on the attack planes did. How could those people in the Towers have known, when US political and journalistic culture is a conspiracy to perpetuate their ignorance? Those people on the Towers were innocent portions of the price that Albright insisted, in just one of its applications, as being worth it. It would honor their memory to insist that in future our press offers a better accounting of how America’s wars for Freedom are fought and what the actual price might include.


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By GrammaConcept, August 13, 2007 at 11:06 am Link to this comment

God Is Love; war is hell…Strive On…Strive On…Strive On.

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By Bill Abernathy, August 13, 2007 at 9:50 am Link to this comment

How can you tell which I am…I at least, unlike Chris Hedges, I know the difference between an imperialist and a fascist government like we have in the good-old u.s.a.

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By Outraged, August 13, 2007 at 12:44 am Link to this comment

Re: #94010 by Bill Abernathy on 8/11 at 11:51 am
(54 comments total)

“I agree with ardee on one point, there are diffirent kinds of Americans: there are those who are simpathic to individuals who are oppressed, and those who would exploit the oppressed in order to further their own personal agenda.”

Well said Bill! Although, it is painfully obvious which type of those “different kinds of Americans” you are.

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By ardee, August 12, 2007 at 3:26 pm Link to this comment

Look Abernathy, if you can even hear me on the
so-very high horse upon which you sit and preach, I may not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier but I know a phoney when I read one, and you are it. Perhaps you are even Marshall in drag, who knows.

The US public has been shielded from the truth of this horrid little war from the very beginning, both in the press which reports little of the truth of things and by the refusal to institute a draft. These bastards running our nation and this for profit war know full well that a draft would bring home to everyone the impact of this war, so they ignore the necesity for such an instrument. Rather they destroy our army and national guard.

You may evade the points made by Non and others, you may insult my command of the english language or the number of, and use to which I put, my brain cells, but you can evade all you wish the key essentials of the argument put forward and convince noone of your sincerity, only of your massive ego and slanted perspectives.

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By Bill Abernathy, August 12, 2007 at 10:29 am Link to this comment

#94222 by ardee on 8/12 at 8:21 am
(443 comments total

Hello adree

I was going to address Chris Hedges on the issue of his mistaking moral subjectivism for moral universalism; however, given that so many of his Disciples suffer the handicap of knowing English only as a second language, and that you had entirely missed the point of a previous post- I thought it prudent to give you and Non Credo a lesson in English, and logic.

Abstract thought concerns the investigation and analysis of very general principles and concepts which rises to a level above particular instances. For instance, when this or that violent behavior is called “terrorism” we may ask, abstractly and generally, “What is terrorism?” and ask, for instance, what is the difference between terrorism and freedom-fighting, concentrating perhaps on the slogan, “One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter” and ask whether that slogan is true? This may lead to the question of whether terrorism and freedom fighting are really, as the slogan suggests, mutually exclusive, so that the same individual or group cannot be both.

Now you and non credo make the same mistake; that is, you both lack the necessity of using Abstract thought; for example, you reply to the proposition, “Americans have no illusions about the atrocities and loss caused by war” only in the particular instance, and ignore it in the general sense…in spite of the example I offered.

Gentlemen…It follows that you’re both in need of instructions in the English language, logic, or you simply are anti-American propagandist.

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By ardee, August 12, 2007 at 9:21 am Link to this comment

#94010 by Bill Abernathy on 8/11 at 11:51 am
(48 comments total)

Holy Hanna Batman, this post should be archived and used in every college across the land as a perfect example of right wing crappola and double speak. What the F@#K was the point if any?

I will not ignore the words of Non Credo as will Abernathy, simply because those ignored words destroy Bill’s entire philosophy, and well done Non, well done indeed:

Abernathy writes:

“Americans have no illusions about the atrocities and loss caused by war.”

“Well, Bill, I don’t know how you can claim to know that. It would seem that the Bush administration doesn’t agree with you. Quite obviously, that’s why they go to great lengths to hide the coffins of the war dead from the public.”

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By Bill Abernathy, August 11, 2007 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment

I agree with ardee on one point, there are diffirent kinds of Americans: there are those who are simpathic to individuals who are oppressed, and those who would exploit the oppressed in order to further their own personal agenda.

Phrasemongers change the meaning of words; for instance like when Humpty Dumpty changes the meaning of words to what he wants them to mean when speaking with Alice i.e. `When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’

We can delineate the meaning of a noun and be right, but we cannot do away with the essence. For instance: The noun Spirituality may be used many ways, but with-out its essence, the intangible, its meaning can extend itself so far from the essence that we find ourselves talking non-sense.

I don’t define words, they have been defined. So far as spirit ual-ity: It is a derivative of the noun spirit. Which is an immaterial object, hence: intangible?

And so it is that Chris Hedges takes on the character of Humpty Dumpty when asserting that the Bush Administration is an “imperial presidency.”

I’ll just ignore Non Credo’s post since it is irrelevant.

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By Donna Bubb, August 11, 2007 at 11:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Chris Hedges knows well the horrors of war and has
done all of us such a good service in giving the
volunteer troops a chance to tell the truth of their
experiences, something those who sent them to war and those who support the war don’t really want to know.  But, these same troops are coming back to live among us horribly wounded in mind and body, as
witnesses to the stupidity of all the killing. How
will we ever understand them? When will no more
Americans go to war?
Would that Hedges would carry this over to Israel and show the horrible things Israeli soldiers are doing to themselves, to their country, and to the
Palestinians before their foolish leaders and the
AIPAC take us into Iran.

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By ardee, August 11, 2007 at 9:21 am Link to this comment

The good news is that for every Bill Abernathy, lost in his own world of greed ,corruption, torture is good and peace is the enemy, there are literally thousands of good solid American folks whose values are real.

For me, this piece can be summarized by this:

“Laila, interestingly enough, is an observant Muslim; wears a headscarf.  And we wondered at the beginning how they would react.  And what was fascinating is that the fact that she was an observant Muslim who wore a headscarf was an asset.  Because there was a deep desire on the part of many of these veterans to not only confess, but, I think, seek a kind of forgiveness or understanding and they, I would say, most of them found it moving to reach out to an observant Muslim.  So, yeah, these were emotionally laden, you know, these interviews—you listen to the tapes and it’s quite moving.  You know, long pauses while we wait for these people to compose themselves; you know, these people had real guts.”

There are, sadly, two Americas. The one inhabited by sad folks like Abernathy, whose entire philosophy can be summed up as selfish and greedy, anything goes as long as I benefit personally , and the other America, filled with decent hardworking, good hearted, charitable Americans who simply are guilty of believing the lies of those like Abernathy. Slowly the tide is turning as more and more are becoming sick at heart, not only by events but by the constant lies and distortions of the Bill Abernathy’s who stand in the way of the real American dream.

As case in point I refer to his ridiculous, almost sad defense of American military intervention in Iraq by comparing it to France’s assistance in the American revolution. I remember no destruction of infrastructure by France, no torture of civilians, no wholesale murders, no indirect building of enemy resistance by their actions during our war for independence. I do recall that it was economic self interest that caused France to side with the colonies, nothing more or less than that.

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By Bill Abernathy, August 11, 2007 at 8:16 am Link to this comment

I really don’t know what Chris Hedges is going on about; it is naive and smacks of dishonesty to suggest that Americans need reminded of what war is about.

Americans have no illusions about the atrocities and loss caused by war.

Unlike Chris Hedges like I won’t repeat the gory description witnesses gave of the death and mutilations that took place in the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center.

I can however assure you, Americans remember that as a sequel to the Attack on Pearl Harbor; both a disgrace and example of a Hyenas treachery rarely exemplified by humanity.

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By Outraged, August 11, 2007 at 1:19 am Link to this comment

Chris Hedges said it best about his work with Laila Al-Arian :

“Our focus was really tightly controlled.  I mean, we wanted to know how convoys were run and checkpoints were set up and how suppressing fire worked, and that was really the focus of the interview.  We weren’t writing a policy piece, so those were questions, if they came up, they came up inadvertently.”

Finally, we’ll be able to hear the reality of the situation from those who were there.  America does need to hear this.  Hopefully, more people will be able to grasp just what war really is, and how glorious it isn’t.  Maybe then they will begin to understand just how unnecessary THIS WAR was.

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By Bill Abernathy, August 10, 2007 at 6:17 pm Link to this comment

#93757 by Non Credo on 8/10 at 1:18 pm

“Oh right, Bill, we know, we know. Why don’t you summarize, instead leaving the underlying principle so vague?”

א  א א א א א א א א א א א א א
NC…You mean they still have a Dammed orchard left…give me the co-ordinates, I’ll see what I can arrange.

What is vague about America helping out the Iraqi Revolutionary Army? I mean France helped America gain its independence.


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By 1984, August 9, 2007 at 3:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

ask any vet. of korea or vietnam and they will most likely have had simular experiences.the iraqi vets are telling us direct i killed a woman and her child…i had to because ...any vets of viet. or korea will only tell these stories to other vets. the vets. from iraq are letting americans know this is what i am going to be haunted with for the rest of my life and i’m not going to edit it for anyone. this is the cost of war and even if i wasn’t physically hurt…i have nightmares that will not ever go away in my life. i want to hear that because americans need to know how our country does behave in these situations. i don’t want to hear it. but i think everyone needs to hear this. i commend these men and women who are willing to risk everything to speak. the vets. need to say this so that some poor kid is not deluded into thinking war is a hollywood movie or video game..

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By Bill Abernathy, August 9, 2007 at 10:12 am Link to this comment

More propaganda from phrasemongers and windbags, who distort facts, pass off friends as enemies, and enemies as friends are at it again. What Chris Hedges leaves out is that there is another kind of war, a just war….’Revolution’…. as is the case in Iraq, the overthrow of a vicious National Socialism, as opposed to a Social Democracy. Why does Chris Hedges miss this point, I don’t know, but that nevertheless is a different kind of war that he fails to mention. Whoever wants to seize and retain state power must have a strong army, and that is what America is doing, helping to train and build a Liberation Army.

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By TomChicago, August 9, 2007 at 6:07 am Link to this comment

More good sense from Chris Hedges.

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