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Surviving the Fourth of July

Posted on Jul 7, 2008
AP photo / Kevin Sanders, file

By Chris Hedges

I survive the degradation that has become America—a land that exalts itself as a bastion of freedom and liberty while it tortures human beings, stripped of their rights, in offshore penal colonies, a land that wages wars defined under international law as criminal wars of aggression, a land that turns its back on its poor, its weak, its mentally ill, in a relentless drive to embrace totalitarian capitalism—because I read books. I have 5,000 of them. They line every wall of my house. And I do not own a television.

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I survive the gradual, and I now fear inevitable, disintegration of our democracy because great literature and poetry, great philosophy and theology, the great works of history, remind me that there were other ages of collapse and despotism. They remind me that through it all men and women of conscience endured and communicated, at least with each other, and that it is possible to refuse to participate in the process of self-annihilation, even if this means we are pushed to the margins of society. They remind me, as the poet W.H. Auden wrote, that “ironic points of light flash out wherever the Just exchange their messages.” And if you tire, as all who can think critically must, of the empty cant and hypocrisy of John McCain and Barack Obama, of the simplistic and intellectually deadening epistemology of television and the consumer age, you can retreat to your library. Books were my salvation during the wars and conflicts I covered for two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans. They are my salvation now. The fundamental questions about the meaning, or meaninglessness, of our existence are laid bare when we sink to the lowest depths. And it is those depths that Homer, Euripides, William Shakespeare, Fyodor Dostoevsky, George Eliot, Joseph Conrad, Marcel Proust, Vasily Grossman, George Orwell, Albert Camus and Flannery O’Connor understood. 

“The practice of art isn’t to make a living,” Kurt Vonnegut said. “It’s to make your soul grow.”

The historian Will Durant calculated that there have been only 29 years in all of human history during which a war was not under way somewhere. Rather than being aberrations, war and tyranny expose a side of human nature that is masked by the often unacknowledged constraints that glue society together. Our cultivated conventions and little lies of civility lull us into a refined and idealistic view of ourselves. But look at our last two decades—2 million dead in the war in Afghanistan, 1.5 million dead in the fighting in Sudan, some 800,000 butchered in the 90-day slaughter of Tutsis and moderate Hutus by soldiers and militias directed by the Hutu government in Rwanda, a half-million dead in Angola, a quarter of a million dead in Bosnia, 200,000 dead in Guatemala, 150,000 dead in Liberia, a quarter of a million dead in Burundi, 75,000 dead in Algeria, at least 600,000 dead in Iraq and untold tens of thousands lost in the border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the fighting in Colombia, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, southeastern Turkey, Sierra Leone, Northern Ireland, Kosovo. Civil war, brutality, ideological intolerance, conspiracy and murderous repression are the daily fare for all but the privileged few in the industrialized world.

“The gallows,” the gravediggers in “Hamlet” aptly remind us, “is built stronger than the church.”


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I have little connection, however, with academics. Most professors of literature, who read the same books I read, who study the same authors, are to literature what forensic medicine is to the human body. These academics seem to spend more time sucking the life out of books than absorbing the profound truths the authors struggle to communicate. Perhaps it is because academics, sheltered in their gardens of privilege, often have hyper-developed intellects and the emotional maturity of 12-year-olds. Perhaps it is because they fear the awful revelations in front of them, truths that, deeply understood, would demand they fight back. It is easier to eviscerate the form, the style and the structure with textual analysis and ignore the passionate call for our common humanity.

“As long as reading is for us the instigator whose magic keys have opened the door to those dwelling-places deep within us that we would not have known how to enter, its role in our lives is salutary,” Proust wrote. “It becomes dangerous, on the other hand, when, instead of awakening us to the personal life of the mind, reading tends to take its place. ...”

Although Shakespeare’s Jack Falstaff is a coward, a liar and a cheat, although he embodies all the scourges of human frailty Henry V rejects, I delight more in Falstaff’s address to himself in the Boar’s Head Tavern, where he at least admits to serving to his own hedonism, than I do in Henry’s heroic call to arms before Agincourt. Falstaff personifies a lust for life and the mockery of heaven and hell, of the crown and all other instruments of authority. He disdains history, honor and glory. Falstaff is a much more accurate picture of the common soldier who wants to save his own hide and finds little in the rhetoric of officers who urge him into danger. Prince Hal is a hero and defeats Percy while Falstaff pretends to be a corpse. But Falstaff embodies the basic desires we all have. He is baser than most. He lacks the essential comradeship necessary among soldiers, but he clings to life in a way a soldier under fire can sympathize with. It is to the ale houses and the taverns, not the court, that these soldiers return when the war is done. Jack Falstaff’s selfish lust for pleasure hurts few, while Henry’s selfish lust for power leaves corpses strewn across muddy battlefields. And while we have been saturated with the rhetoric of Henry V this past July 4 holiday we would be better off listening to the truth spoken by Falstaff.

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By Tom Palaima, July 27, 2008 at 12:22 am Link to this comment
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These are very good and necessary thoughts expressed by someone who has seen firsthand the horrors he describes and who has spoken out for his view of things with true courage in his *War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning* and *What Every Person Should Know About War*.

Four points:

1. Will Durant estimated that 268 (not 29) years in world history were without war, which was mainly an admission that we do not have complete histories of world cultures.

2. Thucydides did not take consolation in the fact that “his city’s [Athens’] artistic and intellectual achievements would in the coming centuries overshadow raw Spartan militarism.” In fact his lesson is that Athens’ high culture was based on relentlessly aggressive militarism and that the supposed high culture of Athens committed atrocities, intentionally and after democratic deliberation, that overshadowed anything that Sparta and the Peloponnesian League did.  Thucydides does say that Athens put more of its power into material display and that that is what would be noticeable in the archaeological record and make it difficult to discern many centuries later that Athens and Sparta once were adversaries with equal power.

But Athens was the high culture that is mainly responsible for shaping western intellectual culture through the renaissance.  It was then and is still paradoxical that the very works of high culture to which Hedges retreats are products, as Thucydides would argue, of the resources and security that aggressive use of force brings.

3. The reasons Hedges has a house and many collected published books to which to retreat with safety are: (1) that our American culture has monopolized such an excess of the world’s resources that he, or his family, can afford these luxuries denied to most of even our population; and (2) there is sufficient wealth in our society, derived from aggression and exploitation, to afford him his self-indulgent retreat and sufficient organized power to keep even elites like Hedges safe from have-nots.

4. That said, I think Hedges is correct about academics—and I am one myself. The entire system of education now in this country, public and private, K-12 and post-secondary, is operated in the interests not of society, but of corporations.  And professors are conditioned to avoid social engagement and reap rewards from hyper-intellectualizing these powerful works of literature of which Hedges gives a sample list here and which Hedges uses to communicate a powerful message, which makes us think, even if we do not agree with it in all ways..

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By David Veteran, July 11, 2008 at 4:11 pm Link to this comment

My sincere apologies to all twelve year olds.

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By PatrickHenry, July 11, 2008 at 12:55 pm Link to this comment

re: David Veteran, July 11 at 8:19 am #

I found your post quite empty, alot of verbage but no point.  Given, the site provided is an obvious anti-jewish, (I am anti-Israel) the questions and answers to them are out in the open begging scrutiny.

I don’t doubt the holocaust happened, I just question the numbers involved, as they have changed so often since that event.  The Russians suffered considerably more than the european jews, yet we don’t have a museum to them here in Washington DC.

Not too long ago there were over 50 independent newspapers in America, each giving it’s own take on a story or history.  Now there are 6 conglomerates, all jewish owned, who determine what we see, hear and read and rarely any of that is critical of Israel.

Lately I’ve read where these conglomerates are undermining Wikpedia and other on-line reference sources to re-write history in a favorable projewish light. 

Too much pull for 2% of the population.

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By Conservative Yankee, July 11, 2008 at 12:18 pm Link to this comment
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By David Veteran, July 11 at 8:19 am

“Which leads me to wonder if you and Saggy are twelve year olds blogging blindly in a bunker in Idaho in the middle of the Aryan nation (my apologies to the beautiful people in Idaho, just an unfair generalization for dramatic purposes).”

How about an appoligy to 12-year-olds who (From my obsrvation) seem far more able to work out differences than their adult counterparts?

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By David Veteran, July 11, 2008 at 9:19 am Link to this comment

I don’t quite know how the topic got onto Holocaust revisionism from Hedges essay, which is simply saying humans treat each other pretty nastily as a course of normal behavior, and the idea that such behavior, when you are confronted by it face to face is a soul devastating thing, especially when you are fortunate enough to grow up insulated from such dark realities. 
Wanting to be fair, regardless of my suspicions, I did check out the links, and found myself watching a film of sorts on the link that “Patrick Henry” provided that purported to answer the question “why is there anti-semitism?” Which is a good question, considering history, although it may be better to ask why do human beings divide themselves along seemingly arbitrary lines and then set about killing? Which is more what Hedges is talking about. It is akin to why are there pecking orders, why are there bullies, why are there people who as one person called me in highschool, a “scumbaker”, that is, a magnet for attacks.  Had I done something wrong in highschool to deserve this or was I simply vulnerable to attacks in a way that brought out this animal instinct found in other pack animals like dogs, if you have ever observed their behaviour?  After I became an adult, grew in confidence, and mental and physical strength, I never get bothered by anyone. 
    It could just as easily be asked, why do the Chinese in Indonesia have to worry about being disliked and potentially attacked?  Or why did random Iranian Americans get viciously attacked in the streets of the mid-west USA because of the hostage crisis in Iran that they had nothing to do with? 
    The sight that “Patrick Henry” links to, answers no questions, starts listing some trends that could be questionable, but quickly devolves into blaming criminal behavior and homosexuality (as though that is bad) on “secular atheistic jews” who control the media, showing some shirtless hippy with a pink triangle on his chest doing a hypnotic dance, which was kind of cool, as an example of the jews desire to destroy civilization by distracting the rest of us from their nefarious plans. Which I guess that Jews are into the whole gay thing because they are an ancient people who have a cultural memory of the ancient Greeks.  Doesn’t being “atheistic and secular” kind of take the wind out of the whole jew conspiracy thing?  I mean, I don’t share much in common with the views of the conservative Christian community and family that I grew up in, simply for the fact that I have rejected their reasoning, don’t get religiosity, and am myself “secular and atheistic.”
    The very reasonable sounding narrator, complete with an authoritative british accent, without making anything close to an analyses based on exhaustive facts and data, starts making sweeping bizarre statements using the phrase “the truth”, which is Patrick Henry, how I assume you came to think that you were linking to something that was talking about “the truth.”  Don’t confuse propagandistic tricks with reason.
    Of course the imaginary beautiful America that these “atheistic secular jews” are controlling through the media and “jewpacs” didn’t exist—or wasn’t lynching african-americans criminal to the unscrupulous propagandists who spread their vileness with the thinest veneer of reason to influence the already racist, or feeble minded, or immature?
    Which leads me to wonder if you and Saggy are twelve year olds blogging blindly in a bunker in Idaho in the middle of the Aryan nation (my apologies to the beautiful people in Idaho, just an unfair generalization for dramatic purposes).  But, then again, I am a secular atheistic Scottish-American, and I like to think of the Scots as the Jews of the UK—as in we like education and are frugal.
    I probably shouldn’t respond to you guys, but this revisionist bullshit makes me sick.

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By PatrickHenry, July 10, 2008 at 6:28 pm Link to this comment

Truth should never fear close inspection.

During WWII, many people of differing nationalities and religions were killed.  My family in Norway suffered losses fighting the occupying Nazi’s.

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By thebeerdoctor, July 10, 2008 at 3:46 pm Link to this comment

You got to hand it to Saggy, this is the first time I have been called a Zionist name caller. Does that mean I get a free AIPAC membership? This would be very laughable if it were not so pathetic.

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By Conservative Yankee, July 10, 2008 at 1:46 pm Link to this comment
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By Saggy, July 10 at 12:13 pm

“Newsflash:  Your grandmother is not a reliable source in internet debate.”

Of course you are correct… in your world.

Academically speaking there is nothing close to a “debate” here.
You have not backed your views with anything resembling a “reliable source” and of course, I trust my grandmother’s word far more than some simpering anonymous internet bigot.

Harry H. Snyder III
Tamarac Farm
Whiting, Maine

AKA Conservative Yankee

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By David Veteran, July 10, 2008 at 1:42 pm Link to this comment

yikes! and i thought i was offensive, egad, is some one named Saggy a “reliable source in an internet debate”?

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By thebeerdoctor, July 10, 2008 at 1:16 pm Link to this comment

Thank you Conservative Yankee for nailing down this soggy Saggy manure. Of course there was a holocaust, just as there were for the Armenians at the hands of the Turks in 1916, and the Cambodians in the 1970’s under Pol Pot. And of course there are other examples.
I am offended when people think that criticism of American Israeli policy allows them, like barnacles, to attach their bigoted racist slop to people who are actually seeking peace and justice for all people, with malice towards none. Again, thank you Conservative Yankee.

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By Conservative Yankee, July 10, 2008 at 11:53 am Link to this comment
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By Saggy, July 10 at 9:36 am #

“In fact much of the holocaust testimony is phantasmagoria”

When I was growing of age in Westchester County in the 50’s and 60’s many many of my close friends and some of my family had numbers tatooed on their arms. Irwin Morton, Walter Hasse, Israel Katz, William Greenburger all told stories of first hand experiences at the hands of the Nazis. much of it sounded beyond belief, BUT it was even unbelievable to those who lived through it. I remember Mrs. Goldsmith saying (to our first-day-school class) “We didn’t believe till we saw the bodies. the Germans loved children, how could they do this?”

You believe these people who loved us would tell such tales to children if they were untrue? My mother, aunt, and inlaws, got together and conspired to make us believe something which was false?

One of the problems with convincing people today, and something I have trouble accepting myself is the attitude of the victims.  Why would they go peacefully to their deaths without a mass rebellion, to learn why this happened one must know that the German Jews of the time were largly pacifist, non-violent, and they were also German where an extreme adhearance to “law and order” prevailed.  They had done nothing wrong, nothing illegal, and many went to their deaths thinking “this is all a mistake which will be rectified.

Your “logic” isn’t relevant here. there was a holocaust, there were persons of pure evil, AND the most important factor which young Jews learned from their elders was that it would (when people forgot the Nazis and their horror) happen again.

Maybe here… in the USA… where people seem increasingly similar to my Grandmother’s depiction of the Krystal Nacht crowd.

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By thebeerdoctor, July 10, 2008 at 11:38 am Link to this comment

So saggy, as Conservative Yankee asked, are you a holocaust denier? If you are, you fall into the same trap all of them fall into, trying to find denial through through technicalities. The links you provide are as absurd as your posting.

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By Conservative Yankee, July 10, 2008 at 8:49 am Link to this comment
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By Saggy, July 10 at 5:51 am #

“Grossman is one of the authors of ‘The Complete Black Book of Russian Jewry’.  It is full of ‘holocaust’ phantasmagoria…”

So, are you a holocaust denier?

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By thebeerdoctor, July 9, 2008 at 11:26 pm Link to this comment

“Painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an act of warfare against brutality and darkness.”

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By CJ, July 9, 2008 at 11:20 pm Link to this comment

First, let’s keep facts of what I wrote straight. The one specific work I cited was painted circa 1920—after WWI, not earlier in Monet’s career. (So was Agapanthus, circa 1918-1926. No blood red there either. Again, violets and greens typical of late Monet.) I otherwise cited his entire oeuvre—from start to finish—with which I’m already familiar—both as painter and as knowledgeable of past painters. See any book on Monet or any website. Better yet, see paintings up close and personal.

I haven’t a shred of doubt Monet was as offended as most everyone else at the time by carnage that resulted from “Folly,” insofar as he was decent human being beyond, or rather before, artist. The fact he was offended as most everyone else is nowhere apparent in his painting, except to those in search of evidence in support of imaginary thesis. Data-mining is by now a whole other kind of fine art.

It’s just such “Interpretation” Sontag was “Against.” Dewey too, along with aforementioned Berger. Not to mention both Greenberg and Rosenberg, et al. It’s critics of such stature who were not and are not of the “forensic” type Hedges mentions. (Hauser was more philosopher/historian than critic, though critic too.)

I don’t doubt Matisse was equally offended by WWI, and no doubt I could pick out pieces wherein he employed variety of reds, or blacks (as subtle indication of tracers) in contending he intended something he never in fact intended.

Monet (very much like Matisse) intended only paintings, just about as art for arts sake to the degree he was Modernist precursor. More specifically he was engaged in exploration of variety of color effects by means of Impressionist method. What I’m certain he never intended was protest disguised as host of subjects already mentioned—early and late.

I’m not denying that subconscious intent isn’t present in the works of any artist of note, past or present, but one should be very careful of making claims based on that alone. In Monet’s case, I’m more than highly skeptical. Once again, because also no evidence in his earlier work produced during the Prussian War, which was a lot closer to home for Monet than was WWI. I assume he was as offended by carnage that resulted from that bit of folly as he was by carnage that happened when he was much, much older?

What I’m contending re Monet is just as true of Picasso, EXCEPT for “Guernica” (since you mentioned that too), which Picasso entitled, “Guernica,” and which he noted was direct expression of his outrage on that occasion for carnage. Otherwise, Picasso was also just painter of excellent paintings. He never again produced anything like, “Guernica.” Which doesn’t mean he didn’t make paintings that were considerably better than, “Guernica.” He did exactly that, though made a lot of crap too.

Reportedly, he once noted that Americans would buy anything with his name on it. He was right. He understood American consumerism some long time before Warhol.

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By Max Shields, July 9, 2008 at 4:59 pm Link to this comment

By Blackspeare, July 8 at 9:26 am #
“Boy, what a depressing post.  However, I am a little perplex by the comments that allude to a changed America.  America hasn’t changed——the basic aggressive policies, both economically and socially were in-born from day one.  Just remember two early policies; Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine and what you see today is an outgrowth and refinement of those two concepts.  The first took care of Native Americans and is being used in the Near, Middle and Far East while the second keeps Central and South America as well as the Caribbean in check.  It is interesting that Mussolini, during his heyday, said, “A nation must go to war every 25 years to remain strong.” That statement was considered outrageous by all standards; however, when you look at the USA, the USA goes to war on the average of every 15 years——some big, some small, but all are military operation.”

While I agree with your statements, I find your first sentence ironic given what follows.

That aside, I too, while finding C. H. one of the best posters on TD, seemingly yearning for something that never was: an America of good will.

I think there is deep within the American heretige a sense of democratic communal living that has been long replaced by an overwhelming obsession with the material. It’s not that the material is satisfying - to the contrary - but it is addictive and so replaces all other moments. It is the engine that drives the hedonism that drives the invisible hand that drive our preditory capitalism and its wars.

All of this has been wrapped in the policies of expansionism expressed in those unholy doctrines you mention: Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny.

They have created an asymmetrical relationship between Amerika and the world whereby WE are in charge and the rest of the world must comply with the will to dominate. Even our short-lived Good Neighbor Policy could not be sustained because Latin America wanted to be treated as equals. How dare the savages think they could possibly be “EQUAL”!!!!

That is why the essential change required is not to be found in the words or actions of Obama or McCain. At bottom, they are a face to imperial empire and the ugly scares it leaves across the globe.

Sometimes literature says it best when contemplating the horrors and the alternatives - from Samuel Beckett: “I can’t go on…I can’t go on…I can’t go on…I’ll go on…”

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By David Veteran, July 9, 2008 at 6:12 am Link to this comment

We should just get like totally shit faced and fuck all the time, fuck everything that moves, when not even the crack of dawn is safe, only then will we find true peace.  When I say Fuck America, I want you to get totally blissed, not pissed, that’s a directive, not an angry outburst.

Err, uh

by the way Troublesum,
Monet had cataract problems beginning in 1912 that affected his vision, especially color—he had corrective surgery in 1923.
They didn’t take Guernica down, they covered up the large tapestry based on it with a blue cloth, claiming that it was more conducive for TV interviews—I think it is a guilty conscience—but it does prove that some art is less forensically dissectable than others—or rather in this case, there is a big old black and white bloody mess that can’t be ignored—still a ballsy piece with something to say, which may be why some professionals questioned “is it really art?”  The fact that there was an argument argues against generalization of the professional class, though.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, July 9, 2008 at 3:41 am Link to this comment

reply to Expat

Hey, good to hear from you.  I thought maybe your computer went on the fritz, or you lost interest. 

A lot of commenters here make a lot of sense to me, you included.

I guess we should simply take Hedges’ column for what it is.  A submission.

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By cyrena, July 9, 2008 at 3:00 am Link to this comment

Re CJ #167610

•  If Obama writes fiction, good for him. (See citation of Vonnegut in Hedges’ piece regarding making a living…).

My sentiment exactly. Might just be the ONLY way for some of us to make a living, and it’s been an erstwhile effort for…how many centuries now?

•  “Otherwise, continue to take part in other political blogs whereat you might not get caught making at least one ridiculous claim: “

CJ, some people simply cannot be embarrassed. They don’t care at all how foolish and ignorant they show themselves to be, or even that they get caught making one ridiculous claim after another.

•  “It’s just such claims by critics (pro or amateur) to which Hedges is referring when he employs the term, “forensic.” Hedges might have written, “made up outta whole cloth.” In the case of Troublesum’s claim re Monet, zero evidence for contention.”

There is NEVER any ‘evidence’ for any of these ridiculous claims from troublesum. Seriously…NEVER.


By peedeecee, July 7 at 10:12 am

•  “…Mr. Hedges assumes a)that he takes absolute truth from his readings, and b) that his is the only understanding possible. What arrogance. Since he generalizes about academics, I must assume that he generalizes in the rest of his column as well. If he reads and interprets his literature and philosophy alone, without discussion, analysis, and actual consideration of meaning, his view is limited. ..”

Thanks so much for pointing this out. It IS an arrogance, though I don’t hold it against Chris Hedges, if only because I believe that his intentions are good. Still, his writing of late has been pretty much self-absorbed.

And that’s not to suggest that there’s a thing wrong with reading, since I’m sure I probably do as much of it as he does. And since I’m older than he is, I’ve got double the amount of books. (which are costing me a fortune to store), and I don’t watch television either. On the other hand, generalizations (like he makes here, that you point out) are still arrogant, and signifies a narrow mindedness. We can only hope that it’s temporary.

Meantime, I’ve found absolutely no reason to ‘celebrate’ the 4th of July, and it’s been a really long time since I have. Years…

Maybe that’s why it was no ‘struggle’ for me to ‘survive’ it. It’s no different than any other day in this 21st Century. The ‘independance’ part of it never much applied to us collectively anyway. That ‘independence’ is clearly least in my own opinion, and has everything to do with our individual mentalities and how independent our thinking is.

Aside from the thinking, (I hate group mentalities) we are VERY MUCH dependent on *each other*. So, there’s a paradox there.

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By cyrena, July 9, 2008 at 2:12 am Link to this comment

TAO…thanks for this…

“...Chris Hedges holed-up in his personal library is not something this old Savage sees as an organic functional response to the condition our Condition is in.  Maybe he could shake the funk he’s been in for quite awhile now by taking-in a Pow-wow somewhere….or better yet a SunDance or SweatLodge Cermony…”

Chris HAS been in a funk for a while now, and while I understand it completely, -accepting human frailty for what it is- it pretty much only confirms that he’s just only about middle place along the “survival of the fittest” ladder.

There is a measure of hypocrisy to his arrogance, and it’s been far more noticeable lately. Maybe a breakdown of sorts. Happens to the best of us, and those who try too convincing themselves and everyone else.

Yes, I think a Pow-Wow would be good.

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By Diane T., July 8, 2008 at 8:08 pm Link to this comment

It’s nice to hear I’m not alone in avoiding the fireworks displays on the 4th of July.  I always leave the party before they begin for all of the reasons Chris lists.

I knew Chris in Cairo and am very proud of his writing.  These days it’s the few voices like his that make me still proud to be American.

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By American, July 8, 2008 at 6:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Chris Hedges is brave enough to speak the truth - yet humble enough to remain sane. And as such, he is an ally to us all, even those of us who are too afraid to hear the truth.

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By marco_san, July 8, 2008 at 3:55 pm Link to this comment

In ‘our’ American world, a violent, hedonistic, corrupt empire empowered by technological and geographic advantages, there is despite the democratic roots, a right some think, a need for revolution by any form; ...within the bounds of course of democratic processes, yes more civilized she thinks…

In history people have overthrown governments, almost entirely only due to issues of land or food shortages…Americans have some distance to go apparently before their ‘healthy’ anger may ferment such actions.

Therefore many expect the revolution will be ‘inflicted’ upon the US from without - then limping by default to the finish line, the line in history marking new changes (for better or worse) Americans will be dragged. Perhaps Chris has looked at this and finds cause for despair…but not futility. I do not hear this from C.H.

Clarity, like a fine camera lens is what I experience occasionally from efforts to describe ‘larger-than-life’ events; one such effort is a film, “Why We Fight”

Chris writes such articles as this, wildly speculating now, perhaps for identical reasons as this film suggests - motivates ‘us’ to war, or perhaps Chris reasons 180 degrees opposite such an outline…motivation is highly personal, not obvious - and powerful.

Are we deprived of a form of humanity when the ‘comfortable life’ does not offer focus, a revolution driven as were sex, as impulsively unquestioned, desiring madly a life with a future?

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By troublesum, July 8, 2008 at 3:35 pm Link to this comment

These are the kind of colors Monet was using during and after WW1 and I distincly remember reading in the program notes to an exibition that he was appalled by the carnage of WW1 as any artist would have been and it was said that this was the reason for the sudden shift in color.  Of course this is not a political statement.  It is something much deeper.  The works you cited were done much ealier in his career.

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By BruSays, July 8, 2008 at 2:19 pm Link to this comment

To voice of truth:

If “slightly-educated elite who think they know stuff” defines (by your definition) liberals and democrats, then…

“poorly-educated bottom feeders who think they know stuff” aptly applies to conservatives and republicans.

Hah! Take that, you swine!

btw…monkeys are “exceedingly” violent? Ever seen a pissed-off hippo or a hungry gator?

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By TAO Walker, July 8, 2008 at 1:05 pm Link to this comment

Chris Hedges holed-up in his personal library is not something this old Savage sees as an organic functional response to the condition our Condition is in.  Maybe he could shake the funk he’s been in for quite awhile now by taking-in a Pow-wow somewhere….or better yet a SunDance or SweatLodge Cermony.  Us surviving free wild natural Human Beings have had to “cope” with the kinds of things he deplores for one helluva lot longer than the eight-year time-frame most americans have been getting their noses really rubbed into the cesspool of their not-so-exalted place in the plutologarchy’s scheme-of-things.

The day AFTER “independence day” the I Ching again cast-up #49, Revolution, from #13, Fellowship.  That’s three times in as many weeks “the talk….has gone ‘round.”  The domesticated peoples have been “individualized” now nearly to the point of no-return.  Joining together to address their difficulties may be about to become a constitutional impossibility for most of ‘em.

Hedges could be right about one thing, at least.  The iron doors of the “global” cage are swinging shut.  Then “Time will tell just who has fell, and who’s been left behind….”  No wonder Bob Dylan decided he might as well go to selling “ladies lingerie.”

There is always the Tiyospaye Way, but it’s definitely not for weepers and wailers and gnashers -of-teeth.  Hand-wringing, buck-passing, and self-medication don’t fly there, either.  Other than that, any number (even 6.5 billion, if it came to that) can Play.  Looks from here in Indian Country, though, there’ll be not much more’n a handful….in THE END (and so at the new beginning to follow immediately).


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By GrammaConcept, July 8, 2008 at 12:55 pm Link to this comment

“Life is real,
life is earnest,
and the grave is not it’s goal;
dust thou art, to dust returnest..
was not spoken of the soul..”

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As for reading, I suggest:

The Time Quartet… by the remarkable Madeleine L’Engle..
known as “young adult” (which, after all, is most of us regardless of chronological evidence..’-) literature…depth, thought, meaning..and storytelling…real, engaging, human, storytelling…

God is (still) Love; (all) war is (always) hell..

We strive on….

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By voice of truth, July 8, 2008 at 12:14 pm Link to this comment

Fadel Abdallah wrote:

“As a pacifist, I, like Chris Hedges, abhor all human warmongers including humans who even talk about justified wars, to the point that, sometimes, in my anger and frustration, I blame God for creating me a human being instead of a dove, a gazelle, or a monkey.”

That is just plain stupid.  By the way, monkeys are exceedingly violent.

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By voice of truth, July 8, 2008 at 12:13 pm Link to this comment

Paolo wrote:

“Hedges is mostly right; the problems we have in this country come from a slightly-educated elite who think they know stuff.”

Wow, you’ve just described liberals and democrats in one nice cohesive thought.

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By Philosopher, July 8, 2008 at 11:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is a beautiful, powerful, timeless commentary on war.  Here you are at your most elegaic, most deeply poetical, offering both optimism—that what is good in our American civilization will survive the horrors of our predatory capitalism—and profound sadness at our inevitable self-destruction.  But I believe that the structures of democracy offer great possibilities, that the citizenry will see the terrible irrationality of our nation’s direction, and that we can rise in our many ways against it.  Democracy has its means of counteracting foolish and destructive leadership, so let us not end with the message of unavoidable failure, but with the small light of hope that past citizen reactions have left us.  That is part of our heritage too.

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By Blackspeare, July 8, 2008 at 10:26 am Link to this comment

Boy, what a depressing post.  However, I am a little perplex by the comments that allude to a changed America.  America hasn’t changed——the basic aggressive policies, both economically and socially were in-born from day one.  Just remember two early policies; Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine and what you see today is an outgrowth and refinement of those two concepts.  The first took care of Native Americans and is being used in the Near, Middle and Far East while the second keeps Central and South America as well as the Caribbean in check.  It is interesting that Mussolini, during his heyday, said, “A nation must go to war every 25 years to remain strong.”  That statement was considered outrageous by all standards; however, when you look at the USA, the USA goes to war on the average of every 15 years——some big, some small, but all are military operation.

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By boliviana, July 8, 2008 at 9:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Chris- and everybody else- get hold of and read the “Ringing Cedars of Russia” series by Vladimir Megre.  These books clarify a whole lot of things, including why man has been at war for countless generations, by providing some historical information that has been kept secret for ages. Most importantly, the reader is asked, again and again, to use their own logic and research to validate the observations set forth.  I used to feel the way you do, raging at the nonsense and inhumanity of it all!  Now that my own logic and research has confirmed what I’ve learned from what history may someday list as among mankind’s most influential books, I no longer feel rage.  But I feel sorry for those who do- out of indignation, disappointment, and feelings of helplessness.  We CAN step out of the cage- I’m just spreading the word.

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By John P., July 8, 2008 at 9:02 am Link to this comment

17-Cursed is the ground because of you
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life-19-
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground
since from it you were taken
for dust you are
and to dust you will return Gen.3;17&19;

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By Conservative Yankee, July 8, 2008 at 8:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention, about the same number of people remained seated for the seventh-inning stretch!

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By Conservative Yankee, July 8, 2008 at 8:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Back when I used to take children from Abbott House to the Big Shay to see the Mets, I would guess that fewer than half the people in the stands stood for the Star Spangled Banner.

I assumed it was because they were tired, lazy, or foregin. I never suspect this was a sign of disrespect…. If a tree falls in the forest…yada, yada, yada….

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By Expat, July 8, 2008 at 8:36 am Link to this comment

By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, July 8 at 4:56 am #

You remain one of the sane observers of the nature that is human.  Never pretty; but sometimes inspiring; we humans fail in the basics of existence and mostly fail to connect along the lines of our commonality.  This IMHO is the fault that dooms us.  In my longer than expected life I have watched a steady march towards our voluntary slavery and dark future predicted by many futurists over the many generations of our very young experiment in “democracy”; which by all measure is an abject failure.  When I look at the values embodied by the general populace I am horrified.  There is no sense of community/common goals/values/etcetera.  There is however a blind following of any propaganda that promises us security by maintaining the status quo.  The fourth of July is a relic best relegated to the garbage can.  It is now a devise to keep us docile and subservient to the greater goal of total control.
A liberal arts education had been the mainstay of a highly educated populace and this is no longer valued and is even suspect in many circles.  The problem, as near as I can discern is; a liberal arts education teaches one to think.  Surely independent thought is dangerous in today’s society.  The empirical evidence is plainly evident in the dumbing down of the citizenry, yes?  Remember; Pol Pot went after the intelligentsia, as has every despot in modern history.  The present dictum is to keep us lazy and ignorant:  And it’s working to a frightening degree.  It’s all there in plain view for those willing to see.  The worst of it is; there is no place of refuge anywhere in the world.  The hegemony of the U.S. is nearly complete; everyone, everywhere, is “gettable” if they step too far out of line. 
It seems to me that if one sees reality there is no question of the action to follow.  Keep up the good fight.

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By felicity, July 8, 2008 at 7:26 am Link to this comment

CI July 7, 12:20 pm

Refusing to stand for the anthem took me back to my childhood reminding me of the old black and white newsreels shown at the local cinema in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s of thousands of German citizens at a Nazi political? rally raising their arms in a show of solidarity behind their revered leader.  Heil Hitler.

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By thebeerdoctor, July 8, 2008 at 6:46 am Link to this comment

Dr. Know it all makes a very valid point. Literature is fine for those who can appreciate it, but it is in fact, just another human activity. It is funny how the arts, when practiced as a peaceful human activity, can invoke such violent reactions. When Berg’s opera Wozzeck was first performed, it was not long before both Hitler and Stalin condemned it as degenerate, a sign that the composer was doing something right!
In the world of visual art, a few years back I attended an exhibition of Irish abstract painter Sean Scully’s wall of light. These were fairly large oil paintings on linen canvas using just rectangles of solid colors. One guest wrote in the guest book: “Anyone could do that.”
How true I thought, so why didn’t you?
Mr. Know It All also nails down the thing about Shakespeare. My late father, who studied the immortal bard nearly all of his life, once said to me that the poetry sounds good, but there is plenty of war mongering nonsense too. The same goes for Homer and Virgil, with all the magnificent poetry.
Finding consolation in books, is certainly not original Chris Hedges. Veteran Middle East journalist Robert Fisk spends many hours reading too. But it is the direct observation of the horrors of war, that drives both of these fellows crazy.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, July 8, 2008 at 5:56 am Link to this comment

reply to Fadel Abdallah and peedeecee:

IMO what you say is far more realistic and reasonable and intelligent than what Hedges has written.  When people start agrandizing themselves because they read a few books written by other mortals, I say, look out, they put more credence in another’s opinion and ideas about moral/ethical/
philosophical issues then in their own ability to reason.  If they can’t reason, then they can’t understand someone’s else’s reasoning, either.  Why is it so important to get confirmation, on the one hand, and then show the world the “intelligent” people who agree with you on the other?  These people are the one’s who quote other’s one-liners.

People who denegrate others because others don’t “understand” the humanities are vaunted and arrogant.

I am a professional in the arts and long, long ago came to the understanding that there’s nothing out there created by another mortal that answers the needs of every other mortal or all of humanity.  Concerts and art museums?  Fine. Go. See. Listen.  Enjoy.  Think.  Read? Please do.  But not because you’re looking for a panacea for the world. The whole world effectively turned on Beethoven’s 9th when the wall came down, people said, “Wow, great, awesome, huge,” then went right back to killing each other, stealing their money in fund scams, and raping women in remote villages in Africa. 

Intelligence?  IMHO, much, even most of the horror humans now suffer is the direct result of what many regard as human intelligence. 

I doubt the good people of Darfur would be much helped by reading Shakespeare or Virgil. 

Lastly, I concur with peedeecee in his/her comment.

I certainly am aware of how smart and well-read Chris Hedges is.  And Tiger Woods is a great golfer.
And Douglas Feith can rationalize his own warped truth better than almost anyone else I have ever heard. 

And my mother and father, both HS graduates, raised 6 children on poverty-level income, worked their fingers to the bone and never, ever hurt anyone else, including their children.

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By Yankee in exile, July 8, 2008 at 5:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Nothing changes until people change their minds.  We have been down this road before.  Read archived articles during the 1850-1930’s.  It’s the same arguments, anxieties, laments.  Same stirring up of foreign conflicts, slashing of rights, suppression of speech.

The problem is we spend too much time parked in front of the TV waiting for someone to tell us what to do, instead of stepping back and viewing the landscape around us.  We need a movement.  Not politicians who will say anything to get elected.

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By louise, July 8, 2008 at 5:10 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

While I can appreciate the sentiment of Mr. Hedge’s essay, the undertone is defeatist. The fact that we have a canon of authors who left us a record of our history and human errors gives credence to the fact that humanity and humanism is not lost.

I celebrated the 4th with zeal…not because I believe in the United States’ current policy or relish the despotic behavior of our government, but because I believe in the ideals on which this country was founded….personal freedom and government by the people.

Instead of waxing philosophic about our current, sad state, we need to engage; we need to take back the country that was once ours. While this sounds like a paradox…. freedom is an inalienable right, but it is not something that is given freely. There will always exist those who covet power and attempt to dominate. Freedom is an ideal that is always clinging to the edge of a deep, dark precipice and something we, as Americans, need to fight for.

If you haven’t heard of Ron Paul, you should google him or visit:

As Mr. Hedges said, literature reminds him “that through it all men and women of conscience endured and communicated, at least with each other, and that it is possible to refuse to participate in the process of self-annihilation, even if this means we are pushed to the margins of society.”

If we work together, if we convince people to step away from their plasma TVs and the propaganda machine, if we demand that our government be accountable to us, then we can write our own history in such a way as to remind people that the human spirit is not defeated. I for one believe there’s a lot more good in this world than there is evil….the problem is that there’s a lot more complacency than there is determination.

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By Fadel Abdallah, July 8, 2008 at 3:21 am Link to this comment

As a pacifist, I, like Chris Hedges, abhor all human warmongers including humans who even talk about justified wars, to the point that, sometimes, in my anger and frustration, I blame God for creating me a human being instead of a dove, a gazelle, or a monkey.

So this this article affirms what I always say about wars: That the worst casualties of wars are not those who die, but those who so-called survive, crippled for life, either physically or mentally. Likewise, another category of the casualties of war are people like me and Chris Hedges; people who abhor wars and conflicts, but find themselves unable to stop them. A large number of those two groups of war “survivors” live miserable lives to the point that some times they come to envy the dead; and that’s why many of them attempt to commit suicide. Particularly, in the last ten years I’ve been losing faith in humans to the point that I thought suicide was the answer. If it wasn’t for a strong religious prohibition against suicide, which I was raised with, I would have been gone by now.

Reading books give me solace sometimes, but it’s books sometimes that increase the level of my irritation, frustration and discomfort, for the books too often are mere records of wars and its horrors.

The only good thing about wars, if one can philosophically admit that there is any good in war, is that at least, some of the wars’ dead are remembered as heroes or martyrs, but those who “survive,” crippled, emotionally scared or confused about the meaning of all this killing and destruction are neither heroes nor martyrs; they live meaningless lives in spiritual misery and as a burden on themselves, their families and the society at large. I, for one, helplessly blame myself for failing to prevent or stop a bloody war!

That’s why I believe that any nation that sanctions wars and establishes organizations of war, like the Pentagon, for example, deserve constantly to have a taste of their own medicine. And it happened that most nations of the world, with the exception of very few, have institutions, financed by taxpayers, that thrive on promoting war-mongering.

In light of this, who says that humans are the most intelligent of God’s creation! I don’t agree with that! Have we ever seen any species of animals, like monkeys, for example, forming what we may call an entity for war-mongering, as a security measure against the elephants of the jungle! The point is that humans are not even as intelligent as monkeys! And humans who allow an ignorant evil, like Bush, to take them twice, in a short period of time, to two evil wars, and the drums are being beaten for a third, deserve the pain and the agony that war brings; so they do deserve a “memorial day” lest they forget and perchance they might learn a lesson!

The moral lesson is that one just harvests what he sows! So do nations!

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By Bubba, July 8, 2008 at 3:01 am Link to this comment

Brilliant essay, Chris. Thanks. Some suggested reading: Mary Renault’s The Last of the Wine; G. B. Edwards’ The Book of Ebenezer Le Page.

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By Chris, July 8, 2008 at 12:10 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hi. I believe that we are working on similiar projects. I need your help to shut down the government and force impeachment. I need you to set up a local chapter in your area. For details go to-

Who, how and why

1. Impeachment has not and will not happen because A. Nothing gets done in Washington, without a team of lobbyist. Not only do we not have ANY lobbyist but the military industrial complex has lobbied hard against impeachment and B. All of Congress and the Senate are guilty of authorizing the SAME crimes.

2. Why impeach now? 1. You need impeachment to start criminal proceedings, 2. You don’t want Bush to pardon any one else or 3. destroy more evidence and 4. our elections have been stolen before, voting machines jacked/rigged, elections hijacked, voters intimidated, etc. how can you trust them now when none of these issues have been addressed properly?

3. HOW- Only YOU can make Impeachment a reality instead of an internet fantasy. An Economic Strike has already begun and a Global General Strike will begin in Sept. and run to Oct 1st when we launch our ‘October Suprise’. Details can be found at:

Ofcourse, your first reaction is, that’ll never work/happen. The wise despot maintains a feeling of hopelessness among his subjects…

Original Content at

May 28, 2008 151 Congressmen Derive Financial Profit From War
By Ralph Forbes
  151 Congressmen Derive Financial Profit From War
Blood money stains the hands of more than 25% of members of the U.S. House and Senate

Who profits from the Iraq war? More than a quarter of senators and congressmen have invested at least $196 million of their own money in companies doing business with the Department of Defense (DoD) that profit from the death and destruction in Iraq.

Click the link above for the complete article.
THANX, let’s keep in touch. -chris .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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By CJ, July 8, 2008 at 12:10 am Link to this comment


If Obama writes fiction, good for him. (See citation of Vonnegut in Hedges’ piece regarding making a living…).

Otherwise, continue to take part in other political blogs whereat you might not get caught making at least one ridiculous claim:

Having already seen most everything Monet ever painted, I’ve never noticed any excessive use of blood red color. Monet was never—in any way, shape, and even less, form, political in his depictions. His interest was in getting down on canvases light via colors he observed reflecting off bodies of water—from water-lily-laden ponds in France, including at Giverny, to English River Thames (Parliament buildings reflected thereon)—to colors he noted when he observed light passing through smoke at train stations and reflected off ocean-side cliffs, haystacks and ladies’ dresses and umbrellas.

It’s just such claims by critics (pro or amateur) to which Hedges is referring when he employs the term, “forensic.” Hedges might have written, “made up outta whole cloth.” In the case of Troublesum’s claim re Monet, zero evidence for contention.

See “Reflections of Clouds on Water Lilly Pond,” three panels extending to 41 feet in width, painted just after the conclusion of Great War. No other Giverny pieces contain excess of blood red either. One would think that Monet on painting his masterpiece would have included blood red only one year after conclusion of devastation. Lots of violets and greens, and standard Monet tints of white and shades of grays.

See further, for how come painters paint, John Berger, and then Arnold Hauser on the topic of blatantly political art (which certainly can be very fine art: I’ve a fine piece by some nobody I got from a janitor picketing Century City bosses about 15 years ago) versus art wherein form is the more subtle political message, pretty much inevitably when executed competently at any given social time and place. Times and places are socially defined; and as Hauser rightly contends, there is no such thing as art ahead of its time. All art is behind times. So much for so-called “avant-garde,” that amounted only to easel and music-stand revolutionaries after the facts of events.

Monet was never political in his work—not in terms of subject, not in terms of colors used, not in any terms beyond being epitome of very good painter, one of a few inventors of Impressionist look.

One might just as well claim that Lucien Freud is protesting war with use of violent brush strokes, which are more in evidence than blood reds in anything painted by Monet.

As for what was too much for the Nazis, that was German Expressionism, not Impressionism, which lovely as samples are, were and are still classically pastoral compared to anything by Post-Impressionists Van Gogh and Gauguin, and their followers.
Spare us, Troublesum, commentary re commentators at TD being grumpy old men and/or not well-read. Read up yourself. Maybe take a look at paintings by painters before posting amateur “forensic” criticism that sounds as though it was taken from some kid’s idea for a masters (forget doctoral dissertation) thesis on his/her way to MFA, no matter actual facts of Monet’s actual paintings, a few of which contain blood red, because that was the color reflected by particular flower at the time.

Has anyone ever seen a snow-covered landscape by Monet spotted with blood stains? No, because he never painted one, not at the height of the Prussian War either.

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By Carlos Bogaert, July 7, 2008 at 10:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There are two points that have been raised in these comments that I would like to contest.

1.  The fault lies with the Bush administration/multi-national corporation and what not.

This is completely false, the fault lies with ME, and the fault most definitely lies with YOU.  I do not believe that I can adequately transmit to you how very crucial and important it is for the whole of humanity to understand this point.  Governments and corporations are nothing more than a group of people trying to achieve a common goal, but they are nothing more than a collection of individuals; the only reason they succeed is because WE let them.  WE allow them to divert our attention from what is important to what is trivial so that they can take what they want for us without us knowing any better.  Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.  WE have been fooled countless times.

2.  We should focus on our problems first then deal with other problems later.

This comment also shows an incredible lack of understanding of the world around us.  Everything is interconnected, you cannot hope to affect change in one place only and leave it at that, you have to understand that anything you change in any place has countless ramifications around the globe; it affects us all.  Until this mentality is erased from our collective conscious we will never be truly free of the long cycle despair that we find ourselves in.

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By samosamo, July 7, 2008 at 9:22 pm Link to this comment

And here is my 4th of July comment and thougts”

By samosamo, July 4 at 2:26 pm #

I certainly won’t be celebrating anything american today. Not when I don’t see the america I used to know. And certainly not as long as those [expletive deleted] in congress, the white house and the head dicks in the pentagon keep sending our troops into wars that have no basis other than furthering agendas that allow these [expletive deleted] huge financial gains and a totally different government than what the people elect these bastards to uphold.
May every single one of them catch the blowback that they have so richly earned in their endevours for their greed and and total lack of compassion. A total morally bankrupt bunch of shit that are lower than the belly of a snake slithering through a cess pool.
As a note and a tale tell one at that, there have not been the usual fireworks going off during the day that one hears on a 4th of July. Kinda hard to justify the money output for something that lasts for less than a second much less the price of gas to go get them.

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By samosamo, July 7, 2008 at 9:18 pm Link to this comment

What I fail to see is any mention of what in the world is this planet doing with 6.6 billion people and with the expectations of having some kind of order in it other than the misery that exists today.
The political, religious and economic systems will never allow for a better world with this many people and even if the population were corrected to under a total of 6million humans there would still be strife.
As uniquely intelligent as humans are it is still beyond our capabilities to find a settled order or whatever. As a matter of fact, entropy rules through time.

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By Tony Wicher, July 7, 2008 at 8:52 pm Link to this comment

Just let me say that I am very sympathetic to Hedges. I also spend most of my time reading. The last few weeks I have been reading the dialogues of Plato. I am struck as much by the beauty of ancient Greek life described there as by the beauty of the philosophical concepts presented. I could spend the rest of my life immersed in it and forget about this miserable mess we presently inhabit. The flowering of ancient Athenian culture didn’t last long, but it left behind something that is immortal. So let it be with the United States. Perhaps others will pick up the torch.

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By Mary Robinson, July 7, 2008 at 5:51 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


Lady of death, Lady Sorrow,
Your friends, so many
under sentence of death,
say your heart, as big as oceans,
makes room for yet another.
take this sore regret
for a moment while
I catch my breath.
The last wave of suffering
took me down
took me down
took me under, tell me:
What brought me back
to this old sorrow?
Was the longing the misstep
- or the careful walking?

Feb. 2003
Mary Robinson

On mourning the death of a friend in Texas, by execution, Feb. 2000.

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By Paolo, July 7, 2008 at 5:25 pm Link to this comment

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not, the Pierian Spring….”

Hedges is mostly right; the problems we have in this country come from a slightly-educated elite who think they know stuff. You know—the type of folks who think they know enough to start wars in the Middle East and fix all their problems, while not quite knowing the difference between Sunni and Shi’a Islam.

Multiply that little kernel a thousand times over, and you see why things are so mucked up.

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By troublesum, July 7, 2008 at 4:26 pm Link to this comment

I mean before they burn the libraries and close the book stores.

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By troublesum, July 7, 2008 at 4:20 pm Link to this comment

Doctors in England used to recommend Austen novels to WW1 British soldiers who were sent to them suffering from shell shock and all the symptoms there of.  It worked.  It might work for Americans who are suffering from the shock of 8 years of Bush/Cheney.  But of course no need to stop with Austen.

I think this is what Chris Hedges is getting at… surviving the madness by way of art.  He’s not saying he knows everything… no need for professor dinwitty to feel anything is being taken away from him.

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By troublesum, July 7, 2008 at 2:29 pm Link to this comment

The right is digging up all kinds of dirt on Obama and a couple days ago I read in the National Review that they discovered that Obama used to write fiction before he got interested in politics.  They found this out from a former friend who said that he had read a collection of short stories written by Obama who was thinking of having them published but then decided not to.  The friend who is no dummy said the stories were about being black in Chicago.  They were powerful and emotional.  It made me feel that at least the guy had a soul once.  Of course the cons are thinking about what the stories might reveal about him that they could use against him.

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By PatrickHenry, July 7, 2008 at 2:22 pm Link to this comment

re: troublesum, July 7 at 1:07 pm #

In the U.S…....we have Doonesbury.

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By troublesum, July 7, 2008 at 2:07 pm Link to this comment

I have taken part in other political blogs where people often posted poetry and excerpts from novels as well as non-fiction they were reading when the political realities became too much to deal with.  I don’t think people at TD read very much.  There seem to be a lot of grumpy old men and young poeple who don’t value books.  I may be wrong but that’s my impression.

Felicity mentioned the Nazis tearing down art in France.  Sadly, “Guernica” had to be removed from the wall at the UN where Colin Powell lied to the world in the run-up to the shock and awe bombing campaign against Iraq.  UN officials explained that they didn’t want to embarrass him.  Guernica should be painted on the walls of the white house.

When Monet could no longer stand the news of the slaughter coming from the front lines during WW1, he started painting beautiful things in the color of blood.  Of course it was too much for the Nazis 30 years later. 

In France every body goes to the museums to look at the paintings.  In Italy everybody loves opera.  In the US…

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By CJ, July 7, 2008 at 1:20 pm Link to this comment

July 2nd someone (real-estate-speculation outfit, I suspect) planted a plastic flag on our yard here. I spotted it July 3rd, then removed it. Not on THIS little bit of land! I once refused to stand, at pro-football game, for the national anthem, after which another fan attempted an interrogation. “Are you a foreigner?” “Nope,” I replied.” Disapproving looks were cast my way by others nearby. One feels the pressure, even on such modest occasions.

Nationalist fervor is never to be argued with. Fighter planes are applauded as they perform fly-overs at the Super Bowls. One is reminded of now-resumed parades of military might past Red Square back in the old U.S.S.R.. TV back then made a point of pointing out every May Day how the enemy made such a fuss of showing off their military might. As opposed to American cable-news outlets’ that now dole out lessons as to the workings and effects of various weapons systems?

I don’t mind a good show of fireworks, just not on the 4th of July. Display is a kind of interesting art form otherwise, not to mention far better use of explosives. And a whole lot better than a whole lot of what passes for “art” in various other forms. I didn’t know Vonnegut said that, but yes, exactly right.

I’ve read a lot myself, though nothing like all Hedges has read, much less have I ever reported from or engaged in war personally. I read most when younger, in search of a few reliable truths—for myself and maybe on which to found some optimism. Any I found has seriously eroded over years such that I cannot find refuge in my own by-now tiny library—having sold off a lot what I did have.

Today, I meet lots of young ones who’ve read nothing but comic books (including college text books) and maybe sports pages. One can suggest reading, but so many were never taught how, and frankly, would rather pursue purchase of latest techy gadget, pair of shoes and/or shiny car, and sex of course. Worst of all is lack of so much as curiosity. Rendering them targets for propaganda of the most extremely nationalistic sort, as well as perfect candidates for cannon fodder. While Obama and ilk forever talk of uniting the country (and of bipartisanship, speaking of packaging over content, Kurt), which is like talking of bringing together predators and prey to agree to remain predators and prey under national banner.

Vidal is always right to talk and write of dismal system of education that seems ever more bent on ensuring ignorance. One thing to develop a math whiz, another to develop citizens knowledgeable of the actual world. Even when well-informed, as Hedges notes, critics often make a fetish of “forensic” critique. A few exceptions: e.g., Terry Eagleton and John Leonard, just to name two. The best critics are themselves great writers and can be of great assistance to laypersons in understanding difficult passages.

Hedges piece is yet one more in what’s become a long line of thoughtful pieces. I’d add to Hedges’ allusions, Dante’s reserving the Ninth Circle for the fraudulent, in particular of the strictly hypocritical variety I like to think Dante meant. I note that as nonbeliever who often enough wishes he were—not nearly so much in heaven as in the hell to where any number of all-too-willing perpetrators—past and present—of man-made evil might finally be held accountable.

Education (discovery of what truth there is to be known) really begins with doubting ones own cock-sureness and then that of everyone else. The opposite of education, which is what flag-waving nationalism encourages, is feeling always certain—beyond any shadow of a doubt—of easy-come-by, blindly received “truths.”

I think we’re all going to have to start all over once again, maybe next time to go 30 years without having to wage war on someone someplace. Assuming we get another chance, now that the long war (also) waged on nature has just about concluded. Beyond being another bad idea in the first place, we’ve all lost that one too.

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By Bill Blackolive, July 7, 2008 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment
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Homosapiens today is officially two hundred thousand years.  I do not know how to stop the mob from electing fat farting idiots, but can we ram through teeth of corporate media the 911 coverup and next this so ancient of UFOs, well, hell, I guess all these darlings can run screaming through the paved streets naked.

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By peedeecee, July 7, 2008 at 11:12 am Link to this comment

Mr. Hedges assumes a)that he takes absolute truth from his readings, and b) that his is the only understanding possible. What arrogance. Since he generalizes about academics, I must assume that he generalizes in the rest of his column as well. If he reads and interprets his literature and philosophy alone, without discussion, analysis, and actual consideration of meaning, his view is limited.

Sure, some academics take a formalist approach, and dissect text rather than discuss meaning. And some barbers, taxi-drivers and bartenders discuss the meaning of life. Open your mind, Mr. Hedges.

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By sloper, July 7, 2008 at 8:54 am Link to this comment
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“Perhaps it is because academics, sheltered in their gardens of privilege, often have hyper-developed intellects and the emotional maturity of 12-year-olds.”

How said, how true.

Even worse, almost all US publisher imprints are now owned by just 5 mega-corporations: Viacom, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corp, Bertelsmann, Lagardere (the French arms mfr that owns Hachette 100% & thus US imprints like Little, Brown).  You’ll find very little fiction from any of their properties that comes close to matching the literature you find solace in.  And this is no accident: the editors are overwhelmingly recent grads, hired on the cheap, from those woebegone English departments you describe so well.  It’s not unlike the control exercised in China or once in the USSR, but here in the name of capitalism.

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By hippy pam, July 7, 2008 at 8:04 am Link to this comment


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By G.Anderson, July 7, 2008 at 7:53 am Link to this comment

The Fourth of July has been like this for a long time.

For most people, who work very hard just to stay a float, the Forth of Juy is just a Holiday, a way to spend time with family, kick back have a few beers and a barbeque.

But please don’t mistake this for a lack of understanding about what Freedom means, we the people have been the ones who have fought for it, and are still fighting for it now.

Right now, the responsibility for what America has become falls on the shoulders of the Multi National Corporations, and Right Wing Republicans, who view our Freedoms as an inconvience in their drive to take control over the world. The same ones that have corputed our political system with money, poisoned our air, water and food, and continue to bombard us with right wing propaganda.

At some point, we may take time out from the important business of raising our families, to stage yet again another political revolution desgined to toss the current fools out of office, and take control of our government from the corporate crooks who now run it.

Then maybe we will have time to induge ourselves in intellectual reverie’s.

Yes, so American’s like to eat hot dogs and watch baseball on the 4th so what?

There is more danger to our country from reason perverted to right wing ideolgy, than from having your feet solidly on the ground.

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By Conservative Yankee, July 7, 2008 at 7:52 am Link to this comment
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Personally I discount any anti-war thesis which embraces the politics of division.

When Mr. Hedges degrades 12-year-olds by placing them beneath college professors and other “academics” he reveals the core of rot that keeps humans fighting and killing. This is the “I’m better than them” attitude.

Personally, I was far more intelligent when I was 12, than I was when I was 18. I also had a much clearer view of “my world” which didn’t extend beyond the area where I could exert influence. 

Hedges by labeling his tome “Surviving the Fourth of July” indicates that he believes all the problems he outlined, from the “slaughter of Tutsis” to the “1.5 million dead in the fighting in Sudan” are issues where the USA needs to take responsibility, I believe it is just this attitude which got us into our current situation.  Now we need the clarity of a 12-year-old’s thinking process to extract us…. This clarity should include “There are some projects too large for even the USA to tackle.” Personally I would also like a policy based on the needs of US workers, and the greater good of our own population.

Someday (far in the future) when we have created the perfect world here at home, when the ghetto’s are gone, when there is no need to maintain the largest prison system in the world, when a woman can walk through her city at night without fear, and every US child goes to bed in a safe environment with a full stomach, then we can begin to worry about those who have less… Till then we look like stupid journalists observing far flung stories though a telescope from within a burning building. The pertinent story is burning your feet Chris.

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By Arnie McConnell, July 7, 2008 at 7:10 am Link to this comment
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Chris Hedges compels us to read and reflect. This reader believes that he is the John Brown of our age, zealously compelling us to reflection as well as to rage.

I wish you well, Chris, and I also hope that your soul may find rest and renewal while you live on this earth. You’ll only journey here once; save a little peace for yourself.

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By Quasar, July 7, 2008 at 6:28 am Link to this comment
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There is no doubt that Hedges is a strong voice for the disenfranchised, disgorged and disgusted. I read his essays knowing ahead of time that his gaze will not falter or flinch. He spares no one. He will even convince me that I too am not without at least some, if not a considerable amount, of complicity in the state of the world: the fact that America is the root of all evil and I am an American is just the beginning. I also know before I read it (inevitably) how many years he has been a foreign correspondent and that this experience warrants his warnings.  Warnings that we should all heed lest we prove our stupidity.  Now, I am more convinced than ever that he is not a mere pedant but but a prophet because he has 5,000 books covering every wall of his home. It is impossible to have that many books (and no TV) and not be right.

In my own defense, I can only say that if he has moved as many times as I have (I count at least 20 times as an adult - I’m 45) he wouldn’t have so many books.

Don’t get me started on my record albums!

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By thebeerdoctor, July 7, 2008 at 6:26 am Link to this comment

Since this is a magnificent literary article, I’ll start with a literary quote:
“I’ve been double crossed now for the very last time and now I’m finally free.
I kiss goodbye to howling beasts on the borderline which separated you from me.
You’ll never know the hurt I suffered, nor the pain I rise above.
And I’ll never know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love,
And it makes me feel so sorry…
BOB DYLAN, Idiot Wind
    One time long ago, I met Allen Ginsburg who told me his favorite line on Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, was from that very same song, it was:
“Idiot Wind, blowing like a circle around my skull.
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol”
    Mr. Hedges is correct in asserting that being cut off from literature as living art deprives it of its useful meaning. His comments about academics is also apropos. As Jackson Pollock said to fellow abstract painter Hans Hoffman, “put up or shut up, your theories don’t interest me”. So in that case, if you want to understand Rilke, read Rilke. If you want to explore Proust, read Remembrance Of Things Past. I have found from experience that this works. Even something that is supposedly impenetrable, like Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, can be perceived by simply reading a page or two aloud, even without knowing how all the oddly spelled words are pronounced. There is great funny music there, an unconscious symphony of the human condition.

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By felicity, July 7, 2008 at 6:23 am Link to this comment

Perhaps your eloquent essay explains, in a way, why Hitler had his soldiers rip the ‘degenerate’ art of Matisse and Van Gogh and Picasso from their frames and hang them among the works of asylum inmates (or)

why Stalin sent some of Russia’s greatest contemporary writers and composers into the oblivion of Siberia(or)

why so many American public schools have jettisoned their art, literature and music classes as ‘unaffordable, unnecessary, frivolous.’

It would seem that what gives birth to and nourishes the spirit of man is an ultimate threat to those who desire to turn him into a killing machine.

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By lightiris, July 7, 2008 at 6:22 am Link to this comment

Most professors of literature, who read the same books I read, who study the same authors, are to literature what forensic medicine is to the human body. These academics seem to spend more time sucking the life out of books than absorbing the profound truths the authors struggle to communicate. Perhaps it is because academics, sheltered in their gardens of privilege, often have hyper-developed intellects and the emotional maturity of 12-year-olds. Perhaps it is because they fear the awful revelations in front of them, truths that, deeply understood, would demand they fight back. It is easier to eviscerate the form, the style and the structure with textual analysis and ignore the passionate call for our common humanity.

You know, up until this point, you were doing all right.  This sort of lazy generalizing, however, is evidence that there is something deeply wrong with your circuitry.  I fear for your mental health, Mr. Hedges, because no “intellectual” would resort to such self-serving generalizations in order to carve a so-called intellectual niche for himself.  Your grandiose pronouncements reveal much about you but not, sadly, what you hope, I’m certain.

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By dick, July 7, 2008 at 6:18 am Link to this comment
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My thinking too, by and large. The neocons, ever loyal to Israel, have us decending the same path to death and destruction. But 70 million religious findamentalists, as one with Dr. Hagee,  are delighted

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By Jim Yell, July 7, 2008 at 6:16 am Link to this comment
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Reflective and some truth, but the cliff’s edge is upon us not just because of intrensic meaness, but also because of incontenent reproduction, more thought is given to a bowel movement, than to most reproduction. We are drowning in the demands of providing for over-population. It gives an excuse for high handed treatment of individuals—-all for the greater good and a few peoples capital gains.

We had a momentary, well after all they are animals moment when the chimps broke out of their cages and attacked an old couple visiting their once surrogate chimp son. It seems clearly that this had elements of rage, and jealousy from the ignored chimps. But, isn’t it true that people behave just that way? Isn’t it true that the difference is we write books and chimps don’t and that is really the only difference.

Nice is more often a learned behavior, but meanness is to the bone.

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By Marion Ross, July 7, 2008 at 5:12 am Link to this comment
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Children do not answer for their parents’ sins. But until these children enjoy the obscene wealth built on human flesh and suffering, they must be reminded - every single moment - that they are the progeny of cannibals. The Cheney and Bush and Rice and Tenet and Wulfowitz and Kristoll and Frank – and what are the names of those executives who are reaping the billions while the young war cripples are committing suicide? – These names exude shame, SHAME!, and smell of rotten bodies.

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