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December 23, 2011

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Ethan

Reminds me a little of "Homage to Catalonia," George Orwell's book about fighting in the anarchist army in Spain's civil war. The anarchist soldiers would not follow orders, so officers had to stand around and explain why they needed any given action carried out. Luckily the pace of trench warfare was not too great. Presumably, if they weren't fighting for their homes, they all would have walked away.

People have a strange romance with the chain of command, as if without rules and orders everyone would forget how to be a human being and take to sitting in their own feces. But as you've shown, humanity returns to the surface when people take a break from the machine-like life of fulfilling orders.

Ellie

I would urge you to read Hedge's book. It really is a very thoughtful exploration of war and identity. As much as I like the Christmas truce stories and have always found them inspiring, I think that Hedges pessimistic viewpoint is equally important.

The truth is - both are right. Sometimes they give a war and people don't want to cooperate - but to be precise, they DID show up, and only then decided it wasn't so great. The point is, sometimes people get caught up in war and seek it out, for a variety of reasons, and it isn't entirely blame-able on "there was propaganda". Propaganda is part of it, but there are other things going on as well.

Hedges makes the point that for people who are disenfranchised, marginalized, or otherwise lack meaning in their lives, a war can GIVE them meaning, and that this sense of power, belonging, purpose, and rightness can be seductive. People's identity often becomes caught up in war precisely because it provides such a powerful sense of identity.

It's been a while since I read the book, so I don't remember Hedge's own examples. But I do remember his main point, as described above (without doing it full justice). Coming up with my own examples for the above, I can think of the following: Poor, disenfranchised Americans with no good job prospects, whose communities and economy have broken down, may see the military as a "way out"; in order to be happy with this "choice" (such as it is), they must by necessity become invested in the military, and in the idea of "patriotism", war, and the idea of having an enemy. Yes, there is plenty of propaganda - but wars can also provide a sense of meaning and identity, which is why it's possible for people to become invested in them in the first place. They - and their "military families" and "military communities" - will vote for politicians who launch and perpetuate unnecessary wars, and vilify anyone who disagrees as a traitor, while getting caught up in exciting "patriotic" feelings. People almost surely get a sense of belonging and identity out of it, and it can extend past direct involvement to include other "patriotic Americans". Or, think about the conflicts in places like Northern Ireland or the Middle East - do you really believe that many Irish, Israelis, and Palestinians don't derive a sense of identity and meaning based on their participation (direct, or indirect via an "in-group" status) in these never-ending conflicts? That's the kind of point Hedges was making, to the best of my recall.

Of course people are propagandized to - but propaganda has to WORK, and one of the ways it works is by getting people to find meaning and identity in war. If it were that hard for people to find meaning in war, it wouldn't happen, no matter how much propaganda there was. Before those soldiers got sick of war and stopped shooting in 1914, a whole lot of them had volunteered for the war. They wouldn't have volunteered so readily if it wasn't so easy for the propaganda to tap into an existing desire for belonging/meaning/identity that was already there, and direct it towards the war. Which is maybe the crux of the issue (from my perspective, anyway) - yes, there is propaganda, but propaganda works as well as it does to push war as a force of meaning because meaning was lacking in the first place. (For that matter, happy, fulfilled people with their own sense of purpose aren't eager for war anymore than they're eager to shop for an identity, climb a competitive career ladder, or accumulate material wealth, which are some of the other options for "meaning" that our society propagandizes for. And it works.)

Sorry so long - but I like Hedges and think he's worth reading, even if he is a pessimist.

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