What Every Person Should Know About War by Chris Hedges

April 6, 2012
By HeatherHam SILVER, Yorba Linda, California
HeatherHam SILVER, Yorba Linda, California
5 articles 0 photos 6 comments

M-24 Sniper, Dirty Bomb, M-240 Machine Gun, M-1014 Joint Service Combat Shotgun, FIM-9 Stinger Missile, and M-252 Mortar. Just hearing the names of these weapons sends an icy shiver down my sternum and makes me want to change the subject. With little knowledge of war and its weapons, I am left to the fear of my own ignorance. However, that was the old me for I have recently been able to grasp an understanding of war and what it involves.
What is war? Is it the weapons that are fused or the battlefields used? Is it the winning country or the last missile launched? Is it the land gained or the warriors lost? Is war Halo 2 or Call of Duty? Is it pain or pride? What is war?
These answers, and more, are answered best in a petite green book called What Every Person Should Know About War. It is written by Chris Hedges who has done his homework on the subject matter (to say the least). The book is in the format of Q&A (question and answer). Hedges offers a commonly asked question regarding war and then goes on to answer and explain it. The entire book is 177 pages long and goes into realistic detail about what war is really like. He does not omit difficult questions but faces them head on with straight answers that reveal the truth.
To accept a book, you must first learn to trust the credibility of the author. Chris Hedges is a man who can be trusted because of his experiences and consistent reliability in the past. He started his writing career as a foreign correspondent in El Salvador documenting the war. After spending fifteen years and Latin America and the Middle East, he went to Sarajevo. There, he stayed in Bosnia documenting that war. Next, he reported a war, but this time in Kosovo. He has worked for many publishers as well as The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News, as well as The New York Times. Unfortunately, when Hedges chose to voice his deepest opinion regarding George W. Bush’s choice to invade Iraq, he was given a formal reprimand from the New York Times and chose to leave them. Chris Hedges is an esteemed writer and has written eleven books along with his numerous publications. From these, he has received several awards. He has earned a B.A. in English literature and a Master of Divinity degree, as well as an honorary doctorate from Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley. He has taught courses at Columbia University, New York University, Princeton University, and has been known to teach convicts at a correctional facility.

Hedges book What Every Person Should Know About War is more then just questions and definitions. It answers seemingly obvious questions in a way that opens the reader’s eyes to a new perspective of what war is. Each chapter asks (and answers) questions on different topics of war. The chapters are as follows: War 101; enlistment; Life in War; Weapons and Wounds; Weapons of Mass Destruction; The Moment of Combat; Imprisonment, Torture, and Rape; Dying, and After the War. It accesses and captures the reader’s emotions, pride, expectations, and fears. There are many intriguing questions in this book, but for the sake of time and intent, I have chosen the three that I found most surprising and accurately articulated by Hedges.

The first question is found in chapter 4 and reads, “What will happen to me psychologically if I am badly wounded?” In summary, the book explains that there will be a time of shock, depression, aggression, and anxiety. Only after these phases have taken place will you be in a position to work with the doctor to begin the process of healing. To me, this is the most disturbing thing in war. Being that I have struggled with anxiety since a child and have been on medication for years, this really touches me. I avoid watching graphic videos and even hard to handle speakers sometimes. I cannot imagine to agonizing mental torture prison a person bust be trapped in after being severely injured in war. I have seen movies such as “The Guardian” that portray how flashbacks of accidents affect someone on the front lines, but I do not know how they could live with it. It hurts me to know soldiers have to deal with it but grateful they choose to.

The second question is from chapter 5 and asks, “What is sarin?” According to Hedges, sarin is a nerve gas. It works by causing symptoms such as asphyxiation, sweating, drooling, throwing up, dulled vision, heart failure, and seizures. It can kill someone within a few minutes. It makes me sick to even imagine what it would look like to see someone affected by this and even worse, how it would feel to be that person. I do not see how torturing someone before killing him or her will help a country win the war. After reading this, I have formed my own opinion that using nerve gasses seems to be an inhumane form of torture that should not exist between fellow humans.

Finally, chapter six asks, “Will it feel like a video game?” The book says that war, in fact, might feel like a real life video game. Sometimes video games are even used in training. Now, I think there are some positive (and negative) repercussions from a soldier having an almost out of body experience in war. However, my mind goes directly to kids playing such games. I have read many articles and heard several stories about young people who play violent video games, having a plan of action similar to the games to do a school shooting. I know this is a controversial topic, but the book now gave me another reason to believe that video games to stimulate war accurately and encourage and help kids practice violence.

Hedges’ book, What Every Person Should Know About War, gives accurate insight to the questions that anyone, but especially young adults might ask. Though this book is useful and could be recommended to anyone, it is especially useful to educating young minds about the realities of war. Unfortunately, in this day in age war is glamorized and made to look like a war hero movie. Though there is great pride in many soldier’s hearts, it is because they have chosen to live and fight bravely. A soldier determines his own courage in war- war will not define it for him. This book should be used in curriculums in high schools as well as colleges and universities. Though some may be opposed to the idea of reading a book that begins with simple war terms and ends with descriptive detail about shrapnel deaths. However, I have to admit I was not thrilled about reading this book either. I felt like the information would be over my head and that it would be useless in my life. But I was very wrong. Hedges wrote it in a way that I understood and could even relate to on some levels. He has bridged the gap between what I wanted to know about war and what I do know about war. Chris Hedges’ What Every Person Should Know About War is an insightful book that is formatted in a way to be easily understood and is compatible to learners of all calibers.

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