BROOKE GLADSTONE: War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning is the title of a new memoir by Chris Hedges, a New York Times reporter who has spent most of his professional career dodging bullets. Shot at in Kosovo, expelled from Central America, taken captive in Iraq, Hedges expounds on the myth-making that ensues in wartime among politicians, soldiers and reporters. "The myths are hard to comb out when the fight is our own," he says. "It's far easier to report without illusions on someone else's war."
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, when you're covering a conflict, let's say Bosnia, where your nation is not involved, you can report on the horror that is war. I mean I think most people looked at the Bosnia conflict or the conflict in Kosovo and saw it for the ugly-- horrific mess that it was. But when you go into the Persian Gulf War, you know, especially with video clips that were handed to the broadcast media by the military, and then all of the restrictions -- I mean you couldn't take photographs of the bodies coming back or the coffins coming back from Dover and this kind of stuff -- it was so stage-managed, and the press went along with it -- that war became a vast video arcade game. So when your own nation is involved in war, when you feel you are under assault, then you imbibe [LAUGHS] -- you imbibe in the myth.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:And in your book you suggest that during the Gulf War the press wanted to be used -- it saw itself as part of the war effort. That's not what a lot of journalists have told this program.
CHRIS HEDGES: Well I would disagree with them. If the press had not administered that pool system, and they ran it, deciding who would go where on which day, it couldn't have functioned. There was a complete collusion between the military and the press -- and I think the fact is, as -which is true in every conflict I've been in -the vast majority of those people did not want to go out. They don't say that publicly but-- I believe that that was true.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You had to look inward to write this book. What did you find inside yourself?
CHRIS HEDGES:It's a kind of addiction. You know, I'd jump from war to war to war for almost two decades. Was no accident that I was covering the war in Kosovo with people I had covered the war in Central America with 20 years before!
BROOKE GLADSTONE:How did you justify going to war after war after war - seeing the other same correspondents there in the field - over and over again?
CHRIS HEDGES: I mean I thought what was happening in Sarajevo was a crime! I still think it was a crime! You know I went there because I was outraged! And the same reason I went to El Salvador when the death squads were killing 800 to a thousand people a month, and that hasn't changed. I mean there was a very idealistic streak that drove me to these conflicts. In Kosovo I still believe the work that we did was good; the Serbs would go into a village and kill Kosovar Albanians and block all the roads and we'd walk in and get it. Now, coupled with that was the adrenalin rush; was the sort of intoxication with-- the whole milieu of war and the, the exaltation of ourselves -- and I mean all of that stuff -- I mean motives are always mixed. But it -that's how I justified it, and I think others justified it. I think what we're less honest about is talking about how this kind of a lifestyle can become an addiction. You know the rest of life seems rather trivial and dull and slow. You know Freud called it "the notion of the uncanny" where everything familiar becomes strange and -- I mean you have that, and you miss that fraternity! I mean that - you know there is a fraternity of war correspondents, and-- and you sort of long to get back into the conflict. Combat soldiers have this as well.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:You've hung it up. You had some turning point - some Rubicon that you decided you would cross and not go to war any more. What was it?
CHRIS HEDGES: It was gradual. I'm not sure it was one thing. I got caught about a year or two ago in a very bad ambush in Gaza. Anet Seremen [sp?], a young 19 year old kid about 10 feet from me was shot through the chest and killed. I lost my closest friend in Sierra Leone. I lost two friends, one of whom I was very close with - Kurt Djork [sp?] - they were killed in an ambush. I mean these aren't the first people I've worked with who died, but I, I think I realized that if I didn't step back and stop, you know, my luck was going to run out. Nobody stays lucky forever.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How long have you been away from it now?
CHRIS HEDGES: I was in Gaza-- I guess it was-- a year ago, so a year or two.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Are you feeling some of the effects that you described?
CHRIS HEDGES:No, I think that I've pretty much washed my hands of it and I've spent three years doing that. I think there'll always be a kind of nostalgia for it. There's a passage in the book about friends of mine in Sarajevo sitting around after the war and they're lamenting, you know, the fullness that that experience gave them. They had a sense of purpose! A sense of ennoblement! You know, they were able through war to rise above the sort of petty concerns of daily life and bega--and, and become engaged in something epic. And I think one also has to remember that there is this huge communal sense that we have in wartime, and it allows us to suspend individual conscience. Suddenly we all know what the goal is. I mean this is all powerful stuff, and you even saw it after 9/11 -- there was a kind of nostalgia in the city for that kind of glow.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you very much.
CHRIS HEDGES: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Chris Hedges is a New York Times investigative reporter and author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. [THEME MUSIC] 58:00
BOB GARFIELD:That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Janeen Price and Katya Rogers with Megan Ryan and Emily Ford; engineered by Rob Christiansen and edited-- by Brooke. We had help from Sharon Ball, Bernardo di Paola [sp?], Rex Doane, Paul Truffaut [sp?] and Scott Strickland, and of course vital assistance from Natasha Korgaonkar to whom we reluctantly say goodbye this week. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Arun Rath is our senior producer and Dean Capello our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. This is On the Media from NPR. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. Happy New Year!--