Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Death Instinct


As part of the research for my next thriller (tentatively called The Babylonian Codex), I recently read a fascinating book called American Fascism: the Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges. The son of a Presbyterian minister, Hedges holds a Masters in Divinity from Harvard and is himself a Christian, which means he understands radical Christianity in a way someone with my background never could.

Of course, this slim, frank little book provoked predictable outrage. How dare anyone suggest that the Dominionist movement in the United States is anything but a peaceful, democratic attempt to, um, jettison the Constitution, turn the country into a theocracy, and unleash a holy war on the rest of the world in preparation for Christ’s triumphant return? I mean, it’s not as if Purpose Driven Rick Warren says over and over again that he draws inspiration from the demagogic success stories of the past, namely Hitler, Lenin, and Mao. Oh, no, wait; I guess he does.

Anyway, it’s a fascinating and eye-opening work written in lyrical prose with great insight, and I highly recommend it. But while looking over the author bio before slipping the volume onto my bookcase, I noticed that Hedges is also the author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. Now, I had vague memories of having ordered that book a couple of years ago, although I never read it. So I went hunting for it on my shelves, and sure enough, there it was.

As an example of marketing, the contrasting author bios found in these two volumes are amusing. Whereas American Fascists emphasizes Hedges’s Christian background, War tells us that Hedges was a Pulitzer-winning war correspondent for the New York Times. He covered the bloodiest atrocity-provoking conflicts of the last decades of the twentieth century, including El Salvador, Bosnia, Kosovo, Gaza, Lebanon, the Gulf War, Algeria—you name it, he was there. Again, this is a man who knows of what he writes. And he writes with a rare eloquence and erudition (his bachelors is in English literature, and he has studied Classics and reads both Greek and Latin—as well as speaking Arabic, French, Spanish, and German). His thesis is that mankind idealizes and perpetuates a false image of war that seduces societies and beckons them on to destruction. Not a new theses, obviously, but as explicated by Hedges’s personal, endlessly horrifying experiences, his insight resonates in a way that a coldly reasoned philosophical or psychological explanation never could.

In May of 2003, just weeks after George W. Bush gave his infamous Mission Accomplished speech, Hedges delivered a commencement address at a college in Illinois. When he said, "We are embarking on an occupation that, if history is any guide, will be as damaging to our souls as it will be to our prestige and power and security," he provoked such outrage in the audience that he had to end his speech and be escorted off campus by security forces. The New York Times—his employer—reprimanded him and demanded he shut up about the Iraq War. Rather than comply, he quit.

Now, that’s my definition of hero. Apart from which, as an old time Classics major myself, I can't help but love a writer who casually quotes both Catallus and the Iliad.


Charles Gramlich said...

This sounds like something I'd like. I'll be touching on some of those themes about the Christian right movement and their distintictively unChristian behaviors in my my Darwin book.

Toni Blake said...

Hi : ) I'm commenting here only because I couldn't find an e-mail link on your website, so please forgive me to not responding directly to your blog post. ; )

This is actually a long overdue message to tell you what a fan I am of your historical romances. I thought I'd read them all, and then I found BEYOND SUNRISE hidden in my TBR drawer recently when setting off for a trip to Hawaii. Well, needless to say it was great fun to read a book set in the South Pacific while I was sitting on a Hawaiian beach, and it reminded me how much I adore your work. I'm a contemporary romance author, by the way, ( should you be interested), and I'm telling you, they just don't write 'em like that anymore! ; )

I'm so glad I picked up BEYOND SUNRISE for my trip, and now I'm thinking I need to reread all the others and check out your current books, as well. Thanks for writing such lush, wonderful books!

Steve Malley said...

World needs more like him. Wonder how often in the last few years he's thought of Diogenes?

cs harris said...

Charles, I think you would find his book interesting. Somehow, these people have managed to hijack the label "Christian", when they're really building a strange heresy that has little in common with traditional Christianity. This is not your "Blessed are the peacemakers" brand of religion.

Toni, I'm glad to hear you enjoyed Beyond Sunrise. It's always been one of my favorite books. I had a lot of fun writing it.

Steve, it must be his (real as opposed to Dominionist) Christian upbringing, but I find him far more forgiving of the foibles of humanity than I tend to be.