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Student Readers' Guide

War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
One Book, One Campus 2004-2005

Created by IU South Bend Students Seianna Giden, Andrea Sowers, Brent Yoder, and IU South Bend Alumnus (’04) and IUPUI student Tony Smith

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1. Do you accept Hedges’s suggestion that war is inevitable, that the capacity for violence is within all of us? If so, what triggers the violence within us?

2. Discuss the use of imagery in the book, for instance the children in Palestine throwing rocks at the soldiers, or the reporters and photographers who keep chasing death. Discuss the psychology of this.

3. Hedges for the most part keeps his narrative directed at wars from the last 20 years. Can you see some conflicts from history that would relate to what he is discussing in the book, for instance the newspaper accounts of the Battle of Bull Run?

4. How do films such as the Green Berets compare to films such as Full Metal Jacket? How do these films reflect Hedges's arguments?

5. There is a popular assumption that if a person serves in the military conflict with high public support they will not have problems readjusting to life after war, that it is only after wars with low public support, such as Vietnam, that a veteran will have problems adjusting to life back home. Do you agree with this assumption? Have you seen examples of this assumption in films, books, etc.? Should the military provide a transition program for soldiers returning from war back to their home?

6. The addictive power of war that Hedges talks about, the adrenaline rush that it provides, can his claim that all are susceptible to this be disputed? If so, what makes some people feel that adrenaline rush and others not? Does a person’s experiences in wartime (solider, correspondent, on the homefront, etc.) make a difference?

7. Does the kind of combat that occurs make a difference in how the public views a war, for instance, bombing from the air versus combat on the ground? In the book, Hedges includes a lengthy passage from William Manchester’s Goodbye, Darkness where he notes that “killing is a dirty business” (Hedges 173). Is that message always communicated to us, or does the method of warfare sometimes obscure that message? Do you agree with Manchester’s statement?

8. At the start of chapter five, Hedges shares the story of Hagob Asadourian, who as a young Armenian boy who had to throw his dead mother’s body down a well. Why is he able to do this? What causes his numbness at the time and his later guilt? Discuss what Hedges means when he writes of the “display of curious the guilt of the victims who often carry with them torments not borne by the perpetrators of the crimes” (125).

9. Partway through the book, Hedges quotes a marine who states that soldiers fight not for “home, for the flag” but for “each other, just each other” (38). Later in the same section Hedges writes of how a soldier will respond when asked about a heroic act that he or she committed. Often that soldier is embarrassed and unsure they’d be able to recreate their heroism if the situation occurred again (39). In the same section, Hedges writes of walking with a friend in a dangerous area and then deftly stepping behind him when he felt shots were about to be fired (39-40) . Discuss each of these responses.

10. Why is it that in various cultures people between the ages of 17 and 22 are drafted into war as soldiers, suicide bombers, etc.? Does their concept of death, or lack of a concept of death, play a part in why they are chosen?

11. What about the concept of death in war?

12. Hedges stresses the importance of the first death, the first atrocity in the prelude to a war, quoting Elias Canetti who wrote, “It is the first death which infects everyone with the feeling of being threatened” (Hedges 144). Why is the first death, the first battle or atrocity, so important? Why is it often difficult later to go back and examine what initially led to a war?

13. The concept of the protection of the dead in war, and the importance of a proper burial is discussed several times throughout the book. Why are these concepts important?

14. Can we grasp the concept of how many people die in war? When something is presented to us in numerical terms (“55 died today in Iraq”) does it make it easier to absorb than hearing an anecdote about a person’s life and death (whether in Hedges’s book or in other media accounts?) How does the United States government’s reluctance to allow the media to cover the arrival of caskets play into this idea?

15. Discuss Hedges’s argument that people can get used to killing and his example of the Reserve Police Battalion 101 in Poland during World War II (87-88). Do you agree?

16. Monuments are a way to remember lost loved ones, but it can be argued that they also serve to reinforce myths about war. Should monuments celebrate the war, or should they only note the dead, such as the Vietnam Memorial? How can individuals have a say in the way monuments are built and what message they reflect?

17. Examine your beliefs. What myths of war are you susceptible to? Do you believe in the idea of myths of war?

18. How does voter turnout and voter education make a difference in the freedom of the press? Does it make a difference? How does freedom of the press connect to war?

19. What about the literature Hedges cites in this work, Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Henry V, and Trolius and Cresida or Homer’s The Iliad? How is war portrayed in these works, and how do these portrayals relate to war today? What about works of literature not mentioned by Hedges, such as Mark Twain’s War Prayer. How does Twain’s argument compare with Hedges? Do Twain and Hedges agree or disagree? How would you compare Hedges’s arguments to other arguments about war raised from literature (for example, some of the works of the World War I poets)?

20. Hedges writes that Homer’s The Iliad is the perfect poem for a soldier to read before war, and The Odyssey is the perfect poem to read after war (12). Do you agree? Why or Why not?

21. Discuss Hedges’s depictions of U.S. conflicts in the book. Does he comment on the United States enough, or should he have written more about the United States government’s positions and history on war and foreign policy?

22. Read some of Hedges's articles from when he was a war correspondent for the New York Times (Reference Librarians at the Schurz Library can help you locate articles written by Hedges). Is the tone in his articles for the New York Times different from his tone in the book? If you think yes, why do you think that is?

23. Does seeing graphic images of war (bodies, torture, combat, etc.) on the news make a difference in how you view war? Does it make you more aware of what is going on, or does it desensitize you to what is happening?

24. Think back to William Randolph Hearst’s famous quote about the Spanish-American war “You get me the pictures, I’ll get you the war.” Do the media and war correspondents help to perpetuate war, or is that an unfair accusation? Does the media almost make war entertaining?

25. Does the media’s repeated coverage of violent events (for instance, the plane going into the second World Trade Center tower) keep people riled up and ready for conflict?

26. With more media outlets and publishing houses being owned by a few large conglomerates, how will this affect voices of dissent and their chance to be heard?

27. Do you accept what you read in the newspaper or see on the news as 100 percent fact? Do you accept everything that Hedges writes as 100 percent fact? What are the various biases each has?

28. Hedges is a former war correspondent who writes of media exploitation of war. Does his job as a reporter make him the best person to write about this, or is he too close to the subject to be objective?

29. While Hedges writes in the opening of the book that he is not a pacifist, that he believes that there are times when war is necessary. Does the rest of the book back up that statement?

30. Is Hedges a victim of war? Has been affected even more deeply that he lets on in the book? Did his position as a journalist shield him from certain aspects of war that soldiers face, or was he affected in the same way?

31. In the opening, he also writes that the work is a work of repentance. If the understanding of the word repentance, is to presupposes that to feel repentance something wrong must be committed, how does that relate to the concept of a just war? According to the arguments he makes in the book, are there ever really any just wars? How do you reconcile his statement about repentance to the idea of just wars? What would be an example of a “just war” from history? This book was published in 2002. What do you think Hedges would be writing about the situation in Iraq now, if he were writing this book today?

32. Has reading this book made a difference in how you view current events?

33. Discuss the idea of diplomacy. Can diplomacy achieve the same goals as war does?

34. Should the United States play peacekeeper or only fight against people who attack us? If the latter, how do we fight a faceless enemy such as Al-Quaeda?

35. Should commercials for groups such as the Peace Corps get the equal amount of air time as military recruitment commercials? Is there a way to market peace groups to make them more interesting to young children (web sites, games, etc.)?

36. Hedges’s background is in theology. His father is a minister and he himself has a degree from the Harvard School of Divinity. Why does he divorce himself from religious/spiritual arguments throughout most of the narrative?

37. What does Hedges’s mean by his last line, “And love, as the poets remind us, is eternal? (185)” Reflect back upon Hedges’ depictions of love and war throughout the book. Can there be true love in wartime? Is there a difference between love before war and love brought about through war? Is there a conflict between his concluding line and the depictions of love throughout the book? Or do his depictions strengthen his argument?

38. Hedges stresses in this book that it is important to realize that our enemies are people capable of love also. Explain why this point is important.

39. Does Hedges write a successful conclusion to his argument, or does he need another chapter?

40. Critique Hedges's rhetorical style. How successful is he in proving his arguments?

41. The depravity of war is discussed at length in this work. Photos of victims taken as trophys, neighbors killing each other in Bosnia, etc. What is it about war that makes it somehow okay to do these things to one another?

42. Hedges quotes Barbara Lee, a Democratic member of the House of Representatives from California who was the only person who voted against the initial resolution passed after September 11 giving the President permission to use whatever force he felt was necessary in regards to the 9/11 attacks. He quotes her as saying “as we act, let us not become the evil we deplore” (Hedges 5). Reflect on what has happened since she made that statement and discuss.

43. Hedges has countless well-written scenes from his experiences covering war in the book. Which example made the biggest impression upon you and why?

44. What is Hedges point of view in relation to the United States? What do you think are his opinions on political power or on power in general? Does what he write make a difference to your opinions on power and political power?

Last Reviewed: 03/2014