NYTrep booed at Illinois college graduation

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Posted by Andreas from dtm2-t8-2.mcbone.net ( on Thursday, May 22, 2003 at 2:54AM :

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize winner and author of "War is Force that gives us meaning".

I posted interviews with him and reviews of his book/writings already earlier (use the micro mini search engine).

The latest review of "War is a force ..." as of May 18, 2003 is enclosed.

Plus find his most recent speech transcripted with boos cheers etc. below.

Seems to have been quite an event.




New York Times reporter booed at Illinois college graduation

Associated Press Writer

May 20, 2003, 8:03 PM EDT

CHICAGO -- A New York Times reporter cut short a keynote address to
graduates at a private Illinois college after audience members shouted down
his comments about the war in Iraq.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize winner and author of a recent book that
describes war as an addiction, was booed Saturday at the graduation ceremony
at Rockford College, a small liberal arts school about 80 miles northwest of

"He delivered what I guess I would refer to as a fairly strident perspective
on the war in Iraq and American policy," college President Paul Pribbenow
said Tuesday. "I think our audience (members) at commencement were not
prepared for that."

Many audience members turned their backs on Hedges, while others booed and
shouted, said Pribbenow, who at one point pleaded to let the speech
continue. After protesters rushed the stage and twice cut power to the
microphone, Hedges drew the speech to an early close.

Hedges said he had given similar talks at several other colleges on his
book, but had never had such a response.

"I was surprised at how vociferous it was and the fact that people climbed
onto the podium," Hedges said.

Elinor Radlund, who attended the ceremony, said a woman beside her began
singing "God Bless America" while a man rushed down the aisle shouting, "Go

"It just got to be a very nasty situation," Radlund said.

Hedges' book contends that war poisons cultures and that in wartime people
suspend their individual consciences for the conscience of war. Hedges said
he related those ideas to the war in Iraq, saying that the capacity to wage
war doesn't give a country the right to wage war.

Hedges, a veteran war correspondent, writes a column about prominent people
in the New York area for the Times.

"If I'm covering something directly, I think one has to be very careful
about the public statements they make," he said. "I can't write a book on
the culture of war and not say something about how that culture has infected
us since 9-11."

Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for the Times, said the newspaper is looking
into the matter. She declined to elaborate.



Story published May 20, 2003
LOCAL NEWS: Rockford
Text of the Rockford College graduation speech by Chris Hedges

I want to speak to you today about war and empire.

Killing, or at least the worst of it, is over in Iraq. Although blood will
continue to spill -- theirs and ours -- be prepared for this. For 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, power, and security.
But this will come later as our empire expands and in all this we become
pariahs, tyrants to others weaker than ourselves. Isolation always impairs
judgment and we are very isolated now.

We have forfeited the good will, the empathy the world felt for us after
9-11. We have folded in on ourselves, we have severely weakened the delicate
international coalitions and alliances that are vital in maintaining and
promoting peace and we are part now of a dubious troika in the war against
terror with Vladimir Putin and Ariel Sharon, two leaders who do not shrink
in Palestine or Chechnya from carrying out acts of gratuitous and senseless
acts of violence. We have become the company we keep.

The censure and perhaps the rage of much of the world, certainly one-fifth
of the world's population which is Muslim, most of whom I'll remind you are
not Arab, is upon us. Look today at the 14 people killed last night in
several explosions in Casablanca. And this rage in a world where almost 50
percent of the planet struggles on less than two dollars a day will see us
targeted. Terrorism will become a way of life, and when we are attacked we
will, like our allies Putin and Sharon, lash out with greater fury. The
circle of violence is a death spiral; no one escapes. We are spinning at a
speed that we may not be able to hold. As we revel in our military
prowess -- the sophistication of our military hardware and technology, for
this is what most of the press coverage consisted of in Iraq -- we lose
sight of the fact that just because we have the capacity to wage war it does
not give us the right to wage war. This capacity has doomed empires in the

"Modern western civilization may perish," the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr
warned, "because it falsely worshiped technology as a final good."

The real injustices, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, the brutal
and corrupt dictatorships we fund in the Middle East, will mean that we will
not rid the extremists who hate us with bombs. Indeed we will swell their
ranks. Once you master people by force you depend on force for control. In
your isolation you begin to make mistakes.

Fear engenders cruelty; cruelty, fear, insanity, and then paralysis. In the
center of Dante's circle the damned remained motionless. We have blundered
into a nation we know little about and are caught between bitter rivalries
and competing ethnic groups and leaders we do not understand. We are trying
to transplant a modern system of politics invented in Europe characterized,
among other things, by the division of earth into independent secular states
based on national citizenship in a land where the belief in a secular civil
government is an alien creed. Iraq was a cesspool for the British when they
occupied it in 1917; it will be a cesspool for us as well. The curfews, the
armed clashes with angry crowds that leave scores of Iraqi dead, the
military governor, the Christian Evangelical groups who are being allowed to
follow on the heels of our occupying troops to try and teach Muslims about

Hedges stops speaking because of a disturbance in the audience. Rockford
College President Paul Pribbenow takes the microphone.

"My friends, one of the wonders of a liberal arts college is its ability and
its deeply held commitment to academic freedom and the decision to listen to
each other's opinions. (Crowd Cheers) If you wish to protest the speaker's
remarks, I ask that you do it in silence, as some of you are doing in the
back. That is perfectly appropriate but he has the right to offer his
opinion here and we would like him to continue his remarks. (Fog Horn Blows,
some cheer).

The occupation of the oil fields, the notion of the Kurds and the Shiites
will listen to the demands of a centralized government in Baghdad, the same
Kurds and Shiites who died by the tens of thousands in defiance of Sadaam
Hussein, a man who happily butchered all of those who challenged him, and
this ethnic rivalry has not gone away. The looting of Baghdad, or let me say
the looting of Baghdad with the exception of the oil ministry and the
interior ministry -- the only two ministries we bothered protecting -- is
self immolation.

As someone who knows Iraq, speaks Arabic, and spent seven years in the
Middle East, if the Iraqis believe rightly or wrongly that we come only for
oil and occupation, that will begin a long bloody war of attrition; it is
how they drove the British out and remember that, when the Israelis invaded
southern Lebanon in 1982, they were greeted by the dispossessed Shiites as
liberators. But within a few months, when the Shiites saw that the Israelis
had come not as liberators but occupiers, they began to kill them. It was
Israel who created Hezbollah and was Hezbollah that pushed Israel out of
Southern Lebanon.

As William Butler Yeats wrote in "Meditations in Times Of Civil War," "We
had fed the heart on fantasies / the hearts grown brutal from the fair."

This is a war of liberation in Iraq, but it is a war now of liberation by
Iraqis from American occupation. And if you watch closely what is happening
in Iraq, if you can see it through the abysmal coverage, you can see it in
the lashing out of the terrorist death squads, the murder of Shiite leaders
in mosques, and the assassination of our young soldiers in the streets. It
is one that will soon be joined by Islamic radicals and we are far less
secure today than we were before we bumbled into Iraq.

We will pay for this, but what saddens me most is that those who will by and
large pay the highest price are poor kids from Mississippi or Alabama or
Texas who could not get a decent job or health insurance and joined the army
because it was all we offered them. For war in the end is always about
betrayal, betrayal of the young by the old, of soldiers by politicians, and
of idealists by cynics. Read Antigone, when the king imposes his will
without listening to those he rules or Thucydides' history. Read how Athens'
expanding empire saw it become a tyrant abroad and then a tyrant at home.
How the tyranny the Athenian leadership imposed on others it finally imposed
on itself.

This, Thucydides wrote, is what doomed Athenian democracy; Athens destroyed
itself. For the instrument of empire is war and war is a poison, a poison
which at times we must ingest just as a cancer patient must ingest a poison
to survive. But if we do not understand the poison of war -- if we do not
understand how deadly that poison is -- it can kill us just as surely as the

We have lost touch with the essence of war. Following our defeat in Vietnam
we became a better nation. We were humbled, even humiliated. We asked
questions about ourselves we had not asked before.

We were forced to see ourselves as others saw us and the sight was not
always a pretty one. We were forced to confront our own capacity for a
atrocity -- for evil -- and in this we understood not only war but more
about ourselves. But that humility is gone.

War, we have come to believe, is a spectator sport. The military and the
press -- remember in wartime the press is always part of the problem -- have
turned war into a vast video arcade came. Its very essence -- death -- is
hidden from public view.

There was no more candor in the Persian Gulf War or the War in Afghanistan
or the War in Iraq than there was in Vietnam. But in the age of live feeds
and satellite television, the state and the military have perfected the
appearance of candor.

Because we no longer understand war, we no longer understand that it can all
go horribly wrong. We no longer understand that war begins by calling for
the annihilation of others but ends if we do not know when to make or
maintain peace with self-annihilation. We flirt, given the potency of modern
weapons, with our own destruction.

The seduction of war is insidious because so much of what we are told about
it is true -- it does create a feeling of comradeship which obliterates our
alienation and makes us, for perhaps the only time of our life, feel we

War allows us to rise above our small stations in life; we find nobility in
a cause and feelings of selflessness and even bliss. And at a time of
soaring deficits and financial scandals and the very deterioration of our
domestic fabric, war is a fine diversion. War for those who enter into
combat has a dark beauty, filled with the monstrous and the grotesque. The
Bible calls it the lust of the eye and warns believers against it. War gives
us a distorted sense of self; it gives us meaning.

(A man in the audience says: "Can I say a few words here?" Hedges: Yeah,
when I finish.)

Once in war, the conflict obliterates the past and the future all is one
heady intoxicating present. You feel every heartbeat in war, colors are
brighter, your mind races ahead of itself. (Confusion, microphone problems,
etc.) We feel in wartime comradeship. (Boos) We confuse this with
friendship, with love. There are those who will insist that the comradeship
of war is love -- the exotic glow that makes us in war feel as one people,
one entity, is real, but this is part of war's intoxication.

Think back on the days after the attacks on 9-11. Suddenly we no longer felt
alone; we connected with strangers, even with people we did not like. We
felt we belonged, that we were somehow wrapped in the embrace of the nation,
the community; in short, we no longer felt alienated.

As this feeling dissipated in the weeks after the attack, there was a kind
of nostalgia for its warm glow and wartime always brings with it this
comradeship, which is the opposite of friendship. Friends are predetermined;
friendship takes place between men and women who possess an intellectual and
emotional affinity for each other. But comradeship -- that ecstatic bliss
that comes with belonging to the crowd in wartime -- is within our reach. We
can all have comrades.

The danger of the external threat that comes when we have an enemy does not
create friendship; it creates comradeship. And those in wartime are deceived
about what they are undergoing. And this is why once the threat is over,
once war ends, comrades again become strangers to us. This is why after war
we fall into despair.

In friendship there is a deepening of our sense of self. We become, through
the friend, more aware of who we are and what we are about; we find
ourselves in the eyes of the friend. Friends probe and question and
challenge each other to make each of us more complete; with comradeship, the
kind that comes to us in patriotic fervor, there is a suppression of
self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-possession. Comrades lose their
identities in wartime for the collective rush of a common cause -- a common
purpose. In comradeship there are no demands on the self. This is part of
its appeal and one of the reasons we miss it and seek to recreate it.
Comradeship allows us to escape the demands on the self that is part of

In wartime when we feel threatened, we no longer face death alone but as a
group, and this makes death easier to bear. We ennoble self-sacrifice for
the other, for the comrade; in short we begin to worship death. And this is
what the god of war demands of us.

Think finally of what it means to die for a friend. It is deliberate and
painful; there is no ecstasy. For friends, dying is hard and bitter. The
dialogue they have and cherish will perhaps never be recreated. Friends do
not, the way comrades do, love death and sacrifice. To friends, the prospect
of death is frightening. And this is why friendship or, let me say love, is
the most potent enemy of war. Thank you.

(Boos cheers, shouts, fog horns and the like)



Sunday | May 18, 2003

War is a force that gives us meaning

Chris Hedges new book, War is a force that gives us meaning, is not a
memoir, but a rememberance of his years as a war correspondent. There are no
great confessions or revelations, but an honest exploration of what war
brings to us.

In the wake of 9/11, his book is especially powerful, since he shows how the
state becomes the religion of the people in wartime, how nationalism
subverts honesty and common sense.

Our inability to respond to Al Qaeda in a meaningful way comes from this
impulse to bolster the state in time of war, to embrace the myths of heroic
violence. A myth slowly and surely coming undone in Iraq. Heroism, embraced
on the thinest of pretexts, is now being revealed as sham and artifice.

War is an odd and cruel beast. It changes everything around you even if you
don't notice it. We now chase our tails trying to trap Saddam, hunt him down
and contain him, while his myth only grows stronger. The Saudis are not
going to track down Al Qaeda any more than you're going to build a cathedral
in Medina. It's no contest. The odds are high, if you asked, the most
popular Saudi in Saudi Arabia is Osama, not the king or his sons. Too much
would be revealed by an honest accounting of AQ and the Saudi government.

Hedges talks of how everything is perverted in war, but the one thing he
didn't mention was the encouragement of illusions. The US Ambassador to
Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan, said of the attack "this is the Saudi 9/11". I
merely shook my head when I heard that. It is no such thing. The Saudis are
not in the same boat as us. The attackers went after the Vinnell
Corporation, one of several "private" military consultants. In reality, they
allow "retired" US military to "advise" the Saudi National Guard. In
English, they tell them what to do and how to do it. Most Saudis could care
less if Vinnell was blown off the face of the earth.

The mythos of war allows us to call the Saudi allies when they are no such
thing. At best they are clients, at worst, enemies. But they do not share
our pain or our sacrifice in either case. Hedges mentions how the Saudi Army
fled during the battle of Khafji in 1991, while Marines attacked and stopped
the Iraqis. We still embrace them while sneering at the French, who made
this country possible with timely aid. It was the French and Germans who
offered troops for Afghanistan, not the Saudis.

The war we fight is one we are fighting to lose. We cannot crush Al Qaeda
with secret prisons and mass deportations. Fear will not make us allies nor
more secure. We cannot frighten Al Qaeda into quitting. We cannot defend
America alone. Occupying Iraq is a self-inflicted defeat, the magnitude of
which we will be unsure of for quite some time, but a defeat all the same.
We cannot gift the Iraqis freedom. We can't even secure their water and
light. We have made their lives worst by degrees.

The issue is not fighting Al Qaeda, we have to defeat them because they will
kill Americans whenever and where ever they can. But to defeat them, we
cannot merely impose our will and hope for the best. Hope does not provide
security or peace. Until we can be seen to stand for more than oil and
power, there will always be an Al Qaeda lurking around the next corner.

Every time Bush makes one of his cowboy statements, Al Qaeda laughs. Osama
and now Saddam know exactly what the limits of American power are and they
operate outside of it. We cannot "hunt them down" or bring them to "American
justice". They know this. They laugh at our words and know the weakness
behind them, the squabbling and incompetence. The indolence and stupidity.

The day we close Guantanamo, try those we think are guilty in open court and
agree to an international tribunal for Osama and Saddam, will be the first
day they will know we are serious. That we will no longer treat him as an
exception and instead subject him to the true rule of law, in daylight and
with protections. Not in the night of some jury-rigged military tribunal
with laws created on the spot.

As long as we remained captivated by the trauma of 9/11 and not the
realities of an interconnected world, we will remain Osama's captives,
trapped not only by his gaze, but by every idea and thought he issues. Until
we can break free, accept our losses and fight Al Qaeda on our terms, in our
way and accept a world of risk, we will continue to lose.

Steve Gilliard

Posted May 18, 2003 03:37 PM

-- Andreas
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