In his book “War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning”, Chris Hedges gives a deeper analysis of an earlier argument by Lawrence Leshan, that the society can look at wars as either a mythic reality or sensory reality. The mythic reality is, basically, the way most bystanders see the war. Here we give the war a false meaning so as to demonize the enemy and justify our actions (Hedges 21). In the sensory reality, the war is reflected as it actually is. No truth is concealed from the society. Chris Hedges supports this reality by claiming that the media and other responsible personnel ought to portray things as they actually happen. They must be totally dedicated to providing faithful details, good and bad, in order to tell the truth.
For Hedges, this becomes a reality, because for so many years and in so many battlefields, he experienced war first hand and clearly got to see the destruction, rape, backstabbing and even murder. To him, the pretense that we are good and they are bad is a wrong reflection of the situation. When there is a war, in one way or another we are all at fault. Assuming an example of America’s war on terrorism, we (Americans) blame the whole thing on the terrorists who attacked the twin towers. The war on terrorism, basically, started as a result of that. That is more of a mythic reality, because we use that to justify our being in Iraq killing their soldiers and innocent citizens. If we could adopt a sensory reality, we would first consider ourselves to blame for the twin tower attacks, because the attackers had a reason. Therefore, we would recognize that we are both to blame for the war and handle the situation with that in mind. We would also realize that whenever we pay for gas, we are actually indirectly giving money to the middle east countries, who in turn fund the terrorists.
I have every reason to agree with Hedges, because he has been there, seen it all. Being a veteran correspondent of war, he survived ambushes in many war fronts including the Central America, beating by the Saudi military police, and imprisonment in Sudan. He has witnessed the killing of innocent children in Gaza and gangsters’ elevation to war heroes in the Balkans. Moreover, he has seen war at its worst and understands that giving a false representation of war has the effect of corrupting politics, perverting basic human desires that are so basic, and even destroying the culture. Therefore, when reporting war, the hard-nosed realism should be mixed with a profound philosophical and moral insight.
In the mythic reality, the human mind has a kind of a construction, which makes us view our enemies as being different from us. It even gets worse during the times of war, because our perceptions shift and we suddenly begin to view everything in a different way. No longer is God for everyone, but just for us. Even a leader of a church can in such times use the idea of the mythic theory to get his church members to carry out a massacre, using the justification that it is God’s will for them to die. We begin to view our enemies as evil people and ourselves as “the God’s people”. The construction in our mind leads us to believe that by engaging in war, we will facilitate in a positive transformation of the mankind. The media tells us that our enemies are subhuman, thieves, and liers while we are the heroes and we still believe them. Even our leaders can slip into this reality and that is why they lead us to war. Actually, a leader’s shift to mythical thinking encourages him to ensure that the rest of the country joins him in viewing the enemy in his new image (Hedges 26). The media particularly paints the opposition as subhuman, consequently, assisting the leader in convincing his countrymen.
Breaking free from the mythical thinking once a war has broken out is very difficult, almost impossible. It is the underestimation of the enemy and the need to be the winner that keeps us fighting. Unfortunately, conflict will always be with man since aggression is man’s nature. However, the ability to switch from a mythical reality to a sensory reality will enable us to handle conflicts amicably. A mythical reality will always cause us to engage in endless wars.
On the other hand, in "Good Form", Tim O'Brien talks about the difference between story truth and real truths. Having been a soldier himself, he talks about how he saw someone dying during a war near My Khe, but that it was not him who killed the man. Afterwards he says that he did actually make up the story. His argument is that he wants to use his writing to make us feel what he felt. Because of that, he concludes that story truth is sometimes truer than the happening truth. Stories make things present and can be used to assume a real situation. O’Brien provokes us to realize that the significance of such kind of stories is that they use feelings rather than facts to inform. For instance, his Vietnam stories seemed realistic and they made us identify with the characters’ plight, whether or not the facts were straight. Through making us experience how killing a man feels like, we sympathize with the victim and that is all that matters, and not whether the killing occurred or not.
These two war books by O’ Brien and Hedges may sound as though they contradict each other but they actually do not. The mythical reality that Hedges talks about is whereby we justify ourselves and view our enemies as subhuman. O’Brien, on the hand, uses literature to create a story truth of the effect of war, especially on the victim who could be the “enemy”. O’Brien notes that, “A true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe” ( O’Brien 78). He, therefore, uses a story, which may not necessarily reflect a fact to tell the truth about the matter. Both authors are trying to communicate the importance of thinking beyond ourselves and regarding the other party as well. The underlying idea is that when as citizens we embrace the myth of war, we get blinded by nationalism, patriotism, and other fervor that prevents us from perceiving war in its true nature, which is devastating in its effects on soldiers and civilians like. Both authors are emphasizing the importance of embracing humanity.
These books by Hedges and O’Brien are not really anti-patriotic, nor are they “patriotic”. Their basic argument is that our loyalties should not exclusively lie with any government or nation, not even the one we belong to. Therefore, we should not have a blind or manipulative patriotism. Rather, our reasoning, especially during times of conflict, should be grounded in understanding and love. Though they do not specifically state it, it is quite clear that their literature is based on the argument that true patriotism does not just entail the love for one’s country, but also the love for humanity. In this sense, viewing our enemies as the epitome of evil and presenting them as though they are just fanatics with no respect for the human race is actually lowering our dignity in such a way that we ascribe to them. As a matter of fact, this is inherently self defeating.