Wisdom of Hedges
(Illustration of Chris taken from Colbertnation)
So a few weeks back, former NYT correspondent Chris Hedges came to speak to about six or seven of us from my newsroom. Hedges is one of my co-workers' former instructors from NYU. He was in the area to give a lecture at Berkeley and thought he'd swing by.
Hedges has a Master's from Harvard Divinity School, and religion is a constant driving force in his life, from what I gathered. He spent seven years in the Middle East as a war correspondent, and covered both the war in Bosnia and the war in Kosovo. He told us it took him three years to get over PTSD. He said:"You have several hundred instances of profound trauma and you can't connect with anyone around you."
He recounted an instance where, while embedded in Gaza, he saw an IDF soldier yell at a 10 year-old Palestinian boy that his "mother was a whore," and when the boy came towards him, the soldier shot him in the head from about 10 feet away. For his NYT coverage of the Gaza Strip, Hedges wasn't considered a humanitarian, but simply pro-Palestine.
Hedges may best be known for his anti-war stance; particularly for a speech he gave at Rockford College about war and empire just five days after Bush's infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln. Hedges recalled that about 1,500 audience members just went "berserk" throughout his speech--not only was his microphone cut twice, but a few men tried to maul him while on stage.
He lost his job at the NYT after the WSJ gave a scathing editorial condemning the speech at Rockford. Of his former colleagues, Hedges said they were "cowards" and that there were no tears when he was forced to step down.
"I didn't want to leave the Times, and I did have a choice, but the choice was unacceptable," he told us. "I wouldn't keep my mouth shut."
He says the war in Iraq is an "illegal war," and he will not vote for anyone but Ralph Nader this election year because he cannot stand for someone who would keep our troops in Iraq any longer.
Hedges told us that around 10 percent of war correspondents actually want to write about war. The vast majority simply rewrite embassy hand-outs. He said: "Most journalists have become nothing more than courtesans at the feet of power." But he also stated that he likes foreign correspondents because they are "total shitbags" and they don't pretend to be otherwise. He said that so many of them are so very full shit, and when I asked him to name names, he said Rod Nordland of Newsweek, for one.
Hedges summarily gave a rather bleak picture of his experience in the journalism field, as well as institutions in general.
"People who assert themselves in life move from one institution to another," he said.
This man's words resonated with me for a great deal of time after our discussion. I've tried to read several of his articles online, and recently purchased his book, War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning. I am incredibly fascinated by him because I've never met a more courageously spiritual, upstanding patriot than Chris Hedges. He has truly challenged my conceptions of what it means to be both patriotic and religious and/or spiritual. And his rule of thumb about good journalism echoed my own deep-rooted beliefs: you gotta ask yourself, "Would these people have a voice if I weren't here?"
Here's the first part of his speech in Rockford. (I like how jolly and sweet the deaf interpreter looks as she translates the term "pariah." Also, when Hedges says: "...the circle of violence is a death circle, no one escapes"):
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