MY DINNER WITH CHRIS HEDGES
Chris Hedges is a former reporter at the NY Times. He was part of a team of reporters that won the Pulitzer Prize. He began as a much heralded war correspondent, but because he developed a radical critique of capitalism and the American empire, Hedges’ star began to fall from that lofty sky. While giving a commencement address, he criticized a US military action and was for all intents and purposes, jeered off the stage. Soon he was gone from the Times.
Hedges’ writing is sometimes described as morbid or even crazy. He seems furious with our nation’s foreign policy. He seems furious with the rich. He seems most furious with liberals who co-operate with empire. He tirelessly brings up our nation’s loss of civil liberties.
Robert Jensen teaches journalism at the University of Texas and arranged for Hedges to come and speak at the church where I preach. He also arranged a meal afterward. The meal was at a local Thai restaurant with Jensen, Hedges, myself and Paul Woodruff, a friend of Hedges’ who teaches philosophy and classics at the University of Texas.
It was his conversation with Woodruff that was most revealing. As they alternated talking politics and Greek tragedy, I realized that Hedges’ primary love was art and literature. But war correspondents may see the open chests of dying soldiers. They may see limbless children making their way through the rubble of war. I do not know what Chris Hedges saw, but at that dinner he seemed to me like the story of Jacob who had wrestled with God and left that struggle with a permanent wound.
Like the song says, “It’s a rich fool’s war, but a poor fool’s fight.” I cannot imagine what it is like to look into the eyes of a dying soldier, and to know they were dying for a lie. How do you look into that horror, and then return to a nation that does not want to hear about it?
So Hedges wanders now like Ezekiel, whose soul has been blistered by looking too long at the truth. He is reduced to shouting truth at a nation with neither eyes to see, nor ears to hear. He is like a wounded figure from a Greek tragedy who alone feels the pain of a nation’s death blow.
I do not always enjoy reading Chris Hedges, but I do so religiously because I know he has left the halls of power so that he might speak unpleasant truths on behalf of the wretched of the earth. As the Greeks knew, a prophet often appears mad when calling a nation to sanity by speaking truths that nation does not want to hear.