If You Love This Planet, Dr. Helen Caldicott

Chris Hedges on the power of military culture and the consequences of war


This week, Dr. Caldicott talks with American journalist, author, and war correspondent Chris Hedges about military culture and the consequences of combat. Hedges,
a Senior Fellow at the Nation Institute, specializes in American and Middle Eastern politics and societies, and his most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009). He is also the author of War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, What Every Person Should Know About War, and When Atheism Becomes Religion: America’s New Fundamentalists. In 2002, Hedges was part of the team of reporters at The New York Times awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. He also received in 2002 the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. He has taught at Columbia University, New York University and Princeton University. He currently writes a weekly column for Truthdig.com. Read his latest columns and his earlier work here. Particularly relevant to this program is Hedges’s article, The Pictures of War You are Not Supposed to See.

Near the start of the conversation, Hedges talks about his father, a Presbyterian minister and World War II veteran, who helped form Hedges’s concern for peace and social justice. Hedges discusses how his opposition to the 2003 Iraq War led to his departure from the New York Times after 15 years. He took a then-controversial antiwar stance in a 2003 commencement speech, which can be viewed in four parts on YouTube. His late father, Hedges says, is an “invisible witness” to everything he does. Dr. Caldicott and Hedges examine the nationalistic and militaristic fervor that gripped the United States in the wake of September 11, 2001. She mentions the reaction to a speech she gave to 40,000 people in Massachusetts, and parallels to the U.S. mindset at the time with Nazi Germany. She refers to Hedges’s article War is a Hate Crime, and asks him why war brings a nation together in a tribalistic way. Hedges illucidates how war creates a false feeling of egalitarianism, love and belonging – especially among the disenfranchised — and how the same dynamic is repeated over and over throughout history. The U.S. propaganda system, he notes, has been quite effective since World War II in building a sense of fear to “herd the population” toward the goals of U.S. empire and away from democracy. Dr. Caldicott mentions the hostility she encountered when speaking to a group of male bankers just prior to the 1991 Gulf War. Hedges in turn speaks about the rage directed at him by the New York Times readership who could not sanction his opposition to the 2003 Iraq War.

Hedges witnessed the Highway of Death in Iraq, 1991 (BBC photo)

Hedges witnessed the Highway of Death in Iraq, 1991 (BBC photo)

Dr. Caldicott next looks at Basra, the province of Iraq where the U.S. used large amounts of depleted uranium (DU) munitions in the 1991 Gulf War. She asks Hedges about his firsthand experiences in the region and if he knew about the use of DU. She mentions her book, The New Nuclear Danger: George W. Bush’s Military-Industrial Complex, which has a large chapter on the 2003 US bombing of Iraq, in which America used four times more DU than in the 1991 war. Hedges talks about his observations of the effects of DU not only in Iraq but also Bosnia. He shares his recollections of the “Highway of Death” between Kuwait City and Iraq, and the indications DU had been used on the retreating Iraqi soldiers. Dr. Caldicott mentions recent medical reports about Basra. Disturbing new reports have also come out about the Iraqi city of Fallujah. Read the January 23 article Legacy of War: Iraq Littered With High Levels of Nuclear and Dioxin Contamination, Study Finds, the March 4 article The Cost of War: Disturbing Story of Fallujah’s Birth Defects, and the July 24 article Toxic Legacy of US Assault on Fallujah ‘Worse Than Hiroshima’: The shocking rates of infant mortality and
cancer in Iraqi city raise new questions about battle
. Listen to
Dr. Caldicott’s interview with DU expert Dai Williams
. Hedges explains why he became a vegetarian after seeing the effects of war in Iraq. Read Hedge’s 2007 article, Iraq Vets Break Silence on Devastating Realities of War. Hedges also shares his wartime experiences in Sarajevo.

Dr. Caldicott shifts the conversation to another essay by Hedges, War is a Hate Crime, in which he writes about U.S. military culture and “hyper-masculinity”. Dr. Caldicott has Hedges expound on how the military trains young men to kill. In his explanation, Hedges touches on the negative role of violence in pornography, a topic he addresses in Empire of Illusion.
Dr. Caldicott mentions she is reading the book The Female Brain, which illuminates the differences between male and female brains. She next asks Hedges to describe the use of sexualized language by the military. Hedges also clarifies how the language of war dehumanizes the “other” to destroy compassion. He distinguishes between war and murder as they apply to the first Gulf War. Dr. Caldicott brings up the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Hedges details his own experience with PTSD after covering the Kosovo conflict as a journalist, including his long recovery and the lingering effects of PTSD. Dr. Caldicott closes by encouraging listeners to read Hedges’s books. She says that in the future, she will interview Hedges in depth about Empire of Illusion.

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