essay by Jonathan Turley demonstrates how pervasive, and
subtle, government propaganda can be. For instance, few Americans
realize how much sway the Defense Department has in Hollywood.
The military edits films for negative content, denies access
to filmmakers who refuse to be censored, and even writes scripts
for television shows. Sadly, our fantasies have as little integrity
as our news.
wonder, then, that most Americans believe whatever Donald Rumsfeld
says, or that recruits keep hopping on the fodder train. But
while millions watch Steven
Spielberg's latest paean to war and the Pentagon sells its
Army of One
to bored, hopeless teens, a U.S. soldier somewhere knows better.
He might be staring in disbelief at his hospital bill. From
a daily rate of $8.10, hospitalized troops, including those
wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, are being charged for their
was amazed. I couldn't believe it when I heard it,' said Rep.
C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., chairman of the powerful House Appropriations
Committee, who has introduced a bill to repeal what he calls
an 'offensive' law...
make a point about their objection, Young and his wife, Beverly,
recently paid the $210.60 hospital [bill] from the National
Navy Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for a Marine Corps reservist
who lost part of his foot during a recent deployment in which,
according to Young, a 10-year-old Iraqi dropped a grenade in
the staff sergeant's Humvee."
some way to support our troops. I doubt the reservist's recruiter
said anything about this. But what if he had? What if the kids
standing in line at the recruitment office actually knew what
they were getting themselves into? What if voters knew what
war really does to human beings? Could a mere FAQ change our
his latest book, Chris Hedges aims to provide "a glimpse
into war as it is, not as it is usually portrayed by the entertainment
industry, the state, and the press." What
Every Person Should Know About War (2003) answers 437
questions about the practice of war. It has no smoldering phrases,
no calls to action, no arguments at all, just questions and
answers. Each answer is footnoted, and almost every footnote
leads to a scientific study or U.S. military publication. The
book is blunt, dispassionate, and the last thing the government
wants you to read.
focuses on specific, often mundane, concerns as he walks the
reader through "war as it is." He opens with general
information, such as the number of people in military service
around the world, the size and expense of the U.S. military,
and the number of wars currently underway. The rest of the book
proceeds through the stages of military life, beginning at enlistment.
("What will happen to me at boot camp?" "Can
I sign up for a job that will keep me out of combat?" "What
is the median income of those who enlist?") No detail is
too small. Consider this entry from the chapter on life during
will I eat? It will depend on what you are supposed to
do that day. If you have a day of hard work ahead, you will
be given a carbohydrate-rich meal. If your mission requires
peak cognitive ability, you will receive protein. You may be
given food rich in carbohydrates and low in protein to make
you tired if you need to sleep during irregular hours. A typical
meal ready to eat (MRE) or self-heating individual meal module
(SHIMM) might include a Salisbury steak, bread, and a specially
formulated chocolate bar that is designed not to melt in hot
gives answers, not editorials. Some entries offer practical
advice from U.S. military training manuals on how to avoid being
shot, how to prepare for battle, how to build a makeshift toilet,
and how to avoid dehydration. Some entries explain medical issues:
are the best and worst places to get shot? A clean line through
your arm, hand, or foot is best, though it will be painful.
Bullets damage in different ways depending on where they hit.
The pressure from a bullet that enters the brain will usually
rupture the skull. Low density tissue like lungs offer less
resistance, but a lung wound will make it very difficult to
breathe. The spleen, liver, and kidney may rupture on impact.
The damage to your stomach depends on what you have in it. An
empty stomach is better. If you have water or food in your stomach,
the bullet will push it outward against your organs. Nerve damage
from a bullet can result in loss of feeling and temporary paralysis.
Bullets often sever blood vessels rather than rupture them.
If you are hit in an artery you will bleed to death very quickly
unless you receive medical attention."
of military life is, of course, death. There are questions about
killing and dying, but Hedges eschews scare tactics. He puts
the odds of an American soldier being wounded or killed in a
war zone at a relatively low 1 in 15 (1 in 5 for infantry in
major wars). He examines various ways of dying and the likelihood
of each: infection, land mines, aircraft accidents, friendly
fire, chemical and biological weapons, radiation poisoning,
and so on. As the data pile up, the glamour of war gives way
not to hysteria, but to sober reflection. The truth shall wake
will happen if I am exposed to nuclear radiation but do not
die immediately? The Office of the Surgeon General's Textbook
of Military Medicine states: 'Fatally irradiated soldiers
should receive every possible palliative treatment, including
narcotics, to prolong their utility and alleviate their physical
and psychological distress. Depending on the amount of fatal
radiation, such soldiers may have several weeks to live and
to devote to the cause. Commanders and medical personnel should
be familiar with estimating survival time based on onset of
vomiting. Physicians should be prepared to give medications
to alleviate diarrhea, and to prevent infection and other sequelae
of radiation sickness in order to allow the soldier to serve
as long as possible. The soldier must be allowed to make the
full contribution to the war effort. He will already have made
the ultimate sacrifice. He deserves a chance to strike back,
and to do so while experiencing as little discomfort as possible.'"
sensation of dying, what happens to the body postmortem, and
funeral protocols are all covered in a tone devoid of sentiment.
Yet facts alone are sometimes moving:
I receive a 21-gun salute? Yes. You will receive a rifle volley
of three volleys from seven rifles. Your family, if it requests
them, may be allowed to keep the cartridges of the blanks that
sticks to small questions, but he clearly has a larger one in
mind: Do our public officials and armchair generals ever think
about the postscripts to their adventures? We often hear them
say, with false resignation in their voices, that "war
is hell," but it isn't. Hell is an abstraction; war is
tourniquets, amputations, paraplegics, orphans, widows, torture,
rape, and a grief that never sleeps. By reminding us of this,
What Every Person Should Know About War has enormous
potential to change the terms of our public discourse.