My youngest son enters third grade in Princeton next year and I have already told the principal that not only will he not be taking the standardized test, but I will be organizing every parent in that classroom.
This talk was given at the United Opt Out Conference held in February, 2016 in Philadelphia.
Chris Hedges, the son of a Presbyterian minister, was born on September 18, 1956 in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. He graduated from Colgate University with a BA in English Literature and went on to receive a Master of Divinity from Harvard. He has an honorary doctorate from Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California.
Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He was an early and outspoken critic of the US plan to invade and occupy Iraq and called the press coverage at the time “shameful cheerleading.” In 2002, he was part of a team of reporters for The New York Times who won a Pulitzer Prize for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. That same year he won an Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism.
In 2003, shortly after the war in Iraq began, Hedges was asked to give the commencement address at Rockford College in Rockford, Illinois. He told the graduating class “…we are embarking on an occupation that, if history is any guide, will be as damaging to our souls as it will be to our prestige, power and security.” He went on to say that “This is a war of liberation in Iraq, but it is a war of liberation by Iraqis from American occupation.” As he spoke, several hundred members of the audience began jeering and booing. His microphone was cut twice. Two young men rushed the stage to try to prevent him from speaking and Hedges had to cut short his address. He was escorted off campus by security officials before the diplomas were awarded. This event made national news and he became a lightning rod not only for right wing pundits and commentators, but also mainstream newspapers. The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial which denounced his anti-war stance and the The New York Times issued a formal reprimand, forbidding Hedges to speak about the war. The reprimand condemned his remarks as undermining the paper’s impartiality. Hedges resigned shortly thereafter and became a senior fellow at the Nation Institute.
Hedges’ is the author of the 2002 best seller, War is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, which is an examination of what war does to individuals and societies. He states that war is the pornography of violence, a powerful narcotic that “…has a dark beauty, filled with the monstrous and the grotesque.” He goes on to explain, “War gives us a distorted sense of self. It gives us meaning. It creates a feeling of comradeship that obliterates our alienation and makes us feel, for perhaps the first time in our lives, that we belong.” Of his own experience of war, living and working as a journalist in the war zones of Central America, the Balkans and the Middle East, he writes: “I have seen too much of violent death. I have tasted too much of my own fear. I have painful memories that lie buried and untouched most of the time. It is never easy when they surface.”
Some contend that his 2008 book, Collateral Damage, is his most courageous work. For it, he interviewed combat veterans of the Iraq war who have testified on the record about atrocities carried out by American soldiers and marines during the military occupation of Iraq. His book reveals in heartbreaking detail the devastating moral and physical consequences of the occupation.
Hedges has also published the following books: What Every Person Should Know About War (2003); Losing Moses on the Freeway: The Ten Commandments in America (2005);American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2008); I Don’t Believe in Atheists (2008); Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle ( 2009); and Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (2012).