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Times Watch for May 21, 2003

Reporter Chris Hedges’ Pompous Pacifism

Rockford College is a liberal arts school in Illinois, alma mater to Jane Addams, the founder of Chicago’s Hull House and the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. So, when Times reporter Chris Hedges agreed to make a commencement speech there, he must have thought pompous pacifism would be a safe subject.

He thought wrong. Carrie Watters of the Rockford Register Star reports “Times reporter Chris Hedges was booed off the stage Saturday at Rockford College’s graduation because he gave an antiwar speech.”

In a follow-up story today, Watters writes “Hedges’ oration was trimmed to 18 minutes as the ceremony threatened to become out of control. The 20-year war correspondent said Tuesday he was disturbed by the emotional response to his speech. ‘I didn’t expect that. How can you expect to have anyone climb on stage and turn your mike off,’ Hedges said Tuesday during a telephone interview. ‘Watching it in my own country is heartbreaking.’” Watters quotes Hedges: “I find it always frightening when that happens in war time.”

Here’s the opening of Chris Hedges’ address Saturday to Rockford College graduates...as transcribed by Times Watch from an audio feed provided by the Rockford Register Star newspaper:

“Thank you very much. I want to speak to you today about war and empire. The killing, or at least the worst of it, is over in Iraq, although blood will continue to spill, theirs and ours; be prepared for this. For 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 and power and security. But this will come later, our empire expands and in all this we become pariahs [Editorial note: I think Watters misheard “pariahs” as “piranhas” in her initial story], tyrants to others weaker than ourselves. Isolation always impairs judgment, and we are very isolated now. We have forfeited the good will, the empathy the world felt for us after 9-11, we have folded in on ourselves. We have severely weakened the delicate international coalitions and alliances that are vital in maintaining and promoting peace, and we are part now of a dubious troika in the war against terror with Vladimir Putin and Ariel Sharon, two leaders who do not shrink in Palestine or Chechnya from carrying out acts of gratuitous and senseless violence.”
Not exactly “follow your dreams” stuff, is it? Hedges seems to be droning in a world of his own, oblivious to context or nuance or even where he was, not acknowledging the hostile audience, who were understandably wondering what became of their graduation ceremony.

Hedges continued:

“The real injustices, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, the brutal and corrupt dictatorships we fund in the Middle East will mean that we will not rid the extremists who hate us with bombs.”

(Tom Gross wrote on Hedges’ anti-Israel animus for National Review Online in March: “[Hedges] wrote (Harper's magazine, October 2001) that he has seen children shot in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Sarajevo, and mothers with infants lined up and massacred in Algeria, but that until going to Gaza he had ‘never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.’”)

Hedges’ graduation speech continued:

"The curfews, the armed clashes with angry crowds that leave scores of Iraqi dead. The military governor, the Christian evangelical groups who are being allowed to follow on the heels of our occupying troops, to try and teach Muslims about Jesus. The occupation of the oil fields, the notion that the Kurds and the Shiites will listen to the demands of the centralized government in Baghdad. …This is a war of liberation in Iraq, but it is a war now of liberation of Iraqis from American occupation, and if you watch closely what is happening in Iraq, if you can see it through the abysmal coverage, you can see it in the lashing out of the terrorist death squads and the murder of Shiite leaders in mosques, the assassination of our young soldiers in the streets.”

Rockford College should have known what it was getting into when it invited Hedges. In an October interview with the Bill Moyers’ funded left-wing web site TomPaine.com to promote his book, “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning,” Hedges said, “Wartime always begins with the destruction of your own culture.” America’s “defeat” in Vietnam is seen as a good thing: “The defeat in Vietnam made us a better nation and a better people. We were forced to step outside our own borders and see how other people saw us. We were forced to accept very unpleasant truths about ourselves -- our own capacity for evil. I think that that process, especially during the Reagan years, or at least that state, began to disintegrate. War once again became fun: Grenada; Panama, culminating in the Persian Gulf War.”

Notice Bosnia and Somalia aren’t included on Hedges’ list, perhaps because those were Bill Clinton interventions. It’s an odd omission, considering Hedges was the Times Balkans bureau chief from 1995 to 1998, after Clinton ordered the bombing of Belgrade in April 1999. If you’re going to be pacifist, at least be knee-jerk!
In March, Hedges appeared on the public television show NOW with Bill Moyers (see a Moyers trend here?) to plug his book and again wax indignant. Moyers asked: “When you hear the general describe an attack of 3,000 missiles on Iraq, what comes through your mind?”

Hedges replied: “Well, not images of shock and awe. Images of large numbers of civilian dead. Destroyed buildings. Panic in the corridors of hospitals. Families that can't reach parts of a city that have been devastated and are desperate for news of their loved ones. All of the images of war that I've seen for most of the past two decades come to mind.” Later he warns: “Our whole civil society is being torn apart. Once again, as is true in every war, the media parrots back the cliches and jingos of the state.”

Hedges, a war correspondent who went to war zones in El Salvador in the 1980s despite death threats, bragged to Moyers: “I believe that it was better to live for one intense and overpowering moment, even if it meant my own death, rather than go back to the routine of life.” Yet today the brave war correspondent wrings his hands over his hostile Rockford reception, telling the Rockford newspaper that the response to his strident anti-war commencement speech “frightened” him. Times Watch doesn’t believe either statement—both smack of melodrama.

A few days ago the Times saw fit to run a captioned photograph of graduates walking out in protest of Republican Sen. Rick Santorum’s commencement address at Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s University. Will the Times consider Hedges’ hostile reception equally newsworthy?

See full transcript

Just a Few Thousand Miles Off

“An article on Sunday about a delayed vote on the promotion of an Army general who commanded a base where a gay soldier was beaten to death referred incorrectly in some copies to the home state of Senator Daniel K. Akaka, who urged a review of the nomination. It is Hawaii, not Alaska.”

Elsewhere on the web for today:
The New York Observer on the Jayson Blair book-pitch project: See Story

The New York Observer also has a full-length interview with Blair where he ridicules his “idiot” editors: See Story

E-mail Times Watch Director, Clay Waters, with Times Watch feedback at cwaters@mediaresearch.org

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