Chris Hedges: Truthsayer

I’m always on the lookout for writers of unique talent with mastery of syntax, keen intellect, the ability to change minds, prose abounding in both beauty and resonance. They linger with you. They plant a seed.

Chris Hedges is one of these. Formerly with the New York Times (1990-2005), he currently writes a column for the ScheerPost, known for its thoughtful reporting and in-depth analysis.

Hedges was a 2002 recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting, profiling the threat of the global terrorism network in the aftermath of 9/11.

He’s also served as a battlefield correspondent during the Bosnian and Kuwait interventions. It was Hedges who revealed the Srebrenica massacre in 1995.

This morning I read his extended piece “Ukraine: The War That Went Wrong”
(January 29, 2023). Sobering, it should serve as a cautionary warning to an escalating conflict that shows signs of getting out-of-hand.

What I like is his even handedness. Non-partisan, he tells it as he sees it. Both Democrats and Republicans have much to answer for. America has been, sadly, an imperialist power, provoking conflicts with no resolution. Like once formidable Britain, its dominance continues to wane.

Hedges graduated as an English major from Colgate University, where he helped found a LGBT group, though a heterosexual. What motivates him is social justice for the marginalized.

Walking the talk, while a ministerial student at Harvard Divinity School, he chose to live in Boston’s inner city, Roxbury, pastoring a small church.

He took a leave of absence from his studies one year before graduating to learn Spanish in Bolivia. To widen his outreach, he turned to journalism, honing his craft by studying George Orwell’s political writings, subsequently writing freelance pieces for the Washington Post.

He graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1983.

Reporting from Iraq during the Shiite uprising, he was taken prisoner, before being released a week later. Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein offered a bounty to anyone killing him. Hedges was an eye-witness of Hussein’s massacre of several thousand Iraqi Kurds.

Hedges was awarded the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism in 2002.

Hedges has suffered for his beliefs. He vehemently opposed the U.S. intervention in Iraq, leading to a NYT formal reprimand for “public remarks that could undermine public trust in the paper’s impartiality.” Being the man he is, Hedges resigned: “…I have maintained what is most valuable to me, which is my integrity and my voice.”

Ordained a Presbyterian minister in 2014, he’s been teaching classes sponsored by Rutgers and Princeton in New Jersey prisons for ten years in addition to his journalism commitments.

He has authored six books.

Recently, I read his thoughtful piece on Marcel Proust, whom I regard as among our greatest literary talents. Hedges is no nerd. He loves the humanities and is a polished reader in Latin and Greek. Here’s a sample from his essay:

Art – literature, poetry, dance, theater, music, architecture, painting, sculpture – give the fragments of our lives coherence. Art gives expression to the intangible, nonrational forces of love, beauty, grief, mortality and the search for meaning. Without art, without imagination, our collective and individual pasts are disparate, devoid of context. Art opens us to awe and mystery. It wrestles with the transcendent.

Get all you can of Chris Hughes, a truly good man.


What Counts Most in a Person?

Of all character attributes, what counts most? For me, it’s integrity, or doing the right thing, regardless of circumstance, especially when no one’s around. I say this because of the pervasive anonymity our high tech age confers. I confess to being a Marcus Aurelius devotee, who in Meditations wisely counseled, “Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.”

I was seated by a corporate CE0 on a flight years ago and we began to converse. He shared that what he looked for most were trustworthy employees committed to doing the job right, workers not requiring micromanagement. Warren Buffett echoes this sentiment when he counseled, “We look for three things when we hire people. We look for intelligence, we look for initiative or energy, and we look for integrity. Without the latter, the first two can hurt you.“

In short, trustworthiness is primary, sorely lacking in business, politics and even religion today. And yes, too frequently in private conduct. Some may call it, ‘walking the talk.” I call it Integrity.—rj

Trust me!

Wingswept FarmKentucky
Wingswept Farm (Kentucky)

I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”     –Frederick Nietzsche 

Karen and I were recently visiting our friends’ new horse farm when I spotted a mare and her two young saddlebred foal companions (see photo) and decided I’d saunter over and say hello.  Just wished I’d had some peppermints along.  I started with the mare and took her stillness beneath my hand as consent.  Of course, the foals wanted in on the action, too, though each time I’d reach out, ever so slowly, they’d flinch. In short, they hadn’t yet learned to trust, at least with regards to me. Trust, after all, is one of those life staples you must earn.

In our human world we can be skittish, too, when it comes to trust, especially if memories linger in us of its betrayal as in a broken promise, lying, infidelity, irresponsibility, abandonment and, alas for children, poor parenting.  It’s hard finding an antonym for trust, but deceit comes to mind.  For the great Italian poet Dante, it was the worst of human short comings and he classified its several types into betrayal of family, friends, and nation.

I wish I could say trust has the numbers, or upper hand, when it comes to humans, but I know better and so do many of you, and so I treasure it when, serendipity, I stumble on it.  Being from New England and growing-up along its coast, I think then of lighthouses, rock solid, faithful sentries shredding the darkness with their rotating beams of pulsating light.

I’ve always held the acute test of trust lies in the context of anonymity, or when we think no one’s watching.  If someone runs stop signs, they probably take other short cuts from honor as well, making up their own rules that serve their interests.  Deceit, if you will, is uppermost rooted in narcism, or satiating ourselves, damn our fellows.

Deceit or fraud gets frequently collectivized in power and money conclaves, with near daily sightings of their misdeeds in government and banking. The aftermath, of course, is the bruising recession fallout for the rest of us, instigated by CEO greed and spendthrift bureaucrats that jeopardizes our future.

I hurt when trust gets violated by manipulative charlatans.  I want to believe the ad tells the truth or a doctor’s new book isn’t a facade for making money or that my local car dealer is giving me the best deal.  I want to believe that my friend will keep his word, that my life partner will always love me and my children live honorably.

If love is life’s consummate grace, without trust it will prove tenuous, or like a house built upon the sand, succumb to time’s erosion.  Love may be life’s elixir, but to be trusted may be even better.

Idealist that I am, I want to believe, not doubt; to embrace, not shun.  Like the young foals, I don’t really want to flinch.

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