Mythic War

From Chris Hedges:

“Lawrence LeShan in The Psychology of War differentiates between “mythic reality” and “sensory reality” in wartime. In sensory reality we see events for what they are. Most of those who are thrust into combat soon find it impossible to maintain the mythic perception of war. They would not survive if they did. Wars that lose their mythic stature for the public, such as Korea or Vietnam, are doomed to failure, for war is exposed for what it is– organized murder.

But in mythic war we imbue events with meanings they do not have. We see defeats as signposts on the road to ultimate victory. We demonize the enemy so that our opponent is no longer human. We view ourselves, our people, as the embodiment of absolute goodness. Our enemies invert our view of the world to justify their own cruelty. In most mythic wars this is the case. Each side reduces the other to objects – eventually in the form of corpses.

for the lie in war is almost always the lie of omission. The blunders and senseless slaughter by our generals, the execution of prisoners and innocents, and the horror of wounds are rarely disclosed, at least during a mythic war, to the public. Only when the myth is punctured, as it eventually was in Vietnam, does the press begin to report in a sensory rather than a mythic manner. But even then it is it reacting to a public that has changed its perception of war.” 


― Chris Hedges (2002) War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (p. 21-22)


3 thoughts on “Mythic War

  1. Thanks for reminding us of this, Patrick. It is one explanation. But I am not sure it reflects reality fully. The longest war ever (for America) was Vietnam, and it was pretty obvious to me that the myth was realised by a great number (eventually the majority) of people wearing the boots on the ground and those supporting them as taxpayers. Neither category was informed of the running and costs of that war ~ this is an attribute of wars ~ and the withholding of such information (as later with the opening of Guantanamo and other ‘service centres’) as mass protracted bombings at costs of many $ trillions can be seen as ‘myth’ or as deception. The latter term is more appropriate in my view, but is not an excuse for those who acquiesced. As to those in the boots on the ground, most withdrew from the horrors into drugs and games and had only one objective ~ serve out one’s time and survive. As to the taxpayers, those were pretty good years at home ~ so it was in nobody’s personal interest to look more deeply than the TV screen. That was enough to end the war, but the ending came by default. Sure the myth of ‘good war’ was there, but most soldiers and civilians went along with it rather than against it, because personal interest always advises that if you don’t agree with something, stay quiet. Germans knew Jews were being killed. Americans knew what was happening in their name. Deception was practised, but ordinary nice people acquiesced, as they always have done. That is the real tragedy of war.

    • Hi Robert, I like Hedges, but you’re right. It’s easier to go along to get along, and a good way to do that is to convince ourselves that the mythic portrayal of the “good war” is true.

  2. Pingback: Sixteen Anti-War Songs – Patrick F. Clarkin, Ph.D.

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