By John Ketwig (reviewer)
by Chris Hedges
(Hot Books, 2016)
The full title of Chris Hedges' latest book is Unspeakable: Talks with David Talbot about the Most Forbidden Topics in America. Chris Hedges has emerged as one of the most thoughtful, acerbic, and outspoken commentators in American literature over the past few years. A graduate of Harvard Divinity School and war correspondent for The New York Times, Hedges has challenged his reader's acceptance of the American status quo in such landmark books as "War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning," a deep and disturbing study of the role of militarism in our society and the dangers of modern war to the emotional and spiritual health of anyone who witnesses it; "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America;" "Death of the Liberal Class;" and Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt."
His regular columns on Truthdig.com are always informative and usually intensely challenging. Hedges was a regular participant at the Occupy Wall Street activities; and in 2012 he sued President Obama and the US Congress, along with Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky and others, challenging the ambiguity of the National Defense Authorization Act which allows detention of citizens suspected of providing "support" to Al Quaeda, the Taliban, or other groups hostile to the US. Ultimately, the courts ruled that Hedges and the others "lacked legal standing" to challenge the government's authority. Hedges teaches college credit courses at a maximum-security prison, and supports his family with his writing and speaking.
"Unspeakable" is the transcript of a lengthy interview between Chris Hedges and David Talbot, author of "Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years;" and "The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government" which I reviewed (very enthusiastically!) in a previous issue of The Veteran. Basically, it seems the two men enjoyed a lengthy and mutually respectful conversation in and around Hedges' hometown of Princeton, New Jersey. The topics range from "Life at the New York Times" where Hedges found a climate of corporate ass-kissing and ineffective journalism reporting from "official" government briefings versus getting out into the real world and talking with the peasants and people most directly affected by current events, to reflections upon the Trump/Clinton election, "The Seductions of Power," "The Bankruptcy of the Liberal Elites," "Crime and Punishment," "The Morality of Capitalism, Climate Change, Pornography, and Meat," and "Maintaining Your Humanity Even While Cruelty Reigns." These are troubling, even dangerous times in America and Chris Hedges dares to examine the cause and effect of many key issues of the day.
"Did the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency disturb you any less than a Trump reign?" Talbot asks, and Hedges responds: "Our political and economic elites — including Trump and Clinton — are hostile to genuine change. They don't work for us. They don't work for the planet. And they are well paid for it. The wars will still be waged no matter who wins the White House to enrich the arms manufacturers. Wall Street will still carry out its casino capitalism and push us ever closer towards another financial meltdown. The security and surveillance state will still make us the most monitored and watched society in human history. The trade agreements will still be signed to further weaken national sovereignty and send more jobs overseas. The prisons will still swell with the bodies of the poor. Social programs will still be diminished or terminated in the name of authority. These corporate forces lie beyond the control of the state; indeed the state has become the vehicle for further consolidation of corporate power and profits. We do not have any institutions left that can be authentically called democratic, if we define democratic to mean the expression of the popular will. Civic virtue has been transformed into economic rationality. We have to start rebuilding from scratch outside of the system, including the creation of third parties that openly defy corporate power."
"Unspeakable" is a small book, only 149 pages, and you can read it in a couple of evenings. It is scary, as Hedges believes our country is on the verge of something he calls Christianized fascism. "Violence," he observes, "has been directed against all who appear to have been empowered at the expense of a disenfranchised white working class — African Americans, Muslims, undocumented workers, homosexuals, feminists, artists, and intellectuals." He foresees an onslaught of violence, rage, and a search for scapegoats. Power will be seized by "ethnic nationalists, warlords, gangsters and demagogues." Factories will close, we will see high unemployment and hyperinflation. "When a society disintegrates, as ours is disintegrating, when you acculturate people to speak in the language of violence, you will eventually get violence. I don't know how far it will go. But it will get worse."
Chris Hedges has seen, up close and at great personal risk, civil wars and ethnic struggles in Central America, the Balkans, and the Middle East. He is a spiritual man, and a patriot with deep concerns about the America his children will inherit. As Vietnam veterans, we have seen many similar examples of the cruel exploitations and inhumane corporate profiteering that he describes, and many of us share his concerns. Few of us can put our background knowledge or insights into words as eloquently or effectively as Hedges, but we can certainly learn a lot from him. "Unspeakable" is a terrific little book, and highly recommended.
John Ketwig is a lifetime member of VVAW, and the author of "...and a hard rain fell: A G.I.'s True Story of the War in Vietnam". First published by Macmillan in 1985, it is still available at most bookstores.