Chris Hedges presents this heart-rending, horrifying, humbling account as only a true prophet can, speaking the truth without bowing to the mighty. Hedges' credibility comes not only from his war-journalism background — he spent two decades as a war correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans and contributed to The New York Times coverage of global terrorism that received a 2002 Pulitzer Prize — but also from his role as a Presbyterian minister who teaches courses to prisoners earning their college degrees. He writes, "I have tasted enough of war, enough of my own fear, my body turned to jelly, to know that war is always evil, the purest expression of death, dressed up in patriotic cant about liberty and democracy and sold to the naïve as a ticket to glory, honor, and courage."

Why is the book heart-rending? Meticulous in his research and thorough in his interviews, Hedges lets the voices of others seeped in war — soldiers and veterans — speak. We hear from a marine whose job is to "process" soldiers' corpses, in whose pockets she often finds suicide notes. We read the story of a patrolling Bosnian soldier who hears a noise behind a door and shoots, only to find on the other side the bloody remains of a 12-year-old girl, the same age as his daughter.

Other stories convey even worse atrocities. Perhaps most heart-rending of all is the systematic desensitizing of soldiers. Hedges writes, "War empowers soldiers to destroy not only things but human beings, to revoke another person's charter to live on this earth." Few things are sadder than a soldier's moral compass being destroyed by training, military tradition, and what Hedges calls "the poisonous elixir the power to bring about the obliteration of other delivers."

Why horrifying? The heart-rending parts are horrifying enough, but even worse are details about those who perpetuate this death and destruction: "The same cabal of warmongering pundits, foreign policy specialists, and government officials year after year, debacle after debacle, smugly dodge responsibility for the military fiascos they orchestrate."

In a chapter titled "Chronicle of a War Foretold," Hedges explains, for instance, that as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and the Foreign Minister of West Germany assured Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not be expanded beyond Germany's new borders. But "the war industry did not intend to shrink its power or its profits. It set out almost immediately to recruit the former Communist Bloc countries into the European Union and NATO." The result? Russia was pressured into becoming an enemy as "methodical steps towards war took on a life of their own, moving us like sleepwalkers towards disaster."

Why humbling? Hedges does not hesitate to point out that we are all complicit in the horrors of war. "War exposes the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. It rips open the hypocrisy of our religions and secular institutions ... War is neither glorious nor noble. And we carry within us the capacity of evil we ascribe to those we fight."

The Greatest Evil Is War persists in grim honesty until the final three pages of a Coda. Equally honest, this section is infused with sorrow, yearning, and determination. It is worth reading again and again. Hedges confesses that he "cannot impart to you the cheerful and childish optimism that is the curse of America. I can only tell you to stand up, to pick up your cross, to keep moving. I can only tell you that you must always defy the forces that eat away at you, at the nation — this plague of war." You can read more of his moving Coda in this excerpt.

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