Chris Hedges explains in “Evidence of Things Not Seen” war’s false representation. Hedges begins by establishing his credibility as speaker; He is the son and nephew of World War II veterans who struggled to overcome the trauma of war, and witnessed violence himself as a war correspondent for Vietnam. He speaks from his history and experience, and of the discrepancy between what he has seen and what is popularly shown. Hedges argues war is sanitized, unheroic, and desolates irreducible numbers of people for a duration that long outlasts the war’s length.
Hedges recalls his father, an army sergeant who served in North Africa, loathing “the military and the lie that war is about glory and manhood and patriotism.” Hedges remembers his father, the former sergeant, tell him that he would go to jail with Hedges to protest the Vietnam War should Hedges refuse the draft like he wanted him to. Hedges follows his father’s story, a former soldier that denounced war efforts and became a clergyman, with his uncle’s, who “did not return home with [his] father’s resilience.” Instead, Uncle Maurice drank himself to death, probably because he suffered a mortar blast. Two different soldiers with different experiences, but each were angry about what they went through, what they have seen, what they were supposed to be comforted by in their return home and valorization of their fight.
Hedges moves on to the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam, a biological weapons used to clear brush and what he describes with quotations as a “genetic time bomb” that continues to affect those who live in the areas it was applied. Hedges cites the $180 million settlement the chemical companies paid to US Servicemen for their defective babies, without accepting liability and without paying the Vietnamese and others the chemical affected. Regardless, the deformities children and families suffer are there. There, Hedges says, to stare at and to have stared back at you, in formaldehydes, and in children “born years after the war but wounded as if the war never ended.” Hedges uses this occasion to propose, “The only way to understand war is to see it from the perspective of the victims.”
Hedges quickly follows the proposition by denigrating the abstractions and myths many associate with war, the same abstractions and myths his father, uncle and himself are disgusted by. Hedges uses “abstract” three times in one sentence, to emphasize how far the abstraction is from what it is concerned. The abstraction is the fantasy behind the false myths, the belief that turns the false into the true, and the fantasy that distances the nature of an event from itself. This distance, motivated by the fantasy of the truth of glory, honor, and patriotism, is a misunderstanding; it is not understanding. Ironically, Hedges asserts it is the injured and deformed children that understand the war beyond the abstraction and myths that encourage a country to be proud of its violence. The children understand because they are the ones who suffered from the war, who personally endured the effects and not the myths.
Hedges terms the myths and abstractions, and the thrill that come from them, as “war porn.” He discusses the irony of how a film that means to denounce war can attract war enthusiasm, like Platoon. Hedges attributes the phenomenon to presentation and ignorance, and how the former births the latter. He argues that war is sanitized and packaged in entertainment, that it excites without dwelling on the effluent, that it hides the trauma that comes from the excitement, and that the excitement itself is just one of the fantastical myth of the “pleasures” of war. Any past soldier who publicly detests the war, Hedges writes, is marginalized, so the image of pleasure, the false truth of fantasy and myth, continues.
Hedges concludes by asserting neither his family or position are unique, contrary to the exclusivity he remarks on at the beginning. He explains that there were tens of thousands of families that have the same history and experience as his. He criticizes the eager distinction enemies make between each other rather than recognizing commonalities, suggesting instead to recogne in sum “the suffering mass of humanity that surviv[es] ... war.” He ends by reminding us of war’s destruction, ugliness, and to consider the lives of our children and the opposition’s children.