Saying Goodbye to Sam

October 28, 2019
Posted in Blog
October 28, 2019 Editor

Saying Goodbye to Sam

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Opinion | TD originals

sketch above: Mr. Fish / Truthdig

Chris Hedges
Chris Hedges is a Truthdig columnist, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a New York Times best-selling author, a professor in the college degree program offered to New Jersey state prisoners by Rutgers… And so much more!

WN: Chris Hedges is amongst my favourite writers on these themes. My main disappointment has always been his denial of the historical Resurrection of Jesus. The evidence does not compel such a conclusion.  I believe his general tone of hopelessness in much of his otherwise brilliant writing has a joyous counterpoint he is missing out on! I explore this with reference to close relatives who are as hopelessly lost–in this case in extreme anger against Christianity and the Church. On their logic, just as soon dismiss the entire human race! (Something I reference in the preface to my “Rwanda Dispatches“.) I consciously choose hope and joy:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:1 – 11)

Indeed, this hope has not disappointed, rather has underwritten buoyant joy and an overall sense of well-being–for untold and told multiplied millions–including me!

The 17th-century mathematician, Blaise Pascal (“the most brilliant mind of the past millennium”–Einstein) in his famous discussion, “The Wager,” wrote:

“God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up… Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose… But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is… If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness.

The article highlighted below is fascinating with reference to war, literature, truth-telling, and more.


When I returned to the United States after two decades overseas covering wars and other conflicts as a reporter, I searched out Samuel Hynes at Princeton. Sam, who had been a Marine Corps pilot in World War II, had taught literature at the university and was one of the most important contemporary writers on war. He grasped that war is always about betrayal, betrayal of the young by the old, of soldiers and Marines and others by politicians and of idealists by cynics.

We ended up living on the same street and became close friends. We were orphaned by our experiences in war and by our grounding, in the electronic age, in the world of print—two prisms through which we interpreted reality. We spoke in a shorthand filled with literary references and with a visceral understanding of the capacity for human depravity and violence. In war, Sam wrote, “we learn that elements of our nature as human beings we thought were immutable can be diminished or destroyed, and that the human heart may be colder and crueler than our experience has shown us.” Even humor is different, he noted, “because it is full of death.”

In his books, Sam, who died at 95 earlier this month, chronicled the culture of war and its effects on young men who went in search of adventure and glory in the military and came home maimed and disillusioned. His works included “The Soldiers’ Tale: Bearing Witness to Modern War,” “A War Imagined: The First World War and English Culture,” “The Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World War,” “On War and Writing,” “The Auden Generation: Literature and Politics in England in the 1930s” and a memoir of his time as a combat pilot in the South Pacific, “Flights of Passage: Reflections of a World War II Aviator.”

No doubt our wartime experiences contributed to our politics. Sam was a New Deal Democrat. He believed in the promise of America. I spent years chronicling the atrocities and crimes of the American Empire in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa and had grown to despise the architects of imperialism who dominate the two ruling political parties and the capitalists, war industry executives and racists behind them. Sam was as ferociously stubborn as I am. When our conversations dealt with race, capitalism and empire, it was as if FDR had invited the Wobblies to lunch. But then, neither of us relenting, we would go back to literature—William Shakespeare, much of which he could quote from memory, Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, whose novel “Middlemarch” he considered a masterpiece, Rebecca West, William Butler Yeats or Auden. I failed, although I tried repeatedly, to convince him that “Moby-Dick” was the greatest American novel. He never succeeded in getting me to read Anthony Trollope. He was engrossed in a book by the British novelist Penelope Lively in the days before his death. He asked his grandson Sam Preston to read Yeats’ poem “Sailing to Byzantium,” an evocation of loss and death, at his funeral service. The third stanza reads:

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

His writing was a savage assault on the myth of war. His book “The Auden Generation” was important to him because it chronicled a time “when artists and intellectuals were anti-war.” He may have been a former Marine Corps major with a Distinguished Flying Cross who carried out 78 combat missions in a torpedo bombing squadron in the Caroline Islands and Okinawa, but his literary hero, Auden, was a pacifist.

“In matters of war, cautionary literature and the evidence of experience do not change many minds or alter many romantic expectations,” Sam wrote. “Every new generation will respond anew to war’s great seduction—not to the uniforms and the parades but to the chance to be where the danger is, where men are fighting. War brings to any society its electric, exhilarating atmosphere, and young men rush to join in it, however grim the stories of war they have read and accepted as truth. Every generation, it seems, must learn its own lessons from its own war, because every war is different and is fought by different ignorant young men.”

Combat, he knew, creates an unbridgeable gulf between those who have been to war and those at home who spout wartime slogans and believe in national virtues that the battlefield has exposed as lies.

“War turns landscape into anti-landscape, and everything in that landscape into grotesque, broken, useless rubbish—including human limbs,” he wrote in “The Soldiers’ Tale,” a book I read while covering the war in Bosnia. “Reading soldiers’ accounts of Shiloh or Waterloo, Ladysmith or the Argonne or Huế, we see with estranged eyes. These lives are nothing like ours, and these places are like nothing we could possibly find in our familiar civilian world. War, we see, is not a place we could travel to.”

“The Soldiers’ Tale” is a brilliant chronicle of the luring of naive young men yearning for adventure into the maw of violence, and the callous indifference of a military machine and a state that grind them up. Echoing Primo Levi’s warning about “the annihilation of the humanity in men, before the other dying happens,” Sam decried the abstract hatred that “made a people forget their humanity in war, make their enemy inhuman.” He castigated the official lies told to wage wars and the deceptions of mass culture used to ennoble war. He saw war as “an activity in which men become the food of predatory animals, in which rats and cats and pigs eat people, even people eat people. In war every kind of monstrosity is possible.” He understood that the Holocaust was so dangerous because it was not unique. “Human beings have always destroyed other human beings for ethnic, ideological, and religious reasons (and out of pure sadism too). The history of the world since the Holocaust has proven that point over and over; in Cambodia, Uganda, Bosnia, Rwanda. Murder is human.”

He despaired of his physical decline, especially given an athletic prowess that kept him riding his bicycle and playing tennis into his late 80s. One recent afternoon, though he had to grip my arm as we slowly made our way around the block, he recited for me from memory the conclusion of Samuel Beckett’s novel “The Unnamable”:

… you must go on, that’s all I know, they’re going to stop, I know that well, I can feel it, they’re going to abandon me, it will be the silence, for a moment, a good few moments, or it will be mine, the lasting one, I can’t go on, you must go on, I’ll go on, you must say words, as long as there are any, until they find me, until they say me, strange pain, strange sin, you must go on, perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.

As he lay dying, he grasped my hand and said, “We will always be friends.” He paused. “You know what I mean.”

“Poetry is not concerned with telling people what to do, but with extending our knowledge of good and evil,” Auden wrote. That was Sam’s mission: extending our knowledge of good and evil. He condemned what Auden called

The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street,
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police,
We must love one another or die.

Sam, who lost his wife in 2008, spent his evenings reading. I would return home late at night from New York and see the comforting glow of his reading lamp through his living room window. I would ring his doorbell the next day. He would come down the stairs from his study, where in the months before his death he was writing a book, titled “Older Than Lear,” on his electric typewriter. We would plunge once again into the world of books, what the poet John Keats called “the realms of gold.”

Sam’s reading lamp is now dark, his house empty, his last book unfinished.

Life is a voyage, a discovery, including the discovery of death. It is about seeking truth, but also about experiencing wonder and awe, the capacity to love. The most fortunate of us make this voyage with someone with whom we share an intellectual and emotional affinity. Suffering and danger, as J. Glenn Gray, another great writer on war, wrote, does not create friendship. It creates its opposite, comradeship. Friends are not comrades. They do not revel in death and self-sacrifice the way comrades do. Friendship—and most of us, if we are honest, must admit we have only one or two real friends and some of us have none—is about descending to depths beyond articulation, gaining through the insights of the friend greater self-awareness and self-possession. The death of a friend is bitter and painful because it leaves us more alone, diminished. We lose a part of ourselves. Friendship is the most potent antidote to the trauma of war. “Its true domain is peace,” Gray wrote of friendship, “only peace.”

Please click on: Saying Goodbye to Sam

  1. [1]See on this my "Easter Song: Keith Green, and Reflections on the Resurrection." Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
    The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below. See on this my “Easter Song: Keith Green, and Reflections on the Resurrection.
  2. [2]There is a brilliant discussion of Pascal's Wager in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The article concludes with: "Pascal’s Wager is a watershed in the philosophy of religion. As we have seen, it is also a great deal more besides." It continued:
    ‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.”   The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed.  It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.  He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions. There is a brilliant discussion of Pascal’s Wager in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The article concludes with: “Pascal’s Wager is a watershed in the philosophy of religion. As we have seen, it is also a great deal more besides.”
  3. [3]Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
    Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).
    What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.
  4. [5]
  5. [4] The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". [5]He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
    Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.
  6. [6]A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
    In June [2017], the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
    It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.
    Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
    The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.
    To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.


Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

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