by Ellen Gilbert
photography by Benoit Cortet
“The presidential election exposed the liberal class as a corpse. It fights for nothing. It stands for nothing. It is a useless appendage to the corporate state. It exists not to make possible incremental or piecemeal reform, as it originally did in a functional capitalist democracy; instead it has devolved into an instrument of personal vanity, burnishing the hollow morality of its adherents.”
Chris Hedges doesn’t mince words. The 56-year old American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and war correspondent has (obviously) some very strongly-held ideas about the world, and he makes them known in his books, online postings, printed articles, lectures, and appearances as a talking head on TV programs.
His outlook is bleak: we are going to hell in a handbasket and things are only getting worse. While many Americans heaved a sigh of relief at President Obama’s reelection, there was nothing to rejoice about as far as Hedges was concerned. Describing himself as stepping “outside of the system,” he voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. The argument that Obama had been a disappointment during his first term but was better than the alternative held no water for Hedges. “Voting for the ‘lesser evil’—or failing to vote at all—is part of the corporate agenda to crush what is left of our anemic democracy,” he observed in the days following the election. “And those who continue to participate in the vaudeville of a two-party process, who refuse to confront in every way possible the structures of corporate power, assure our mutual destruction.”
Hedges’s steely perspective is in stark contrast to the loving joyfulness evident when he talks about his family: his wife, the actress Eunice Wong, and their two young children; and two older children from a previous marriage. Wong closely collaborates with Hedges in his work (“she wrote the first five pages of my last book”), and a Latin dedication to her in Empire of Illusion, speaks to their intimacy. Translated, it says, “This sun once set will rise again: when our sun sets night follows and endless sleep. Kiss me now a thousand times.” Hedges reports that his determination to make the world a better place to live has largely to do with his children. His father, Rev. Thomas Hedges, had a lot to do with it, too.
Christopher Lynn Hedges was born on September 18, 1956 in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. He went to Colgate University, Harvard Divinity School, and the Starr King School for the Ministry at Harvard. He attended a private boarding school before college, but is quick to point out that he was there on a full scholarship. Hedges describes both of his parents as “activists,” role models whose influence was clearly not lost on him. His parents’ social consciousness, his father’s ministry, and Hedges’s own religious training, made for a powerful combination. When the older Hedges learned that there was no association for gay students at Colgate, he prevailed on his son to found one—Chris’s heterosexuality notwithstanding. While the younger Hedges was baffled by some of his father’s traditions, he says that he now understands what he was up to. Asked why he routinely spent the day after someone died with their grieving family, the elder Hedges said, “I make the coffee.”
A no less significant influence has been Hedges’s almost 20 years as a war correspondent, reporting on some of the most hellish conflicts in recent history. “During the five years I spent as a war correspondent in El Salvador and Nicaragua, I stood in too many mud-walled villages looking at the mutilated bodies of men, women and children, murdered by U.S.-backed soldiers, death squads and paramilitary units,” he writes. “I heard too many lies spewed out by Ronald Reagan and the State Department to justify these killings.”
Having seen “the worst that man is capable of,” he is both sorrowful and angry. Despite this (or, perhaps, because of it), he says that he remains at heart a journalist; “reporting keeps you honest.” Feeling stifled, he left his post at the New York Times, where his reporting earned him and his colleagues a Pulitzer Prize. That was almost a decade ago. These days, he has little love for the paper which, he says, lost its “intellectual depth” under Bill Keller’s stint as Executive Editor.
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