Readers respond to "Dixie Chicked in the Heartland."

Published May 23, 2003 7:57PM (EDT)

[Read the speech by Chris Hedges.]

Sometimes, lately, I feel like I live on another planet. When I read the clear, cogent and rather understated speech that Hedges gave, and see the reaction in a liberal arts college, it actually frightens me.

What has happened in this country in the last three years is nothing short of a tragedy, played out on an ever increasing stage. Despite growing up in the teeth of the Cold War, I have never known the fear that I now have for my children, and my children's children.

The world is going mad, while we are having photo ops.

-- Patrick Hogan

What? Patriotism in Illinois? Even among college faculty and graduates? I'm astounded that you and your staff are surprised by this and find it to be a shocking revelation.

It shouldn't be a big surprise to anyone who has driven the two-lane roads of the nation's heartland and truly experienced the patriotism, pride and resolve of the people there.

Pleasantly surprising to me -- and arguably even more newsworthy -- was the overwhelmingly positive reaction that President Bush received in and around New London, Connecticut while giving a commencement address at the United States Coast Guard Academy. Why don't you publish the full transcript of that excellent speech?

-- Eric Hoernemann

In reading "Dixie Chicked in the Heartland," one point echoed in my head repeatedly: When speaking in public, it is important to know your audience. It isn't that Hedges words weren't legitimate; they were. They just weren't appropriate for the occasion.

Commencement speeches are times for glittering generalities and feel-good messages, meant to both inspire and congratulate the graduates; they are not the proper forum for an extended academic diatribe. His speech would have probably gone over well as part of a distinguished-speaker series event, or as an editorial in a newspaper. But it wasn't appropriate for Hedges to turn this graduation address into a wonkish, divisive, academic lecture.

Some in the crowd may have agreed with his views, but still been upset to have them aired at that place and time. When the crowd booed and objected, they were just reiterating one of the oldest rules for public speaking: know your audience. Before Hedges goes out looking for any more speaking gigs, he would do well to consider this rule, and plan his comments accordingly.

-- Sean Cook

Chris Hedges held up a mirror to the commencement crowd at Rockford, and it was an image that they did not wish to see. Instead, they're in love with the bright-faced, flag-waving, eyes-to-the-heavens image that's become more bewitching. Few care anymore about the ugliness, sickness and destruction within that reflection.

We are in big, big trouble, and we are not out of this yet, even though the war in Iraq is "over." We refuse to accept that what we do has major, sometimes catastrophic effects on everyone else in this world, or examine how and why an ally suddenly becomes an enemy.

Unfortunately, one cannot tell these facts to many of our young people -- who know nothing about the Vietnam years -- or to many of those who went through that era, who ought to know better.

A year ago, when I mentioned to my media class that a cardiologist had suggested Bush may have a heart ailment -- to which I added that it may have been exacerbated by his previous cocaine abuse -- these disclosures produced uncommon expressions of anger and disbelief. It seemed that the students were unable to accept any possible frailties or imperfections that their leader might have, because it would personally reflect on them. That the face and body of George W. Bush is the face and body of the American nation.

-- Gabrielle Daniels

Chris Hedges talking (or being shouted down) about comradeship reminded me of what Sebastian Haffner wrote about his experiences dealing with the Nazis in 1930's Germany in his book "Defying Hitler":

"It was comradeship, which in a few weeks in a camp at Juterbog had molded us... into an unthinking, indifferent, irresponsible mass, in which sayings like those about Paris or the Reichstag fire were commonplace, went unanswered, and set the intellectual tone...

Comradeship admits no thoughts, just mass feelings, of the most primitive sort -- these, on the other hand, are inescapable, to try and evade them is to put oneself beyond the pale...

'We' had become a collective entity, and with all the intellectual cowardice and dishonesty of a collective being we instinctively ignored or belittled anything that could disturb our collective self-satisfaction. A German Reich in microcosm."

-- George Mokray

I'm not a radical right winger, neo-con or even supporter of George W. Bush. Like most Americans, I didn't even vote for him, and I don't think the war in Iraq was a great idea.

However, it is a long leap from that position to the idea that we are responsible for attacks by Muslim fanatics. Or that Israel is. The notion that "Israel... created Hezbollah" is a truly stupid idea, one more typically offered by extremists, Holocaust deniers and white supremacists. People who take these views are at best oversimplifying.

Chris was right about one thing -- the right to speak. However, he should be reminded that the people sitting and listening to him have the equal right to disagree and be offended by what he says.

-- David Stonesi

I agree with what Hedges has to say, but it is not the viewpoint of the greatly deluded mass of people of this country.

You cannot really blame most people, however, since they are fed a diet of misleading or overly optimistic news reports. Hopefully, the courage of individuals like Chris Hedges will make more intelligent and informed people speak out about the slippery path the U.S. is on before it is too late.

-- Martin Kannengieser

"Following our defeat in Vietnam we became a better nation"?

That crap might go over in The New York Times or Salon, but of course you're going to get booed off of the stage when you're dumb enough to say it in front of several thousand people in the Midwest.

Hedges should be grateful he didn't get his teeth knocked in -- and stick to writing for people who don't know any more about places like Rockford than they do about Baghdad.

-- John Saleeby

Aren't colleges supposed to be the bastion of liberal thinking? Isn't education supposed to open people's minds to new ideas?

And where's the civility? Interrupting a commencement speaker? Rushing the stage and unplugging microphones? Where do they think they are: Lollapalooza?

I have to wonder: Is this how Hitler Youth started?

-- Gary Lancaster

Commencement speech?

For Chris Hedges to use his invitation as an opportunity to voice his opinion instead of fulfilling the purpose of the occasion is appalling. I'd rush the stage too!

-- Cath Pfeffer

By Salon Staff

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