Aug 17, 2007

War is Madness

The Buddha condemned war and described it as motivated "by sensual desire, just by sensual desire." In the suttas, war is pictured as "men strapping on shield and armour and hacking one another with swords, causing death and painful wounds." Ancient warfare was horrible enough, and more horrible in reality than epic movies would lead one to believe. Most wounds in battle were in the lower body, because of constraints of human anatomy and the need for mobility the region from the belly to the knees was always the least protected by armour.

But modern warfare is much, much worse. Modern states have much more lethal means at their disposal than swords and arrows. What is more, in operations conducted by the most sophisticated military powers, there is always a higher rate of casualties among civilians than among warriors, either of the attacking or the defending force.

Modern warfare is nasty, cruel and cowardly. Pilots sitting safely in their cockpits, flying high enough to avoid ground-fire, are also too high to visually ascertain whether a target is civilian or military. The risk of war is not eliminated, it is simply transferred in a craven way from the warrior to the innocent. Aerial bombardment is a morally depraved tactic, no better or worse than terrorism. In fact, it is best called state terrorism. And they aren't "collateral damage," they are victims of war-crimes.

In recent years the biggest perpetrators of such crimes against humanity have been the Americans and their regional allies the Israelis. Are these nations somehow morally worse than any others? If only it were so, then it would be a special case. They are neither better nor worse than any others, in spite of their claims for exceptional status. They are merely the dogs currently on top in the scramble for scraps. They are killing the most civilians not because they are in any way worse than other nations, but only because they can.

In a recent action in Baghran province in Afghanistan;
United States Air Force (USAF) announced, "An Air Force B-1B Lancer dropped guided bomb unit-31s on enemies hiding in a tree line near Baghran. The bomb drop was reported to have good effects."
Of course, "deeply regretted by coalition authorities," there were some not so good effects;

On that fateful afternoon of August 2nd, hundreds of people had gathered for the traditional weekly market (or 'mela') in Bughni (or Bagh-e-Nahi) where local people trade everything from carpets, foods, clothes, to cows. Market day there falls on Thursday, the start of Afghanistan's weekend. Then, suddenly, the U.S. Boeing-made GBU-31, GPS-guided 2,000 pound bombs fell from the blue sky.

Panic erupted. Many villagers said they lost fathers, brothers, and children in the inferno.
This is by no means an unusual incident in any of the current theatres of war. In last year's invasion of Lebanon;

[Israel fired] at least a million cluster bombs, old munitions supplied by the US with a failure rate as high as 50 per cent, in the last days of fighting. The tiny bomblets, effectively small land mines, were left littering south Lebanon after the UN-brokered ceasefire, and are reported so far to have killed 30 civilians and wounded at least another 180. Israeli commanders have admitted firing 1.2 million such bomblets, while the UN puts the figure closer to 3 million.
Hezbollah too was guilty of war-crimes, cited by Human Rights Watch, such as loading rockets with ball-bearings. If the Israeli assault was a hundred times more murderous, it was only because they had the superior killing technology. There are no good guys in any of these awful wars.

In fact, a huge part of the problem is the simplistic tribal mentality that divides the world into "good-guys" (us and people who look and think like us) and "bad-guys" (people who live over there, eat weird food and worship weirder gods) This simplistic mentality makes it possible for the elites to justify their resource-wars as moral crusades. But no amount of lip-stick can hide the ugliness of that particular pig.

As a species, we ought to have grown out of this baboonish territoriality long ago. I think it was Kurt Vonnegut who pointed out that war was the single most entropic activity of the human species. In other words, it is destruction, death and chaos. We can no longer afford to be killing each other, we have pressing issues to attend to if civilization is to continue.



Looking for signs of sanity is hard, but finding public voices that are stark raving mad is easy. Here are two of the scariest articles I've seen in ages. Scary because there are people out there who think like that;

This guy wants to nuke Iran, and sees "no moral dilemma."

And these guys want Bush to be President-for-Life (after killing all the Iraqis)

But some other folks, bless them, are trying. Here's the kind of thing that might actually be very helpful in letting us learn to see each other as human beings;

The Peace-Maker Game, a Middle East simulation available in English, Hebrew and Arabic versions. I guess you would call it a First Person Don't Shoot 'Em

Aug 13, 2007

Onward Christian Soldiers

I've defined "spirituality" as the quest for the noumenous and/or the trascendental, and "religion" as the institutionalized or organized expression of spirituality. Some people may find that oxymoronic, like trying to "catch a snark with a railway share," (Hunting of the Snark) but it's a definition I can work with.

There are some abuses of religion that divorce it from spirituality altogether. These may be superstitious and commercial, like the medieval sale of indulgences (recently secularized and updated as "carbon credits") or like the mass market for amulets in Thailand. But I can't get too upset about that, it's almost like the Nigerian scam letters, if you're foolish and greedy enough to believe in it, you're not a very sympathetic victim. The worst harm comes from the disrepute it brings to genuine expressions of religion, but I hope most people can discern the difference.

A much graver offence against the spirit of religion is when it religious rhetoric is used to justify war. No major religion has completely escaped this blemish; Buddhists sometimes boast that we've never had a war fought in our name, but that claim is historically dubious to say the least. We should face up honestly to the misuse of Buddhism by some Zen priests in 1930's Japan and by some Theravada monks in contemporary Sri Lanka. If we're not honest about that, we can't fairly point the finger when adherents of other relgions go down the same dark path.

A very dangerous aspect of the manifestation of Holy War is going on in Iraq. We hear a lot about Islamic extremists, but less about their mirror image found in the American forces. There are many stories coming out about the penetration of extreme dominionist christians in the US armed forces. Dominionists are a very polticized wing of the fundamentalist movement, who believe that America should be transformed into a theocratic state. It appears that the Air Force may be particularly full of these people. (See this article from the progressive Jewish site, Tikkun.) There is also the scary rise of the mercenary army Blackwater, which is run by Dominionists.

Now the Army has authorized a tour of US Forces in Iraq by the "Left-Behind" group to promote and distribute a video game based on a post-raptured New York where Christian soldiers seek to convert the heathens and kill those who can't be saved any other way. "Left-Behind" refers to a series of novels based on the Book of Revelations. The writing is pedestrian, the theology absurd and there is lots of righteous killing of the unsaved throughout. But they sell really well. They've already made a film, and now fans can download the game and destroy the ungodly hordes in comfort of their own homes.

Or they can go to Iraq and do it for real.