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whose war is this?

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unAs I listen to news of a UN convoy being attacked (driver killed, relief suspended) and GPS-marked schools and hospitals being bombarded (more dead and injured, including many children), my throat shokes with fury and sadness.  

What–if anything–shall I post on the blog? The unevenness of firepower and the brutality of the invasion must be obvious to anyone, regardless of which “side” they’re on. There’s no need for more words, especially as mine would be regurgitations from other sources. (Note that international journalists are not allowed into the war zone.) 

soldatSo I turn to investigate the nature of my disturbance. What is it that makes me loathe war’s brutality and unfairness? What lurks darkly in my psyche? Aside from war-time memories in our hometown, the death and maiming of many in our family and community, there is, of course, the shame of belonging to a people who committed atrocities beyond comprehension. 

Reflecting on his actions as a US soldier in Vietnam, his return home to depression, guilt, rage, alcoholism, and his subsequent training as a Zen monk, Claude Anshin Thomas suggests we look at our own attitudes towards violence. 

… if we look deeply into this matter, we can know that those who don’t fight are not separate from those who fight; we are all responsible for war. War is not something that happens external to us; it is an extension to us, its roots being within our very nature. …

anshin1I believe that nonveterans don’t make the effort to understand [former soldiers], because to touch the reality of our experience would mean that they would have to touch the same sort of pain and suffering inside themselves and consequently recognize their responsibility. …

We can pretend we are not violent. Whenever we are confronted with violence, we as individuals and as a society can attempt to hide from it, we can attempt to push it away. But if we don’t touch this part in ourselves, if we don’t own our complicity in the many wars that are being fought around the world and at home, if we don’t become aware of our own potential for violence, then we’re not whole, we’re not balanced. 

source: Thomas, C.A. (2004). At hell’s gate: a soldiers journey from war to peace. Boston: Shambala, p. 50-51.

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2 responses »

  1. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” – Edmund Burke

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  2. I think I have an understanding what Claude Anshin Thomas might be saying… In past violent relationships, I became aware of my capacity for violence – a part of me that, until then, I had little conscious idea existed. Fear for myself and my children – fear that was present for days, weeks and years shaped my behaviour, my thinking and my responses. However, once I was safe, I could experience the fear of the person who was violent and controlling towards me. The fear and the illusions created because of it were what was in common. And sometimes the response to that fear was also in common.

    We cannot say with confidence “I would not live in a violent relationship” or “I would not be violent towards someone” unless the statement is made in the past tense. We can never be sure, really sure, how we will respond in a time of life-threatening fear or profound grief from the loss of our children, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters or friends. We cannot say with confidence that we would not fight if we were part of a community where war was for many generations about being alive.

    When we turn and say “that is their relationship” or “that is their war” we participate through our complacency. Also, we are benefiting from the power (and economic) dynamics that then influence our place in the world.

    I am reminded of the realization that “I am that” or “that I am.” There is no separation. However, I WANT to be separate because to acknowledge these horrors as part of what I am capable of breaks down the illusions that allow me to tip-toe through my day with a well-mastered screening of life’s events to maintain my own fragile peace. Behind the walls of my inner hermitage, I deny that I must acknowledge my potential for violence. I deny my participation in wars through complacency. I deny because of… fear, anger and shame. To slice through this fear, this anger and this shame, again and again and again would be what is WHOLE – what is BALANCED. How do I this with the war in Gaza, Afghanistan, or Iraq? How do I do this when a man in British Columbia stabs his wife and children to death and then kills himself? How do I do this when I remember smashing a glass over someone’s head or chasing them with a length of pipe? I must own the fear, the anger and the shame and forgive myself. I must observe and release this violence, not as someone who is helpless to create change but as someone who can express love in the face of all. I am still practicing:)

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