Friday, April 10, 2009
In recent days, President Obama and his defense department team have made proposals to increase troop levels in Afghanistan and to add another $83 billion dollars in "special" funding to an already huge defense budget. This, at a time when the U.S. economy is in shambles, job losses at a thirty year high, and nearly 50 million Americans (including myself) are without health insurance. The shift in focus from Iraq to Afghanistan (again), as well as the increase in war spending, is justified as necessary in the "fight against al-Qaeda." Is it just me, or does none of this seem to add up?
I'm well aware that many Buddhists, along with millions of other excited Americans, cheered and went wild when Barack Obama won the 2008 Presidential election. And it was, indeed, a historic moment, and hopefully, in terms of race relations, another turning point in the long struggle for equality, dignity, and respect that people of color and their allies have worked so long to achieve. In addition to that, all the talk and desires of that election squarely sat on the shoulders of change. And I think in many minds, not tiny changes, but real, substantive change.
I feel it's important for me to disclose that I voted for the Green Party ticket because I continue to greatly question the politics and decisions of both the Democrats and Republicans. And yet, even I was relieved that Obama won, hoping that his win would eventually signal a shift away from the war madness, oppressive domestic policies, and sometimes wildly delusional tactics of the Bush Administration.
Given this, the calls for large sums of money and troops to go into a country (Afghanistan) which has suffered thirty years of nearly continuous warfare strikes me as not only sad, but downright inhumane. Never mind that some of the funds are going for humanitarian aid, how is devastating an already crippled nation and then handing out some food and clothing a compassionate answer to what's going on there? It frankly inexcusable to continue to use the September 11th attacks, and the hunt for a scattered band of terrorists (who may or may not be members of al-Qaeda), as an excuse to invade other nations, murder civilians, and destroy infrastructure and ecosystems.
External wars represent the worst manifestation of the internal wars we have within each of us. The deep belief in separation, which plagues most of us (even those of us who are steeped in Buddha's teachings of interconnectedness), is the driving force behind the hatred and fear that spirals into killing and war in the world.
What then should be done in Afghanistan and Iraq exactly? And how do we address terrorism? I don't think there are any easy answers to these questions, and yet, continuing to fight massive scale wars in the name of creating peace is like repeatedly sticking your hand in a fire and believing that one of these times, it won't be burned.
The escalation of the war in Afghanistan, as well as air strikes in Pakistan, is a call to Buddhists and all Americans who voted for President Obama to reflect on what they really wanted when they made that decision. Even if you were aware that Obama's plans all along included some kind of increased presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, how do these decisions feel to you now knowing that our nation is in a deep recession? And how do these decisions mesh with your desire for a major change from the Bush Administration? How is fighting wars in the name of destroying terrorists any different from fighting wars against communism and communists? And of what value are teachings like the first precept of vowing not to kill, or the Bodhisattva vow to free all beings if one also supports massive war operations in other nations? In other words, can you really liberate anyone through large scale destruction?
I personally would love to be in an age where the United States is known as a nation of peace, and model of non-violent conflict resolution. But knowing this will take a very long time, if it ever happens at all, it seems reasonable to at least stand tall against state sanctioned warfare and do my best to learn about and promote other ways of thinking and acting. And even for those out there that support some military interventions, doesn't it seem insane to be increasing military spending at a time like this with all of our economic problems? Or isn't questionable to be escalating a war in a nation that fought off the old Soviet army, and fought off the British years before that?
May we all discover a way to true peace in this world.
Posted by Nathan at 3:42 PM