Putting On and Taking Off the Pretty Face of War

The heartrending recent news coverage about the ghastly deaths of defenseless civilians, mostly children, in Qana, Lebanon, tells the real story of the mideast wars: random slaughter, and the relentless ruin of the loves, livelihoods, work, and hopes of thousands of innocent civilians on all sides. Nevertheless, true believers in the necessity, efficacy, and morality of war still churn out article after article arguing war's fairness and positive aspects (“Israeli Military Service Unites Generations;” “'Disproportionate' in What Moral Universe;'” “For Troops, A Sense of Moral Clarity.”) For, in order to sustain the important illusion that war is moral, and to divert public attention away from war's inevitably bloody means and ends, pro-war propagandists shamefully exploit every one of the heart-swelling, toe-tapping, chest-beating moments which arise in the midst of horrific wars—all the gentlemanly charitable acts, the selfless patriotism and bravery, the beauty and idealism of youth….


Although “might” cannot make right, fear and influence can be combined fairly successfully to shape public perception to thinking that “our” wars are primarily about camaraderie, adventure, skill, professionalism, physical prowess, pride, and masculinity…and to thinking that wars can be fought cleanly, judiciously, even kindly, in order to rescue the downtrodden, promote democracy, and protect our homes, families, and way of life.


Even well-intentioned efforts to ameliorate war’s devastating effects, such as banning nuclear weapons and landmines, and instituting war crimes trials, can be exploited, and held up as proof that war is just and humane.


But the fact that war has moments of fineness and decency should not lull us into deluding ourselves that repeated indiscriminate acts of violence against one’s fellow man are anything except wrong. As in Qana, ninety percent of the victims of modern wars are civilians. Soldiers, politicians, and private citizens alike must choose to abandon their consciences for the duration of wars, because war itself is a crime against humanity.


Although “wars of self-defense,” a highly ambiguous and arguable term, are still considered to be legal, all that is legal is not necessarily moral. Wars are fundamentally about the use of force to achieve political goals, not about morality. But moral or not, all fighting must relentlessly be made palatable to its funding and fighting public. Any politician or general worth his pay-grade knows well how to drape war in the colors and images of respectability and tradition. Yet no gallantly waving flag, no proud anthem, pledge, nor crisp salute can ever promise that war’s processes or outcomes will be representative, humane, or moral.


Every soldier who ever shot, tortured, or pushed a captive out of a plane in order to obtain information necessary to protect his own knows that the cruel reality of war makes a mockery of the prettified versions held up for public viewing, the ones giving lip service to human rights, morality, and a rule of law which rests on due process, presumption of innocence, the right to legal counsel, and a fair and speedy trial..


Any soldier who ever fought in a real shooting war knows that legal and moral niceties are suspended during the life-and-death situation that is war, hauled out only as convenient for public viewing. Snipers, for example, act instantaneously as judge, jury, and executioner to their random, anonymous suspects. Bombardiers, and missile and rocket launchers unleash hell, raining fire down equally upon all their anonymous, hapless victims.


To hear tell, war crimes are rare aberrations perpetrated by atypical rogues, stray criminal elements within otherwise pristine organizations. The truth is, crimes against humanity happen all the time, on both sides, during all wars, a direct result of the bloody training, means, conditions, and ends of war.


When top military leaders find themselves irrevocably trapped in the unwelcome spotlight of undeniable war crimes, they immediately stage a big show of fairness and due process. Military defenders make feeble attempts to drum up sympathy for the scapegoats, calling attention to inadequate training and terrible conditions of battlefield stress, while prosecutors demonize the poor sad crazy grunts who were so foolish as to get caught tarnishing the honor of their noble units, and promise harsh punishments for any freakish renegades who may have mysteriously insinuated themselves into their otherwise holier-than-everyone-else squeaky-clean corps.


Officers always protect themselves and one another, limiting, placing, and holding blame as far down the chain of command as possible, leaving a poor few marginalized dupes to twist publicly in the wind. In every war crime trial, the viewing public—soldiers especially—must be newly convinced once again that “our” wars are conducted honorably, that our soldiers are unusually fine and pure, and that the rights of all civilians and combatants alike are protected by doily-white-gloved military justice.


Anonymous military judges always announce shockingly lenient sentences, horrifying victims’ families and their countrymen, but comforting fellow-soldiers who require reassurance that they, too, when forced into similar or worse acts, will not be abandoned. Other leniencies are later quietly extended under the table to prisoners who gallantly lie, or who fall upon their own swords to protect the honor (and butts) of comrades and superiors.


Although soldiers' advocates repeatedly plead for clarity in Rules of Engagement, Geneva Conventions, and so on, top government and military officials prefer to keep all military rules as fuzzy and vague as possible, not wishing to be handcuffed during wartime. But no amount of “clarity” will ever change the fact that real war is always immorally indiscriminate in its victims. Generals don’t aspire to leading a band of ethicists; they want naïve, malleable young recruits, trainable into lock-step killers able to withstand the moral confusion necessary to blood-letting, troops who will follow any order, march into any hell, and do what they’re told, which is to win wars by remorselessly killing vast swaths of human beings. To prevail in war, soldiers must believe that all is fair, that anything goes, if necessary to accomplish their mission and protect their buddies.


Signatories of the Geneva Conventions hope to receive equivalent courtesies when their guys fall into enemy hands. But reciprocity has no value when rules are always discarded as inapplicable during every new war, just because this new latest incarnation of a monster-of-the-moment—whether Kraut, Jap, terrorist, whatever—is touted to be the coldest, least reasonable, most dangerous enemy ever to threaten anyone, deserving of torture, murder, in fact complete annihilation from the earth, along with their families and other similar scum, as quickly as possible by all available means including chemical, biological, and nuclear.


After war’s end, forgotten conventions prove once again useful in punishing the losing side and propping up the flagging resolve of a public weary from manning and funding the last war. War crimes trials help portray war’s most recent victors as the most legitimately aggrieved, gentlemanly, and honorable—and not just the most effectively brutal—while urging new spending on military rebuilding against the next, greater foe as once again sweet, necessary, and good.


Respect and support for the quality of human life everywhere is the highest value we can hold. This value reinforces every other precious value we may embrace—all conceptions of God, duty, honor, country, organization, mission, brotherhood, freedom, democracy, justice. The business of indiscriminately maiming and killing human beings for profit and power (under however many pretty guises) can never stand up to close moral scrutiny.


I would defend myself, my family, and neighbors from armed enemies breaking down our doors and coming in our windows, and would willingly fund armed local militias well-trained in peaceful conflict resolution for that purpose. Other than that, and rather than risk adding to the sum of injustice in the world by going to war, I would instead risk suffering a certain amount of injustice ourselves (a risk always taken in going to war) by devoting the rest of our current defense budget to building understanding and good will among all the earth’s peoples through proven peaceful and generous methods. My first step would be to pass the very specific and impressive proposed legislation (Bills H.R. 3760 and S. 1756) authorizing and funding a cabinet-level Department of Peace.


Please send comments to epharmon@adelphia.net .









John Brown: Good Terrorist or Bad Terrorist?

I wonder if President Bush realizes that the very NAACP he plans to address in the near future recently honored beloved terrorist John Brown, who, despairing after futile peaceful efforts to abolish slavery, turned to murder, and assaulted a U.S. munitions factory at Harper’s Ferry, WV in hopes of arming uprising slaves. Brown’s raid so terrified southern slaveholders that they abandoned negotiations and seceded to protect their security and lifestyle. When Lincoln’s armies demanded union regardless of unresolved differences, southern insurgents fought back bitterly. By the end of the civil war, nearly 600,000 fellow-citizens were dead, more than 400,000 wounded.


Our esteemed revolutionary forefathers also justified as “necessary” their turn to guerilla warfare and insurgency against an uncompromising king, just as sufferers of oppression today turn to violence when no legitimate forum will redress their grievances.


Are terrorists ever on the right side? Is random killing of civilians ever justified? What recourse have you when your enemy has a huge army, and your small country has none, and your foes are hurting you and your family? Are all terrorists insane? Is killing only OK if you're a soldier? Whose soldier? Is John Brown admirable or despicable? Did he deserve to be hanged? Is terrorism ever justified? Is the rule of law even credible in a country which justifies indiscriminate attacks on the lives, livelihoods, possessions, loves and dreams of alleged enemies and innocent civilians alike? What would you do if you lived in a small, unrepresentative nation with an insignificant army and felt your way of life and family threatened?


And should President Bush, in the midst of his very black-and-white, unconditional war on terrorism, speak before an association which cherishes a famous terrorist?


Are our world leaders making us safer by playing polarized eye-for-an-eye politics and war, greedily holding on to the status quo, and closing their ears to emerging world voices pleading for self-determination? Aren't people everywhere just getting angrier and angrier from all the violence, and turning more and more toward extremism? Must we watch our children’s futures wash away in the blood of never-ending wars, our great wealth disappear into endless combat against terrorism?


We can embrace a new covenant of generosity, forgiveness, and “golden-rule politics,” by establishing a cabinet-level Department of Peace (see www.thepeacealliance.org ) to take pre-emptive, strategic steps toward peace through proven, effective, non-violent methods of preventing and resolving national and international conflicts. Nearly eighty Congressional members have already signed on to this brilliant and very specific piece of legislation; many thoughtful leaders in the Defense Department stand ready to welcome  its peaceful approaches as an essential part of our steps to security.

When we
fully empower credible global venues for peace like the United Nations and other respected international non-governmental organizations, we can begin to work non-violently to defuse and address the yearnings of the world’s desperate have-nots, helping them achieve a measure of peace and justice.


The Bush adminstration has had amazing support from citizens and legislators for five years in its war on terrorism. Now the whole Middle East is aflame with hate, fear, anger, and vengeance. Violence is spreading around the globe. Shall we just declare mankind biologically destined to be fatally deadly to his fellow man? Must we assume a future of global thermonuclear war, and just throw up our hands? What is our alternative?


Proven non-violent approaches to preventing and ending deadly conflict have never been given a real chance to succeed. When is it time to risk peace, not war? When, if ever, is it time to reconsider whether our present path of war is the soundest and most practical approach to achieving peace and safety for all Americans, and for people everywhere? Does violence and hatred only beget more violence and hatred? Is there a violent way to peace? Or is peace itself the only viable way to peace?


Albert Einstein once said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”


Please send comments to epharmon@adelphia.net







Who’s Enlightened, How You Can Tell, Who’s To Say, What Is It, and What’s It To You?

My lifelong interest in “enlightenment”—or whatever you want to call that enduring wisdom which offers relative equanimity in adversity, and acceptance of the world and its inhabitants “as-is,” began with a childhood reading of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. I loved the gentle monk and his Little-Friend-of-all-the-World. At about the same age, I was intrigued by the cloistered life depicted in the movie, The Nun’s Story. Reading my grandmother’s Bible, I observed the same spirit of love and forgiveness in the gentle teachings of Jesus, and later, in college, marveled at Gandhi’s and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings.


As years passed, I also wondered whether the rare, kind, and imperturbable elders, sick or well, rich or poor, whom I occasionally encountered were also “enlightened” beings, and if so, what wonderful secret, what key to peace and acceptance did they possess?


I think now that, while everyone experiences moments of clarity and vision and contentment—call it enlightenment if you will—probably no one suddenly becomes suddenly enlightened once-and-for-all forever, as did Kim’s fictional monk, and as the Buddha is said to have done, sitting under the bhodi tree. I’ll bet both experienced some unsettling moments even after achieving enlightenment, just as the Dalai Lama readily admits today.


Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama absolutely knows something universal that is well-worth knowing.


Yet no single goal, no path, no pursuit, achievement, possession, relationship or experience, no moment of revelation, awakening or rebirth seems exclusively to offer life’s “answer” to the problem of human suffering. And of course, there is no ultimate solution which can finally cure life of difficulty and heartaches.


Nevertheless, spiritual wisdom can make life easier if not easy, and definitely more joyful, relaxing, rewarding, manageable, lighter, friendlier, and fun, as well as deeper, kinder, more helpful, and far more meaningful.


Enlightened beings are to be found in every culture, religion, philosophy, and walk-of-life. It’s true that they see the world through new eyes, having conquered most of their cultural conditioning that leads to fear, selfishness, guilt, and anger. Spiritual mystics and visionaries really do achieve a remarkably robust internal perspective which consistently supports them in spending more of their present moments awake, aware, and appreciative, undistressed with past or future concerns, and embracing all-that-is, as one, and lovable.


The warm, ecumenical vision of these human and fallible saints and seers (who are often disguised as the kind little lady down the street, or the conscientious, cheerful worker down the hall) is available to anyone who wants it more than s/he wants anything else, because enlightenment is less a closely held secret of an exclusive club or church, and more the result of  the desire, perseverance, and time necessary to unlearn the huge amount of cultural and personal mental and emotional baggage most of us acquire in our youth–not to mention even more time and patient effort to relearn the experience of each of life's many aspects freshly, differently. Enlightenment is a continual, never-ending, and sometimes arduous pursuit, regardless of one's particular chosen path to its achievement.


You might think me enlightened if you caught me in a moment of lucidity. At other times, I struggle mightily with many as-yet-unconquered habits, including habits-of-mind, unexamined beliefs, and the frustrations and impatience that come from comforts, courtesies, and convenience. My longtime friends would agree that I’ve changed, or at least that I’m suspiciously happier and easier to get along with, although I'm still miles away from imperturbable or selfless. Like everyone else, I grew up not knowing what I didn't know, and knowing a lot of things that just weren’t so. However, I’ve begun to do the work to learn and to unlearn, replacing my old eyes and heart with a more reliable spiritual worldview.


The peaceful, positive, and helpful presence-of-mind which I have consistently sought is attainable by anyone–regardless of starting point or particular spiritual path–who sincerely desires and pursues it. It is not magic. It is the same awareness of the unity of God, man, and nature, the same feelings of well-being and rest which everyone experiences from time to time.


Yet such moments of peace, clarity, and oneness occur for me more frequently these days; they last longer, and I can find my way back to them more easily. I don’t know whether that’s enlightenment or not, but I know I'm at least on a clear path to it. As I seek to learn what seems universally true—and as I pursue varied paths to truth and apply that learned truth to my daily life, my understanding broadens and deepens.


Although I spend more time now in peaceful acceptance, I haven’t yet learned to stay humbly (if metaphorically) on my knees. I keep popping back up to proudly celebrate, and stumble, and fall back down to my knees again….


I still waste time struggling with fear, anger, anxiety, and guilt, still succumb to other useless self-created nightmares as I read the daily news and go through my daily tasks. Often I’m oblivious to others’ needs, distracted, defensive, resistant, defiant, sick and tired. But such times are less frequent, and I’m learning to rely more readily upon God’s (as I understand God) strength to help me back onto the path of the seeker of truth.


From one perspective, “Life is not a puzzle to be solved, but an adventure to be lived.” On the other hand, some of us like puzzles. But no, we won't ever “figure God out” or “fix” life–but we can move from miserable ignorance to happy knowing.


Anyone can learn to manage life better, if they deeply desire to acquire better habits and better ways of experiencing and contributing. It helps a lot to be blessed with the knowledge that, step-by-small-step, over time, I can learn anything I'm willing to work at and persevere for.


I find it interesting that the more I learn, the more I appreciate, and also, the harder I work—no longer to keep the wolf from the door—but instead, to take advantage of opportunities to contribute to and enjoy life, opportunities which were always there, even if I didn’t see them before.


I revel in the joys my new spiritual insights provide. One clear difference in “before” and “after” has been a newfound delight in the details of life-as-it-is, particularly an appreciation for people-as-they-are, but also with things-as-they-are. It’s such a relief not to always have to attack, condemn, blame, evaluate, analyze, and judge everything and everyone (including myself) (although sometimes I still do.)


I love the present-moment rewards that come with a commitment to excellence. I enjoy not only better results, but also considerably more enjoyable processes, as I stay within each present moment, and let go of my attachments to end-results. More and more often these days, I focus on the present moment’s pleasure or pain, without adding to it unnecessary heavy loads of negative, past-and-future mental and emotional “stuff.”


Moments, hours, even days and weeks of such “enlightenment”—or at least what feels to me like enlightenment (clarity, unity, peace, oneness, vision)—are more frequent, deeper, less elusive. Each radiant aha!-moment, though precious and sufficient in itself, seamlessly flows from earlier insights into later ones, each reinforcing and enlarging the other. Every day I discover new facets of a larger global understanding, of a unified and universal, if distressingly inexpressible, truth.


I find, very often, that doing small, ordinary tasks is completely fulfilling, no one activity more than any other—the primary difference being what I am able to bring to each process on any given day. On some days and at some moments, I bring more energy, love, and presence to various tasks than I do at other times, and that is all….


I accept with relief that I’ll never get “it” “right;” human wisdom and insight is never final. In fact, I’ll never get anything completely “right”—no relationship, no goal, no habit of mind. And no one else will either—at least not in this life, and nobody knows what comes after.


Human beings can experience, learn about, and attempt to express universal, even eternal truths, yet truth will always defy and surpass merely human linguistic capacities. Certainly, no one ever gets any “explanation of life” “right,” because there is no universal “right” for all to get, just as no one ever “finally” achieves balance, nor maintains it over time.  Life itself seems to be one long intricate balancing act.


Spiritual wisdom can be achieved by anyone who aspires to it, with the help of God—or whoever or whatever you personally choose to call that holy spirit, that power-not-ourselves that we each experience uniquely. Enlightenment is to be found along every honest religious and spiritual path, and often along other less apparently spiritual paths as well–certainly through service and daily spiritual practice such as meditation and yoga, and often through scholarship, science, athletics, nature, music, art, literature, psychology, business, parenting, marriage, and other pursuits of understanding and service. Kipling’s Kim and his beloved monk seemed “naturally enlightened,” yet even they had to come to “realize” (as in “realized masters”) the reality of what they had always been, what they could always do, and what they had always known.


I’m not discouraged to find ultimate enlightenment elusive. It isn’t daunting to know I may never “get right” my small hopes for doing my little part in saving the world, or caring for myself and the people in my life. Rather, I feel newly free of the heavy obligation to somehow nail that perfect wisdom. Instead, I forgive myself and others for our many shortcomings and trespasses, and focus instead on feeling good about how far we’ve come, and how far we can yet go.


Not everyone thinks wisdom is a big deal. I appreciate, respect, and support others’ efforts to achieve whatever it is they most want, all the various pursuits and goals various people choose, as uniquely most important to them. Enlightenment  isn’t everyone’s bag. Some people really want to play very good soccer; others want to stop fighting with their families, or to make a billion dollars. It’s a relief to know I’m not here to judge what others choose to do with their lives, but rather, to love and support all of us, exactly as we are, wherever we are on our roads to learning and growing and becoming.


I like to think that, in a spiritual sense, no matter where we begin our learning, we all eventually will learn whatever it is we need to know to return to God. Some people, like me, take a mighty circuitous path. Yet we all need help from one another, and no matter where we began or where we are now on our various paths, we will all arrive together and simultaneously, leaning upon and supporting one another.


When I learn to accept and forgive myself and all of God’s creations, when I consistently choose to think positively, and live fully within the present moment, letting the past and future go, I am taking giant steps toward enlightenment. Far more powerful than any particular achievement or activity is the power of my attitude during each quickly-passing present moment, each “now.” Where I’m coming from during this moment, this “now,” determines what I think, where I am, what I do, what I create, who I am, how I am, what I achieve and contribute, my happiness, my peace of mind, my past and future, and my relationships with my fellow man, nature, and God.


Please send comments to epharmon@adelphia.net






War Is (Unnecessary) (Wasteful) (Pointless) Hell