Archive for January 2007
What is satyagraha, or truth force?
A Buddhist parable
“While a small bird attempts to save a burning forest, engaged in a seemingly futile mission, she flies back and forth from the river dripping water from her beak. As the lone bird is running out of energy, the Buddhist gods, representing a compassionate function in the universe, see her desperate efforts and are so moved by her sincerity that they begin to cry. The “rain” of their tears extinguishes the fire and the forest survives.”
Among other things, this helps show why it is so important that peace “activists” adhere to the principle of non-violence–not just in actions, but in speech. The bird’s efforts in the parable are efficacious because they elicit compassion by the “gods”. Here we may understand the gods to be the elements of compassion in the depths of the souls of other people, individually or perhaps, in some mysterious way, collectively. The bird does not elicit compassion if it chants “Impeach the president!”, etc.
You do the math.
Someone told me a couple of years ago that he thought we needed to militarily intervene in Iraq because “Somebody’s got to teach those people how to think, don’t they?”
Well, if we wanted to teach them to think, maybe we could have spent our trillion dollars (direct and indirect costs) a little better.
The cost of a 4-year degree runs about $50,000 (that’s a generous estimate, but it will do here). This means that for 1 trillion dollars we could have sent 20 million Iraqis to college.
Wait–the Iraq population over age 18 is only about 12 million. Okay, we could send them to graduate school too.
The point isn’t idle sarcasm–it’s to get a grip on the sheer magnitude of how much money/resources are being spent in Iraq. I think our politicians and public are basically innumerate, and don’t comprehend this. The amount of money is staggering, and for the same amount we could have come up with any number of more creative and effective solutions.
The New York Times lead editorial for January 11, 2007, titled, “The Real Disaster”, stated:
“The disaster is Mr. Bush’s war, and he has already failed. Last night was his chance to stop offering more fog and be honest with the nation, and he did not take it.”
I must protest this point. While I’m no fan of the war and never have been, I don’t think it’s fair to make Bush the scapegoat. The Senate and House–Democrats and Republicans–supported the war. They could have stopped it before it started, but were afraid to.
Why were they afraid? Because they believed the American public wanted it, and they didn’t want to risk their jobs by doing something unpopular–like taking a moral stand.
Why did they believe Americans wanted the war? Because not enough Americans spoke out against it.
Therefore much or most of the fault the American public’s. And blaming Bush (however much he may deserve it) is further failure of the American public to own up to its responsibility.
Regardless of what happens in Iraq, we must come to grips with with a terrible cycle that characterizes citizens and political leaders–a pattern we can see even as far back as ancient Rome: the collective “shadow” of the masses seeks expression (here that means millions of oil-greedy and materialistic Americans wanted to “secure America’s interests” in Iraq, and perhaps, more darkly still, sought an outlet for their collective wrath.) To this end, they first elected a hawkish president, as though in anticipation. Then they encouraged, by silence if by no other means, his actions. And then, after wreaking havoc in Iraq, they now seek to cleanse their guilt by making a scapegoat of Bush.
Reject his plan and get us out of Iraq, if that’s what conscience and common sense dictate. But stop demonizing Bush. That’s the same kind of irrational and emotion-based thinking that produced the problem.
Let those with eyes see.
John Uebersax PhD
Rep. Dennis Kucinich has drafted a plan for ending the US military involvement in Iraq.
“There is a compelling need for a new direction in Iraq, one that recognizes the plight of the people of Iraq, the false and illegal basis of the United States war against Iraq, the realities on the ground which make a military resolution of the conflict unrealistic and the urgent responsibility of the United States, which caused the chaos, to use the process of diplomacy and international law to achieve stability in Iraq, a process which will establish peace and stability in Iraq allow our troops to return home with dignity.”
These are the elements of the Kucinich Plan:
1. The US announces it will end the occupation, close military bases and withdraw.
2. US announces that it will use existing funds to bring the troops and necessary equipment home.
3. Order a simultaneous return of all US contractors to the United States and turn over all contracting work to the Iraqi government.
4. Convene a regional conference for the purpose of developing a security and stabilization force for Iraq.
5. Prepare an international security and peacekeeping force to move in, replacing US troops who then return home.
6. Develop and fund a process of national reconciliation.
7. Reconstruction and Jobs.
9. Political Sovereignty.
10. Iraq Economy.
11. Economic Sovereignty.
12. International Truth and Reconciliation.
Credit is due the mayor and people of Rome for speaking out against the death penalty.
As the Roman Colosseum is a place sanctified by martyrs’ blood, may the demonstration have the force of prayer.
ROME lit up the arches of its ancient Colosseum at dusk overnight to protest against the death penalty after Saddam Hussein’s hanging, with the mayor calling it the city’s symbol to the world for human rights.
A crowd of about 50 demonstrators holding banners looked on as the monument, where gladiators once fought gory battles to death, flickered with yellow lights against a blue sky.
“The Colosseum originally was a place of persecution and unspeakable violence,” Mayor Walter Veltroni said. “But now it is a symbol of peace and reconciliation.”
The hanging of the former Iraqi dictator has touched a nerve in Italy, setting off a wave of appeals against the death penalty and prompting a hunger strike from Radical Party leader Marco Pannella, who thanked the mayor from his hospital bed for lighting up the Colosseum.
Italy is also spearheading a campaign for a UN moratorium on the death penalty.
“The execution of Saddam Hussein has stirred a debate,” said Michele Lembo, a demonstrator outside the Colosseum. “We ask people to think about what happened and propose an alternative.”
I protest the planned use of capital punishment in the cases of Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Awad Hamed al-Bandar.
Both men were convicted in connection with the killing of 148 men of the city of Dujail and with other reprisals against the civilian population of the city following a failed assassination attempt against Saddam Hussein in 1982.
While the harsh actions taken against the population of Dujail are to be condemned, they do not justify the use of capital punishment.
Moreover, the Iraqi government has an opportunity to promote in a tangible way peace in Iraq by exercising clemency.
The world looks with shock and dismay at the senseless bombing of an airport parking building in Madrid on December 30, 2006 and the tragic loss of life. Anonymous phone calls have claimed responsibility on behalf of the Basque separatist party, the ETA. Let us hope this is not the case.
Why say “let us hope this is not the case”? The answer is that, while such violence is always to condemned, it is especially pointless if motivated by a wish to see an independent Basque country.
A song goes, “Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.” This means: No matter who runs the government, who the “boss” is, it will amount to the same thing. You can change the names of the leaders, but a government will still be a bad government.
Suppose the Basque people (the majority of whom we suppose to be good, sensible, and decent, as opposed to a small group of disaffected terrorists living in an imaginary world of the past) were to obtain an independent homeland? At first there would be euphoria. But then, within a short time, here’s what would happen:
1. A cadre of professional politicians, motivated by greed and desire for power, would monopolize the government.
2. The government would descend into a primitive two-party structure consisting of some vaguely differentiated “liberals” (e.g., socialists) and “conservatives.” The two parties would alternate in power, blaming the other one for all the problems but accomplishing nothing themselves.
3. Taxes would be oppressive.
4. Here’s the especially absurd and ironic part: how long before the “Basque homeland” would be petitioning to join the EU?
The problems that humanity faces in the 21st century are of a completely different order than in ages past. They do not have, strictly speaking, political or governmental solutions (except, perhaps, a radical revisioning of what governments are and a reduction of their influence in general).
Use common sense. Do you have a goal, or are you just a bunch of thugs looking for a convenient excuse to commit violence?
If the faction that committed this violence represents a minority of the ETA, then the ETA should speak up and disavow this faction.
John Uebersax PhD
January 4, 2006