Thursday, September 9, 2010


I have a principled stand against the use of violence. I deplore it with every fiber of my being. But I am in a position to afford this principle: I do not have the fate of millions of people in my hands, who might be spared violence, even death, by a violent action that I might commit, or order. What I do have is the memory of too numerous occasions, in my own lifetime, when millions were in fact allowed to die excruciating deaths because of the inaction of leaders who could have acted with brute force to prevent it. And even then, in the end, those same leaders were often left with no option but to take the violent action anyway.

We love our principles. They are by nature simple and clear-cut. They allow of no diversion, no excuse. The world, by contrast, is infinitely complex, as are the human beings who inhabit it. I wish it were otherwise, but clear moral choices are muddied when it comes to the practical reality of events on the world stage, where the lives of millions of human beings are at stake. In such situations, those we have chosen to lead us are left with agonizing choices whose resolution may subvert our most cherished principles. None of which excuses us--or them, of course--from the necessity of striving in every way we can to hold ourselves to those principles in which we deeply believe.

It's an ongoing process. We make some good choices, some bad. It's often hard to tell which is which, to judge from the results. But, as I think Jean-Paul Sartre once said--correct me if I'm wrong: we are engaged. We cannot but stumble forward in the struggle, doing the best we can. This is why, despite all my personal misgivings--indeed, my personal revulsion--I cannot fault the president for failing to order all our troops, immediately, out of Afghanistan.


TaraDharma said...

our intervention in Afghanistan perplexes me. I understand the 'talking points' vis-a-vis Pakistan and the larger issue of terrorism, but I just don't buy it. Our money has created more corruption there, and it is a complex and mighty culture which has repelled every attempt at invasion. As messy as it would be (and it will be messy whenever we leave) I think we need to get out asap. I seriously doubt the political and tribal dynamics are going to change to be in line with our principles.

Pam said...

Are there steps we can take that will prevent, or lessen, future suffering in Afghanistan? If there are, how do we weigh current suffering with the possibility of suffering in the future? And of course there are no guarantees of success of these efforts. The moral questions could go on, not one with an easy answer.

Life is incredibly complex, which can result in struggle and heartache. But I am thankful for the complexity. It gives us the opportunity to grow, and learn continuously about ourselves, each other and the world. And despite our nature to continually make judgements, any honest examination will quickly show their falacy. There is always another side to the story. Accepting that we can't know the answers, but that we always need to try to delve deeper, while still focusing on the few simple realities that connect it all, is what makes life so difficult, and wonderful.

PeterAtLarge said...

I agree with you, Tara. The enormously difficult struggle I engage, in my own mind, has more to do with the people, especially the women and girls, who will bear the brunt of the results of our departure for years, perhaps decades to come.

You're right, Pam. There is no easy answer, and we'll probably never know what is the "right" answer, if there is one. I'm glad you're able to find inspiration and the source of learning in this dilemma. I, too, think I learn--but with effort, and sometimes--as in this instance--painfully!

Pam said...

I can't say that I find inspiration by atrocities such as our war in Afghanistan, but I will say this:

The simplistic, black and white, us verses them, with us or against us mentality that creates these horrible situations and seems to be so prevalent now, scares the hell out of me. The idea of living in the world they paint, where the lines between good and evil are clear, and so anything in the name of "good" can be justified, is the stuff of nightmares. So I am grateful that despite all their efforts, those who destroy life in the name of this philosophy can never totally win, because we have this infinitely complex reality on our side, and as we become more and more connected with each other, this will become undeniable, and their days of madness will be numbered.

Jean said...

I am with you here, Peter. I am deeply non-violent and pacifist. But I'm very much aware that it is very easy to loudly and virtuously proclaim these principles when I have never faced a situation where my violence or allowing of violence might prevent greater violence or suffering.

I do not expect our leaders to never make mistakes. What horrifies me is their complacency and dishonesty about it. I deeply oppose the Blair government's involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What appals me most, though, especially at this stage, is his frightening moral certainty, his lack of shame, or apparently of much pain, after so much suffering to so little avail.

I think if I was in the US I would still be giving the Obama government a chance, although there are things I disagree with and that have disappointed me.

I admire your willingness to grapple with these issues. I'm afraid I have stopped paying much attention to politics, after many years of paying it a great deal. Of course this is no solution, though perhaps sometimes necessary for a while for psychological survival.

PeterAtLarge said...

Jean, yes, abstinence is sometimes the only answer. It just happens that, with the November elections up ahead, I feel obliged to re-engage and do the small bit that I can. The alternative to Obama and his administration in this country is so frighteningly abysmal that I feel called upon to emerge from the political slough and raise my voice! Hope you didn't mind my act of piracy in yesterday's entry in The Buddha Diaries...