The American military call their bombing of Baghdad "Shock and Awe." Like so much of the propaganda surrounding war the name is misleading. It has been suggested that for the hapless citizens of Baghdad, "Fear and Grief" would be a more truthful name; for the rest of the world it may be "Disgust and Dismay." If anything good has come out of this illegal aggression, it is the global raising of anti-war sentiment. In no small measure, this is due to the ongoing improvements in communications, particularly the internet, which has really turned the world into a village and made it possible to empathize with the people huddling in their basements as the bombs explode.
The only way it is psychologically possible to condone violence is to eliminate compassion for the victim. Historically, this has been done by dehumanizing the enemy. It seems that this method may be working less and less. Victims are no longer cartoonish abstractions of evil, now that we can hear the voices of ordinary Iraqis and see the images of their blood-stained bodies. People around the world sympathized with the citizens of New York when they suffered a terrorist atrocity in September of 2001 and they sympathize no less with the citizens of Baghdad as atrocity is visited upon them.
To a peace-loving person, it may seem obvious that supporters of terrorism and war have a huge blind-spot. They refuse to look at the human face of the suffering they inflict, hiding behind euphemisms like "collateral damage." But those of us who deplore violence in general, and this needless war in particular, need to examine our own hearts. In the face of aggression and injustice, it is all too easy to fall into states of anger and negativity ourselves. This is an understandable human reaction, but it is an unneccessary source of additional suffering, and counterproductive.
Of all the great teachers of human kind, the Buddha was probably the most uncompromisingly pacifist. He said that "hatred is never overcome by hatred, hatred is overcome by love, this is a law eternal." This is deep wisdom. To put it into practise requires great presence of mind, and great courage. Violence comes from selfishness and fear, and only begets more fear and violence in return. Compassion comes from selflessness and wisdom, and can rouse the same response in others. Furthermore, for compassion to be genuine it must be universal; all-encompassing and non-discriminating.
The huge antiwar rallies that took place around the world this winter were remarkable in many ways; for the broadly representative nature of the crowds, for their spontaneity and not least, for the peaceful and orderly way most of them were conducted. This is, in no small measure, what gave them their immense moral force. This force arose from human sympathy, and common decency. It was not without effect in the councils of the great. The war machine may not have been stopped, but it was denied the fig-leaf of legitimacy.
Now that the war-makers have acted in defiance of international law and world opinion, there is the danger that people against the war will fall back into the old tired rhetoric of anger and confrontation. This would be a tragic mistake. That is the way to harden the position of the other side, not to win anyone over. The foundation of our thinking and our actions must be compassion for those who suffer from violence in all it's forms. To attain the goal of peace, the first and most needful step is to find our own peacefulness within.
(will open in new browser window)