Iraq - Bombs or Rice?

Feb 03

In 1937 the German Luftwaffe unleashed a new form of horror on the world with the merciless bombing of the small Basque town of Guernica. That outrage shocked the world, and inspired one of the most eloquent antiwar artworks of all time, the surreal mural by Pablo Picasso which captures so eloquently the savagery and chaos inflicted by the new air war.

In 1945, after a long and very destructive war, the United Nations was founded with great hope for a peaceful future. As a vivid, and very apt, reminder a reproduction of Picasso's masterpiece was hung in the lobby of the Security Council chambers.

In 2003 the representative of the world's most powerful state sat in that chamber and made his case for unleashing yet another wave of bombers and missiles. The painting in the lobby? It was discretely veiled behind United Nations banners for the occasion. Nothing could symbolize the deceitfulness of the war party more eloquently.

As a Buddhist I must speak out against this war from a simple respect for human life. That is the ultimate bottom line of the debate. Is any conceivable good which may come from victory over Saddam Hussein worth the inevitable slaughter which is bound to occur? Please do not talk about "smart bombs" and "limited collateral damage" until you take the time to investigate the reality of suffering caused by the last Gulf War when the United States, among other crimes, deliberately bombed water treatment plants and other civilian infrastructure. The United Nations is predicting a humanitarian disaster of frightening magnitude this time, because the destruction will be unleashed on a nation starved for basic resources after twelve years of sanctions. They will be simply unable to cope with the wounded and the refugees.

Buddhists think it is very important to view things as they actually are, in their own intrinsic reality. "Calling things by their true names" in the words of the Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. This is what those clamouring for war will not and cannot do. In all the rhetoric about "material breaches" and "serious consequences" they will never mention the price in blood and misery that the hapless Iraqi people are expected to pay. Nor will they mention oil, which most of the world believes is the real motive for the coming invasion and occupation.

There is a strong grassroots feeling against this war. One of it's manifestations is a beautiful movement now being organized world-wide. People are being asked to send small packets of rice to President Bush with a simple note asking that the rice be sent to feed the Iraqis. "If thy enemy is hungry, feed him." This idea is based on a similar campaign undertaken in the 1950's which may have played a role in preventing the use of nuclear weapons against the Chinese. You can read all about the current campaign, and the historical one, at This is a simple statement everyone can make, and if enough people do, we can make a difference. In a democratic state, if you do not speak out, you share the karma of evil deeds committed in your name.

I would suggest two additions. We should also send a packet of rice to Prime Minister Chretien. This can be sent postage free to "The Right Honourable Jean Chretien, House of Commons, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6." ( I suspect his heart is in the right place on this one, and a large pile of these rice packets may strengthen his hand in cabinet.) Also, I don't think it would be a bad idea to include a postcard size print of Guernica. They need the reminder.

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