Kosovo War

May 99

The Buddhist religion puts a strong emphasis on peacefulness. Both the inner peacefulness of a tranquil mind and its outward manifestation as non-violence. The two are intrinsically one, because it is impossible to maintain one's inner calm if one is engaged in violence against another. War is the ultimate act of violence causing death and destruction on a mass scale.

There is a strange inconsistency in our public morality when it comes to acts of war. We rightly define and denounce as terrorists individuals or marginalized groups who set off explosives in public buildings to create pressure for their political demands. If the demands themselves are just ones, this in no way lessens our outrage. However, when the explosives are dropped from the belly of a CF-18 at five thousand meters, operating under the aegis of a sovereign state, then many of us can accept the resulting carnage as a legitimate act of war. From the point of view of the victims, it is hard to see the difference.

It has been said that truth is the first casualty of war. This is very true as the propaganda machines of both sides fill the public mind with the poison of delusion. Anyone wishing to maintain their moral integrity in times of war needs to make a special effort to think clearly and to cut through the Orwellian double-talk and the sanitized euphemisms. It is an obscenity to refer to the mangled bodies of someone's son or daughter as "collateral damage." And a "humanitarian war" is a at best an oxymoron.

Canada, together with her NATO allies, is now in a de facto state of war. The citizens and political leaders of this country who presently support this war owe it to their consciences and to the traditions of our hitherto peaceful nation to think carefully about the issues involved. How much have we thought about the complicated history of the perennially war-like Balkans? On more general principles, is the best answer to violence yet more violence?

From the Buddhist perspective, when violent acts are carried out by a collective agency like a nation-state, then the karma is shared by all those who condone the action. This is especially true in a democracy. Where is the public outrage at the killing being carried out in our name? Everyone supporting this war shares in the collective karma of the "collateral damage."

None of this is to excuse the atrocities carried out by Yugoslav forces in Kosovo. But has our operation eased the plight of the people or worsened it? And if NATO does succeed in forcing a return it will be to a ravaged country; the infrastructure destroyed and the land polluted, not least by the depleted uranium shells used by NATO attack forces.

The Buddha said in the Dhammapada that "hate is not conquered by hate, hate is conquered by love. This is a law universal." This is not a philosophy of weakness but one requiring great courage. Leaving aside the political issues for the moment, let us consider the personal spiritual question of the proper attitude for our hearts and minds in times of war. Compassion and loving-kindness must be universal if they are to be spiritually effective. Yes we need to have compassion for the Kosovar refugees, but we need to have it no less for the citizens of Belgrade. Not only for them, but for the pilots of the NATO bombers, the leaders of the warring countries, the foot-soldiers of both sides and even for Slobodan Milosovic. Those who are making terrible karma perhaps need our compassion most of all.

[printer]Printer Friendly Version
(will open in new browser window)