I admit that for me, to pray for our Minority President and his generals and their approach to Afghanistan– —to meditate such that I can think of them and their plans without losing my peace—this presents a Mt. Everest- size challenge. Nevertheless, as a practicing Buddhist Methodist, this is my challenge.
This week our minority president completely reversed his position on what he would do in Afghanistan. While running for President, he said he would pull our troops out. Now, he says he’s going to send more troops in, with the express purpose of – not nation building (God forbid) — but simply to, in his words, “kill more terrorists.” (Although terrorist have indeed been killed in that war torn place, over 26,000 civilians – non-warring grandpas and grandmas, little kids, brothers and sisters—have been killed. The Cost of War project estimated that the number who have died through indirect causes related to the war may be as high 360,000 additional people based on a ratio of indirect to direct deaths in contemporary conflicts. Let us always remember: God made no “smart bombs.” )
Mr. Minority President said once he was in office the situation looked different than when we was on the outside. He was being advised by generals and friends of generals so it doesn’t surprise that the decision was to send more troops. (“When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”) According to the generals, there were three options: 1. Keep things the way they are 2.) increase troop numbers; 3. Withdraw troops.
Mr. Minority said he didn’t want to make the same mistake that Obama made when he withdrew troops from Iraq and “created chaos in that country.” He didn’t mention, of course, the chaos—and close to one million deaths—caused by G.W.’s ill-fated decision to bring troops into the country. (“I was dealt a bad hand,” Mr. Minority complained. Sitting down with generals and their advice, their world view, one seems to always get dealt a “bad hand.” It’s time for a different game.)
If I was playing that old game, and were given just those three options by my generals, I would have opted for bringing all the troops home, now, immediately, with great apologies to all concerned, at home and abroad. After all, 2500 years of “military invasions” of Afghanistan have all had the exact same result. (Yes, 2500 years, beginning with the Persian invasion by Darius the Great in 500 BC, and Alexander the Great in 329 BC, the White Huns in 400 AD, the Turks in 962, Genghis Khan in 1219, and on and on. The British first tried it in 1836, and then again in 1878. The Russians first invaded in 1885, and again in 1979.) How can our generals ignore 2500 years of “failed” military solutions, and hope another 4,000 troops might turn the tide?
The tenacity of the “warrior mindset” in the Afghan people was made starkly apparent in a recent article in which an Afghan man describes how had lost, one by one, all five of his sons to the military struggle. So what did he do after losing five sons? He himself entered into battle and was killed. Thankfully, U.S. soldiers, born and raised in such places as Des Moines. Toledo and Pecos, Texas, are not instilled with such a suicidal military mindset. We should not set them against those who are embued with such a mindset. With our technology we will win battles in the short –run, but with that mindset, they will win the military war, as they have been for 2500 years.
So what options might we have other than the military options the generals put forth? As Thomas Paine observed, in the quote that heads this essay, “An army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot.”
In How Quantum Activism Can Save Civilization, the noted quantum physicist Amit Goswami writes, “Conventional activism separates us (those doing right) versus them (the wrongdoers). Quantum physics says that all is movement of consciousness; we are the world. There is no us versus them. There is only movement toward consciousness or away from consciousness, and it is not always easy to distinguish. The only thing of which we can be certain is that when consciousness is non-local, it is inclusive. When we practice inclusivity in resolving conflicts. We are aspiring toward non-local consciousness.”
Goswami goes on to say that the traditional, materialist based activism tries to change the system, whereas quantum activism recognizes that to change the system is to change ourselves. That, too, is a Mt. Everest sized challenge—and indeed, is the heart of the challenge to pray for D.T. and his generals. (“I don’t wanna pray for those mean men.” )
Nevertheless, in looking for a Buddhist Methodist solution in Afghanistan we must be inclusive, not only to D.T. and his generals but also to the Afghan man and his five sons, and perhaps more especially to their widows and children, those left behind. We must bring principles to bear in Afghanistan. It makes sense that we would bring spiritual principles— those singular principles that lay beneath Islam, Buddhism,. Christianity, Judaism, Bahai , Hindu, etc.
Rather than sending soldiers, perhaps we could send our own American Mullahs, with their own sense of what Islam means. After all, this is primarily a war of ideas, and the ideas of the Taliban are weak, outdated, brittle, easily challenged by those in the same faith who are willing to challenge them in their own “game” – not of military conquest but spiritual thinking and living.
And then we might also send battalions of women’s rights activists, and community organizers, and Catholic charities, the Salvation Army, and food, food, food, and medicine , medicine, medicine. Let us deal directly, not with the corrupt puppet government installed by the American forces—which the people naturally distrust—but rather directly with the Afghan people, and particularly their women and children. Let’s ask them what they need, and bring it to them.
We have tried the “military solution” in Afghanistan for 16 long years, at the cost of tens of thousands of innocent lives. Let’s now shift our strategies to a more Buddhist Methodist approach, forgive our enemies, and “be the peace” that we seek.
The generals will laugh, and call us innocents, of course. But we have to love them, too, stuck as they are in the old millennium—Newtonian– mindset.
And the Minority Man. We have to love him. He is our biggest challenge for this season. Let him inspire us to deeper meditation, more vigorous prayer. Let him inspire us to put our sandals on the ground, wherever our peaceable presence is needed.
This post first appeared on The New Buddhist Methodist Church website