At the on-set of the first Iraq war under the American leadership of George Bush Sr., I remember watching TV and seeing US General Norman Schwarzkopf bragging about the superiority of American might against the Iraqis, who had invaded Kuwait. He talked about the armory at his disposal. Like a little boy thrilled with his dazzling new gadgets, he was showing the world how powerful his killing toys were.
During one press briefing, he showed a video of a target-seeking missile that had been launched from a
During the start of the second Gulf War (this time in
The way that weapons of war have evolved is quite interesting and terrifying. They now pack more bang per buck and destroy infinitely more lives and property at a much faster rate than at any time in man’s history. And to make it easier for those who use the weapons, they have made the whole process “cleaner.” One does not have to meet, touch or have any contact with the enemy in any way. No more hand-to-hand combat where the possibility of having to face the enemy and see the humanity in his eyes can happen. That’s just too messy. After all, death and suffering are easier to deal with when you can’t hear the screaming. Firepower and the roar of planes can pretty much drown out anything. Besides, they don’t call it “death” now but “collateral damage.” Technology has made it easier for human beings to momentarily stop being human and instead become objective killing machines.
I’ve often wondered what it is like for a Stealth fighter pilot, secure in his cockpit and feeling superior with all his state-of-the-art armory and death gadgets, to push a button and cause the annihilation of a person, a crowd, a village. Sure, one can always avoid any guilt or wash one’s hands by saying that one is just following orders, or just doing a job, even if, at times, he ends up killing innocent children, even fellow soldiers.
But there has to be a little voice sounding somewhere in the core of his being that tells him something else — however subtle, muted or inarticulate the voice may be.
“My God, what have we done?” These were reportedly the words uttered by Robert Lewis, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb on
The act of killing, maiming, torturing or even humiliating a person necessarily involves a “distancing” to allow us to treat the “other” as an object. It is a twisted objectivity that dismisses the reality of other people completely. It’s a mindset one enters into to be able to deny another person’s humanity, and perhaps denying one’s own humanity.
Where peace, harmony and brotherhood are all about oneness, unity and commonality, what is being emphasized when one is at war is the differences — cultural, ideological, political, religious and even physical appearance. And these differences, in the hands of demagogues, can make many people deaf to the little voice that is in tune with what’s real.
And yet, I feel that in many instances, this same objectivity or distancing that we use for bad may also be a powerful tool in bringing us back from hate and restoring us to humanity. Why? Because with distance, we are able to get out of the trance of the craziness, aggression and threat that becomes so compelling with proximity.
The song From a Distance has a line that goes,
From a distance you look like my friend,
Even though we are at war;
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting is for…
I have never experienced war firsthand, not as a combatant, not even as an ordinary person in a war setting. I hope I never have to. I doubt that I am capable of ever killing anyone.
A few days ago, I saw an interview with Osama Bin Laden’s son on CNN. I learned that this handsome man who was a member of Al Qaeda but quit sometime before 9/11 because he disagreed with the way his father was conducting his war, is projecting himself now as a man of peace. Curiously, he said he was organizing a horse race that was meant to promote peace among people.
Interestingly, when asked whether he considered his father to be a terrorist, he said “No.” He said that Osama allowed him to leave the terrorist group and go his own way. For both father and son, the decision they arrived at must have been hard and soul-wrenching, considering their culture of extremism. I am inclined to believe it must have been well thought-out.
I sometimes wonder why I choose to be objective concerning some issues and subjective with others. Many times, it’s a “mind versus heart: thing when we make choices in our own lives. But I suspect that, more often, it’s really more about not making conscious choices either way. We simply make decisions without knowing where we are coming from.
A set criterion for deciding how subjective or objective to be in a given situation is not easy to formulate. Sometimes, one must choose to ignore the forest for one single tree. At times, it’s the opposite. In my case, I believe that any decision that will ultimately create more spaciousness, freedom and well-being for everyone involved is a good guide. In other words, whatever decision will make everyone more human is the correct one. Whatever creates the opposite effect is the wrong decision. And in instances when the din of craziness seems to distort perceptions and drown out reason, catching the sound of a small voice whispering can spell the difference.
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