Alice Walker on War, Disappointment and Anger

Despite a new president and against hope, the war machine rolls on, observes the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.

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©2010 by Alice Walker

I do not believe in war at all; although I am as capable of anger as anyone. To me war is something to be outgrown, recognized as immature, wasteful and so destructive to life that human beings should shun it as they shun swine flu, or HIV/AIDS or as they once shunned Bubonic Plague. If our species survives, and it may well not, it will be because we learn not to fight to kill each other, though some of us may continue to fight as an expression of our not yet controllable nature.

It is painful to feel the war machine continuing in Iraq and Afghanistan and in all the other parts of the globe not covered by our media. It isn't that I thought one man, a new president, could stop it overnight or in one year--it has been acceptable behavior for millennia--but it was my hope that there would be, out of Washington, an entirely new and different approach to what is essentially the failure of human beings to listen to each other; to teach and guide and share with one another. To see the best, even in "the enemy." And where no "best" is discernable, to understand how what might have been good has become horribly twisted or destroyed. To think of small children who have no alternative, often, to growing up imprisoned in poisonous ideologies; there they stand in our missile sights, "terrorists" who never really had a chance.

Is there no way to reach our enemies other than by killing them? Do we "win" in this way? I cannot believe it. Rather I believe killing other human beings is not about winning, but about failure. Winning would be to begin to train our military to do what it also does wonderfully well: look after the inhabitants of the planet. It has been such a relief to see our soldiers stepping in to help earthquake victims in Haiti and elsewhere; to see their self-assurance and can-do spirit as they tackle the problems of crumbled buildings, trapped children, pain-crazed persons who, having lost homes and possessions, have nowhere to go. This is when I have felt most proud of our military. And it has been easy to see that this is where our soldiers have felt most proud of themselves.

There is much anger at our president from the community of pacifists and anti-war activists to which I belong. There is so much disappointment and rage. I share some of this; what I mostly feel, however, is not anger or rage, but grief. Eisenhower was right to warn us about the burgeoning power of the Military Industrial Complex, as he termed it. That it was quite capable of taking over the country, and the president with it. That we are in the hands of a war machine that doesn't really care who is elected to run the country; its aim is plunder, destruction, conquest and exploitation. Taking whatever its creators want by force. All in the name of "defense." Looking in our own families, we can see how we are connected to this machine: the jobs, the pensions, the chance to learn a trade or go to school. Many people fear that if the military stopped its machinations around the globe, millions of people would have no place, and no work.

And that is why what we must insist on, I believe, is transformation of the military. Though what use can be found for our obsolete missiles and weapons of mass destruction I cannot, myself, imagine. But my faith is that someone can imagine this; that we can make something useful out of things like old fighter planes and bomb casings. The way the earth is shaking so many of us out of bed in the middle of the night with no shelter left to our names, perhaps we should put our architects and builders to the task of designing and creating housing out of them. Humans are very clever, as we know. No more clever humans exist--along with some who are abysmally not clever--than in the United States.

In these times, it is easy to see why war is obsolete. Nature has taken it on herself to show us how destructive unanticipated and uncontrollable violence is. And that nothing humans can ever do on the battlefield is a match for her power. After an earthquake, especially after earthquakes like the recent ones in Haiti and Chile, how can humanity permit our governments to cause similar devastation, with our money, deliberately?

Recently, I was in Cairo, attempting to cross into Gaza with the courageous women of CODE PINK. This organization had worked for nearly a year to collect about $2 million worth of aid for the people of Gaza. They had also invited 1,400 people from around the world to join in a freedom march inside Gaza, in protest of the imprisonment of 1.5 million Palestinians, in Gaza, by the Israeli government. The Egyptian government, apparently under the control of Israel and the United States, refused to permit us entry. Perhaps its leader feared losing the large amount of aid the United States gives Egypt every year.


At the end of some of the more virulent blasts against Obama, there is the threat of punishment: Wait until the next election! Can we learn to disagree with someone without instantly attempting to punish them? What is this but a stirring up of one's inner war? War without a military, but violence just the same. And whom do we have in mind as a replacement? With our luck, we will find ourselves stuck with another Bush--or worse--though our dream might be Dennis Kucinich, whose belief that the United States should have a Department of Peace is one with which most of us resonate. Anger makes us lose our ability to think clearly, to strategize, to plan. It is useless at this point in humanity's distress. We are headed over a cliff of our own making; blaming anyone without at the same time blaming ourselves is a waste of the time we could at least spend dancing.

Can we learn to care about our leaders in ways that support their ability to move forward as we would wish them to? Is our only mode of behavior instant rage and blame if someone cannot deconstruct in one year what has taken 500 years to build? Can we sit with ourselves and the truth of our crisis as humans long enough to see where we ourselves must lead and change?

Before traveling to Cairo, I spent a few days in Dharamsala calling on the spiritual and political leaders of Tibet in Exile. These are people who obviously know a thing or two about life, about conflict, about inner discipline and care of the personal and the planetary soul. At a dinner with the political head of Tibet in Exile, Professor Samdong Rinpoche, along with six cabinet ministers, we found ourselves talking about what it feels like to be up against opponents who might be a billion times larger than you. Which is pretty much the case of China vs. Tibet. Talking together, we soon realized that everyone in the room was working hard for the same things: feeding and clothing and teaching and healing our people and our communities. Finally, in the face of all attempts to stop us from doing what we feel we must, someone raised a glass to toast "our friends the enemy." In Buddhist thought, one's enemy is likely to teach what we otherwise would not learn: Our enemies are so helpful in strengthening us in ways we might never have imagined, and are so likely to be a primary reason for our growth, that it is wise to recognize him or her as a friend. This is a teaching I have found profoundly useful in my own life; so much so I rarely am capable of seeing anyone as an enemy, but rather as someone who is heartbreakingly confused. I first heard "my friends the enemy" used by the Dalai Lama when he was speaking about the Chinese government. He shares this concept with Burmese spiritual warrior Aung San Suu Kyi who speaks of the possibility of becoming friends, literally, with the dictators who have held her imprisoned for years.

 

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