Reflections on Military Intervention


It is clear that humanity is not yet ready to follow the more challenging road of peace.  This cannot be expected at this stage.   Political institutions will continue to act as they have throughout mankind’s history until the necessarily underlying change of consciousness is accomplished.


It is important in times like this to understand this basic truth, so as to not become disappointed or discouraged by the lack of progress.  It is certainly true that retaliatory wars lead to a dynamic that makes it ever more difficult to disengage and begin a process of peace.  It is also true however that the experience of mutual suffering can bring both sides eventually to a state of “exhaustion” within which a ready alternative may find a voice.


That alternative is to bring about an understanding of the global dynamic and interplay between societies and ideologies, including the world religions, that help us see what causes this kind of fanaticism on all sides.


Certainly the Islamic people have suffered enormously from Christian attack since the time of the Crusades more than 1000 years ago.  They have not forgotten that the terms of that warfare included the destruction of villages, along with innocent women and children.  They see today’s world in many cases through this lens of history.


When they then look around at the actions of the West, they see a malevolent force bent on world domination, gaining increasing power through technology and economic strength.  They see this force using “any means necessary” to achieve its ends, with no respect for honor or integrity.  They look at the historic process of slavery, genocidal warfare and colonization undertaken by the European cultures to bring subjection to Africa, India, the Middle East, China (to some degree) and of course, the American Indian.


They see the treaties made by the Americans with the Native Americans and they see the historical disregard of those treaties when they no longer suited the American purpose.  The Sioux were granted the Black Hills for ‘as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers flow’.  Then gold was discovered and Custer invaded, destroying villages, women and children in an attempt to destroy the Indians and take over the land.  While Custer died, the American drive of “manifest destiny” was in fact successful and the Indians were pushed off the land, their traditional culture was destroyed, they were forced to abandon their native ways, their language, their dress, and their traditional livelihood and foods.  To ensure all of this, the government used residential boarding schools, the systematic destruction of the Buffalo, displacement of tribes from their historical sacred lands, and even biological warfare (in the form of giving smallpox infested blankets to the tribes, which brought about enormous suffering).


They see the strong-arm tactics used by modern day American civilization to export our “culture” to every corner of the globe, while they see the tremendous toll this culture is taking on their traditional ways of life and society.  Their attempt to wall off and prevent this is strongly disputed and penalties are exacted.


They see Americans living “fat and happy” while their people are at a basic subsistence level.  While 35% of the people on the planet have no access to electricity, Americans illuminate the night and burn fuel and create electricity on a scale that is unsustainable if the rest of the people engaged in it.  They see 5% of the world’s population consuming more than 60% of the resources and creating more than 60% of the pollution.  And they see this obviously exploitative culture using “any means necessary” to maintain its power and gluttonous,  wasteful lifestyle.    Everywhere else in the world, the masses of humanity live a life of severe suffering, in some cases directly caused by the inordinate and wasteful actions of the West.  They see the climate changing due to global warming, creating unprecedented droughts or floods and untold suffering.  They see their own governing process manipulated and controlled by the West for its own ends and goals.


I know that Americans are for the most part blind and oblivious to these and similar issues and I know we would like to see ourselves as somehow peace-loving, open-hearted people who rush to help those in need at the first sign of trouble.  And of course, we have those characteristics as a people, despite the machinations of the ruling class which governs this country, and which manipulates us as well as the rest of the world.


It is similar to the idea that our armed forces bomb people from 50,000 feet and never see any of the suffering.  Similarly, the automatic actions of our “god-given” right to exploit the planet and use all its resources and pollute it, cause suffering we do not see nor understand.


If we for a moment put ourselves in the shoes of those who undertake the kind of terrorist actions we recently saw, we can see that they are fanatically devoted to the idea that our culture and its actions are destroying their own people and the world, and they see us as a cancer on the planet.  Within that context, they are prepared to sacrifice their individual lives to achieve a long term goal of defeating this power before it destroys the planet.


If we understand this dynamic, it becomes very clear that the idea of military retaliation has very little long-term benefit to achieving real and stable peace.  As long as the underlying imbalances and mechanisms remain in place, the oppressed people of the world will always find a voice.  The true solution comes about by our first recognizing how we are seen by others around the world and finding ways to begin to address both the issues of our past and those of our present to build a more harmonious and mutually beneficial future for all of humanity.


This involves first an open acknowledgement of our failures of the past and an act of true contrition in humility to accept that the issues about which our society needs to make some amends are real.  Then we need to specifically begin to address the imbalances so that all the people and cultures on the planet can truly co-exist in harmony with each other and the environment.  This will certainly involve commitments and changes with respect to our wasteful and arrogant use of resources and creation of pollution.  Further, it may involve making commitments to some of the specific peoples who have been most directly affected by our past history, such as returning the Black Hills to the Sioux (The US Supreme Court even declared at one point that this was one of the most egregious transgressions of fair-dealing it had ever seen!), providing real reparations to Africa, while leaving the people there free to choose their own lives and destiny with that support, providing real and free opportunity and support to the Black people of this country who continue to be suppressed even though they are “free”, because we cynically freed them without providing them the basic underpinnings of success in this society through education, economic power and the ability to create their own cultural identity based on their historical roots.


There are probably dozens of ways we can reach out and acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers.  One of the most important will be to engage in a process with the other countries of the world to address the world’s concerns on a true multi-lateral basis, and rather than withdrawing from the process and expressing our arrogant disdain for that process as has occurred in the recent months (and which is a contributing cause to the dramatic increase in tensions that has now broken out into military actions on both sides), we should begin to hear the concerns of others and begin to address them, not with the mind of a “superpower” but with the heart of peace and mutual well-being that in fact is a basic potential characteristic we see in the American people.


There are of course risks we have to take in this process, as we have a heavy karmic load to deal with.  The good parts of our karmic past will help us through this process, but there is no “painless” way out.


The question then comes down to whether by destroying this particular network of opponents we have in fact achieved any balance, or simply created hatreds and motives of revenge and “holy war” that will haunt us for generations to come.  It has been seen all too often in the history of civilization that the winning of the peace is much more difficult than the winning of the war.


If America has a true destiny as a guide for peace and liberty on the planet, it must take care to avoid falling into the trap of the autocrat.  It must be willing to take the risks that come with multi-lateralism and true respect for all other cultures, societies, religions and peoples which it professes, but which it sadly fails at carrying out in its almost unconscious self-righteousness.


It is clear that America can marshall the military forces to reduce Afghanistan to a state very close to that of the stone age.  We can of course destroy this specific threat given the time and focus.  The long-term suffering that this entails for the people there can even be ameliorated after the war to some degree.  But the real problem will simply go on and re-create new “terrorists”, new “holy wars” and new acts of vengeance throughout the world.  The seeds of this discontent are already in place, leading to a very delicate balance and dynamic in many countries, some of which are “supporting” our actions in the current instance, like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.  What the future holds in these lands after this bombing has subsided is anyone’s guess.   America must begin the dual process, since it has committed itself already to the process of war; to start the process of the peace.


This involves active recognitions as cited above about our karmic load and our starting on the actions to bring about an open-hearted spirit of humility and love.  In the end, it is only through a change in consciousness at this level, that true peace can ever be achieved.  It is in times of extreme tension and stress and darkness that people begin to open their hearts and minds to other opportunities and begin to reflect to some degree.  Thus, it is in times of darkness that we have the greatest possibility of light.  So instead of becoming discouraged by the rabid military psychology that has seized our country at this moment, we should recognize its inevitability, and begin the process of true healing and understanding for the long-term future. 


Sri Aurobindo points out that “all problems of existence are problems of harmony”.  The solution to the current problem lies in a realization that harmony cannot be achieved solely by military force, while leaving the underlying imbalances in place and unaddressed.  And unless we do so, our quest for peace, which is the result of harmony, will be fruitless.


I am not speaking here as a pacifist, nor as a militarist; rather more as a practical seeker of real peace.   I am simply pointing out the specific steps we can begin to take, individually and collectively, to begin to move us beyond the mentality of the vendetta and toward a future of peace and harmony.


Santosh Krinsky

Twin Lakes, Wisconsin

October 7, 2001