For those of us here in Australia today is Anzac day, a day where we remember the horrors of war and the sacrifices of our ancestors that fought to retain the freedoms which we cherish. As with other days related to war and issues of national pride, it’s a day that can also divide people on the basis of their political allegiance. As I have been reminded by my conservative friends, we often find that around this time we encounter articles written to counter the “Anzac myth”, or to challenge the glorification of war. Many people on the left side of politics and religion feel that we have glamourized war, arguing that conservatives seem to actually like war, and act in ways to encourage or outright create it. On the other side, many people on the right feel deeply insulted by the disrespect shown towards the fallen by those that use Anzac day as an opportunity to criticize our brave soldiers.
The following statement is one that I will repeat in many different articles:
Whilst it is indeed true that the truth isn’t always found halfway between two opposing views, it is most commonly the case that it is.
War is a tremendously ugly thing. Obviously there’s large scale death of soldiers and civilians. There are all those that are maimed and injured, let alone all those psychologically destroyed (should we mention the high rate of suicide, substance abuse and other mental illnesses amongst victims of war). There is slavery, rape, and environmental destruction. And then there is the sheer cost of war. It is a sad irony that many times war has broken out because someone wishes to take power over another nation to make themselves wealthier, and yet war is surely one of (if not the) primary cause of poverty in the world. If we did not spend so much on war and defence it would surely be a different world.
And yet, when there are those who are driven by whatever ideology or desire to attempt to infringe upon the freedom of others, we need good strong people to stand against them. Indeed many atrocities have occurred at the hands of those fighting for the US, and I would presume that Australia, New Zealand and Britain would likewise not be exempt from this. However, this does not simply make us the same as those we have fought against, and we must all be thankful for our predecessors that fought to defeat the forces of evil.
There is a popular idea in New Age spirituality that you cannot fight against ego (or unconsciousness if you prefer) and win. It is thought that if you do you simply become the same yourself, in which case ego has won and you have lost. Rather, many people believe that you should only ever show love in the face of evil, and that in doing so one can transform your opponent, bringing them out of their unconsciousness. Unfortunately, because of this idea I have seen and heard many spiritually minded people argue that violence is never appropriate, apparently even in the face of opposing violence.
Obviously such an approach is completely untenable. I believe that the Bhagavad-Gita dealt with this issue wisely when it stated quite clearly that it is the duty of righteous people to stand against evil and protect against the collapse of culture. We should note however that the Gita also noted that to fail to defend oneself out of not wanting to cause harm to others would actually be to succumb to ego, in viewing ones opponents as merely the body to be cut down. The Spirit is immortal, it cannot be killed. Yet if someone is to try to take away your freedom it is your duty to stop them, even if it means killing their body. There is just as much ego in absolute passivism as there is in aggression, and passivism will achieve the same end, as it will only allow the aggressor to succeed.
I believe that the left are indeed correct when they point out that many in the right have glamourized war. It seems that it is difficult to fight a righteous war without being taken over the mindset of conflict. Certainly the US did largely save the world in WW2. Yet it does seem that many in the US have been taken over by this group-consciousness of believing themselves to be police and/or saviours of the world. How many movies have presented this theme quite clearly? What effect then does this group-mind have upon foreign policy and various other vital issues?
It is difficult (if not impossible) to look evil in the eye and feel love, but that is perhaps the ideal to which we should aim. To do everything possible in striving for peace, to offer compassion, grace, mercy, forgiveness and infinite and unconditional love to all, and yet be willing to stand strong and fight when necessary. To be able to hold love in ones heart for an enemy whilst being willing to end their life if necessary in the horrors of war.
In this way we perhaps do not fight against ego, and we refuse to be pulled into it ourselves. We can fight against flesh and blood when necessary, but be careful not to create in ourselves an ideology that is dysfunctional in much the same ways as those we fight against. It is a common human tendency to swing too far one way in response to unbalance on the other side. We however have the ability to change, to grow. We must evolve if we wish to change the world in which we live for the better. And of course, the easiest and best place to start is with ourselves.
For we can find peace within ourselves right here and now (and of course, that it is the only place it can ever be found). Those that attain inner peace will never seek to impose their rule over others, nor wield any weapon in acts of violence. Real peace however will not lead to passivism, but rather make us strong warriors when necessary.
May we find that peace, lest we forget.
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.
Lokah Samastah, Sukhino Bhavantu.