Written during the long agonizing build-up to the US/UK invasion of Iraq. When this was first published, I came in for some criticism for emphasizing the economic motive. Seems like there was considerable buzz in the media about "Weapons of Mass Destruction" at the time. Anyone else remember that?
Buddhism may well be the most pacifist of all religions. Buddhist ethics begin with the precept against harming and killing. A high value is placed on compassion and respect for all living beings. Therefore war, which is a systematic campaign of violence for political ends, cannot be advocated by anyone who claims to follow the teachings of the Buddha.
The issue is a timely one. Once again battle drums are beating. The American administration seems determined to attack Iraq, with or without United Nations approval. The hawks in Washington and their supporters in the media are presently waging a public relations campaign to justify their proposed war. One thing to notice in this is how often reference is made to attacking "Saddam," as if George Bush were contemplating a fist fight rather than a massive aerial bombardment. It is not Saddam Hussein personally who is going to be on the receiving end of the bombs, but the men, women and children of Bagdhad and Basra.
Another cardinal virtue of Buddhism is truthfulness. "Calling things by their true names." Arguments about war and foreign policy are often very cold and bloodless, unlike war which is hot and bloody. If the American president were to go on television and tell people that he proposes to drop tons and tons of explosives on populated areas, smashing thousands of helpless people to bits in the process, thousands more to be crippled and blinded, thousands more made homeless and poisoned by depleted uranium, we would think him a monster. Instead, he tells us he is "getting Saddam."
The American media is very complicit in this lie of omission. The major networks agreed during the Afghan campaign to suppress images and discussion of civilian casualties, which were in the thousands. How much support for war would there be if the public saw every night on the evening news the bodies of mangled children instead of antiseptic maps and war room briefings?
The Buddha was very caustic when speaking about the wars of his time. He ended one war between two nations, which started with a dispute about water rights, by asking which was worth more, blood or water? Elsewhere, he taught that men put on shield and armour and hack each other to bits, just because of sensual desire. This is very wise, and cuts through all the rhetoric.
In all the recent wars fought by the Americans, the control of valuable energy resources has played a part. In Kosovo it was the huge lignite coal mining complex at Trepca. In Afghanistan it was the route for a natural gas pipeline from the Caspian Sea. In Iraq, obviously, it is oil. How much of all this is being done "for the sake of sensual desire, on account of sensual desires?"
One more Buddhist virtue needs to be mentioned here. That is "contentment with little." To the Buddhist, true happiness comes from within, not from acquisition of material possessions and status. This inner peace of mind is more precious than all the wealth of the world. And chasing after wealth is an easy way to lose peace of mind.
It is ironic that all this talk of war is pushing the issue of global climate change into the background. We have just finished a record hot summer in Ontario. While the prairies have suffered under three years of drought, there have been catastrophic flooding in Central Europe. The single biggest contributor to greenhouse gases is fossil fuel consumption, for energy and transportation. No one wants to face the hard fact that we need to conserve. Instead we have the pathetic spectacle of politicians in denial about the problem while the most powerful among them are waging a war that, whatever its other purposes, will if successful insure America's oil supply for decades to come.