A Curious Mind W(o/a)nders

Thursday, April 06, 2006

War and Peace: A Perspective

(Was rummaging through old documents.
Found this article published by me at the height of the second Gulf/Iraq War in 2003)

As the war on Iraq rages relentlessy, it is apparent that this affair shall be a long drawn one, a bloody battle where each side shall use all means in its possession to finish its enemies off. And thus, the spectre of war has shifted from open attacks to suicide attacks, and from targetting 'only' military establishments to politics with humanitarian aid. And accompanying this duel has been the other battle, the propoganda war where each channel tries to potray itself as the most neutral and objective reporter while at the same time taking care not to displease their political bosses on who they depend on their very survival......a very difficult ask indeed.

But the issue or the perspective on which I would like to dwell, though related would sound or appear to have little connection, atleast initially to those whose focus is exclusively the theatre of conflict. Today, we have a surfeit of commentators and intellectuals, in fact in addition to the supposedly well-informed analysts on television, every person on the street round the world has a point of view; and very rightly so, each person is entitled to his independent and personal perspective. And they range from extremes at both ends to moderate viewpoints. Whether indicting the coalition or the dictator in Iraq or the Arabs and Islamists according to one's loyalties, there is a common strand in the viewpoint of every informed citizen of the world. That there is a vice, there is something naturally or deliberately but atrociously wrong, something which goes against our accepted sensibilities and values and the side I support, whether it is the coalition of the willing or the Iraqis and Arabs is trying to correct this or fighting to uphold this right.This in a nutshell summarises the arguments on both sides of the fence.

This brings me to a more basic argument. What is wrong on the scale of the society must be wrong on the individual scale as well. What we, as concerned global citizens, consider wrong and evil, when applied on large masses of humanity, must be equally wrong and reprehensible when applied to individuals and small groups of people, And this represents to me, the greatest dichotomy of the war. Every individual, irrespective of his stand with regard to this conflict, engages with elan everyday in his personal theatre, in the same atrocities, which he opposes on the global scale. How many of those so-called peace activists do not employ the very same tactics which the Americans are employing in the battlefield, for a rise in their own organisations. How many of those opposing Saddams's brutal tactics and favouring his oust do not use the same tactics to dominate in their personal lives. How many commentators and reviewers decrying the biased coverage and propoganda of the channels, the moment they step out of the hallowed pretincts of the studios do not engage in shameless prevarication for personal gain. And how many of those men on the street with such a strong sense of justice that they march out in millions for or against the war, use the same scale of justice to measure their personal behaviours. As the old adage goes, it is easier to preach than to practice. It is easier to demonstrate, to fight, to even sacrifice one's life for principles and values than to implement it in one's life. And principles or values - democracy or freedom or self-respect etc- have the same yardsticks irrespective of whether they are applied to societies or individuals.

And this leads to the fundamental question, how do we expect to be applied to societies or armies or nations, the values which we loathe to implement personally. What is the society, who composes the Ameriacn or Iraqi army, it is men like us. My power might be limited, so my vices and tricks are limited to my family or friends, my friend might head an organisation, correspondingly his theatre of deceit is larger while for Bush or Saddam it is the entire world. But the basic idea is the same. And while we, the common citizens of the world, oppose those means when applied to large groups of citizens, we are happy employers of the same techniques, albeit on a smaller scale and within the law, in the humdrum of our commonplace existence.

We have to realise that we are the society, it is men like us who command armies and Bush or Saddam or other so called leaders are just our manifestations. Most of us engage in the same deceit within our limits, deceits we are opposing on the streets today. Our theatre is limited, the law doesn't recognize these petty issues, so we continue to engage in these deceits while we take moral stands on global issues. The whole thing smacks of hypocrisy of the worst kind.

So what is the solution? The narration of a minor incident in the life of Mahatma Gandhi will make this clear. A gentleman suffering from acute diabetes once came to Gandhiji, an occasional practitioner of traditional medicine, for treatment. Gandhiji sent him back on the first day without advice requesting him to return the next day and this routine was replayed for many days. At last, after many long days, Gandhiji gave the man his medicine which was to forsake all sweets.
The man, perplexed and stupefied, asked in all humility why Gandhiji had delayed this advice for so long. Gandhiji replied saying that he himself had been a diabetic for a long time and yet had not given up eating sweets though he knew it would cure him of the ollness. How could he advise something which he did not follow. In the intervening days since their first encounter, Gandhiji had given up sweets completely before proffering the advice.

Many might argue that this discussion has only an academic relevance and impossible to implement in the real world. The Indian freedom struggle led by Gandhiji disproves this; it was a resistance where entire struggles were called off when even a single participant flouted the principles in their public or private lives. Few realise the significance of this. But this is the only practical and permanent solution, since every individual has control over only himself, not over Saddam or Bush's policies. A change in the individual's personal theatre will be reflected on his society and gradually this will be reflected in the ways of the world.

Until every one of those demonstrators and analysts starts implementing in his personal theatre what he advocates publicly, nothing will change or even if there is a change it will be temporary. We are tackling the manifestations, not the root of the problem. The process of personal reformation and discardment of this hypocrisy is long and arduous, but it must begin, and this war must serve as a clarion call for that reformation because who knows, tomorrow you or I might be in Bush or Saddam's shoes and then our theatre of action will not be our homes or office but the entire world.


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