Attachment to Peace
Thank you for the concise interviews in “Peace: How Realistic Is It?” [Summer 2003]. Unfortunately, like most interviews about peace in the Buddhist press, they were steeped in shopworn antiwar rhetoric. However hard you and the interviewees tried, you failed to find a Middle Way.
I will focus on the interview with Zarko Andricevic because it is typical of what so many Buddhists today argue. You described him as a Croatian Buddhist who has applied “the Buddha’s teachings to a legacy of war.” Sadly, his remarks are based on a faulty assumption. Although he says that “clear seeing, with the application of moral guidelines, makes it possible to resist the call to war,” he does not say where those moral guidelines come from. Practicing Zen meditation alone will not automatically make you a “moral” person—a quick look at Brian Victoria’s Zen at War will tell you that. Mr. Andricevic sidesteps the issue by invoking his Ch’an Buddhist practice of “nonreactivity to external events,” although he preempts any charge of callous disengagement by saying “this is not to be mistaken for a retreat into inactivity and apathy.” On the contrary, he writes, “not to take either side ideologically is to be on both sides compassionately.” This is nothing more than clever, if endearing, semantics.
A more carefully conceived moral philosophy is required, but the author does not provide one. He skirts such pressing issues as self-defense: When one is under attack, what does one do? Wait, in our case, for still more terrorist attacks?
The issues are far more complex than the contributors to this section have allowed for, and it is naïve to ascribe all terrorist violence, as contextualists like Mr. Andricevic do, to “poverty, political repression, and economic injustice.” Indeed, we need look no further than Al Qaeda to see that purveyors of the worst sort of violence can be motivated by none of these.
The search for external causality as an epistemological ground of morality can make us unwitting apologists for evil. What if no amount of aid or understanding can stem the desire of a terrorist—whether in the Balkans, the Middle East, or here in America—to wage war “by any means necessary”? Are we to sit back in our enlightened Buddhist “nonreactivity to external events,” feel compassion for the terrorist, do nothing, and die? No, thank you. Attachment to peace at any cost, in the mixed-up world in which we live, is tantamount to collective suicide. War should always be the last option in resisting aggression, but just because it is the last option does not mean it should never be an option.
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