August 08, 2007

Buddhists at War

Danny Fisher reminds us of Hiroshima, sixty-two years (and now two days) ago. What is there to say but to wish for peace and hope that all of us may be free from suffering?

Speaking of Buddhist chaplains, check out this and this. And, here's a review of a book by a Buddhist at Abu Ghraib. Tricycle ran an interview with another Buddhist at Abu Ghraib in our summer issue. [Unfortunately, the interview is behind a paywall. Subscribe here if you absolutely have to read it.] And yet more on the (alleged) Buddhist vigilantes in Thailand. And more fighting in Sri Lanka in the expanding civil war there. 5,000 Sri Lankans have died since the 2002 Norwegian-brokered cease-fire broke down in late 2005.

Going back to Danny's post about Hiroshima, I've been reading on and off about the end of World War II in Europe and the incredible horrors of the Red Army's push to Berlin. It turned from revenge and hate into something even worse -- brutal indifference. These days we mostly hear about Japan and Germany having enough civil structures and middle class to make reconstruction a simple task for Uncle Sam (vs. Iraq) -- but the brutality Germany and Japan underwent is overwhelming. The crimes of the Nazis muted pity for German citizens for many years, but think of it. Think of what East Germany in particular went through. One monster after another.

- Philip Ryan, Webmaster

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LT Jeanette Shin, CHC, USN's picture

I also think it is very important that we have some kind of debate regarding Buddhism and war; because of my experience as a chaplain in the US Navy, I may have a biased viewpoint, but I see military chaplaincy as a very important and meaningful development for American Buddhism. The fact is, is we have Buddhists in the military, virtually all of whom I have encountered are professionals and want to serve, even during wartime: they are not here because of bad decision-making. Yet, there seems to be little acknowledgement of this fact, other than a knee-jerk, "well they must make bad soldiers", or "they are not really Buddhists," types of remarks. This is not helpful for any meaningful discussion of war and conflict and Buddhism. Whatever our viewpoints, we at least have to acknowledge that American Buddhists, both Asian-born and Western converts, are in the military, and have been there for many years.

Brian Daizen Victoria's picture

Strangely, and sadly, the question of Buddhism and war is one of the least studied and debated issues in contemporary Buddhism, East and West. This anomaly is particularly striking in that a major cause of Buddhism's attractiveness to non-Asian Americans in the U.S. in the 1960s was its reputed commitment to peace. Unfortunately, as Philip's comments reveal, this reputation was at least in part undeserved. Now we see Buddhist chaplains joining the military to minister to Buddhist soldiers on America's far-flung battlefields. Is this a welcome development or further proof that Buddhism, like all of the world's major faiths, is prepared to sacralize state violence?

One can only hope that American Buddhists will come to recognize the importance of having this debate.