This is What War Looks Like

We shouldn’t be surprised at the news of the horrible atrocities
our boys and girls have been committing at Abu Ghraib prison,
suggests Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk who has done so much in
the name of world peace that Martin Luther King Jr. once nominated
him for a Nobel Peace Prize. Hanh was exiled from his native
Vietnam in 1966 for protesting the war there, and today lives in
Plum Village, a meditation retreat he founded in southern France.
‘The statement President Bush made that the U.S. just sent
dedicated, devoted young men, not abusers to Iraq shocked me,’ Hanh
wrote in an interview with Beliefnet. ‘Because committing
acts of torture is just the result of the training that the
soldiers have already undergone. The training already makes them
lose all their humanity.’

Hanh sees the good in all of us, but also recognizes the
potential for any human to be transformed from man into beast.
‘Preparing for war and fighting a war means allowing our human
nature to die and the animal nature in us to take over.’ He refuses
to blame any one person, or any one country for this demise that
now has American soldiers spread out all over the globe in a state
of paranoia and ready to kill, but instead places the guilt on the
shoulders of all humanity. ‘When we hold retreats for war veterans
I tell them they are the flame at the tip of the candle, they are
the ones who feel the heat, but the whole candle is burning, not
only the flame. All of us are responsible.’ Hanh alludes to the
United States’ unenviable reputation in the world today, but does
not delve into politics, instead introducing the important Buddhist
concept of forgiveness. ‘In the past, the U.S. was loved by many of
us in the world because the U.S. represented freedom, democracy,
peace, and care for other countries. The U.S. has lost this image
and must rebuild it.’

What makes this interview truly special is that Hanh focuses
less on the state than on the individual. With regards to Abu
Ghraib, he suggests that prison guards who torture their subjects
are actually harming themselves. ‘When you torture a living being,
you die as a human being because the other person’s suffering is
your own suffering. When you perform surgery on someone, you know
the surgery will help him and that is why you can cut into his
body. But when you cut into someone’s body and mind to get
information from them, you cut into your own life, you kill
yourself as a person.’
Jacob Wheeler

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