Violence and War
Article ID: 6286
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 5,433
Times Read: 5,466
Author: RuneWolf [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: May 4th. 2003
Times Viewed: 5,466
I believe that every child of the Goddess and the God has the right to protect him or herself, and it is a fact of nature that violence is sometimes the instrument of that self-protection. But we very rarely argue the morality of the water buffalo that defends herself from the lioness with horn and hoof - we only seem to argue the point when we humans are involved.
Perhaps this is because it is only we humans who have the capacity to rationalize acts of aggression as 'self-defense,' and we innately realize that, having this capacity, it is incumbent upon us to question ourselves and our motives. We alone, of all Their children, can pervert the basic instinct of self-preservation into a reason to kill our siblings, so it is our responsibility to examine, within our individual selves and our 'tribe,' the use and limits of violence.
I am a trained martial artist, in what I consider the Classical sense. That is to say, my training involves the forging and cultivation of my spirit and personal philosophy as much as it does the practice and refinement of physical technique. As yudansha (black belt), I am held to a high ethical standard. I am not permitted to simply attack anyone I want to for any reason whatsoever. Indeed, even when the laws of the Commonwealth say that I would be permitted to retaliate - say, against someone taking a swing at me that didn't connect - my personal beliefs and my commitment to my art and rank tell me that I should not and must not.
I am also a Witch. As a Witch in my Tradition, I am held to a Warrior ethic; I am expected, among other things, to protect the weak and innocent who ask for my help. But I am also constrained by the Rede to do as little harm as possible in achieving that goal. As incomprehensible as it sounds to many people in this day and age, I am required by my personal ethic, and the ethics of the Paths I follow, to defend myself and those in my care while using as little violence and doing as little damage to the perpetrator(s) as possible. Nonetheless, as a Witch, I believe that violence is sometimes appropriate and necessary, as regrettable as that may be.
At one time, I was licensed in my state to carry a concealed handgun. I undertook to achieve this because my sensei at the time believed that being trained to properly use - and carry - a handgun was as much a responsibility of the modern martial artist as learning the old ways. During the training to become licensed, I had to become familiar with the laws of my state as they concerned this matter. In regards to the topic of this essay, I note that nowhere in the laws of the Commonwealth does it state that it is permissible for me to shoot someone simply because I believe they are concealing a weapon that they might use against me. Not even law enforcement personnel are permitted - legally - to do such a thing. At the very least, to be a defensible use of a firearm, the shooter must substantiate that the other weapon exists and that it is being brought to bear in a threatening manner. If I were to shoot someone because they threatened me with a baseball bat from across a crowded street, license or no, I am going away for a few years.
However, as tempting as it is, it is difficult to apply the ethics of personal self-defense to multi-national conflicts. If I were to apply the laws of the Commonwealth to the justification for the war in Iraq, the law would clearly side against the U.S., since we have been unable to substantially prove that Iraq still possessed WMD in sufficient quantities to pose a threat beyond its borders, nor was it demonstrating any particularly threatening behavior. Iraq was simply behaving like any other 'guest star' on Cops: big-mouthed, belligerent, contemptuous of authority and potentially a threat to itself and others. But, as I have indicated, our domestic law enforcement personnel are prohibited from using lethal force simply because someone has the potential to harm or kill themselves or another.
The lessons of the 20th Century alone have shown us that, at times, war is necessary, if only to preserve the most freedom for the most people. One may argue that we don't really live in a free society, but I would submit that it is a great deal freer than some others, and certainly freer than it would be, had the Nazis won WWII. If, knowing what we now know, we could have deposed Hitler before the outbreak of the war, would it not have been for the greater good? If, knowing what we now know, we could have curtailed the growth of the Japanese Empire, would it not have been for the greater good? Can we also use such logic to justify unjust and immoral military aggression? Of course. But while a trained martial artist may be able to disarm and subdue a single armed opponent - on a good day! - in the world arena where national military machines are concerned, such is not always the case. The first and best option should and must always be to resolve conflicts without the use of violence, without the recourse to war. But if political and economic leverage - the only leverage realistically available to the world community against a genuine, common threat - fails, then war may well be both unavoidable and necessary.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq, however, is in my mind ethically questionable and morally tenuous, at best. It is beginning to look like our detractors may have been right all along, and that our 'reasons' for the invasion were, in fact, completely non-existent. My personal opinion is that this war is about George Bush's ego, and not about liberating Iraq or saving the world from the threat of Saddam Hussein. I think 'Dubya' needed this war to bolster his Texas-sized ego and to back up his right-wing, Fundamentalist rhetoric. As such, it is reprehensible. Nonetheless, I support our troops, who are bravely doing what they swore to do.
In the context of my personal Pagan philosophy, I accept that violence is a regrettable, but sometimes necessary, fact of life. As a Nature Religionist, I must accept my instinct and right to protect myself and my 'herd,' just as I accept the instinct and right of the wildebeest to do so. By the same token, sentience and the concomitant power of self-reflection are gifts of the Goddess and the God, and I must use these to ensure that my instinct for self- protection, like all my other instincts, does not become a threat to my survival, or the survival of others. My personal belief is that, sooner or later, it would have been necessary for the world community to depose Saddam Hussein, and that military force would have been necessary to achieve that goal. So while I disagree with the way the war was foisted on the American people by the unethical use of political power and authority, I can find some measure of acceptance, and not directly oppose the war effort, but instead focus on a much- needed change of administration.
I believe that all citizens of our country have the right and obligation to oppose the immoral and unethical use of national force, whether it is military, economic or what have you. We must be careful, however, to avoid vilifying our countrymen and countrywomen who choose instead to support such causes, particularly when that support is manifested in military service. The hatred and rejection directed at veterans returning from Viet Nam was a disgrace. Most of those young men and women went because it was what their country 'asked' them to do, right or wrong. We cannot justify a feeling of empathy for those who fled the country rather than serve, while demonizing those who answered the draft or enlisted voluntarily - both groups were responding to their country's involvement in that war in what they felt to be the right way.
In closing, let me quote the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 31 (trans. Stephen Mitchell, 1988):
"Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.
Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn't wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?
He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral."
In Their Service,
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