Dear Fellow Americans and World Citizens:
Only a Bully Seeks War as an Option
I write you with great anguish as a veteran who has experienced war from the cockpit of a helicopter ambulance. While cherishing my rights to speak openly in a world where citizens of many other countries cannot, I feel burdened with a sense of responsibility to express those rights by inviting serious introspection of our place in unfolding world events. There is a difference between exercising vigilance in the face of a potential aggressor and being a bully.
Over the centuries, we have learned that great nations come into being when the power for governing those nations is put into the hands of the people. We have further discovered that democratic principles can unite the community of nations in the cause of peace. There is no place for bullies, on a community, national or international level, in a world that recognizes and cherishes human rights. We all know bullies when we see them. Such self-interested individuals and nations accumulate their power and then force others around them into submission to their interests. They survive until bigger bullies come along and subject them to the same treatment. Bullies make life miserable for the rest of us because they control us while sapping our power and resources for their own interests. It anguishes me to ask the question: Has the Unites States become a bully?
The United States defines itself as the “only world superpower” on the basis of its nuclear capability. Bullies define their rights based solely upon their power. Are we doing the same? Are we relating to the rest of the world on the basis of imagined rights gained through our technological accomplishments and power? After contributing significantly, and at great loss, to helping rid the world of bullies over the last century, are we overreacting to the world situation in the present? We cite our accomplishments – how we helped the conquered bully-nations rise to their feet in great humanitarian nation-building efforts. And we cite our mistakes – how we failed to acknowledge ominous threats until it was too late. We lament our lack of involvement in the League of Nations and the great losses that began with Pearl Harbor. “Never again!” we said, and perhaps our obsession with that blinded us to an even more serious mistake of oversight, especially after the events of September 11, 2001.
In the cold war, we confronted communism – only to discover through the process of further losses through war and conflict that communism was not the threat we feared. There are those who declare that communism was defeated by the cold war effort. This perception insults the wisdom of the leadership and the people of those nations who discovered the truth for themselves that communism does not work. We Americans (the term United States citizens use exclusively for ourselves on this continent) take great pride in our power-and-wisdom-of-the-people perception of our rise to greatness. Yet we seem to fail to recognize that we come from the same stock as the people of the rest of the world – people who have the same inherent rights, worth and potential as Americans. As we stand on the brink of another century of war, are we truly honoring our ancestors in the way we are playing our role on the world stage?
We do not occupy our present position in the world community of nations because we are better – we are here because we got here first. We must not fail to recognize the worth and integrity of individuals the world over. We will never be worth our claim to greatness until we recognize and practice the principles that honor human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness everywhere. This cannot be accomplished by relating to the rest of the world as a bully relates to those imagined as being weaker.
Failing to recognize the rights of one nation or people and ignoring their suffering, while pursuing our own self-interests, is more than egregious hypocrisy – it is participation in a bullying process. By punishing the people of a nation for the despotic, bullying behavior of its leader, the United States is nothing more than a bully itself. A million Iraqi children reportedly have died as a result of American sanctions on Iraq. How are we honoring the rights and potential of a people by our present policies? How long will we underestimate the inherent goodness in most human beings – and their capacity to rise to true greatness if they are accorded the rights and resources for doing so?
Upon what basis does the United States see itself as a leader on the world stage? If we think our king-of-the-hill status in the nuclear power club gives us the right to dictate which nation has the right to its own nuclear power, we are being the bully. Ultimately, it must be asked: Does any nation or people truly have the right to the power to bring such destruction to another people? Anybody who thinks such a right is granted by arriving first with the most power is thinking like a bully. Bullies dictate and steal others’ power; true leaders inspire and empower. As above, so below. Whether in the school-yard, or the forum of nations, the one with the most power becomes the role-model for those who lack the power. What kind of example is the United States serving? There are two options: become a leader by example, or become a bully. A nation that promotes equal rights and democracy for its citizens, yet ignores or spurns those rights in relating to its fellow nations is practicing hypocrisy of the highest order.
History irrevocably teaches us that failure of every great state begins from within. As a nation, is our moral integrity getting better with time? Should we take wisely the counsel of so many of our brothers and sisters across the world that we have become a nation of self-serving hypocrites? Good Americans everywhere acknowledge they would like to see the day when every person on Earth attains a decent standard of living. Get real! It has been documented that it would take a minimum of three-and-one-half to four Earths of resources to accomplish an average American middle-class standard of living worldwide. With only 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States already consumes 25 percent of the world’s resources, including SUVs, while the entire developed world consisting of 23 percent of the human population consumes almost two thirds of Earth’s resources. The bully cares not that he has more than his share.
What is the wisdom of schoolteachers communicated to schoolyard bullies everywhere in the world? “Stop picking on your others! You have to share!” Democracy teaches us that true leaders share power; bullies monopolize power. Morality, by every definition of religion and philosophy, includes sharing resources as opposed to monopolizing them. If we truly are a nation of moral integrity, we must recognize that true power is founded in moral integrity – not military might. We must be open to the moral democracy of yearning hearts, exclusive of the boundaries of nations, which votes overwhelmingly for the establishment of human rights everywhere.
If our heritage demands that human rights preside over politics, then we must lift our embargoes and limitations of rights everywhere people are suffering for the behaviors of their leaders. The legacy of the Boston Tea Party is one of people rising to power against the bully’s control of their rights and resources. If there is a Higher Power in moral right, what small but worthy movement will rise to vanquish our military might? Can we not extend the faith in our own people to the people in the world at large? Where our individual and collective self-interest drives the assimilation of the rest of the world into American consumerist values, with over-consumption of limited resources, are our practices in keeping with universal human rights – or uber-imperialism?
There are those who insist that the carnage of the last century must be avoided by a violent response to “evil” at its earliest stages – before it can grow to the menacing level we have seen in the past. Only the bully sees war as an option. A true leader sees only the essentials of communication, diplomacy and universal human rights as viable solutions to conflict. Rationalizing war by inventing terms like “collateral damage” does nothing but obfuscate the moral atrocity of choosing war over diplomacy as the best option to settle human conflict. Until we recognize that the politically least significant citizen anywhere is as worthy of life as the most evil despot is deemed worthy of death, we will have nothing more than a superficial understanding of human rights.
Ultimately, the only true democracy will come from a unity of consciousness found in compassionate sensitivity between all human beings. This can only come as we pursue a deeper understanding of life, liberty and happiness while honoring the rights of others worldwide. We can begin now. We can begin by letting go of our false pride and practicing the true moral courage of examining ourselves in the light of a broader consciousness than our singular national conception of ourselves. We have already given much to the world as Americans. Beyond all of our technological, economic and industrial accomplishments, we are demonstrating how pursuing the limits of security, sensation and power cannot bring ultimate happiness to life. Perhaps, as in the case of jumping to cellular technology without land-based telephony, so-called third world nations will be spared our mistakes by our negative examples as well.
Ultimately, we must open ourselves to recognizing a universal, spiritual basis of existence that is inclusive of and transcends all Earthly religious and philosophical traditions – for in this we find the common understanding of what constitutes moral integrity among compassionate people everywhere. We, everyone of us, have much to learn as we collectively stand on the brink of choosing war as the possible option for attempting to solve world problems in the 21st century. There are, among those who suffer most, two homeless nations of people pursuing solutions at opposite ends of the peace versus violence continuum. Few of us are able – or willing – to imagine the level of despair it would take for members of a nation to resort to self-destruction in hopes for attaining a better life for those left behind. But, we must. That the Palestinians have as much right to exist as the Israelis must become a matter of grave concern to all of us. We have no moral right to ignore suffering, for doing so makes us complicit in the process of suffering. Without the compassion of those who can offer a hand, the Palestinians will never learn that violence will not end their suffering. That would be a tragedy for all who share this planet.
At the other end of the continuum is possibly the most ancient existing nation on Earth. Driven from their homeland in the 1950’s, the Tibetan people have found a home in the world-at-large – offering the rest of us a spiritual legacy of power through compassion, simple living and moral leadership that is unparalleled in the rest of the world. Ironically, in all their travail, they stand in a better place to offer us a hand. We are all on this small, blue planet together. There are only enough resources if we learn to share. At this level, there is no survival of the fittest. Competition must give way to compassion and inclusivity. Ultimately, the only power that exists to solve our problems is within us. Welcome to the fabled battle of Armageddon. It remains our choice whether we are to fight it from within or without.
The 20th Century taught us how it can be if we collectively choose to fight the battle from without. For everybody, it would be “us versus them” with ever more lethal weapons killing the most innocent for the sins of the most guilty.
Or we can trade the courage of sacrifice for victory for the greater courage: sacrifice of what we are for what we can become. False pride must be the first casualty in this inner war. Hypocrisy must be second. This begins by honest introspection to find our own faults and transgressions of human rights – at home and abroad. We must nominate political candidates of true moral integrity, so more of us will vote for leaders who represent the people – not a corporatocracy that threatens the world more than communism ever did. We must recognize and overthrow Consumerism as our state religion, while joining global efforts to develop ecologically sustainable standards of living for all of humanity. From self-serving indifference to outright atrocities (from Mei Lai to Sherbargan), we must own our past behavior at home and abroad and change to practice the higher values our cultural heritage and spiritual traditions espouse. This includes renouncing our bullying ways and putting power into the hands of people everywhere.
Where do we begin? First, by lifting all restrictions the United States has put on human rights worldwide, regardless of our opinions of existing leadership in some countries. Punishing the people of Iraq and Cuba, among others, only serves the purpose of increasing human suffering in the world. Second, a true democracy recognizes a democratic community of nations. The United Nations, alone, stands in the position of being able to enforce human rights from a universal perspective. When it comes to the business of peace on Earth, maturity has more power than military might. We have seen what an angry teen with a gun can do. Let us cultivate maturity and practice diplomacy. We must have faith in the evolutionary march of humanity, which continues to teach us that true democracies prevail, while despots and tyrants fail – and that the atrocity of war remains forever as a scar on the collective human soul.
Granville Angell (Updated 1/29/03)
Copyright 2002 by Granville Angell – All rights to reproduce and circulate this essay, with credit, are granted.
To call TRANSITIONS/SoulMentors: (704) 276-1164