a Circle of Peace.
The Shifting Winds Blow
Truth from Camp to Camp.
By Freddie Elizabeth Bowles
March 30, 2003, at 2300 hours CST.
Conway, Arkansas, USA
EDITOR'S NOTE: The mistress of the hacienda writes in place of its master, who applauds.
I must confess that my heart is heavy and that my thoughts are not focused on the four days I spent in Baltimore. Yesterday I returned to Cricket Song, my heart's comfort, my family home, a place of peace, plenty, and security. Tomorrow I must return to campus, another place of comfort, retreat, and security. It's a return to a routine, and yet, something is amiss. There is an air of disengagement, of preoccupation, of emotions verging on hysteria. The United States is at war. How many times have I seen war during my lifetime? First there was Viet Nam, then the first Gulf War, then the war in Bosnia and Serbia, now another Gulf War. The last three wars have been waged within ten years under three different Presidents and two different political parties.
I find it ironic that I spent four days with eight-thousand other professionals who teach English to speakers of other languages: English, the language of the military-industrial complex, of the imperialist-capitalist, the Great Satan; the language of freedom, democracy, peace, and "The Rights of Man." Why is English such a popular language? Why do so many people want to learn it? For education? Economics? Politics? Religion? In promoting and teaching this language, am I a cultural imperialist, or a peacemaker? Until this particular war, I have never questioned my profession because I have a love for all languages. I enjoy traveling, experiencing the differences between cultures, and trying to learn a little of the languages of each place I visit. I assumed a similar attitude in learners of English, that they learn it from a love of language and different cultures. One should never assume anything.
I speak English because of circumstance. I was born in this country. My parents were white-collar workers; their parents were farmers; my forefathers were a mixture of English religious dissenters, poor Scots-Irish immigrants, and Cherokee Indians. I grew up during a repressive era when the country was ruled by one class of citizens. I dreamed of a day when all citizens would be represented, when conflict would be settled by negotiation instead of violence, when the weak would be protected and the strong would be tempered. What has changed?
Isolated from Imperfect Realities.
As the last ten years have proven, conflict is still settled by violence, but I have seen a change in representation. I look at my classroom and see a representation of ages, genders, ethnic groups, and religious and political views. I see the effort to protect the weak and temper the strong through advocacy groups, campus organizations, and services for all students. But the Academy has always been isolated, a place of ideals; it is not the real world. The real world is imperfect; our nations are imperfect; our communities are imperfect; I am imperfect.
I lead a sheltered, protected, abundant, peaceful life. I do not want for anything. I have been able to achieve my goals and dreams without much sacrifice. I have never gone hungry; I have never been without shelter or work; I have not had my family harmed by outside forces; my home has not been violated by anyone other than petty thieves. What do I know about fear, violence, and repression? Just a little.
I traveled in Central and Eastern Europe during the Cold War, where I had to follow a local citizen in secret to find a place to sleep, where a soldier searched my belongings because of my passport, where the officials would not allow me to travel a certain route because of my nationality. I have traveled in Central Asia, where I was not allowed to enter certain buildings because of my religion, to eat in certain restaurants because of my religion, to sit in certain bus seats because of my religion. I was naïve then, a young lady of 24. I thought the world would be different in the Twenty-First Century. I know now, 26 years later, that we wear the veneer of civilization like a new pair of shoes.
An Idealist Comes
Face-to-Face with Cruelty.
I was once an idealist, leaning to the left, a bit rebellious, aloof, and arrogant. I thought I was right when I objected to the Viet Nam War. I still think I was right. We lost the war. We lost a lot of young men. We gained a lot of new citizens from the war. Some of the children of those refugees have been my students. Their parents lost a home; they lost family and friends. War is cruel.
I didn't protest the first Gulf war, and I don't remember if citizens in the U.S. protested. We were living abroad and received little news in English. My husband traveled to Budapest every ten days to buy as many English language publications he could find so that we could read the news in our own language, but we didn't really know what was going on. All I knew was that Kuwait had been invaded by Iraq and that the U.S. sent forces to help Kuwait be rid of the invaders.
I didn't protest the Bosnian-Serbian war, and I don't remember much protest in the U.S. against this war. It began while we were living in Hungary. Some of the bombs from the conflict even landed in Hungary. We saw United Nations forces commandeer the Hungarian railway many times. This war was closer to home and we were all unsettled by the conflict. We returned to the United States before the war ended, but one of my son's friends served there. He is now serving in Kuwait, and once again, I fear for his safety.
I've haven't protested this new war, either. This surprises me because I am closer to this war, and I consider myself a peacemaker, a negotiator, one who settles conflict through language, but I have also realized that the world is not the utopia I envisioned at twenty-four. I have learned that the place where I work and live is isolated from the cruel realities of daily life in this country and around the globe. Language does not solve conflict for the majority of the world's citizens.
Where Does Peace Begin?
The Buddha said, "We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world." I believe that. Each day when I make my meditation, I ask God to clothe me in goodness, to bring thoughts and words of kindness and encouragement to those I come in contact with. I create a golden sphere of good energy and protection around me. Does peace not begin with the individual?
What are your thoughts? Are they thoughts of kindness and peace, or are you in conflict with self and others? Do you project calmness and serenity, or negativity and anger? If our own thoughts are negative, how can we ever expect peace on a global scale?
I learned today that the first Arkansan died in the war. He wasn't a warrior; he was a medic. He was also a graduate of Little Rock Parkview High School, where I used to teach, and a graduate of UCA, where I presently teach. He was 25-years-old, the youngest child in the Johnson family. His family expressed their sorrow and grief, but they also expressed their pride that he had died honorably. Another Arkansan, one of my favorite folk singers, Iris DeMent, announced she could not perform while the war raged because, she said, "It would be trivializing the fact that my tax dollars are causing great suffering and sending a message to the world that might is right." Did Mr. Johnson die because he believed that might was right? Will Ms. DeMent quit paying taxes so that the might, under which she believes she lives, will become less mighty?
Might's Mighty Juggernaut.
Everything seems trivial in comparison to the death and destruction that occurs in a war, but the might to which Ms. DeMent refers could be interpreted in another way. Saddam Hussein believed that his might made right. If one asks the Kurds about "right," they may disagree that Saddam Hussein's might is right. The Kuwaitis might argue the point as well. If the "might" refers to the U.S., what "might" is that? Economic? Cultural? Political? Religious? All of those? Does Iris DeMent participate in that might by selling CDs to consumers in other nations, or by giving concerts outside the borders of her own state and country? Are we not all inextricable parts of the mighty juggernaut?
Does she refer to the suffering of the U.S. soldiers and their families, to the Iraqi soldiers and their families, or to all suffering? I hear the argument about the "poor Iraqi women and children," but I don't hear the argument for the "poor American wives and children" of the U.S. soldiers. I have received unsolicited computer imagery of maimed Iraqi children, but no one has sent me photos of maimed U.S. soldiers. Doesn't everyone suffer in this war?
I've decided not to protest this war. I will support the soldiers whether the decision by the Bush Administration to stage war is right or not. Several factors contributed to this decision. I have pondered the meaning of patriotism. I don't think it means "my country right or wrong." I think it means supporting the individuals who have chosen to fight in a conflict that has multiple ramifications on all levels of discourse: political, economical, social, and cultural. It means shaking a soldier's hand in the hotel elevator in Baltimore and wishing him luck as he prepares to debark that night. It means being grateful to live in a place free of blatant oppression but fat with abundance.
The True Warrior Avoids War.
I have pondered the meaning of the warrior spirit. Not all of us have it. Some of us are weak and defenseless, and no matter how idealistic we are, the reality is that we are still members of tribes, banding together for protection, procreation, and pleasure. We each have a "place on the wall." I had never understood the warrior spirit until I began my studies of Tai Chi. A true warrior avoids war as Sun Tzu says in the Classics, but a true warrior will also defend the defenseless.
It is argued that we invaded Iraq without provocation. The counterargument is that the U.S. was violated on Nine Eleven, and that Hussein has committed atrocities against his own people and other groups under his dominion, and broken the agreements of the first Gulf War. The arguments are both right and wrong; the truth lies in the gray zone of diplomacy. Who drew the first line in the sand? The winds shift from hour to hour, blowing the truth from camp to camp. The Bedouin sees the truth from the perspective of a day-to-day struggle against nature as he moves his herd from dune to oasis. The Kuwaiti sees the truth as an arbitrary boundary, fragile and fleeting against a neighbor who hungers for land and power. What truth for the citizens and soldiers who defend their homeland against an enemy clad in steel and camo? What truth for the invader who believes in freedom and justice, and enjoys the luxury of living that belief?
I draw a circle, a circle of peace that encompasses my heart; it is a peace that passes all understanding. I hold on to the idealism that if each person draws a circle of peace around their own heart, then perhaps one day, the circle will ripple and triple and intersect until the circle of peace encompasses the earth, and then peace will reign forever and ever. Hallelujah.
WATCH FOR MISSIVE SEVENTY-SEVEN
sometime. Count on it this time.
Once I wrote
according to a formal deadline.
It worked well enough.
Now I glide in presumptuous luxury,
awaiting communion with a Muse.
She has a name and I know it.
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