Monday, December 17, 2007

The Origins of War

Saying of the week: "We are what we think. All we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world." -- The Buddha

I've been considering writing a story that delves into the origins and nature of violence, in particular, of war. To that end, the following is a brief study (what I hope to be the first in a series) of the origins of violence in human culture. An attempt by me to get my head around a subject.

Before the time that civilizations of the ancient world erected walled cities and then established armies to protect them, the human race did not suffer war. Many peoples, from China to Greece, look back to a golden age when war and strife were unknown, and when, as Lao-tse puts it, one village might look at the smoke rising from the chimneys of another nearby village, without envy or rivalry.
As nomads, there surely was violence between roving bands, just as with many species in nature, but scarcity of food, violence, and death were mainly the results of natural adversities, not the direct result of man. Thus, the nightmares of destruction and extermination that has plagued man over the centuries seems a result of man's progression from hunting/gathering to farming/animal husbandry, which created industry (tool making, trade) and resulted in the building of towns, which grew into cities.
It seems logical to assume that once cities began to arise, along with the growth of law and reason, the city's founding fathers created a small force to protect their wealth from neighboring tribes. So were armies created because of man's neurotic anxieties to protect his wealth? Regardless of which came first, the armies or the need for armies, it seems that civilization's first great achievements awakened new fears and neurotic anxieties, which became embedded in the institutional life of every succeeding city, state, and empire.
With man's great leap forward -- which brought walled cities, the beginnings of astronomy, mathematics, the plow, the potter's wheel, the loom, and of course, metal weapons -- there came a new figure of authority, the all-powerful king. The king was the secular ruler, the chief priest, and in some cases, a living god. His will was law. I believe that the need for a king came about because an army needs a leader -- large assemblages of men moving and acting as if they were one, obedient to the royal command. But once the king had control of the army, he assumed total control over the people. The entire kingdom fell subservient to the king's personality, subject to all his/her positive and negative whims.
These new governments achieved a hitherto unattainable security and wealth, which spurred a growth in population, industry, and trade. As farmers and tradesmen grew wealthy, they grew greedy. They not only wanted more land, they particularly craved cheep labor to take the burned of manual labor off their own backs, so they could better enjoy the fruits of their economy. What happened then, I believe, is that the army that was established as purely a protective entity, took on the additional roll of raiding the neighboring kingdoms for additional wealth, and primarily captives which were used as slave labor.
The king increased his wealth by expanding his territory and by selling the captives to the merchants and farmers, the merchants and farmers got new land and cheap labor. Everyone benefited. But in time, the raids brought about the collective reprisals and counter raids that became institutionalized as war. Behind war, then, and even behind the need for stability and safety, is this the greed of people who crave prosperity without applying their own labor, or at least those who would prosper at the expense of other people's freedom.
If my thinking holds true, war, then, was a specific product of greed -- mainly if not solely, the outcome of an organized effort to obtain slave labor and expand the kingdom's territory. In a relatively short time, armed might itself took on a seemingly independent existence, and the extension of power became an end in itself, a manifestation of the health of the state.
The most threatening aspect of civilized man's original error is that, long after slavery has been eradicated, war still presses on us today, and we regard our most self-destructive acts as normal and unavoidable.
(to be continued)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Don't Ask, but Do Tell

Saying of the week: "Sometimes it's necessary to make the leap and grow your wings on the way down." Yoji Yamada.

This week I'd like to pass along an article that recently came my way. It shows that the topic of gays in the military, the backbone of my novel, Honor Bound, is becoming a hot topic once again.

I belive that the key issue keeping the U.S. armed forces from going beyond Don't Ask Don't Tell to give gay servicemen equal rights is blind fear of love relations forming, not between enlisted soldiers, but between officers and soldiers, which would undermine the chain of command. My novel, Honor Bound, tackles this topic head on. It tells the story of an enlisted sailor who falls in love with his executive officer during WWII. When the crew of the USS Pilgrim become POWs in Changi, a notoriously brutal prison camp, this sailor is elevated through hardship and love to discover his inner resources and extraordinary courage, allowing him to sacrifice himself to save the life of his beloved.
This novel is now in search of a publisher, and hopeful it will find one soon, as this topic of gays in the military is heating up once again.

Hope you enjoy the following article.

Retired Generals: End Ban on Gays
International Herald Tribune December 03, 2007

Marking the 14th anniversary of legislation that allowed gay people to serve in the U.S. military, but only if they kept their orientation secret, 28 retired generals and admirals plan to release a letter Dec. 7 urging Congress to repeal the law.

"We respectfully urge Congress to repeal the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy," the letter says. "Those of us signing this letter have dedicated our lives to defending the rights of our citizens to believe whatever they wish." The former officers offer data showing that 65,000 gays and lesbians now serve in the U.S. armed forces, and that there are more than one million gay veterans. "They have served our nation honorably," the letter states.

The letter's release came as rallies were scheduled Dec. 7 on the National Mall by groups calling for a change in the law, which is known as "don't ask, don't tell" because it bars the military from investigating soldiers' sexual orientation if they keep it to themselves.

Although the signers of the letter are high-ranking, none are of the stature of John Shalikashvili, a retired general who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the policy was adopted and now argues for its repeal. Shalikashvili refocused attention on the issue this year when he wrote that conversations with military personnel had prompted him to change his position.
The current generation of Americans entering the armed services has proved to him "that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers," he wrote in an Op-Ed article published in The New York Times on Jan. 2.

"I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces," Shalikashvili wrote. "Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job."

Few issues have separated the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates this year as clearly as whether to repeal "don't ask, don't tell."

At a debate in June, all of the Democrats said they favored rescinding the policy. The Republican candidates, meanwhile, have favored continuing the policy, saying that it is a sensible approach or that it would be a distraction to integrate openly gay service members into the armed forces at a time of war.

Efforts to prompt the House and Senate to repeal the legislation have gained little traction. Senior leaders at the Pentagon are on record as saying the Department of Defense would follow the lead of Congress.

"Personal opinion really doesn't have a place here," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in March. "What's important is that we have a law." He was responding to comments by General Peter Pace, who was serving as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and had re-ignited controversy over the issue when he said that homosexuality was immoral, similar to adultery.

Before the policy was put into place, gay people were barred from serving in the military. When he ran for president, Bill Clinton pledged to change that, but after he was elected he compromised with "don't ask, don't tell," under which gay soldiers could serve aslong as they did not disclose their sexual orientation.

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said Nov. 29 that there were no efforts at the Pentagon or across the military to alter the policy.