An Article All Anti-War Buddhists Should Read
[Update 2:30pm: Just wanna say I love posting about this just as this year's Safety Fest is getting underway! Safety Fest is an annual weekend of events organized by Communities United Against Violence (CUAV), supported this year by Critical Resistance, on the theme of queer and trans power, anti-violence at the intimate, community, and state levels, and abolition of the prison-industrial complex (PIC). Awesome!]
For the 10th anniversary issue of Left Turn Magazine, anti-imperialist organizer Clare Bayard offers a wonderful look at “demilitarization as rehumanization” work in the US. Her examples are varied and informative, from youth-of-color-led anti-recruitment efforts in Bay-PEACE Oakland, to community-based transformative justice approaches to intimate violence, to indigenous people’s and immigrants’ movements to stop US imperialism at home and abroad. Her primary example, relating to work she herself has been doing with US Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), highlights a thought-provoking and politically visionary approach to war resistor organizing. It’s called Operation Recovery: Stop the Deployment of Traumatized Troops (OpRec).
The underlying strategy is IVAW’s basic model: organizing GIs to withdraw their consent from wars. Its success in stopping deployment of troops with severe trauma would incapacitate the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq by knocking out 20 to 50 percent of the fighting force. It’s a dilemma campaign. If we win, the wars are hamstrung. Or, if the military continues deploying wounded troops, this visible criminal negligence will hurt their legitimacy and ability to keep recruiting. Either way, we also improve our capacity to provide our own community-based care, which is needed far beyond just the veterans’ community. An element of the campaign is developing survival programs, inspired by the Black Panthers, to address the needs of people whose ability to resist their command often depends on access to support.
Operation Recovery exposes the silenced crises of Military Sexual Trauma (MST), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). IVAW, partnered with the Civilian-Soldier Alliance, has a strategy to win on multiple fronts. Demanding the right to heal is a point of leverage to challenge the institution, as well as a survival need within this community. OpRec has begun targeting base commanders who have the power to make immediate decisions preventing deployments. Here, even “damage control” means fewer lives destroyed.
Amplifying the voices of traumatized troops deepens awareness of the scope of disaster in these wars. After last fall’s media exposure of Afghanistan “kill teams,” IVAW member Ethan McCord responded, “You’re taking soldiers who are on psychotropic drugs for PTSD or TBI, and you’re putting a weapon in their hand and sending them right back to where they were traumatized and telling them to go kill Afghans. What did you think was going to happen when you place these soldiers in that same situation?”
The dual strategy of withdrawing worker power from the war machine while simultaneously building alternative structures for healing and recovery that do not depend on the state represents, to me, a beautiful synthesis of peace work and anti-imperialism. Not a superficial synthesis as in a combination of two stereotypically gendered approaches (macho “war resistors” and feminine “healing”), but the real, dialectical synthesis represented in one of the mottos of UBUNTU, a women-of-color and survivor -led community network against sexual violence in Durham, North Carolina:
To resist, we must heal; to heal, we must resist.
In her chapter of The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, Paula X. Rojas advocates the same kind of approach, modeled in many of the people’s struggles in Central and South America: using politicized horizontal organizations that meet community needs as a leverage point against militarized state power. The politically-infused practice of building people’s power to form their own schools, justice systems, food supplies, squatter organizations, and so on, articulates base building not in terms of recruiting people out of their homes into some new hierarchical organization or corps, but “thinking beyond the state, and even beyond an alternative vision of current institutions, by politicizing every aspect of everyday life and alternative forms of dealing with them.” (202) We can see how this resonates with Bayard’s articulation of using OpRec to “improve our capacity to provide our own community-based care” for traumatized veterans, as well as act as a “point of leverage to challenge the institution.”
Having heard so much hype about using Buddhist meditation practices for healing, it’s so refreshing to encounter this articulation of wellness that names the elephant in the room: ambient institutional violence in a militarized, imperialist culture. Not everyone is impacted in the same ways, or to the same degrees, and yet we are all responsible for transforming this reality. As Clare says, “Affirming everyone’s humanity and centering the importance of healing capsizes the logic of militarism.”
In these terms, healing is not an “escape” from worldly troubles, just as meditation is not an exercise in stopping pesky thoughts from arising. Rather than chase after some imaginary permanent spa day, a life in the realm of the gods that is also ultimately impermanent, we turn toward suffering and confront militarization as one of the the primary mechanisms for the maintenance of class society. Not only in manifestations of, as Lenin called them, “special bodies of armed men,” but also in the patriarchal, hierarchical, and punitive tendencies — subtle and overt — that we each bring to our organizing collectives.
One last dimension I love about Bayard’s piece, that I think is relevant to the “Socially Engaged Buddhism” discourse, is the focus on GI leadership. Often, it seems to me, in progressive Buddhist thinking, we see strains of liberal logic of “empowerment” or “responsibility” manifesting as a kind of self-centeredness. For example, my friend Maia over at the Jizo Chronicles recently resolved to face her own “hypocrisy” as someone who is against US wars but also pays taxes that support them. Now, I know that Maia wasn’t trying to propose some sort of program for ending the wars — it was more of an exercise in self examination and transformation — but I hear this angle echoed a lot in white liberal anti-war circles. As I understand it, this line of thinking looks at the ways in which we are each individually accountable, through our own actions, and seeks to use our individual power to change our behaviors. Kind of an aggregate approach — if enough people follow suit, there will be a big shift. I respect and admire some of the ideas there, but on strategic grounds I disagree with centering them. What does it mean that such war resistance efforts can happen totally divorced from relationships with GIs? Clare touches on this problem in her discussion of the challenges of veteran organizing, describing not only separation but “friction between GI resistance and majority white and class-privileged peace movements,” also exacerbated by “the carefully designed race and class makeup of the military.”
Now, I hear a lot of emphasis placed on war spending (read: electoral politics) and weapons manufacture as points of intervention for peace/anti-war work, but that doesn’t mean that other organizing tacts don’t exist in Buddhist circles that I don’t know about! Anyone have a lead on veteran-led anti-war work supported by organized Buddhists?
In the meantime, please give Clare’s whole article a thorough read, and feel welcome to share insights, reflections, and disgreements here.
Have a wonderful weekend, friends!