I recently heard a report on the Prime Minister of Japan’s decision to keep an American air base on the island of Okinawa. This was contrary to his pre-election position (imagine that) and sparked outrage in the people of Okinawa. Among the issues being expressed by a Japanese activist against the presence of the U.S. military on Okinawa was the sexual molestation and rape of young women on the island by U.S. soldiers (of course this does not apply to all soldiers).
I had a hard time digesting this information and found myself ruminating on it for some time. Aside from the fact that such behavior is absolutely unacceptable and criminal, I was thinking about what it is that allows a soldier to feel free to rape a 10 or 19-year-old Japanese girl. What is going on in his heart that he cannot see this other being as someone who deserves respect because she is another human being?
I began thinking further about the behavior of U.S. soldiers.
There was another recent report on the radio in response to the release of a video exposing the killing of 12 innocent Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters employees and one child, in July 2007. The radio show was interviewing Josh Stieber, a soldier from the company involved in these killings. Just prior to the above event, Josh had become a conscientious objector to the war in Iraq because of these very acts that ran counter to his personal beliefs.
When aggressively questioned about the specific soldiers involved in this civilian killing, Josh strongly and repeatedly stated that rather than focus on the particular soldiers responsible for this ruthless behavior, we should be taking a hard look at how U.S. soldiers are trained. “Militarily speaking, these soldiers did exactly what they were trained to do” and are repeatedly told that what they are doing is in the best interest of their country.
Josh explained that there are many soldiers who have lost their idealism about the war, who know in their gut that what they are doing feels morally wrong. They want to speak out about their military training but are afraid to do so because of the negative light in which they are being cast, given the press exposure of killed civilians in the face of war.
Visions of Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick’s film, dance in my head. “The deadliest weapon in the world is a marine and his rifle. It is your killer instinct which must be harnessed if you expect to survive in combat. Your rifle is only a tool. It is a hard heart that kills. If your killer instincts are not clean and strong you will hesitate at the moment of truth. You will not kill. You will become dead marines and then you will be in a world of shit because marines are not allowed to die without permission. Do you maggots understand?” It is a hard heart that kills and a hard and angry heart that allows a soldier to commit rape while defending his country’s honor.
The heart is the home of love and cannot be closed for long without damage to the body and mind. In this world that we live in, we often close our hearts to the pain that seems to be saturating the planet. We do this to survive. We do this because if we allowed ourselves to feel the sadness for the unsustainable, toxic, violent world we have created, we are afraid we might fall apart, lose our capacity to keep going forward in daily life.
We open our heart to our loved ones (for the most part), but close it when we hear about war, poverty and the myriad forms of destruction taking place on the planet right now. Instead, we have a glass of wine, watch a television program, garden, do laundry, tend to the house, go to a yoga class, etc. We go about living our lives, careful not to take in too much of the negative information that we might easily drown in if not managed.
But some hearts are harder than others. Some people are more willing to be blind to truth than others. There are people who look at the birds, dead and covered in oil, and think, “It’s just a bird.” There are people who look at dead civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and think, “They are not us; their lives matter less.” And there are people who do not look at any of it and go about their lives because it is too unbearable to think about what is happening.
Right now, my heart is open and carries with it a deep sadness because of the Gulf oil spill (and of course for the children of war). It bleeds like the oil hemorrhaging from the Earth into the sea. Yes, I step away from the subject matter, but then it rises up in me again. The heart of the Earth is bleeding right now. It is the kind of symbolism that stories like Noah’s arc are made of. It is epic.
Are we going to wait 500 years for someone to tell the tale of the oil spill in a mythical context and then say we hear its wisdom? Or will we hear it now in the heart of our hearts and act on it as a call to elevate the intention and actions of the human species? Dare we open our hearts enough to know that the pain of a broken heart is also the key to unveiling the true essence of what it means to be human?
Humans are not meant to poison the Earth and kill senselessly; we are meant to love. Life is meant to be cherished, cared for and celebrated. My stepson’s high school graduation will happen in a week. We will celebrate and hug and laugh and cry, all in the name of love. It will be a wonderful occasion. But what about the life of his children? What world will they be born into?
Are we willing to see with our hearts enough to correct the course of human life on Earth? Something tells me the heart can endure unbearable sorrow and, at the same time, feel love for all life. If fossil fuels are toxic to the living world, we must put an end to their presence for the sake of all life. If war in the end only amplifies the presence of violence, than we must shift our energy toward peace.
This is not hippy-dippy talk. It is the truth about the viability of our future. The sea turtles and the children of Afghanistan are sacrificing their lives in order for the human species to awaken from the trance we have been living in and reinvent how we want to live on Earth. Destruction is out, greed is out, tending is in.
“We are stardust, We are golden, We are billion year old carbon, And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” (Lyrics from “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell.) Okay, maybe that is hippy talk but, even though they lost direction, I think hippies were definitely onto something. Peace and love are worth pursuing. Long hair is optional.