The right to kill? I’d rather the right to die.


This is old news, but my sister recently watched the video; Collateral Murder, released by wikileaks showing US soldiers opening fire on some men in Baghdad in 2007 from Apache helicopters.

Two war correspondents from Reuters were in the group and their cameras were mistaken for weapons. Wikipedia as an entry on the incident.

Some quotes from this news article:

In the video, which Reuters has been asking to see since 2007, crew members can be heard celebrating their kills.

“Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards,” says one crewman after multiple rounds of 30mm cannon fire left nearly a dozen bodies littering the street.

A crewman begs for permission to open fire on the van and its occupants, even though it has done nothing but stop to help the wounded: “Come on, let us shoot!”

Two crewmen share a laugh when a Bradley fighting vehicle runs over one of the corpses.

And after soldiers on the ground find two small children shot and bleeding in the van, one crewman can be heard saying: “Well, it’s their fault bringing their kids to a battle.”

I watched the video and it’s pretty horrifying and depressing how the soldiers are eager to open fire; how nonchalant they are about the bodies on the ground (and being the cause of them) or even about having opened fire on children. And yet… why were people outraged, why was this a big deal? Only because of the cover up, the fact that the men were reporters and the fact that there were children, right? What if the men hadn’t been war correspondents, what if there were no children? Then… ‘Meh, it’s a war. What do you expect?’?

Exactly. What do you expect?
You give soliders deadly weapons and you train them to kill; then fault them for not having compassion? You train them to do a job and then fault them for taking pride in executing a nice shot, fault them from wanting to finish the job, fault them for taking deaths in their stride?

When we see the footage with the knowledge of what happened and imagine things from the point of view of those on the ground… imagine carrying your camera walking down the street in a group. No conflict or battle in sight, you’re just making your way from one place to another. Suddenly, bullets rain from the sky. Your friends or colleagues drop like flies around you, you try to run. But the shooting doesn’t stop until everyone is dead on the ground. Nothing you could have done, no where you could have hid. Sitting ducks. Over in seconds. Imagine you’re the driver of the van, with your kids with you. You see wounded people on the floor. If you don’t help, they’re sure to die. So you stop, and pay for it with your life.

Try it from the soldiers point of view; can you really blame them? We’re in a war. Our job is to spot threats. We see weapons, we see trouble, we shoot. When you see men on the street, you don’t stop to wonder who they are or if they have kids or if they miss home like you do. You’re not suppose to empathize with people you’re might have to kill!

I think what’s more horrifying than this ‘scandal’ itself is the fact that if the casualties had not included war correspondents or children, this would be no big deal at all. Just a day in the life of. What is horrifying is how people are not outraged or horrified by routine killing, just because of the context that ‘It’s a war.’

So men in wars aren’t human? Men in war don’t have wives, families, children? They don’t have lives? They don’t have feeling and emotions? If you’re in a war, life isn’t precious? Somehow ‘war’ makes all this violence okay and acceptable?

It makes me think of Gandhi and the Gandhi movie I watched a several months back. (Read about that here.) While I really admire him and his philosophy, I couldn’t help but feel that maybe it really wasn’t the smartest or best way to do things, as noble as it sounds. The scene where they just walked up in neat rows to be struck down by the guards again and again and again, especially.

I saw some discussion among friends about national service, and among the conversation this comment stood out to me: “i’m a strong believer in having a strong national army to defend our sovereignty.” With the above video fresh in my mind, and Gandhi’s example at the back of my mind though, I find myself thinking, “If defending my nation and my safety means having people kill and take lives on my behalf then… I think I’d rather let myself be killed.”

You can make being in a army and fighting for your country sound as glorious and noble as you like. Use words like duty and honour; bravery and sacrifice. But at the heart of it, weapons are tools made to destroy and kill. And armed forces consist of men trained to effectively wield those tools. A killing machine.

Something a little more current: It’s apparently World Peace Day in 3 days time, on the 21s of September, and that’s being celebrated here in Singapore at Fort Canning from 4-8pm on the 22nd of September.

I’m all for peace but I’m just wondering how much of this is lip service and abstract, feel-good, vague support. I hope people who support and attend think about what they mean by peace in more a more concrete sense– it’s easy to say you support peace over violence– who doesn’t?

But what exactly do you mean by it? When is violence acceptable?
Is this a case of:
I support peace… EXCEPT for criminals on the death sentence?
I support peace… EXCEPT when in a war?
I support peace… EXCEPT when my religion is attacked? (In light of the recent riots around the world)
I support peace… EXCEPT in self-defense?

Or a truly Gandhi-type peace, where violence is NEVER okay?
My idea of peace:

no heaven, no hell. no countries, no religion. no possessions, no greed, no hunger. 

People champion the right to kill for honour, duty, safety and other ‘greater goods’. What about the right to die for peace?

Swim against the current, run against the wind.


Stay strong, stay true.

I’ve just finished watching the season finale of series 6 of this UK television drama Waterloo Road, which centres around a school and it’s students and teachers.

One of the larger story arcs that has been taking place involved one of the teachers, Francesca, getting involved with a student, Jonah. Since it is not just taboo but illegal for a teacher to ‘take advantage’ of a student in this way, you can imagine there was a lot of sneaking around, being paranoid and alternating between ‘I/we can’t do this. It’s wrong. It’s too difficult, too risky. It’s not possible.” and “It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. I love you and all’s fine as long as we have each other.” All this cumulated in ep19 and 20 with (SPOILER ALERT!) them being found out, Francesca being suspended and charged along with pending imprisonment, and then the two of them running away to get married (before being arrested and brought back). Makes for great TV drama indeed!

The whole thing could easily parallel a closeted gay relationship; constantly watching your back and being afraid of being found out; the way you act around each other in public, a necessary facade; the lies that come with keeping a secret; and huge secrets, even from those closest to you; the conviction that you’ll be ostracised and worse if anyone knew; knowing that no one will understand; all that negativity, risk and adverse concequences being offset by the joy you feel when you’re together…

To be honest, most of the arc made me really dislike both characters, possibly precisely because I could see myself in a similar situation so easily. They were being retarded and brainless! Too careless and impulsive and immature! C’mon guys, it’s hard but not impossible! Can’t you sacrifice some short term pleasures for the long term happiness!?

At the very first signs of it, when Francesca was still trying to stop it from even starting, and then stop it from progressing… To me she didn’t try nearly hard enough. Later on, when they were well into it; Acting so suspicious, doing really stupid/risky things, not taking enough or proper precautions, and not planning or talking about things seriously… why couldn’t they have kept it a secret until Jonah graduated? Like I said, it’s difficult, (in the sense of being mentally and emotionally draining,) but not impossible, (like I cannot NOT speak to you during school hours.) I’ve been there! …or maybe I haven’t, since we didn’t share a working/schooling physical space and weren’t closeted with most mutual friends.

But these last two episodes really brought me over to their side. What was once blind, stupid impulsiveness has become an inspiration: If i were in a similar situation, with hostility and disapproval on all fronts with no sign of respite in sight, would I be so brave to continue to stand firm for what I believe in, and do what I think is right?

To lose your family, your friends, your job, your community, you life and still stand strong?

At least they can get married. Part of me thought. Even if gay people were to run off to some other country to get married, that piece of paper would have absolutely no power back home. We’d still have absolutely nothing. And in time, when the scandal has blown over, they will become just any other couple, blending in. They can rebuild. Gay will always be gay, and will always stand out. 

What would you do? What would I do? Would I be willing to give up my family, my home and friends if it came down to it, for the person I love? Would “giving up” your family, home and friends even be the ‘Right’ decision to make?

Here’s my stab at it:

You’re not ‘giving up’ anything. You’re merely standing by what you believe in, you’re merely staying true to yourself. And if, because of that, other people fall away, that’s hardly your doing, your choice, nor your fault. And if they should, in time, change their minds about accepting who you are, you’d more than welcome them back with open arms. The only ‘giving up’ would be if you gave up on your dreams, your beliefs, your values and yourself.

The only choice you should be making is to stand by what you believe in, and to stay true to yourself. Leave judging and rejecting of people to someone else, that’s not your choice to make.
—-

I guess this is the follow up to my Charles and Erik post that I’ve been meaning to do for the longest time, but hadn’t truly reached the conclusion in my mind and heart. I knew where it was heading all along; It just took me a while to get there. Am I there yet? Maybe I still have a little way to go… maybe we’ll always have a little way to go. You always have something to better, something to work towards. That’s life.

To recap my entry, I was envisioning Charles Xavier as someone holding a belief (presumably the Right one): that mutants should ultimately live in harmony with humans ie humans are friends, and Erick (Magneto) holding a differing belief (presumably the Wrong one): that mutants and humans can’t be in harmony ie humans are the enemy. And these differing beliefs, while not directly pitting them against each other, were different and serious enough to change them from friends to enemies. And I wondered where such a line would be drawn? What kind of differing beliefs would make turning against a friend justifiable, and inevitable?

Specifically, I was using this fictitious example to help me think about these these differing beliefs: homosexually is morally wrong / homosexuality is NOT morally wrong; religious beliefs in general.

Soon after I wrote the post, a friend pointed this out to me: If i insist on alienating or cutting ties with people who think homosexuality is Wrong, I would have turned into Magneto. It’s not, as I was envisioning, Xavier vs Magneto representing pro-gay and anti-gay. But rather, mutants as homosexuals, humans as heterosexuals and Magneto the one who has turned evil, hating all humans for the evil deeds of a few. So the right answer, according to X-Men? Be Charles, and not lose hope. Be Charles, and reach out even to the ones kicking you down. Be Charles, for how else would humans be able to know that mutants aren’t all bad?

And I also realized: neither Charles nor Eric ever rejects each other? They never said, “You’re not with me? Then you’re against me. From this day forth you are my sworn enemy and I hate your guts and nothing will change that.” Wasn’t it more like, “Friend, join me. No? Well, I’m sorry, friend, I have to go. But the invitation stands.”? Being ‘enemies’ only as a technicality of finding themselves on opposite sides.

Well, I’m not an X-men fanboy or fanatic, so forgive me if I’m straying from canon and projecting my own ideas onto the characters.

But… the lesson never seems to change does it? Be a Gandhi. Be a Jesus (ok tbh I’m still feeling slightly sore about Jesus/christianity). Be a Charles.

That is… hold on to what you know is true. Stand up for what you know is right. And most of all, love and accept everyone. Leave the judging and rejecting to the one who has all the answers (or thinks he has all the answers, anyway.)

Gandhi: Merely human. But also so much more.


I just finished watching the 3-hour, 1982 biographical film ‘Gandhi’.

Reading about Gandhi and watching that film really leaves one awe-struck. And inspired, so inspired. You’re just speechless that a person like that can really exist, especially in a world like ours. Yet… it also finds me in two minds about him and his beliefs.

There’s this part of me — the cynical, jaded part; the part that likes to think itself a realist — that thinks, are you for real? Sure, his message is inspiring but… is that really the best way to do things? Maybe some things are worth fighting for. Maybe if they had fought–physically fought– in the right way, it wouldn’t have taken so long to achieve their goals. And maybe the factors for such methods just happened to be right in those situations…maybe trying to bring them elsewhere– the holocaust for example– would have resulted in even worse harm and atrocities! I mean, you can’t stand up for your principles by saying ‘I’m willing to die for this cause!’ when that’s exactly what the enemy wants? Hitler wasn’t interested in keeping Jews oppressed, he just wanted them exterminated!

And… it just seems naive to think you can have no conflict all the time. Fighting seems so… ingrained. People seem primed to fight, especially in the face of injustice. Wouldn’t it seem wiser? more practical? to take that fact into consideration and work around it or try to prevent it rather than just tell them not to fight and expect them to obey?

He also has this quote about how history reads like it’s all fighting, but in reality fights are just interruptions from peace. Its just that only the fights tend to get recorded. In truth, peace is the default.

Yet too often, it really seems the other way around. That conflict is a core part of us and our society. Just the way the world works.

The parts depicting the riots and beatings and killings made me feel all that. And I cried at how evil man can be and wondered how those people could live with themselves.

Still, the idealistic part of me really wants to believe it. It echos his sentiment that love and truth always wins out in the end. It argues that it’s not this kind of thinking that’s too idealistic, it’s the world that’s too cynical and jaded. If everyone could see the truth in such statements and lived their life by them… it would work

And still, he’s only human. He has no magic answers. He just sticks to the simple truths that he does know.

“There is no such thing as “Gandhism,” and I do not want to leave any sect after me. I do not claim to have originated any new principle or doctrine. I have simply tried in my own way to apply the eternal truths to our daily life and problems…The opinions I have formed and the conclusions I have arrived at are not final. I may change them tomorrow. I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills.”  – Mahatma Gandhi

Regardless of what you think of his methods, you have to respect and admire him for being able to stay so true to his principles and not lose hope in love and truth. How did he do it? How did he not get angry, discouraged and jaded at the stupidity and evilness of men? He saw it all first hand and he never lost hope.

Hears to hoping that I, and all of us, can be just a little bit more like him. The world could be a much better place.

God, Gandhi and Ultimate Truth


Is there an Ultimate Truth? Truth with a capital ‘T’?

I feel that… an Ultimate Truth, if it existed, would have to be something deeply intertwined with the fabric of the universe, the fabric of reality. This Truth would have be intrinsically in the world, a part of the world. And the world has to be intrinsically that Truth.

Anything that claims to be true but stands apart from everything else cannot be truth, but mere delusion.

If truth is necessarily based on and based in reality, an Ultimate Truth would have to be based on and in all of reality.

Some say God is Truth.

They say that He is in the very fabric of the universe. When they look within themselves and at the world around them, they can’t help but see His hand in their hearts, in their lives, in the world.

I say that may be true for you, but for many others it’s not true at all.
There are people who see no such thing at all, all their lives.
There are people who peer at the world and into their hearts and see the opposite (ie that there is no god).
There are people who see the hand of different Gods.
There are people who, the harder they stared, the more God vanished from reality.

If God were the Ultimate Truth and in the very fabric of the universe, you would be able to find Him just by seeking, searching and exploring our reality, be it the physical reality, our mental reality or (most likely) a combination of the two. You wouldn’t need sacred texts. You wouldn’t need missionaries or evangelicals, at least not in the strongest sense of those words. The Truth should speak for itself, even if it takes some time to be heard.

“Divine knowledge is not borrowed from books. It has to be realized in oneself. Books are at best an aid, often even a hindrance. ” – Mahatma Gandhi

Texts may act like a textbooks and preachers like teachers: at their best they are but a guide to show you the things that are there and more importantly, to teach you how to find them for yourselves. Even if mathematics textbooks did not exist, 1+1 would still = 2. If the bible didn’t exist, how would we know of Jesus and his significance?

An Ultimate Truth, I feel, should be something elegant, something that transcends even as it is firmly grounded in reality. The simplest thing, even as it possess untold layers of complexity. It should unite rather than divide even as it highlights diversity.

Religion and the Gods of today’s major religions don’t feel to me like any sort of an Ultimate Truth.

Religion, the institutions of religion with their hierarchies and rules, the ancient sacred texts and holy rituals feel… too cluttered, too inelegant, too man-made. Religion is an agenda that needs pushing, it doesn’t speak for itself. How can something that is not intrinsic in reality, something that not everyone has the opportunity to discover for themselves, be an Ultimate Truth?

Which is greater, God or Truth?

If God existed, He must surely be Truth as well. If Truth existed, must it definitely be God?

“I have no God to serve but Truth.”
“I am devoted to none but Truth and I owe no discipline to anybody but Truth.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

Ghandi is a very strong believer in God (although which God and what kind of God is slightly less clear) and he also says, repeatedly, that Truth is God, and God is Truth. If that is true, than there is no conflict: He is completely devoted to God, which is Truth, and Truth, which is God. But if we were to just suppose for a moment that it might not be true– if we were to, for a moment, separate God from Truth, the above quotes would seem to indicate Truth to be greater of the two.

“For me God and Truth are convertible terms, and if anyone told me that God was a God of untruth or a God of torture, I would decline to worship Him.” – Mahatma Gandhi

If God weren’t true, He would be… worthless. If Truth weren’t God… it would still be invaluable. Truth appears to be greater than God.

“But each (religion), in my judgment, embodies a common motivating force: the desire to uplift man’s life and give it purpose.”

“After long study and experience, I have come to the conclusion that (1) all religions are true; (2) all religions have some error in them; (3) all religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism, in as much as all human beings should be as dear to one as one’s own close relatives. My own veneration for other faiths is the same as that for my own faith; therefore no thought of conversion is possible.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

What is this truth that Ghandi saw in all the religions?

What does Ghandi teach? What does Jesus teach? What does Buddha teach? What does any great moral leader that we know of teach?

Love. Humility. Selflessness. Forgiveness. Honesty.
A unity, a one-ness in the world, something unchanging beneath the changing, that unites all, that unites us.
Fearlessness/detachment from worldly cares, from what others think of you.
Acknowledging your own flaws and insignificance while constantly striving to be better, constantly seeking the truth. Constantly striving for that ideal (to be christ-like? to perfection, to truth? to enlightenment?).
Love, above all else.

I’m not sure if there is an Ultimate Truth or what it may be. But if it did exist, I imagine it would be something like love.

So abstract and complex that no words can ever fully capture its essence or adequately describe all it’s nuances.
Yet it is something so simple and foundational that any new-born child can experience it for themselves. Accessible to people of all ages, of all intellects and educational levels, from all cultures and times in history. Something universal that everyone can understand and relate to on such a deep and personal level.

Elegant yet complex; accessible to all yet experienced on an incredibly personal level; Self-evident and speaks for itself; heightens a sense of being unique and special, yet unifies all like nothing else can.

Because Gandhi believed in God, he limited his non-discriminating embrace to religions. I would bring it one step further so say that all these similarities that he sees in religions, all these truths, extend to ALL people. Anyone who is searching, anyone who is striving. And aren’t we all searching for meaning and purpose, all striving to be better people, for better lives?

As he believes that the different teachings of these religions are in fact, at the core, the same and thus all true, I believe that any religious teachings can also be ‘translated’ into non-religious terms, and remain equally true.

Because truth transcends.