Songs of hope and peace

After yesterday’s depressing post, I spent the morning commute singing certain songs over and over again until I felt better.

Here are some of my favourite happy songs that inspire renewed hope for life and humanity.

Feel free to suggest your own favourites!

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?

Stop taking sides

Stop taking sides, we’re all in this together.

When I taught philosophy, I began the course by walking into the room after the students were seated and announcing, “We are now going to play musical chairs.” The only further instruction was, “Please arrange your chairs and get ready to play.”

No student ever asked why. Ever. And no student ever asked how to play.
They knew the rules as surely as they knew hide-and-seek.
Always the same response– the students enthusiastically arranged the chairs in a line with the seats alternating directions, then stood encircling the row of chairs. Read, ready, ready!
All I had to do was punch up “Stars and Stripes Forever” on the tape machine, and the students marched around the chairs. Mind you, these were seniors in high school. They hadn’t played musical chairs since second grade. But they still knew how, and jumped into the game without heisitation. Musical chairs! All right!
After removing a few chairs, I stopped the music. There was a mad scramble for the remaining chairs. Those without chairs were stunned. They knew how this game worked–music stops, get a chair– how could they not have a chair so soon? They had “how dumb can I be?” written on their faces.

Too bad. But they were losers. Out. Over against the wall. Only a game.
Music continues, students march around, chairs removed, STOP!
Students go crazy trying to get a chair this time.
As the game goes on, the quest for chairs turn serious. Then rough.
Girls are not going to fight jocks for chairs. Losers to the wall.
Down to two members of the wrestling team, who are willing to push, knee, kick or bite to be the last person in a chair. This is war! STOP! And by jerking the chair out from under his opponent, one guy slams down into the last chair– a look of triumph on his face– hands raised high with forefingers signaling NUMBER ONE, NUMBER ONE.

The last student in the last chair always acted as if the class admired him and his accomplishment. He got the CHAIR! “I’m a WINNER!” Wrong.
Those losers lined up against the wall thought he was a jerk.
Admiration? Hardly. Contempt is what they felt.
This was not a game. Games were supposed to be fun.
This got too serious too fast– like high school life– and real life.
Did they want to play again? A few of the jocks did. But not the rest of the class. It all came back to them now. Big deal.

I insisted. Play one more time. With one rule change. Musical chairs as before, but this time, if you don’t have a chair, sit down in someone’s lap. Everybody stays in the game– it’s only a matter of where you sit.
The students are thinking– well…OK.

Chairs are reset. Students stand ready. Music starts and they march. Chairs are removed. STOP! There is a pause in the action. The students are really thinking it over now. (Do I want a chair to myself? Do I want to sit on someone’s lap or have someone sit in mine? And who?) The class gets seated, but the mood has changed. There is laughter– giggling. When the game begins again, there is a change of pace. Who’s in a hurry?
When the number of chairs is sufficiently reduced to force two to a chair, a dimension of grace enters in as the role of sittee or sitter is clarified– “Oh, no, please, after you.” Some advance planning is evident as the opportunity to sit in the lap of a particular person is anticipated.
As the game continues, and more and more people must share one chair, a kind of gymnastic dance form develops. It becomes a group accomplishment to get everybody branched out onto knees. Students with organisational skills come to the fore– it’s a people puzzle to solve now — “big people on the bottom first– put your arms around him — sit back– easy, easy.”

When there is one chair left, the class laughs and shouts in delight as they all manage to use one chair for support now that they know the weight can be evenly distributed. Almost always, if they tumbled over, they’d get up and try again until everyone was sitting down. A triumphant moment for all, teacher included.

The only person who had a hard time with this paradigm shift was the guy who won the first time under the old rules. He lost his bearings–didn’t know what winning was now.

As a final step to the process, I would tell the class we would push on one more round. “The music will play, you will march, and I will take away the last chair. When the music stops, you will all sit down in a lap.
“Can’t be done,” they say.
“Yes, it can,” say I.
So once more they marched and stopped–what now?
“Everyone stand in a perfect circle
“All turn sideways in place, as if you were going to walk together in a circle.
“Take a single step into the middle so as to have a tight circle now, with each person in the group bellyside to backside with the person ahead of them
“Place your hands on the hips of the person in front of you.
“On the count of three, very carefully guide the person onto your knees at the same time as you very carefully sit down on the knees of the person behind you.
“Ready. One. Two. Three. Sit.”
They all sat. No chair.

I have played the chair game in this way with many groups of many ages in varied settings. The experience is always the same. It’s a problem of sharing diminishing resources. This really isn’t kid stuff. And the question raised by musical chairs is always the same:
Is it always to be a winners-losers world, or can we keep everyone in the game?
Do we still have what it takes to find a better way?

– Robert Fulghum, “Maybe (Maybe Not)” (1993)

Stop taking sides, we’re all in this together.

In the process of re-learning and re-internalising a value I’ve always believed in.

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.