After watching Jundos "war koan" broadcast, I felt the need to start a new thread here dealing exclusively with that topic in the broadest sense, since in my humble opinion it is both a very unpleasant and at the same time very rewarding "can of worms". These are just personal thoughts and I do not intend to preach to anyone....just to kick this off:
On the one hand we have things like the precepts and the general buddhist notion of non-violence, even up to the point of self-destruction. Even in our times (especially in Tibet) we can find a whole lot of examples of buddhist practitioners whose compassion for all sentient beings was so great, that they rather chose to die and/or suffer than to hurt another fellow human (and thus sentient) being.
On the other hand we have had situations in human history like the second world war/Holocaust, where complete non-violence on the parts of a whole bunch of countries and ethnic groups would simply have meant annihilation. During numerous times of me discussing the question of "when is violence appropriate" with people, they have pointed me to the most popular example of "ahimsa" (non-violence), that was Gandhi. One thing a lot of people who take a rather superficial look at this phenomenon don't seem to realise however (and I don't mean for one second that I have it all figured out 100% either), that during the later years of the British Raj rule over India, things like an international free press were already in existence and part of the system....which is not to say that imperialist rule was always great during that time!
The bottom line however is this, had Gandhi tried his same approach in a country ruled by a completely totalitarian egime like Hitler's Germany, Stalin's soviet union and the like....they just would have executed him and all his pals....no doubt there at all, even if it had meant killing thousands or tens of thousands.
Now obviously as part of the Mahayana one could take the "easy" way out and think: "Okay, I know there are millions and millions of other worlds, Pure lands etc. because it says so in the sutras....and thus I'd rather die and let interdependent-origination take care of everything rather than to generate bad karma."
But doesn't that mean abandoning this world for what ultimately can be pretty selfish reasons?
It's a razor's edge between ego and non-ego, peaceful deeds and foolishness....sometimes they're many of these things at the same time. It's a razor's edge and we're all walking on it.
To give things a more personal perspective, I did serve in the German air-force for a year (yep, us Germans, we still have a national service year....though it's down to nine months now methinks), swore an oath to protect the freedom of the German people and for a long time toyed with the idea of pursuing an officer's career. I know how to disassemble, clean, reassemble and fire an 7.62 caliber assault rifle. The first time I shot with one really gave me a lot of respect for this kind of weapon. Hiding behind trees won't do you any good in such a case (unless it's a giant redwood I guess)....the 7.62 goes right through like a hot knife through butter. I used to love weapons, the machismo everything...about it. It took me years to re-examine and discard all the absolute bullshit that our popular culture drills into us in the west. Weapons are great, weapons are sexy, violence is how the cool guys take care of things....etc.
Magdeburg during the thirty years war, Verdun during WWI, Stalingrad, My Lai, Danang the list is almost as long as human history.
I would never in my dreams tell other people what to do with their lives,but in the last couple of years, with my dharma study and practice becoming ever more in-depth (although still far too shallow...), my outlook on war and the like has changed almost 180%.
There has never been a good war and never been a bad peace. Not my line, but it rings true. Even the most righteous war efforts usually hit those hardest who are the weakest and the poorest. Collateral damage we call it in propaganda new-speak. Archaic notions of warriorhood, courage and fidelity are still invoked to inspire people to support modern day warfare, which has next to nothing to do with iron-age hand-to-hand combat and is very often nothing more than a sophisticated high-tech mass killing. Even worse, our governments expect us to trust their judgements, when it is possible for western nations to invade Iraq based on alleged intelligence that turns out to be complete BS.
No, I am not an anarchist and I also think it's great that Mr. Hussein is no longer ruling his country (though I am opposed to the death penalty), I don't claim to have all the answers, though I definitely dislike the "do not attack" logic when there is no real constructive alternative.
warning: random thought coming up,
....I remember a good English friend of mine once saying to me that it's a bit ironic the US are sending in Apache helicopters to Kosovo in order to stop ethnic cleansing, when almost all the real Apaches where ethnically cleansed by WASPS less than 150 years ago...
To me the key term in all this is the idea of self responsibility. We create our own circumstances to a great degree through our karmic choices, meaning volitional action that results in a cause and effect relationship. Sometimes there is no easy way out of a situation, sometimes what we can either call bad karma/ or shit just happens. Sometimes all there is to a situation is damage control, and that may mean we may also need soldiers. But as Buddhists we should be careful that the Dharma does not become a pot full of playdough that we change everytime our cultural needs and sensitivities seem to collide with some of its key messages.
The Buddha never claimed that "not killing" would be easy, sometimes it may even be unavoidable....yet IMHO we should not make the mistake and view the "not killing" precept as some kind of ultra-idealistic nonsense which needs to be replaced by "shit happens and sometimes you've got to kill people".
When shit happens, it will happen, when an extreme circumstance will lead to killing, it will lead to killing. Let's not view the ultima ratio as day-to-day business. Zen has a very bad track record when it comes to inspiring (all the pseudo Bushido stuff comes to mind...), or at least not openly opposing warfare, thus it is down to us to see that in the future the same doesn't happen again.
Let's do what we have to do and be mindful about it, accepting our own responsibility without hiding behind ideas like "the evil system that f####d us". Is it going to be difficult? Hell, yeah, but then again Buddhism is called the Middle Way and not the way of the least obstacles.
P.S. As long as this world still needs soldiers, let'shope they are buddhists :)