Sunday, November 01, 2009

Smashing The Mirror

Harold Pinter's Nobel lecture of 2005 (he had won the prize for literature) is worth reading in full.

His subject was "Art, Truth, and Politics." As well, he could easily have been talking about the borderland between dharma practice and politics:

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror - for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

Replace the word "writer" in the above with "dharma student," and you get the idea.

Pinter describes an event he witnessed at a U.S. embassy in the 1980's, at a time when our federal government was providing assistance to a violent insurgency in Nicaragua:

The United States Congress was about to decide whether to give more money to the Contras in their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf of Nicaragua but the most important member of this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the US body was Raymond Seitz (then number two to the ambassador, later ambassador himself). Father Metcalf said: 'Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.'

Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational, responsible and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused and then spoke with some gravity. 'Father,' he said, 'let me tell you something. In war, innocent people always suffer.' There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.

Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.

Finally somebody said: 'But in this case "innocent people" were the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidised by your government, one among many. If Congress allows the Contras more money further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?'

Seitz was imperturbable. 'I don't agree that the facts as presented support your assertions,' he said.

As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.

Some time this week, the United States Congress may hear a resolution to kill a United Nations report on what happened between Israel and Gaza in the winter of 2008 and 2009. Some call it "Operation Cast Lead," and some call it a massacre. The facts do not exonerate the Hamas government, or Israel. What is clear is that a great many helpless and innocent people were killed.

The U.N. Human Rights Council investigated and has issued a report on its findings. This is not holy scripture, but it deserves to be read and discussed. For political reasons, however, there is a House resolution "Calling on the President and the Secretary of State to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the 'Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict' in multilateral fora."

In other words, tearing up the report and refusing to discuss it. In war, innocent people always suffer.

I have been in touch with my Congressman, and I have asked him to vote "NO" on H. Res. 867. Perhaps you will, too. It's one small gesture. Voting "no" is not an endorsement of the report's findings; but it is an endorsement for reading, listening, thinking about the violence of governments, and the suffering of innocents.

Because I think the late Harold Pinter was correct: seeing the real truth of our lives and our societies, including certainly the use of our armies, is mandatory.

[Photo: "In war, innocent people always suffer." Here is one of many children massacred in Operation Cast Lead. Behold, behold.]


Debby said...

This actually broke my heart. The knowledge that the innocent are suffering breaks my heart. That is what I would like to be able to fix. Let the big boys play their foolish, high stake games (they will not listen to the likes of you and me), but let me, please God, let ME help the innocent who are suffering.

Algernon said...

It is heart-breaking, and this makes it easy for most of us who are not involved in making policy to distract ourselves with other things.

But we mustn't.