I’m sorry this letter is so late in coming but we have had a busy few weeks here. Let me wish you a slightly belated Mother’s Day and ask now if I can take you to dinner one night in celebration upon my return.
Things here are progressing well. With one or two notable exceptions, the platoon is doing extremely well. We just got done training on the rifle range. I qualified as a “sharpshooter” which is the medium rating. The entire time we were shooting, all I could think of or contemplate was the fact that for some, that very rifle would be used to take another’s life. For me, it was a bit different simply because I will probably never have to fire it in defense or offense [because I’m in front of a computer every day]: for me it is simply a sport that is conducted on the range (for most of the week, I was comparing it to shooting pool).
I had a rather long conversation with our Series Commander, a captain who has taken an interest in me simply because I have my B.A. [in philosophy.] [We talked] about philosophies of killing. It is his contention that when in war, “It is not about political agendas, it is about protecting the Marine to our left and right.” While I must applaud the sentiment somewhat, I also feel that the former cannot be separated from the latter: how can one truly say that political agendas play no part if it is the political that made the protection necessary in the first place?
Being here has, to a great extent, solidified my drive to become a part of the decision-making machine that drives human society.
The two above paragraphs have encapsulated my thoughts over the last two weeks (for there is very little time to think). I hope and pray (yes, pray . . . I am attending Catholic mass each week) that all is well with you Mom. All of my love to you and all those who you love.
My courageous son,
I can feel your troubled heart . . . you have before you the likes of a moral dilemma that has broken many before you and will break other young men and women of your generation after you. Will it break you?
O my love, these are extremely trying and challenging times for you. The existential struggle you are contending with is a microcosm of the macrocosm of this country and its people. What you do, how you behave, what choices you make, matter deeply because, in your position in the U.S. Military that has a choke-hold on the world, you have great power. How one uses such power determines one’s character, degree of dignity and degree of moral discipline.
Yet, I think you are beginning to realize a co-existent powerlessness that potentially pitches you into the throes of paradox. You are impotent and powerful at the same time. You are unable to question the morality of your superiors’ intentions because you are sworn to obey them unswervingly. At the same time, your power rests in your example as a morally dignified critical thinker courageous enough to say no to what you know to be wrong in your heart.
Hitler’s Youth followed his every order . . . how many of them had the courage to question his extermination of the Jews? How many were able to turn their backs on him and walk away with their conscience untainted from the act of mass murder? I imagine there were, out of thousands of young men like you, only as many as you could count on one hand who broke away from the status quo, and they were probably shot in the back as they refused to kill.
I see your dilemma as no less grave. My dear darling one, you have such a difficult task before you and I ache and cry at night and day because of your heavy burden. Here is where I am powerless as a mother to relieve you of any of your current and future suffering. You chose this path and I knew when you chose it that your Highest Self, the Divine in you was guiding you, and I believe that now and forever to be so. That is why I did not panic or try to persuade you not to enter the military which has shaped my entire life since I was growing in my mother’s—your grandmother’s—womb.
Suffering is our friend, not our enemy. Death is our friend, not our enemy. Suffering and Death are our greatest teachers. It is only our Clear Seeing, our Awareness of what is causing the unceasing cycle of suffering, the unceasing cycle of birth, aging, sickness and death, that will enable us to stop going around in circles and getting nowhere but the hell of our mortality. Instead of cleaning up our act in this lifetime, we put it off till the next, or the next, and waste our time by increasing our karmic debt instead of increasing our karmic merit. I wasted 48 years of this lifetime, guzzling alcohol and drugs, greedily eating and grasping and using ten times more than most of the world’s population. I finally understand the depth to which my greed has caused others to suffer.
The quandary you are in is of your own making and yours alone to figure out. Nor can I blame anyone, not my mother or father or sisters or brothers or husbands or son, for my suffering. Neither is anyone else responsible for my happiness, least of all this country’s government, despite giving me the “right to the pursuit of happiness,” (and now I’ve come to believe that any “right” I proclaim to be “mine” is innately a divisive act, increasing hatred in the world.) It is all up to me to relieve my own suffering and find my own happiness without harming others. And so on this basis, I’ve taken up the reins of my life. Only by quieting my mind and beginning to understand why I chose to be in this life is how I experience peace, and love, and sometimes real joy even in the midst of the corruption of war.