BBC Radio Wales - Weekend Word
31st January 2003
It’s been yet another week of increased temperature regarding possible military action on Iraq, culminating today with a summit at Camp David. Perhaps, Messrs Bush and Blair have felt the need to issue extra doom-laden justifications to stop public opinion sliding away from war.
There is a story in Hinduism about a cobra who decided to renounce his life of wanton killing and become a religious hermit. The reformed snake was tormented by local hooligans who thought he had gone soft. So, he asked his guru what to do. His teacher advised him: “Next time, raise your hoods, hiss, but do not strike.” Sure enough, the boys were no longer certain of the cobra’s passivity and they left him alone.
Of course, a threat has no teeth unless there is full intention to follow it up with the use of force. I don’t, therefore, object to our country threatening and intending action under the auspices of a UN resolution. But, because war is the ultimate sanction, we must be extremely cautious upping the ante too early, or for nebulous, possibly wrong, reasons.
In the Hindu text, Bhagavad-gita, Arjun presented the case for holding back from war. His words seem relevant today. “How strange it is that we are preparing to wage war and commit the sin of killing for no grander reason than our own self-interest. Our opponents may be cruel and avaricious and see no fault in war and terror, but why should we, with knowledge of the sin, engage in the same acts.”
We failed the Iraqi people twelve years ago when we enabled Saddam to quell resistance and retain his oppressive regime. They may still need our help, but I don’t think that’s the motive behind an assault on Iraq. We hear of a “preventative” strike – but the proposition that one country can attack another just in case it might start a war seems hideously medieval and is surely a rejection of the values of modern democracy and internationalism. Moreover, it sweeps aside the premise that all human life is equal and sacred. It’s saying it’s OK for the hapless residents of another nation to die in our quest for a safe and comfortable existence.
Arjun was no wimp. Ultimately, he fought one of the bloodiest battles in ancient history. But, he did so only when every alternative for peace was thoroughly exhausted, when the crimes of the opposition so massively out-weighed the ramifications of war and when he was ready to be held personally accountable to God for every injury and death, for every widowed wife and for every orphaned child.© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Weekend Word” on BBC Radio Wales.