In Buddhist theology, one of the central concepts is a term generally translated as "ignorance." The sense isn't a lack of knowledge, but rather the absence of insight into the nature of reality. This leads us to mistake what we are doing (acts of greed and violence, for example) as virtuous action. Buddhists do not regard this as a morally compromised position, like Christians view certain actions as evil; instead, it inclines them to consider all the ramifications of actions to locate the seeds of this ignorance. Most minds are conditioned by ignorance; understanding that ignorance helps prevent committing the most damaging acts. For those who are unaware that they are committing negative acts--or worse, those who are wholly convinced the acts they are committing are virtuous--the damage can be profound.
I mention all of this because we have passed yet another milestone of death--the 3,000th US soldier killed in Iraq. When we passed earlier milestones on that road--the 100th killed, the thousandth--it wasn't so obvious to most Americans that we were executing a dangerously confused, nonvirtuous war. Many, in fact, considered it an act of nobility and compassion. At 3,000, a growing number of people have seen some of the dimensions of ignorance that led us into this folly, but not all of them.
NPR ran a typical story this morning to celebrate this grim achievement. Renee Montaigne spoke with the parents of a dead servicemen about how hard it was to have lost their son. But it tells only a very small part of the overall suffering this war has caused. Throughout this entire war, we have neither heard from nor considered the Iraqi view. The number of Iraqi parents with dead children exceeds their US counterparts by a factor of at least 10 and surely much more. In the US, most Americans now want to put our suffering behind us and pull out: "sorry guys, guess that experiment in democracy and liberty was a bust--good luck!" Of course, much as the option of being invaded was not discussed with Iraqis, a US pullout will also come unilaterally.
The brain trust of the neocons, abetted by interventionist liberals, are a perfect example of Buddhist ignorance. They did not consider the actual cost of the invasion, and mistook their own motivation as virtuous. The waves of suffering that results, from shock and awe to civil war, to years or decades of instability, are the fruit of this ignorance.
A new year today. May it be filled with clearer thinking.