History should not always be repeated
On Oct. 11, I watched the film “Standing at Ground Zero” at Lake Tahoe Community College, the opening film of the Tahoe International Film Festival at the South Shore. The film tells the story of Warren Kreml, a young American soldier who was sent out from his Navy ship in December 1945 to witness the “historic” site of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, four months after the bombing.
He said that witnessing the devastation was so overwhelming that he could not stand to look at it. “Not a blade of grass was standing. All was dust, death.” He said he was overwhelmed because we had done this. “I could not believe that human beings were treating other human beings that way.”
This experience changed his whole life. Before that he had been interested in science, studious, and reclusive. Now he felt “an urgency to
be with people, to share myself with them, and to learn about them.” Two years after returning home, he decided to study for the ministry. “My every thought and act has been toward building a world of peace, a world of love and community.”
While watching this film, I was reminded of an image from the 1991 Gulf War that has haunted me for the past 11 years. The image is of a photograph I saw in newspapers and on TV of a column of destroyed Iraqi vehicles on a road leading from Kuwait to Iraq. The vehicles once contained Iraqi
soldiers, who were retreating back to Iraq after being defeated by U.S. forces.
At the “Understanding September 11” community forum in South Lake Tahoe on Oct. 14, 2001, City Councilman Bill Crawford quoted a scholar of war
who said: “In the business of war, we must try to do the least evil. In the business of peace, we must try to do the most good.” This killing of
retreating soldiers did not seem to meet the test of doing the least evil.
When I saw that photo, I wondered: Was this necessary? What purpose did it serve? What suffering has it caused the families of the people who
died on that road, and what harm has it caused us, the doers of this deed? I felt partially responsible because this act was perpetrated by my
Now it seems we are poised for another war with Iraq, and we are willing to go it alone, even if the other nations of the world do not support us. I
wonder, what gives us the right to conduct our own private war? Does having the power to do it give us the right to do it?
In the ancient Chinese text, “The Art of War”: “The marshal asked one of his ministers: What caused the destruction our state? The minister replied:
Repeated victories in repeated wars. Where there are repeated wars, the people are weakened, the leaders become haughty.”
Quoting Averill Harriman, the American railroad magnate and philanthropist, Mr. Crawford said at the community forum: “… small-minded people cloak themselves in American power and become arrogant. They talk about dropping bombs and forcing our will on others. These are things that appall me, and the influence in our political life of people with such attitudes has to be resisted.”
“Darkness cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” said Martin Luther King Jr. These words echo the teachings of the Buddha 2,500 years
ago, and of Jesus 500 years after that.
On Oct. 11, after the vote in Congress that gave him the power to wage unilateral war on Iraq, I heard President Bush quoted on the radio declaring: “Now we speak with one voice.” I ask, what about the 156 representatives and senators who voted “No” on that resolution? How are their voices being heard and acknowledged? The questions they raised cannot be ignored.
The challenge we face today is, how do we get to that place that Mr. Kreml got to in 1945, but without the devastation and suffering of another
Hiroshima and another Nagasaki?
Steve Goldman is a resident of South Lake Tahoe.
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