The River

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Current Reading

Claude Anshin Thomas is a Vietnam veteran who saw combat and killed many. When he returned to the U.S., he found himself internally still at war. He was unemployable and turned to drugs. Finally, he turned his life around by taking one courageous step: by returning to Vietnam for a meditation retreat for Vietnam veterans led by Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Thomas is now a Zen monk and teacher devoted to promoting peace and nonviolence.

He’s also an author. I’m two thirds of the way through his 2004 book At Hell’s Gate, and find it to be one of the wisest publications I have had the good fortune to come across.

Excerpts, Chapter 5, Walking to Walk

In December 1994, I began a five-thousand-mile pilgrimage from Auschwitz, in Poland, to Vietnam.


I undertook the walk initially because I was intrigued by the practice of pilgrimage, and because I had an instinctive sense that this was the way that I needed to return to Vietnam. I also wanted to see more, to check my understandings, to get in touch with the conditions of the wider human community. While walking I discovered the pilgrimage also supported me in getting in touch with my own suffering. Ultimately I went on this walk to bear witness, which is one of the core tenets of the Zen Peacemaker Order, of which I am a lifetime member.


I was increasingly sensitized to the reality that the policies of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP), or Nazis, could not have been carried out without the complicity of the countries and societies of Europe (as well as the rest of the world). These policies could not have been enacted without the intense collective denial of German society and the collective denial of the world society. The planning and initiation of this system of abuse, exploitation, torture, and terror, the politics that enabled it to be carried out, were not a secret. All of this was taking place quite in the open, on the world stage.

This pilgrimage also made me more sensitive to the dangers of self-righteousness. Self-righteous action is based on the projection of one’s own suffering onto external sources (people, places, and things). This sort of projection-based decision making is dangerous at whatever level it takes place, and unless we are rigorously committed to looking at the entire, detailed construction of the events that led to the killing of more than fifty-five million people during this period of world history (1939-1945), this cycle will continue to repeat itself again and again. We have witnessed this in the Stalinist Soviet Union, the Maoist Chinese Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot’s Cambodian Khmer Rouge; in the early attempts by the United States to eradicate the Native Americans; and even in the continued use of the death penalty as an accepted means of punishment. As I witnessed during this pilgrimage throughout these sites of terror and abuse, laws can quickly become enacted to expand the net and increase the field of qualification for extermination.

We see the results of this kind of righteousness in the ongoing attempts to eradicate indigenous populations throughout the world, in the events in the Balkans and Rwanda, and also in the destruction of the environment. Witnessing the continuing cycle of suffering, I often feel overwhelmed, fearful, and so powerless. I ask myself over and over, “So what can I do?” What is the proper response?”


Over and over, what I kept being confronted with on this pilgrimage is the complicity essential at all levels of the social fabric for such horrors to be enacted and carried out – how I have participated in such horrors and how subtly all this horror begins.

The question then arises, “So what is the appropriate response to these events in our daily living?” I can only say that for me the appropriate response is always one of zero tolerance. Zero tolerance at whatever level and scale I encounter such racism, discrimination, self-righteous action, or abuse of power.

The next question is: “What are the skillful means or methods needed to reinforce and sustain this position?” The response the keeps arising in me is to live my life differently, to live the spiritual reality of life (the knowledge of our interconnectedness), to be uncompromising in this spiritual commitment, and to find whatever means available to support this path. Meditation, the process of knowing oneself intimately and deeply, is for me the core, because mindfulness is the only possible antidote to the mindlessness that leads to complicity with cruelty, violence, and genocide.

At its inception, the NSDAP movement was not taken seriously and for the most part went unchallenged. As I reflect on these circumstances, the only way that I can imagine such horror and terror going on unchallenged is that the governments of all the countries witnessing just couldn’t admit their own guilt. To intervene, to speak up, to speak out, would have meant that they would have to individually and collectively in some way acknowledge their own participation, support, and initiation of like actions.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Excerpt of a Democracy Now! interveiw with John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

JOHN PERKINS: Well, I was initially recruited while I was in business school back in the late sixties by the National Security Agency, the nation's largest and least understood spy organization; but ultimately I worked for private corporations. The first real economic hit man was back in the early 1950's, Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of Teddy, who overthrew of government of Iran, a democratically elected government, Mossadegh’s government who was Time's magazine person of the year; and he was so successful at doing this without any bloodshed -- well, there was a little bloodshed, but no military intervention, just spending millions of dollars and replaced Mossadegh with the Shah of Iran. At that point, we understood that this idea of economic hit man was an extremely good one. We didn't have to worry about the threat of war with Russia when we did it this way. The problem with that was that Roosevelt was a C.I.A. agent. He was a government employee. Had he been caught, we would have been in a lot of trouble. It would have been very embarrassing. So, at that point, the decision was made to use organizations like the C.I.A. and the N.S.A. to recruit potential economic hit men like me and then send us to work for private consulting companies, engineering firms, construction companies, so that if we were caught, there would be no connection with the government.

AMY GOODMAN: Okay. Explain the company you worked for.

JOHN PERKINS: Well, the company I worked for was a company named Chas. T. Main in Boston, Massachusetts. We were about 2,000 employees, and I became its chief economist. I ended up having fifty people working for me. But my real job was deal-making. It was giving loans to other countries, huge loans, much bigger than they could possibly repay. One of the conditions of the loan–let's say a $1 billion to a country like Indonesia or Ecuador–and this country would then have to give ninety percent of that loan back to a U.S. company, or U.S. companies, to build the infrastructure–a Halliburton or a Bechtel. These were big ones. Those companies would then go in and build an electrical system or ports or highways, and these would basically serve just a few of the very wealthiest families in those countries. The poor people in those countries would be stuck ultimately with this amazing debt that they couldn’t possibly repay. A country today like Ecuador owes over fifty percent of its national budget just to pay down its debt. And it really can’t do it. So, we literally have them over a barrel. So, when we want more oil, we go to Ecuador and say, “Look, you're not able to repay your debts, therefore give our oil companies your Amazon rain forest, which are filled with oil.” And today we're going in and destroying Amazonian rain forests, forcing Ecuador to give them to us because they’ve accumulated all this debt. So we make this big loan, most of it comes back to the United States, the country is left with the debt plus lots of interest, and they basically become our servants, our slaves. It's an empire. There's no two ways about it. It’s a huge empire. It's been extremely successful.