Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness: Two Perspectives

By Ingmar Lee

Some months ago, two towering structures representing the epitome of the human potential came crashing to the ground in a violent expression of ignorance, frustration and bitterness. These twin monumental structures had stood as welcoming ambassadors at the gateway to a prosperous civilization and symbolized the predominant ideal of the society that built them: -that the highest human values were life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The colossal Bamiyan Buddhas had done their peaceful sentry duty for 2000 years at this important juncture where East meets West. They proclaimed to the visitor, with an open palm radiating compassionate loving kindness, that the observance of basic moral precepts, the renunciation of attachment to material things and quiet, concentrated personal introspection was the best way to achieve these lofty human goals.

The peaceful symbolism of the great Bamiyan Buddhas has not been recognized by a continuous progression of belligerents who have visited on this region an endless rain of terror. This part of the world has always attracted much geo-political interest. The ancient Aryans, Alexander, Genghis Khan, the British and the Russians all came and went violently. Currently there's Chinese nuclear activity in Sinjiang, the Indo-Pakistani war in Kashmir, itself potentially nuclear, the nuclear legacy of Kazakhstan, and nasty squabblings between Iran and Iraq to keep global powers interested in the region. And then there's the oil. What was the Russian interest in invading in 1979? Could it have been that the shortest route to get the vast reserves of central Asian oil to market is through Afghanistan?

When Russia moved into Afghanistan, a massive infusion of American weaponry and CIA advice was quietly poured into the country. This imbroglio became Russia's Viet-Nam as the country was used as a battleground for a brutal superpower war. Ultimately, the Russians were savagely beaten and driven out. This expulsion wasn't achieved by the fierce and tough Afghan fighters alone. It was accomplished by the sustained supply of American arms and military expertise. Immediately after the Russian defeat, the USA abandoned Afghanistan, leaving the exhausted, injured, destitute and ethnically disparate communities to themselves to try to repair and rebuild their devastated land. Power struggles inevitably ensued and devolved into the ongoing present-day war, recently amplified by the return of the Americans with a vengeance. Never mind that the Taliban had been grudgingly tolerated and even supported until recently by the US. And Never mind that they had offered up Osama bin Laden to the International Court upon credible evidence of his guilt for September 11th. It was time for more war.

Six months to the day, after the destruction of the Bamiyan statues, another pair of towering structures, these representing the epitome of the American way, came crashing to the ground in a violent expression of ignorance, frustration and bitterness. The twin World Trade Center towers also symbolized the predominant ideal of that society: -that the highest human values were life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But these giant symbols proclaimed this edict from an entirely different perspective: -that material growth, expansion, economic development, consumption and personal enrichment were the best ways to achieve these lofty goals.

The fundamental flaw in this ideal is that our tiny planet is a finite place with limited resources. The bulk of the Earth's growing population is excluded from the western consumer orgy which sees 20% of the global population voraciously consuming 80% of the worlds bounty. The worlds hungry masses can only stand and watch from the sidelines. Capitalist greed is directly implicated in the grave environmental and humanitarian disasters which are occurring with increasing frequency.

The capitalist economy requires unlimited oil. Canadian Chamber of Commerce vice-president Michael Murphy in Sunday's T.C. says "When you have growth in your economy, your use of fossil fuels is going to go up." (Kyoto pact called economic disaster T.C. A3 November 25, 2001) American oil-interests, Unocal in particular, have recently been slathering after that central Asian oil. I quote from a February 12th 1998 speech to a House committee in Washington, D.C. by Unocal vice-president John J. Maresca:

"A recent study for the World Bank states that the proposed pipeline from Central Asia across Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea would provide more favorable netbacks to oil producers through access to higher value markets than those currently being accessed through the traditional Baltic and Black Sea export routes."

The mobilization of the American military is usually predicated on an oil issue. It does not respond to even the most appalling humanitarian disaster. With the ascension of oil-man George "SDI" Bush to the helm of the worlds largest debtor nation, and with its enormous economy beginning to sputter, the world knew that it was going to get a war. But can anyone honestly believe that the multi-trillion-dollar-a-year American war-machine which was useless in preventing attacks by a few angry, determined individuals armed with 59-cent box-cutters or 42-cent postage stamps can protect Americans from the disgruntled mass of humanity?

The truth of the matter is that it's the very policies and attitude of the George Bush administration which present the greatest threat to global peace and security. The countless millions of oppressed and suffering people around the world are growing more and more angry. When serious injustice is done, revenge is the base and ignorant reaction, and regrettably, where there's a human will, there's a way. No amount of violence or high-tech military investment will ever tame that anger. Revenge and violence is always wrong. The Buddha's great and enduring message which rings true for all time, is that it is greed itself which is the root cause of all suffering, which is alas, the antithesis of the American version.


Ingmar Lee is a director of the Green Party of British Columbia Provincial Council and has travelled extensively in South Asia. He submitted this op-ed to the Victoria B.C. Times-Colonist newspaper in response to an editors request for a submission from "the other side."