Every Memorial Day weekend is spent watching “Band of Brothers.” Band of Brothers is a ten-part video series dramatizing the history of one company of American paratroopers in World War Two—E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne, known as “Easy Company.” This exemplary group fought in some of the war’s most harrowing battles and “Band of Brothers” depicts not only the heroism but also the extraordinary bond among men formed in the crucible of war. In truth, it is my way of remembering.
Being a veteran, I personally served in no major war. But personally, the inner war and personal demons of what I did during the military in the late 70’s is often reflected by these men. I am in awe of the sacrifices these men so valiantly gave.
Still in contrast, many Buddhists refuse to take up arms under any circumstances, even knowing that they would be killed as a result. The life of monks permits them to defend themselves, but it forbids them to kill, even in self-defence. For Buddhists this poses the difficult dilemma of how to protect the rights and lives of their citizens without breaking the principle of nonviolence.
The pure Buddhist attitude is demonstrated accordingly:
“A Vietnam veteran was overheard rebuking the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, about his unswerving dedication to non-violence.
“You’re a fool,” said the veteran – “what if someone had wiped out all the Buddhists in the world and you were the last one left. Would you not try to kill the person who was trying to kill you, and in doing so save Buddhism?!”
Thich Nhat Hanh answered patiently “It would be better to let him kill me. If there is any truth to Buddhism and the Dharma it will not disappear from the face of the earth, but will reappear when seekers of truth are ready to rediscover it.
“In killing I would be betraying and abandoning the very teachings I would be seeking to preserve. So it would be better to let him kill me and remain true to the spirit of the Dharma.”
But being Buddhist also means being a humanist. At times, we must focus on human values and concerns, attaching prime importance to what it means to be human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Episode 9, ‘Why We Fight’ is very reflective of being human.
One of my favorite movie lines comes from the Rob Reiner film “The American President.” At one point in the film, in the midst of political controversy, the president (Douglas) says stoically and dismissively, “We fight the fights we can win.” But then, in a moment of movie magic, the loyal friend and faithful attendee to the president A.J. (Martin Sheen) retorts with uncharacteristically bold defiance: “You fight the fights that need fighting!” Buddhism, Christian, Atheist alike, there comes a time when we all must fight the fights that need fighting.
For the men of Easy Company, whether known or not, stopping the kind of people responsible for the concentration camp they find outside of Landsberg is exactly why they fight — why they’ve given up years of their lives and risked those lives repeatedly. As the real Dick Winters (who had fewer problems with his resolve to begin with) said to himself after getting a look at that nightmarish place, “Now I know why I am here!”
This episode was really powerful, because it captures what those soldiers saw when they went into Kaufering IV and how they liberated all the people the Nazis put in concentration camps. It was so horrible to look at and makes you wonder how humanity can be so inhuman to other human beings. It’s one of those things you have to see for yourself and I’ll never forget this episode.
This was a brutal look at what hatred and racism does when it gets out of control and it’s thanks to brave men and women in the armed forces that help prevent things like this from happening and we should never forget what all our troops do every day.
As Buddhist, a humanist and Veteran, I am in awe of all who served. I am truly honored to all who fight the fights worth fighting.