Eps 77: Of Men And War (And Immoral Use Of Mindfulness)

Of Men and War

I am having another anniversary! Last Monday was my 43rd birthday, it is also 7 years of Basic Goodness and – tada- today is my 400th post! It has been quite a ride.

I am writing this in Melkweg, where I am attending ‘Best of IDFA’, a documentary marathon where all the price winners of the festival are shown. But it so happened that the winner of the first prize is a documentary that I saw yesterday. It is also a very long one so I decided to use my time to write and prepare my session for tomorrow.

Of Men And War follows a group of Iraq veterans who are all dealing with severe Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. It is painful to watch how broken these men are.

In the beginning of the movie one of the vets explains how small he felt upon his return to the United States. It’s an experience shared by almost all the men in the therapy group. When they finally got back home from their tour of duty in Iraq, they were no longer the same men whom their wives had waved off. Almost all of them have horrific tales to tell, some about a friend lost, many about the deaths of innocent Iraqis.

These victims of PTSD seem to be unable to live in the moment; their minds are stuck out on the battlefield. All have traumatic memories that haunt them to this day. Ghosts and echoes of the war fill their lives. Wives, children, and parents bear the brunt of their fractured spirits.

It is pretty clear how devastating war is, even to the men who ‘won’. If this is what American soldiers look like, can you imagine what it is like to be Iraqi? The losses that America inflicts on its enemies are always colossal. It is hard to fathom the magnitude of the suffering on the other side.

When I was traveling I have been to quite a few places that once were ‘the other’. I have been raised in a right-ish, pro-Israel, kinda wealthy environment. In my childhood people (‘we’) were afraid of communists, Russia and –later- fundamentalists of any kind. But by visiting Israel, Palestine Authority, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq I changed my mind. We are all victims of beliefs and fear and we are completely constricted in our religions, traditions and cultures. As we don’t know ourselves intimately it is impossible to understand the other. At the same time: we all want to be free and live in peace. The wounds that war cause scar us for many generations.

Now there is a very cynical development that touches on the themes and field I operate in. Hundreds of thousand soldiers came back severely mentally wounded. Perhaps you would say that this provided a good argument to not send 18 year old children into battlefields anymore. Unfortunately this is not the case. First the ‘system’ will avoid as much liability as possible, because treatment is very costly. Second, instead of avoiding horrific and bloody exchanges that cause trauma they would rather train soldiers to become ‘better’ at mentally dealing with horror. Enter mindfulness meditation.

The US military is discovering mindfulness as a tool to help soldiers cope with the extreme stress of combat. Some researcher said she believes meditation should be as much a part of basic training as learning to fire a weapon or march in formation. What a happy world if US soldiers could fire their rifle at an Iraqi teenager and would be able to breathe through the traumatic experience without lasting psychological wounds! The military would not have to deny the damage done to the soldier and the soldier would not abuse his wife so much! He would not be a burden to society because he could work! And the US would still have secured its oil in Iraq! It only takes a cheap 8-week meditation course!

I wish that not only soldiers are exposed to a path of healing and deconstructing the selfish and greedy ego but also the people who make the decisions to send troops. The question should not be ‘how do we teach kids to kill and stay mentally sane?’ but ‘how do I transcend fear, greed and a need to suppress other peoples so we can live together?’

We can argue that the men on the front lines who are putting their lives on the line are brave men. But there is nothing brave about making the decision to send young men away to go kill for you to secure your greed driven interests.

I sincerely hope the practice of quieting our minds and opening our hearts is in itself powerful and intrinsically good enough to withstand immoral application.


This is episode 77 in a series of 100 blog posts that will be published daily during the 100 Day Warrior, a unique program around physical strength, inner wisdom and meaning. All posts are written by Atalwin Pilon, founder of Basic Goodness and creator of the 100 Day Warrior. For requests for motivational speaking, in-company workshops, online coaching and mindfulness training click here. If you would like to join our international community of brave and inspiring human beings or just follow this blog and receive updates, please click here or sign up on the right side of the page. Atalwin specializes in coaching smart and creative people, both groups and individuals. If you are interested in a free coaching session click here.


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