“Freedom is hard to bear. It can be objected that I am speaking of political freedom in spiritual terms, but the political institutions of any nation are always menaced and are ultimately controlled by the spiritual state of that nation… Privately, we cannot stand our lives and dare not examine them; domestically, we take no responsibility for (and no pride in) what goes on in our country; and internationally, for many millions of people, we are an unmitigated disaster. ” – James Baldwin from “The Fire Next Time”
Thursday night we sang and prayed to Sekhmet to give us the fire of courage to face the wars we carry inside ourselves, to connect with the fire in the earth and the stars, and the fire in our own blood, in our hearts and minds, that would enable us to face the fires of war that have so ravaged this desert. The mighty black statue of Sekhmet faced the direction of the Nevada Test Site, and the temple itself is situated three miles from Creech Air Force Base and eight miles from two prisons. Prophet James Baldwin is right: as long as there is war inside me, there will be war on earth. As long as I build prisons in my soul, humanity will imprison itself.
Planes glided silently overhead as we walked the Stations of the Cross outside the long fence. Soldiers patrolled in a big truck nearby, following our movements. The desert sun was hot, but thankfully for this hour or so, the winds were still. As I looked up into the sky, I could not help but notice that the Predator looked remarkably like a wasp, reminding me of my sacred encounter the week before. But this was a wasp I did not want to find another home. This was a silent, unmanned, death-dealing wasp who – along with its larger cousin, the Reaper who also made test runs overhead – would not only do surveillance, but carry missiles and bombs over Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. Designed to save US military personnel and to more accurately assess targets, 32% of those they kill are still civilians, and of course, sometimes mistakes are made.
Later that afternoon, we held vigil outside the base. Part of the time, I sat on the ground in meditation while anchoring a large banner that fought with the returned wind. As I opened my aura out to hold the desert, I could not help but feel that we all must hold each other, as best we can, whether UAV operators, the county Sheriff, the counter-protestors, or the yucca and cholla that dotted the landscape. As military personnel drove off the base toward home, some ignored us, some few flashed peace signs, and one held up his book on Che Guevara.
UAV operators in Nevada and California are killing people across the world, as we speak. They watch the videos implanted in the gliders and watch, in graphic close ups yet from great distance, as people are blasted into small components of humanity. This also shatters the enlisted men and women, as we can well imagine.
The Military Times reports: “The Air National Guardsmen who operate Predator drones over Iraq via remote control, launching deadly missile attacks from the safety of Southern California 7,000 miles away, are suffering some of the same psychological stresses as their comrades on the battlefield. Working in air-conditioned trailers, Predator pilots observe the field of battle through a bank of video screens and kill enemy fighters with a few computer keystrokes. Then, after their shifts are over, they get to drive home and sleep in their own beds. But that whiplash transition is taking a toll on some of them mentally, and so is the way the unmanned aircraft’s cameras enable them to see people getting killed in high-resolution detail, some officers say.”
What are we doing here, with these wars? We are damaging ourselves, our souls, and the earth. We no longer even have the satisfaction of grappling with another human, hand to hand. We are dealing out death at a distance, and slowly dying inside. Freedom is hard to bear. But so is war. So is our enslavement and inner blindness. How shall we waken to the light that dawns over the desert so beautifully? If life and death are sacred, what is our role in these wars being fought via real-time video games? We try to distance ourselves from the cycles of the earth, but in the long run, this simply is not possible.
As Gen. Stanley McChrystal wrote in his report to President Obama regarding the war in Afghanistan:
“Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us – physically and psychologically – from the people we seek to protect… The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves.”
And so, we keep walking in the desert, beneath the unforgiving sun and scouring wind.