By Niranjan Ramakrishnan
18 August, 2005
two and a half millennia before Cindy Sheehan, another woman, also having
lost a child, dogged another renowned figure with a persistent question.
Unlike The Benighted
One, however, The Enlightened One did not hide from the woman, nor did
he send out his minions to fob her off. And he certainly did not sic
his curs on her. Instead, he gave her a patient and compassionate hearing.
The woman asked
the Buddha an equally simple question, "If you are a true Man of
God, can you not bring my dead child back to life?
The Buddha said
he could. "All I need is a handful of rice to revive your child...But
", he added, "it must be from a household which has never
had a death".
Knocking on door
after door in search of a deathless family, the woman soon realized
the futility of her quest, and gradually understood the deeper lesson:
the universality and naturalness of death.
It is an answer,
unfortunately, that George W. Bush cannot give Cindy Sheehan. His war
is a narrow one, fought by invisible people to test the geostrategic
theories of the powerful. It is little different from the movie, "Trading
Places", where two Wall Street nabobs play havoc with the lives
of two unknowing individuals, all to settle a one-dollar wager.
No country's war
has every able-bodied male fighting. But at least the war effort informs
the daily life of the nation. People are forced to economize, goods
are rationed, luxuries are foregone.
Look around and
ask yourself if this is what you see. Is this war even touching the
public? As often as not, the lead story in the national newspapers is
not the war. It does not dominate discussion in the Senate or the House.
Nor does it figure in our everyday conversation. What does this show?
And what does it say about us when fellow-citizens are getting maimed
and killed and this has no impact on our lives?
When the Iraq war
was only being talked about (what a blessed time that seems now), Rep.
Charlie Rangel (D-NY) proposed reinstituting the draft. He was shushed
by the Democratic Party which, reading the tea leaves as usual, was
petrified that mentioning "Draft" (unless in juxtaposition
with "Beer") would lose it a constituency or two in the polls.
But the draft is
the ladle with which the pot is stirred, so that everyone has a serious
stake in whether to go to war, and the decision is not left to boy Presidents
in search of belated glory and senators afraid of being caught on the
wrong side of the political mood, but made with open eyes by real people
facing the real prospect of real tragedy.
story shames me. It has shamed many others into driving to Crawford
to stand with her. My Chinese friends tell me that the Chinese name
for America translates to "Beautiful Country". But as 'Peking'
was changed to 'Beijing' and 'Chou' to 'Zhou', I wonder if they have
now changed America's name to "Shameless Country". The way
we are borrowing from them, it would be no surprise if this is how they
privately referred to us.
Whatever our new
Chinese name, we are now a country bereft of shame. I am not talking
alone about moral lepers like Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly, or Bill
Bennett, in whose place any honorable person would have long slunk back
into private life. If they smear Cindy Sheehan, that likely proves she
is doing something right.
But it takes particular
brazenness for a Joe Biden to say he has 'disagreements' with Cindy
Sheehan. This from a paragon of sober judgement who not only voted for
the Iraq Resolution, but, two years on, could say to Alberto Gonzales,
"You're the Real Deal, I like you".
Cindy Sheehan may
not be a foreign policy maven like you, Senator Joe, but unlike you,
she is not responsible for a single death, or the spending of one dime
of the taxpayer's money in a war of choice. People like you and your
fellow Senator Joe -- Lieberman -- on the other hand, have led us to
1843 American dead, thousands crippled, dozens of suicides, and a 300
billion dollar fiasco. (Even leaving aside the moral burden of Iraqis
killed, maimed, and uprooted, for the moment). As you sniff the air
for your prospects in the next presidential election, have you had the
decency to apologize for your misjudgement, which has bankrupted the
country both economically and morally? And is your quest one reason
why an orator of your abilities has such great difficulty saying 'im-peach-ment'?
Or does seeking the presidency mean one has to abjure words of two or
As someone once
asked yet another Senator Joe, "Have you no shame?"
One of Mahatma Gandhi's
greatest successes was in making urban India grow a conscience, and
feel ashamed of its complicity in enabling British rule and the pauperization
of rural India. He only articulated what most Indians knew in their
hearts. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on that bus, she
too was shaming thousands of others who felt the same way but were unable
to bring themselves to act. Cindy Sheehan, I feel, is in the s(h)ame
Many of us may claim
to be "against" the war. But where is the deed to match the
word? What did we do to prevent/resist/protest the war? An opinion expressed
to a colleague or an argument at a dinner party counts for little. Concrete
action, even if small, means a lot.
Here's a practical
suggestion. Tonight (Aug 17) is a candlelight vigil all across America
in support of Cindy Sheehan. You can host or join one near you by going
We are living through
momentous times. One day in the future, young people will ask us, "Where
were you when Bush was butchering the country?" For Cindy Sheehan
the answer should be easy. She has already given to her country more
than most could even imagine. And after her huge loss, instead of following
the familiar Oprah-Chopra route of cashing in on sensation, she has,
putting her own self at risk, taken on the project of salvaging her
The least we could
do is to draw inspiration from her, and begin taking tiny steps toward
the long overdue task of salvaging our own.
At any rate, one
had better not have to mumble to one's grandchildren, "I had other
priorities." Apart from the instant fall in esteem such an answer
would cause, there's another problem too...
Dick Cheney owns
the copyright on that line.
is a writer living on the West Coast. He can be reached at email@example.com.
His blog is at http://njn-blogogram.blogspot.com.