Onion Skin #1: The Armed Pacifist

I will continue recounting on how I became a UN Peacekeeper by peeling off the first layer of understanding known as, “The Armed Pacifist”.


Due to my post-secondary educational and cultural experiences, along with the global reaction to 9/11 principally with the War in Iraq, I was hard-pressed to not label myself as a pacifist for the greater part of my early to mid-twenties. I looked up to historical figures like the leader of the modern non-violence movement, Mohandas Gandhi who once stated that “There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no causes that I am prepared to kill for.” Even the great Albert Einstein has been quoted as saying that “Taken on the whole, I would believe that Gandhi’s views were the most enlightened of all the political men in our time. We should strive to do things in his spirit … not to use violence in fighting for our cause, but by non-participation in what we believe is evil.” With such enlightened leaders promoting such a non-violent discourse, it is no wonder as a young mind that I decided to follow their premises almost blindly.


If we look towards J.D. Salinger who wrote one of the books that shaped my adolescence “The Catcher in the Rye”, one finds a contradicting view to what Ghandi, and many others after him, lived by. In the book, the protagonist Holden Caufield is presented with the following quote from his professor, “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” The paradox that such perspectives create is complex for a young, learning mind to understand and to make sense of it all. They are almost polar opposites of one another. On the one hand, there is the absolute inexistence of a cause to end the life of another and, on the other; there is the view that Ghandi’s belief is to be “immature” especially, in regards to self-defense. I have coined this paradox as “The Pacifist’s Dilemma”.


3248749010_6af632e91b_bIt was my journey through Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Jordan and Egypt that I began to modify my pacifist ways. Travelling across these historical territories, one cannot hide from the conversation of war and its various origins. I visited the region in the Sinai known as “Canada Camp” since it is where the Canadian Contingent to UNEF, the first UN Peacekeeping force ever deployed, was stationed. I wanted to walk the grounds that the Canadians held in order to feel connected to Canada’s noble and selfless role in it all. Recalling what Dag Hammarskjöld, the United Nations Secretary General who executed Lester B. Pearson’s UNEF proposal, said “Peacekeeping is not the job of a soldier but only a soldier can do it.”

It was then, while on my 14 hour taxi ride from Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt to Rafah, Egypt (where parts of “Canada Camp” was located) during Jumu’ah (Islamic Friday Prayers) that my current perspective on non-violence began to come to fruition. I began to recall the teachings of the “Shorinjiryu Kenshin Karatedo”; a martial arts style with its origins in one of the oldest styles of karate (Okinawa martial arts) and the martial style which I used to practice throughout high school. Shihan Masayuki Hisataka, the son of the founder of Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karatedo, was elected to represent Japan at “Expo ’67: Man and his world” in Montreal. After Expo ’67, he remained for several years to instruct his new disciples. One of his students was my high school teacher who then, in turn, guided my instruction until the rank of brown belt back stripe before graduating from high school.


3248806292_d010dcf6f5Under the direction of my high school teacher, I was taught that the karate style was originally developed by Zen Buddhist Shaolin monks. It was an all-encompassing way of life that included self-defense especially, from animals and bandits while travelling on the path from one temple to another temple in order to meditate. The karate style taught humility with confidence and courage, and self-defense with respect for life and restraint. It proclaimed that at peace with oneself and others, and in possession of a strong mind and body, one can thus fulfill their commitment to oneself and to society. The introduction of Buddhism through the practice of the karate style fuelled my curiosity and led me to investigate its philosophies.

I was reading the following passage from “What Buddhist Believe” by Dr. K. Sri Dhammanada while on my journey toward “Canada Camp” when a possible solution to “The Pacifist’s Dilemma” began to appear,

“Buddhists should not be the aggressors even in protecting their religion or anything else. They must try their best to avoid any kind of violent act. Sometimes they may be forced to go to war by others who do not respect the concept of the brotherhood of humans as taught by the Buddha. They may be called upon to defend their country from external aggression, and as long as they have not renounced the worldly life, they are duty-bound to join in the struggle for peace and freedom. Under these circumstances, they cannot be blamed for becoming soldiers or being involved in defence. However, if everyone were to follow the advice of the Buddha, there would be no reason for war to take place in this world. It is the duty of every cultured person to find all possible ways and means to settle disputes in a peaceful manner, without declaring war to kill his or her fellow human beings.”

In response to “The Pacifist’s Dilemma” outlined earlier, I look towards the Zen Buddhist Shaolin monks that encountered the bandits and animals along their paths. Out of necessity, the Zen Buddhist monks learned the ways of self-defence as Canadian soldiers learned the ways of peacekeeping. That no matter which school of thought one sides with when it comes to “Nature vs Nurture”, the truth is that these “bandits and animals” are either born that way (Nature) or due to their ‘’environment’’ learn to become that way (Nurture). The rest of society has no choice but to currently interact with these “bandits and animals” along different points on their individual paths towards absolute pacifism.

That, for the moment, the ideal of absolute demilitarization is so far into the future that it should be kept there. For as long as the possibility of even one person in the world of having the intentions of enacting on violent thoughts towards others especially, the defenceless; a need for defences adequate to counter the possible threat is necessary. Furthermore, an ability to defend oneself must always be complimented with an active and vigorous pursuit of self-awareness in order to pre-emptively address the origins of violence in oneself and in others. When the day comes that we fully understand all motivations for violence and are capable of preventatively suppressing them, only then can we begin to whisper our intentions of absolute demilitarization.

It was these life and historical events that led me to enlist in the Canadian Forces as an Infantry Officer so that I can one day be deployed as an UN Peacekeeper – the modern day example of the “Armed Pacifist”.

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