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Bible Studies
Written by Jim Jordal   
Thursday, 11 February 2010


By Jim Jordal

I think it’s becoming clear now to many if not most Americans that there’s something horribly wrong with our policies using military force to secure the world for exploitation by powerful corporate economic interests. The history of American military intervention to secure economic benefit and national security is both sordid and unnecessary. There are far better alternatives.

For example, let’s look at Afghanistan. Lying at a crossroad of ancient trade and military routes, Afghanistan has known very little except attempted conquest and domination by foreign enemies or local warlords and tribal chieftains. Democracy is an unknown experience. So why do the U.S. and our minimal allies attempt to do the same thing that the Russians tried for ten years before retreating in defeat?

There must be a better way than military pacification.

One alternative lies in service to people rather that attempted destruction and domination. We could call that the "soft" way of compassion and service rather than the "hard" way of destruction and enforced domination. The hard way appeals to the military/industrial complex in the "might makes right" scheme of thinking, but it too often results in unintended adverse consequences like the recruitment of new Taliban members.

In his book Three Cups of Tea, mountain climber and school builder Greg Mortenson models the "soft" way for us. The story chronicles his failed attempt to climb desperately difficult K-2, the second highest peak on earth, and the beginnings of an idea that will transform both his life and the lives of thousands of Afghan and Pakistani children and their villages.

The account begins with Mortenson stumbling down the 38-mile long Baltoro glacier below the mountain. Separated from his companions, tired, hungry and sick, he takes a wrong turn and lurches into the tiny, lonely village of Korphe, almost literally at the ends of the earth. True to their hospitable values the people befriend him and nurse him back to health. As he recovers and prepares to leave he determines to someday repay the villagers for their kindness by building a school for them.

Mortenson goes on to describe his dedicated but ineffective fund raising efforts back in the states. He prepares and mails 580 typewritten letters, receives only one reply, and is in despair until a former climber turned successful businessman backs him with the $12,000 he needs for the school. Renewed by this gift, Mortenson returns to Pakistan, trades his dollars for rupees, and begins to purchase materials for the school. The remainder of the book details Mortenson’s struggles with nature, reluctant village elders, war in Kashmir, his own detention/kidnapping, fatwas (religious orders under Sharia law having more power than the government in rural areas) issued against him by angry mullahs, thieving middlemen and a host of other problems that would have overcome men of lesser dedication. In the end he receives a large gift from his benefactor with which to found the Central Asia Institute that until this day continues his efforts in school building, women’s education, fresh water projects, and village improvements.

One cultural lesson learned by Mortenson deals with the ritual of tea drinking as a prelude to all business arrangements in that society. The rancid yak butter flavored tea drinking thus becomes a ritual of human relationship building. With one cup of tea you remain a stranger; after two you become a friend, and after three you are now family, to be protected even at the cost of the life of your host. That is how Mortenson is able to build strong, positive, life-enhancing relationships with people from a culture far different from his own.

Another major lesson is the folly of attempting to impose Western values and procedures upon people of a far different culture. Knowing that arrogance is not a virtue in building human relationships, Mortenson attempts to dress like the natives, learn the language, respect their religion, and honor their values and traditions. He drinks tea with them, discusses at great length their ways of constructing buildings almost solely with hand labor, pays them decent wages, and in general treats them like equals rather than subjects to be dominated. The result is success far beyond what any could have expected.

Western society could learn much from another practice of these isolated, uneducated, but very intelligent and capable people. When facing disagreements that could easily lead to armed conflict between clans or villages, they declare a jirga, or high-level conference before doing battle "to discuss how many losses they were willing to accept, since victors are expected to care for the widows and orphans of the rivals they have vanquished." And we call them backward and primitive!

Imagine what could happen in those nations and areas of the world reported to hate America with a passion if we were to devote even a small fraction of the $750 billion we now spend yearly on militarism and defense to doing what Mortenson does. It could literally transform our world.