Monday, July 23, 2012

A SOLDIER’S DHARMA: The Death of My Son in Afghanistan

The Bhagavad Gita is a book of War, as nearly all sacred scriptures are. Puzzling to some, it was the favorite text of Ghandi and R.W. Emerson, both avowed pacifists. Dharma is the topic, specifically as it relates to Arjuna whose dharma or call is to be a heroic warrior. But Arjuna is a hesitant warrior, doubting his call. Lord Krishna, God incarnate, convinces Arjuna that it is his duty to kill the enemies of justice, even his own family members in the great civil war of the Mahabharata.

In September of 2007 I took my twenty four year old son, a member of the 173rd Army Airborne, to the airport for his third deployment to Afghanistan. We knew he was heading into a bad place. During the weeks leading up to that departure, his mother, two older sisters and I begged him not to volunteer to be reassigned. We were Jason’s Arjunas, saying with the Arjuna of the Gita, “Our limbs sag, our mouths feel parched, our bodies quake…our minds are in a whirl.” Don’t go to war!

The night before our trip to the airport, I tearfully embraced Jason in the driveway. For the last time I held his six foot tall frame, his broad shoulders and rubbed my right palm across the back of his buzz-cut scalp. I wept as he whispered, “Dad, I know you don’t understand, but this is something I have to do.”

I thought of Krishna’s conversation with the hesitant Arjuna, reminding him of his dharma, his duty, his vocation. After much instruction and a soul-altering vision of Lord Krishna, Arjuna concludes, “O Krishna, my delusion has gone. My faith is firm. I am aware of my true Reality and committed to my dharma.” The soldier is called to fight for justice, to protect the innocent and uphold civilization. Jason sent home many pictures of children living in intolerable situations.

No other human can understand another person’s call to make soul. Dharma transcends family ties, and religious and political ideologies. James Hillman observes, “…soul knows neither morality nor mortality."

After Jason was killed in the infamous Battle of Wanat, July 13, 2008, we received this letter that he wrote a few days before his death:

“I pray to God no one will have to read this, but death is all around me in this madness we call life. Never have I felt as strongly as I do that I am doing the right thing. It is understood and accepted by my God - thus death is easier to accept. To prepare myself to take life without hesitation has been a very difficult thing. To take away another woman’s son or husband - a man’s son or brother has always bothered me, but through my eyes it is understood by my God and I am forgiven. The man that may take my life likely feels the same way. My love for you motivates and brings me comfort. Carise, my dear sister, let your new baby son know of me, and that even though I was never able to see him grow up, I love him more than he could imagine.”

At the Memorial Service, my second daughter Micael, a progressive Democrat completing a masters degree in Conflict Resolution said this:
"I didn’t want you to go Jas. I told you not to go. I am proud of you. I know you were a damn good soldier & fighter. We had lots of practice. You have just the right mix of heart and guts. You went to war, not to blindly fight but to learn and grow and help. You knew the world was a much bigger, more complicated place than the stretch between I-5 and I-405 -- and that while war is not the ideal solution to our problems, you sitting in Seattle installing electrical cables and drinking beer wasn’t getting us anywhere."
At Jason's service, I met and talked with over twenty other soldiers -- companions and brothers who had served beside my son. The list of honorable warriors enumerated by Sanjaya in chapter one of the Gita came to mind.
Dressed in mottled Army fatigues, berets in hand they lined up, many with tears, to express their condolences. They were the most compassionate men I have ever met – yet men whom, like ‘lion-hearted Arjuna,’ would fight mightily for the welfare of others.

This reflection is neither a justification for war nor a call to pacifism. It is the recognition that through personal and social action souls are made. That is what I see in the life of Arjuna and in my son’s willingness to follow his heart’s call. The French author Camus said, “If there is a soul, it is a mistake to believe that it is given to us fully created. It is created here, throughout a whole life. And living is nothing else but that long and painful bringing forth.”
With love, pride and admiration for Jason Michael Charles Bogar
K.I.A. July 13, 2008
Wanat, Afghanistan
Click for: NPR Report on Jason's Life
Click here Seattle Times story: Corporal Jason Bogar
Click for book about the battle: The Chosen Few

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