From the Book
RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War
By William T. Hathaway
Published by Trine Day 2010
A young Buddhist novice contributed this account, which we then revised together. To protect the people who have protected him, he wishes to be nameless.
Back in high school I'd been good at languages but couldn't afford to go to college, so I joined the navy for the language training. They have a program where if you pass an aptitude test, they'll send you to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, for an intensive course that's worth almost a year of college credit. Plus they have an active-duty education program that offers college courses. I figured after my discharge I could finish my education on the GI Bill, and with my language skills, I could get a job in international business.
The other military branches offer programs like this too, but the navy seemed the best way to stay out of the fighting. I was hoping for a major language like Chinese, Russian, or Spanish, but they assigned me to Pashto, which is spoken in Afghanistan and Pakistan. After training, I'd be stationed on a ship in the Arabian Sea monitoring phone calls and radio broadcasts, listening for key words that might give a clue about where the Taliban were, so the planes from the aircraft carriers could bomb them. I didn't think about this last part, though. I was focused on my future.
The study itself was a real grind -- drills, exercises, and vocabulary all day long and a couple of hours at night. But no classes on weekends, so we could take off.
I couldn't afford weekends in San Francisco, but in a bookstore in Monterey I saw a poster for a two-day retreat at a Zen Buddhist center nearby. It sounded weird enough to be a good break from the military, and the price was right, so I signed up for the first of a two-weekend introductory course.
The place was beautiful, deep in the mountains and forest. The course was called Buddha Breath, Buddha Mind and was led by a bald-headed woman. Instead of an orange robe she wore blue jeans and a sweatshirt. She said first we were going to learn how to breathe. I thought, What have I got myself into?