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Stars and Stripes July 23, 2000

Stars and Stripes July 23, 2000

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Published by patrickmendis6338
Cultural Journey with US Forces in Europe, Asia
Cultural Journey with US Forces in Europe, Asia

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Published by: patrickmendis6338 on Jan 13, 2009
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____________________________________________ SUNDAY MAGAZINE, July 23, 2000


Some 200 years ago, our founding fathers wrote that “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal . . .” in the Declaration of Independence. Yet we find ways to be different racially, religiously, and linguistically as three primary pillars of defining cultures. One may be happily married to a person who is culturally different, yet their real differences are not culturally bound if they have truly deepened their human ecology as “interbeing.” What lies beneath our human affairs are then the realm of greed and power that separate us culturally to justify our actions and other human frailties. The question still is: Are we really different? The widely know notion of “clash of civilizations,” as Harvard University professor Samuel Huntington theorized, is clearly a cultural weapon. It is hard to imagine a clash of civilizations between Confucian Asia and Christian Europe. More and more, we become interconnected and collaborative in search of peace, outer space exploration, and genetic research as common human enterprises. Yet, our perception of cultural differences is pervasive. Understanding them is surely helpful for the common good. We need to realize, however, that there is a clear distinction between values and virtues. Our cultural values are not necessarily human virtues. In America, for example, some people advocate family values as virtues to separate them from us or vice versa. Human virtues do not discriminate. As global citizens, we must constantly learn and change with a high level of cultural literacy and sensitivity. As the rapidly unfolding information revolution spreads across cultures, we may have the unprecedented opportunity to learn and to respect what each culture has to offer. It is better to find common virtues in other cultures than imposing one’s value on them. Yet, we must fight against some cultural traditions, like the female circumcision in Africa and the new widow committing suicide in India, because these are not human virtues. More human contacts and information exchange between and within Eastern and Western societies increase, our mutual understanding of others goes beyond cultural boundaries. Clash of cultures may not be a reality if we choose to do our duty at hand, honor the country we are privilege to live in, and to serve others by thinking we are interconnected. It is indeed a great privilege to have worked with our defense forces and overseas Americans in Europe and Asia who preserve our democracy and freedom at home and abroad. As a departing Maryland faculty member, it is time to say good-bye to those who have enriched my life. But, I now know better how to appreciate the wonders of democracy and freedom the military preserves for all of us, even though they are constrained by the regimented chain of command. Hence, it is an honorable and virtuous profession because they are committed to serve others with sacrifice in various cultures around the world. Patrick Mendis is now in China, teaching at the Northwestern University in Xi’an as part of the University of Maryland’s faculty exchange program. This fall, he joins the US State Department in Washington, DC.

Cultural Journey with US Forces in Europe, Asia
By Patrick Mendis Be Our Guest Columnist s a graduate faculty member at the University of Maryland in Europe, I have had the privilege to work with a diverse sample of NATO military officers, federal government employees, and other students in England, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Turkey. Not only did I have the opportunity to teach economics, government, and international relations to these professionals, I also have learned a great deal from them about duty, honor, and service. A year ago, I transferred to Asia to teach our Pacific Command forces in Japan and South Korea. I reflect now on my Asian heritage and the Western outlook. Born in Sri Lanka, I served as army cadet platoon leader and later became the best commander of Sri Lanka. With my graduate education in America, I think of myself as a hybrid of Eastern and Western cultures. During my tenure with Maryland, I lived with local people in these European and Asian societies and served as a mentor to a host of American and foreign students. They have immensely enriched my cultural appreciation and diversity. In a global village, we reincarnate more often than we think. We take one identity and then become another, as an adaptive challenge. As a US citizen, I see America as a collage and a mosaic. We come from diverse backgrounds and become American. In our genetic code, there is neither race nor ethnicity. In a recent announcement at the White House, an international group of scientists who mapped the human DNA code reveals that our DNA does not discriminate by race or ethnicity. As children of God, we knew this all along. The Bible tell us that “There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bound nor free, there can be no male and female: for you all are one man in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, see also Mark 3:34 and John 15:14-15). For those of us who grew up in Asian cultures, we may remember what Buddha said: “Just O’monk, as the great rivers – Ganges, Jamna, Rapti, Gorga, and Mahi (in ancient India) – when they fall into the great ocean, renounce their former names and kind, are counted as the mighty sea. Just even so, do these four castes – Nobles, Brahmins, traders, and slaves – when they are gone forth from domestic life into the homeless one, under the Doctrine and Discipline made public by the Tatagata (Buddha), renounce their former names and clan.”


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