The War of Alcoholism

By Thich Duc Thien Thanks to mass media and historical research, everyone can know the death toll of troops and civilians killed during both World Wars I and II, and the wars in Korea, Indochina, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and the Persian Gulf. But do we know how many people have been killed by alcoholism?

Andres Escobar, the well-known Columbian soccer player, was killed by a drunk driver on the night of July 1, 1994. If Humberto Mufioz Castro hadn't drunk alcohol that day, surely Escobar would not have died so tragically. The murder of Andres Escobar was widely publicized because of his fame. But countless other victims of alcoholic violence remain unknown.

Drinking alcohol is an established practice in both Eastern and Western countries. We drink to celebrate weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, ancestors' day, farewell parties, welcome-home parties, and many other significant events. In North Vietnamese pagodas, alcohol is offered to Anathapindika, who wasn't a monk. Therefore, people believe he will accept offerings of alcohol.

A man who doesn't drink is considered to be a coward. "A man without alcohol is like a flag without wind," says a Vietnamese proverb. In the Chinese novel 108 Heroes of Liangshan Mountain, the medieval knights are described as superhuman: strong in the martial arts and able to drink heavily. Like Robin Hood and Jesse James, they plundered the rich to give to the poor. But after drinking, they also killed many innocent people, including women and children. Lucky Luke, "the poor lonesome cowboy who drew out his revolver quicker than his own shadow," was also a heavy whiskey drinker.

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As Buddhists, we practice the Five Wonderful Precepts. The Fifth Precept states, "We are determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant." Alcohol is the cause of many accidents and crimes. If everyone all over the world practiced the Fifth Wonderful Precept, such crimes and accidents would surely decrease.

To initiate an international movement for mindful consumption in order to avoid the suffering caused by alcoholism, I urge the United Nations to declare July 1st as International Day against Alcoholism and Intoxication in memory of Andres Escobar. I hope you agree with my proposal.

Thich Due Thien was a captain of the Vietnamese (Communist) Army during the Second Indochina War 1965-1975. He became a monk in 1989 and now works for handicapped children in Hanoi.

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