A lightly edited excerpt from a supporters e-mail.
" . . .
" . . . I was in a reflective mood as today is Remembrance Sunday and have relatives who were in the armed forces. So would like to know about the workings of Kamma, particularly how it might affect the vipaka of their afterlife destinations. I particularly would like to know to what extent being in the armed forces and engaged in armed conflict can be mitigated by one's self-sacrifice for one's country. What of bravery and gallantry? I realise that this may be a rather general question, but ask in case you or Ajahn Dick are able and willing to provide some response. . . . "
This is quite an interesting question and has a most involved response, (hesitating to use the word "answer"). I asked Tan Ajahn Dick about this and he shared some excellent reflection to pass on: initially passed on to him by LP Panya, who would have been a direct combatant in this conflict were it not for his Tubercular foot. But first, if I may go back to the Buddha himself, to highlight the subtlety of this question.
Firstly, Ananda was rebuked when he asserted that Dependent Origination was quite straight forward, (the formulation for the Kammic predicament. (I find it quite helpful to reflect on this as a 'predicament')). The Buddha asserted quite strongly that it was indeed very deep and very profound. To my mind, this underscores Delusion, the third and fundamental Kilesa.
Secondly, we have the storey of Angulimaala, the thousand fingered necklace person. Having killed nine hundred and ninety-nine people, and being obstructed from either killing his own mother, or wounding the Buddha, was still able to attain to full Arahanship. His past Kamma still caught up with him though.
The third point is that it is an offence of the highest degree, Parajika (defeat), for a Bhikkhu to encourage another to kill. In this respect, Bhikkhus make every possible effort in pointing out the unconditional wrongness of intentional killing for whatever reason.
My heart goes out to those who not knowing the Dhamma, especially Kammic, who gallantly put their lives at risk for the safety of kith and kin. "There but for the grace of God go I". At the start of the Vietnam war, I would have been at exactly the right age, temperament and attitude to have gone in if the British had supported it. But the vagaries of international politics meant that this didn't happen. Though I did have time and complete sympathy for returning veterans who were getting a roughing from their peers.
Tan Ajahn Dick told me of LP Panya's reflection that he himself would have been a WWII pilot of either bomber or fighter command and, in this position, would have done considerable damage if it weren't for the convoluted processes of Kamma. As (previously Kammically ignorant) non combatants, we can (now) reflect on our own good fortune and through our exertions accumulate more good Kamma which can be spread to those who are predicamentaly receptive to it, that is to say, those who acted in good faith for the benefit and welfare of others.
As a last note, I like to reflect on a traditional Buddhist approach to this problem. Kapilavaddho joined up as a Fireman, (as did my own father); the Burmese Bhikkhu, whose URL you very kindly pointed me to and whose name you must remind me of, chose the Ambulance service and in due course they met: Kammic destiny if ever there was!
Finally, I'd like to think that with your considerable experience, being one of the very earliest pioneers of Post War Buddhism, it ought to be you that is telling us about these topics . . . "