Thursday, May 01, 2008

True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to an evil power...it is rather a courageous confrontation with evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart."

Martin Luther King


Over the past three or four days I have been engaging fellow bloggers on the topics of Barack Obama and pacifism. While I hope some fruit has come of my efforts, it has been frustrating at times having to respond to the various“caricatures” of what it means to be a pacifist….so…in an effort to not allow others to define what “I” and other pacifists “actually” believe, I am submitting a series of blog entries on the topic of pacifism for everyone who reads this blog consideration. My first entry is on the topic of the Myths of Pacifism.

Myth number one: Pacifism means you don’t do anything in the face of evil, except maybe stand around holding a protest sign while singing Kumbaya….

Apparently a lot of people associate pacifism with becoming a doormat and allowing others to run over you. Theologian Walter Wink asserts that the teachings of Jesus encourages us to, “Stand up for yourselves, defy your masters, assert your humanity; but don’t answer the oppressor in kind. Find a new, third way that is neither cowardly submission nor violent reprisal…Jesus says…Do not continue to acquiesce in your oppression by the Powers; but do not react violently to it either…Jesus in short, abhors both passivity and violence. He articulates, out of history of his won people’s struggles, a way by which evil can be opposed without being mirrored, the oppressor resisted with being emulated, and the enemy neutralized without being destroyed…Leo Tolstoy, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez…and countless others less well known—point us to a new way of confronting evil whose potential for personal and social transformation we are only beginning to grasp today.”….Pacifism is pro-active…subversive…and…at times confrontational and coercive. Wink goes on to state, “Jesus is not telling us, in his admonitions to obey the government, to submit to evil, but to refuse to oppose it on its own terms. We are not to let the opponent dictate the methods of our opposition. He is urging us to transcend both passivity and violence by finding a third way, one that is at once assertive and yet non-violent.”…and…finally, Wink tells a an interesting story of a boy who creatively exhibited the “third way” of which Jesus’ teachings and actions imply…According to Wink there was a boy who rode a bus and was picked on every day by a bully. “The child was too slight of build to fight the far sturdier bully. But he has a weakness that he made into a strength: chronic sinusitis. One day, exasperated a the bully’s behavior, he noisily blew a load of snot into his right hand and approached his nemesis, hand outstretched, saying, “I want to shake the hand of a real bully” The bully retreated, wide-eyed, to his seat…and…That ended the career of the bully. Those sinuses were the ultimate weapon, and they were always at the ready!”

Myth number two: Pacifists are naïve

What seems naïve to me is the notion that we can solve our international problems/challenges by emphasizing and flexing our military muscles. We have spent around 21 trillion dollars since the 1960’s on our military and are we any closer to peace today than we were fifty years ago?...In fact, it seems from where I sit that we are not any closer to peace today than we were 50 years ago…and…I don’t see any correlation between peaceful societies and military might…In fact, one can argue the opposite might be true…and…the more we use our military muscle the more isolated from the international community we seem to become…Maybe if we had spent four or five trillion of those dollars on helping countries with poverty or rebuilding their infrastructures maybe we just might have created some friends and allies for life. Just a thought.

Myth number three: Pacifism doesn’t work or it exclusively only works in countries which are Democratic

I used to adhere to this myth before I, and the rest of the world, witnessed in utter amazement, the transformation of Eastern Europe and Russia through peaceful means. Some want to assert that Regan’s military arm race with Russia is what brought the once mighty communists down but this assertion negates and is a slap in the face to the heroic efforts of everyone from Lech Walesa, the Pope, the Solidarity Union, Gorbachev, and the millions of brave citizens who took to the streets for weeks and months.

Myth number four: Pacifists are narcissists who only care about their own personal comfort

This assertion was leveled at me personally during a recent online discussion about the war in Iraq…but…nothing could be further from the truth. Pacifists are trying to save lives of both civilians and soldiers alike. What is narcisstic about that. This assertion makes no sense…None..

Myth number five: Pacifists are all the same.

No one generally make this assertion explicitly but when I hear people talk about pacifism the caricature of a pacifist sounds pretty much the same which implies that all pacifists must think and act alike. While it is true that all pacifists are committed to non-violent actions the means in which that vision is carried out dramatically varies from one group or individual to another. Some are much more confrontational…others are willing to use coercive measures…some more traditional…while some lean towards more indirect subversive methods…in other words, the methods used by pacifists are much more fluid than what most people understand or suspect.

Myth number six: Pacifists are naive regarding human nature


Many critics assert that pacifists don’t take seriously the dark side of our human nature because if they did they would realize that pacifism doesn’t work in the face of evil. While it is true that not all pacifist methods work equally the same in all situations that does not prove that one cannot find a way to penetrate even the hardest of hearts or the most evil regimes. Many cite Nazi Germany as an example where pacifism would never work but one cannot, imo, make such an assertion because Germany was a militarist society where pacifism was not a part of the cultural ethic to begin with…and…if millions of Germans would have taken to the streets like they did in Eastern Europe and Russia as they did in the late 1980’s I propose Hitler wouldn’t have been able to stop them any more than the leaders of Eastern Europe…

4 comments:

Dave said...

This is a great post for May Day, Bilbo. I think the myths you take on here are really little more than misinformation or even propaganda perpetuated by special interests who want to continue exploiting other cultures, countries and even our own citizenry through the application of violent, counterproductive and expensive "solutions" to various problems (never mind that they routinely fail and lack creativity - they are effective at redistributing wealth through government contracts and massive transfers of taxpayer resources into private hands.)

It's sad to see how easily self-satisfied and smug the working class critics of pacifism can become even though the policies and practices they support end up costing them a lot in the long run. They think they are making a big statement by echoing Rush Limbaugh and others who prop up the case for war and other violent means but the naivete really does seem to rest on those who can't see how ineffective and wasteful war is when it comes to achieving worthwhile social goals. Really, it's like a big con game going on!

Bilbo said...

Hi Dave,

I can't describe in words how upset I am increasing becoming regarding the prospects for continued war in Iraq and the drum beats to go to war with Iran...and...if Obama doesn't get the nomination than we are left with Hillary's desire to obliterate Iran and McCain's, Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, ba bomb, Iraq...What is it going to take for people to wake up...Six, seven dollars a gallon, for gas, economic collapse...I just don't know...

Pippin said...

No one likes war. That goes without saying. But some contend that war is evil in itself, and should never be engaged in for any reason. Some pacifists have theological reasons for their stance, while others are motivated by humanistic idealism. While pacifism is a wonderful ideal, is it a realistic and responsible position to take? Everyone wants peace, but can pacifism bring peace to this world?

For those who believe God is opposed to any and all war consider the following: Would God ever command us to do something evil? No. Did God ever tell people to go to war? Yes. Then war in itself cannot be evil.1 While some wars are unjust, there must be such a thing as a "just war."

What sort of thing justifies going to war, then? One such justification is to secure justice in the face of gross evil. Sometimes it's right to fight when it is the only means by which we can stop evil people from prevailing over weaker people.

Consider the following scenarios. What would you do if you saw an old lady being beaten by a mugger, a young lady being raped by a stalker, or a man fighting for his life against an armed attacker? Would you do nothing? Would you try to talk the criminal out of what they were doing? Of course not. Either response is morally irresponsible, if not reprehensible. We would do whatever was necessary to save the individuals from harm.

Now multiply the scenario 10,000 fold. Imagine that a nation is engaged in the unjust killing of thousands of its citizens, maybe even ethnic cleansing. What do we do? Do we turn our cheek because it's occurring on a national, rather than a personal level, or do we do what we can to intervene on behalf of the innocent? Whether the target is a single individual or a group of individuals, the principle remains the same. If we would intervene with force to rescue the elderly woman from being victimized by an evil man, why would we not intervene with force to rescue a group of individuals from being victimized by evil men?

It has been said that all it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing. How true that is. That is why we have a moral obligation to stop gross evil from prevailing when it is within our ability to do so. In fact, when we have the opportunity to stop evil but do not do so, that is evil. While there are several ways we might effectively stop evil, when those methods are not effective we can and should use military force. "War is the worst option imaginable, until it is the only option left."2 At that point it is not only morally permissible to fight, but morally necessary. It is evil is to stand aside and not act when we have the ability to do so.

That's why pacifism is immoral at its core. While pacifists have good intentions, pacifism is immoral because it says we are to stand aside and do nothing to stop evil when it is within our ability to do something about it. Pacifists place more evil on using force than they do on the evil itself that the force is trying to stop. In my opinion that is logically incomprehensible and morally irresponsible. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary agrees, noting that

pacifists claim that war can never be justified, whatever the cause or conditions. The moral failure of pacifism is found in its deadly naiveté, not in its abhorrence of violence. In reality, the world is a violent place where humans with evil intent will make war on others. In such a world, respect for human life sometimes requires the taking of human life. That tragic fact is as clearly revealed in history as any other, and far more than most. Pacifism fails to keep the peace against those who would take it.3

But pacifists really don't believe that violence and physical force is always wrong. How do I know this? I know this by their reactions. If you were to punch a pacifist in the face they would use equal or greater force to defend themselves from being further abused. If someone attacked their family, the pacifist would use lethal force if necessary to protect his family from harm. Considering the fact that society is nothing more than a collection of families, why is it wrong for a nation to use force to protect its families from unjust tyranny? Is it ok to ignore evil simply because it's not directed against your family?

The pacifistic motto is that "war is not the answer" or its corollary "war never solves anything." While war is not always the answer, in certain circumstances war is the best answer; and while wars cannot solve every evil, war has solved many evils. Dennis Prager noted that "war has ended more evil than anything the left has ever thought of. In the last 60 years alone, it ended Nazism and the Holocaust; it saved half of Korea from genocide; it kept Israel from national extinction and a second Holocaust; it saved Finland from becoming a Stalinist totalitarian state; and according to most of the people who put 'War is not the answer' stickers on their bumpers, it saved Bosnian Muslims from ethnic cleansing."4

I find it strange that the motto of pacifism is "peace," and yet they fail to recognize that the absence of war does not produce peace. Take Iraq for example. If 30,000 Iraqis are being killed unjustly each and every year, how is that peace? Pacifists fail to realize that in some instances war is the only way to achieve peace. To free the Iraqis from the unjust and tyrannical rule of Saddam and his sons, America intervened. Our intervention did not disrupt peace, because there was no peace to begin with. It is true that had we not intervened there would be no war, but neither would there have been peace. Evil and injustice would have been permitted to flourish. Our efforts in Iraq are efforts to bring justice where there was once injustice, and secure a peaceful future for Iraq.

How do pacifists suggest we stop evil? The usual response is that we talk with the enemy, trying to persuade them to stop committing the evil they are committing. Some will suggest economic sanctions should those talks be unsuccessful. But what do we do when the summits, the peace talks, and the sanctions aren't working? How long do we continue trying to reason with the unreasonable?

I often wonder what the world would look like if pacifists had their way during the reign of Hitler. Every year hundreds of thousands of Jews were being exterminated like fleas at the hands of a madman. Do we really think peace summits would have stopped Hitler? Every year we "kept up the talks" would have been another year in which 500,000 Jews went to their graves. How long do we let injustice continue when talks are not working? If pacifists were in power I am afraid they would have continued talking until there was nothing left to talk about, because the entire Jewish race would have been exterminated.

I have yet to find a pacifist who really has a plan for stopping evil without force. They advocate talking indefinitely. Pacifism is a nice ideal, but it can only work in an ideal world. Until then, we are left to live in a world that is full of evil men who will stop at nothing to fulfill their evil desires at the expense of the innocent. In that world we have a moral obligation to use force when necessary to protect those innocent people. That is why absolute pacifism must be rejected as moral foolishness, despite its honorable intentions.

Bilbo said...

Hi Pippin,

You give a passionate plea for what you believe but I suggest you go back and reread what I wrote...because...many of your comments reflect the very myths I am addressing in this blog entry...and...I get the feeling that your conclusions on Pacifism comes not from what Pacifists "actually" say or believe but on what others are telling you about pacifism...Call it a hunch...and...have you actually ever read the writings of Christian pacifists????...Just curious...