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…