Pseudo-Intellectual musings by a pseudo-intellectual person.
by Kate Maloy
Published on February 9, 2004 By PoetPhilosopher In Politics
Someone recently said to me: My pacifism stops when someone declares war on me. She is apparently a pacifist only until the condition that actually calls for pacifism arises. She wants to know how we can protect ourselves if we don’t return violence for violence. She wants to know what we should do.

No wonder she is at a loss. The human race has almost no experience with lasting peace or its strategies. Our default has always been war. When at risk, we want to destroy the enemy that has put us there. This is not our noblest option—-it comes from reflex, not reflection—-but we nearly always resort to it, first or last.

Those of us who hang onto pacifist ideals, even in times like these, are dismissed, attacked, and mocked. We are dismissed by the likes of NPR’s Cokie Roberts, who, when asked whether there is any opposition to this current war, answered: None that matters. We are attacked in editorials and sometimes by our own friends or relatives as unrealistic, simple-minded, airy-fairy, even dangerous. We are mocked in mainstream media like Newsweek, in which there recently appeared a snide comment about anachronistic, bead-and-Birkenstock types.

The fear sparked by recent horrors intensifies suspicion toward pacifism. People don’t want their traditional forms of defense—the only ones they know—called into doubt. It makes them too afraid. And in turn it makes them scorn us “peaceniks,” as if our ideals deepen their risk, as if we would sacrifice the world before relaxing our principles.

The fact is, we see real safety as possible only through our principles. The more surprising fact is, we can state our principles just like everyone else. We are patriots, and we believe in defense. We love our freedoms, desperately mourn the violence against our country, and long for justice. We recognize the need for sacrifice and courage in these terribles times. We pray for peace. It’s just that we define the relevant nouns a little differently.

Excerpts from a pacifist dictionary might read something like this (though not in alphabetical order):

* Patriotism. Unswerving loyalty to the first and foremost principle of our country, which is also the first principle of humanity—All people are created equal. Because violence betrays this principle, true patriotism must seek nonviolent ways both to extend it and defend it.
* Defense. Protection against violence achieved by eliminating its causes, including hatred, intolerance, injustice, and fear. This is accomplished through the universal application of humanity’s first principle. When all people are treated as equals, there remains little reason for warfare.
* Freedom. A human condition that arises from a generous sufficiency of food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, civil and religious liberties, and employment opportunities. It is a self-limiting condition; it breeds no desire for excess, whether material, behavioral, or political. A truly free person or nation sees that in a world of finite resources the drive for disproportionate wealth and power necessarily exploits or subjugates others and thus betrays humanity’s first principle.
* Justice. All actions and policies that ensure and protect humanity’s first principle and guarantee to all people and nations an equal right to freedom.
* Sacrifice. Forgoing any over-use of resources by countries or individuals so that the first principle can apply worldwide. The only alternative to material sacrifice is blood sacrifice—the continued endangerment or death of the young to save the old or the greedy.
* Courage. The quality that overrides personal fear in order to keep faith with ideals and act upon them.
* Peace. An enduring condition that can come about only when patriotism, defense, freedom, justice, sacrifice, and courage—the concepts defined above—-prevail among all people and nations. This condition is deeper and stronger than history’s periods of uneasy quiet between wars.

We pacifists know that our definitions are not in common usage. We know we are a tiny minority. We know this war will run over our ideals like a tank. We know we must either take the long view or despair altogether. Pacifism, in the long view, is far from being illogical and powerless, as most people think. It is the only logic and the only power.

The long view sees, for instance, that the use of ever more lethal weapons—-from teeth, feet, and elbows to chemical, biological, and nuclear threats—-has never increased security but rather has led us into the ultimate danger. It sees that all weapons are powerless against hatred, as our country’s massive arsenal was powerless against militants with knives and boxcutters. It sees the most terrible lesson of war, which is that it does not neutralize peril but doubles it. War creates two kinds of danger—-the kind embodied in our global destructive power and the kind embodied in the hatred that first spawned that power.

The only way to extinguish both hazards is to put humanity’s first principle first—-to make that, instead of war, our default. The human race has probably needed its wars in order to see the limits of war, but we reached those limits at the end of World War II. That was when the world truly changed. That was when we should have seen that we had forever ruled out either war or humankind.

Thus in answer to that earlier question—-What should we do?—-pacifists would say: In every moment, act, vote, speak, and choose not for that moment but for what it can give rise to—hatred or compassion, war or peace. Be alert for the old ways and the old rhetoric and recognize what they truly stand for, which is more and deeper peril. Uphold humanity’s first principle at every personal and national decision point, not just when it is convenient

Comments (Page 1)
on Feb 11, 2004
Frickin commies
on Feb 11, 2004
Now that's an intelligent response.

on Feb 11, 2004
Really great post. I will come from time to time to remember the basic. Thanks
on Feb 11, 2004
Nice sounding rhetoric. If you are willing to have your nose bloodied by the bully or life taken by the thug, more power to you. But know that the bully or the thug will always be there. I'll take the "low road" and not let the bully run roughshod over me.

on Feb 11, 2004
This is a very well written post. I do believe it's filled with important views and very noble principals. The problem that this unnamed "majority" has with pacifism isn't the instance where a figurative bully appears and an honorable victim takes the small wrath of an imaginative beating, in turn for justice being brought to all those who do wrong. The problem occurs when this bully isn’t affected by any laws you can access, control, or manipulate in any way. The problem also arises when its not you being threatened by the bully, it’s your best friend, your little brother, your mother. Though you can hold this belief of non violence true to yourself, and dedicate yourself to never fighting back no matter how much anyone puts you through, can you really just sit there and watch something horrible, and yet preventable happen to someone you love?

Patriotism. Unswerving loyalty to the first and foremost principle of our country, which is also the first principle of humanity—All people are created equal. Because violence betrays this principle, true patriotism must seek nonviolent ways both to extend it and defend it.

Understanding that definition and holding the thought that all people are created equal true. You must understand that though all are equal, some are more powerful then others. And though I too believe that abusing such power is an act of evil, you must come to terms with it being a reality. Now, considering it a reality, when someone uses there power abusively, not towards you, but towards your ally, or in the presidents case, your people, weather or not you believe you should strike back or not can be persuaded by the knowledge that nothing can be done to gain back those you have lost to an abuse of power, and without action being taken soon, you will loose more.

However I do agree, if ever a situation arises that can be resolved peacefully, that should always be considered a higher rated decision then war.
on Feb 12, 2004
All animals are equal, some are just more equal than others.


on Feb 12, 2004
vernmeister - you read the words, but I don't think you "get" it

funny think about patriotism - those guys that don't look like you that you want to kill and maim - they're prolly pretty patriotic about their country too.

on Feb 12, 2004
PoetPhilosopher -

You read my words, and you assume too much. Who is it that doesn't look like me that I want to kill and maim?

I "get" what you said. But I think it doesn't take into account that there are other people in the world, and in our own country, and in our own neighborhood, and even in some of our own houses, that use force to get what they want. It has nothing to do with what they look like, their skin color, their politics. It has nothing to do with patriotism. Bully's come in all shapes and sizes. It has to do with self-preservation.

As a law enforcement officer, violence is sometimes the only tool I can leverage to arrest someone who has committed a crime. It would be nice if I could just say "Please come with me" and it would work 100% of the time. But funny thing about people who are about to have their freedom abridged, they don't always come along agreeably like the end of the foot chase scenes we see on TV cop shows. And as another poster aluded to, how long does a pacifist stand by and witness another person being victimized before they may be forced to use violence to end that victimization? If you observed a small girl being raped, would you use violence if necessary to stop the rapist? I guess that falls into the category of "old ways" or "old rhetoric".

Also as a law enforcement officer, when I am forced to use violence, it is usually without anger or hatred. Violence as a tool does not make it an emotional event, though it can sometimes. Funny how getting shot at (which I have been) changes your perspective (and your emotions) toward someone.

Knowing that violence happens right in my own backyard, I can see how it is easy to extrapolate that globally.

So don't confuse a lack of agreement with a lack of "getting it". There's a difference.

on Feb 13, 2004
I think pacifism is only ideal in a utopian society.. but it is a nice idea.

on Feb 14, 2004
I have to ask: Let's say we were back in the 1940's. How would the pacifist choose to stop Hitler and his armies without using force?
The problem I see with pacifists is that they offer no real alternatives to dealing with threats, which is why they aren't taken seriously. If you're going to say something's wrong and shouldn't be done, then you should at least have a decent alternative.
If pacificists can't offer an alternative to returning violence with violence, then they shouldn't whine when they're dismissed and ridiculed for their beliefs.
on Feb 15, 2004

The comment about patriotism was rhetorical, not directed specifically at you - so.. no assumption there. It's good to have an understanding of both sides of the coin don't you think ?

When I say you didn't "get" it, what I mean but chose not to type in so many words is - "It sounds like you don't understand why pacifists stand by the principles they do." - which was the point of the post. I don't require you to agree with me in regards to the principle of pacifism, but I do request that you understand.

That said, strangely enough I think you and I are in agreement based on what you've written. Let me show you.

The author essentially claims - violence begets violence - and I will turn to something you said:

>>> "Funny how getting shot at ... changes your perspective ... toward someone."

Makes you want to shoot back ? Makes you want to kill them huh ? Perfect illustration of the author's point. Further - from your experience, what affect does gang violence have in a community ? I suspect you will answer - it leads to more violence. So we must ask some tough questions:

* Is there "good" violence and "bad" violence?
* Where do we draw the line? When is it appropriate?
* Do people in power always exercise "good" violence, and only when needed?

I personally think there is a distinction between self-preservation and living by the principle of pacifism. Your job tends to require a blurring of the line which I believe is coloring your reply, and rightly so. Still, I worry when you refer to "violence as a tool". Tools quickly become useful, necessary, efficient means of solving a problem, no ?

I imagine law enforcement is one of the most difficult jobs any person can do. Day to day, the possibility of injury or death - and I assume you actually chose that line of work. It takes a tremendous amount of courage. But being a pacifist takes a lot of courage too. I think it is a different kind of courage than you are accustomed to, but courage none the less. It's a courage of conviction, a courage of belief.

Back to our being in agreement, your statement:

>>> "I can see how it is easy to extrapolate that globally"

is again an AMAZING illustration of the author's point. I personally feel it should never by easy.

Jimmy Carter once said: "War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn to live together in peace by killing each other's children."

Again thanks for the reply and keep up the good work.
on Feb 15, 2004

I have little knowledge of the global political structure in the 1940s. This is not a cop-out, but a fact. This is WAY before my time. I'll look to someone else to respond to what alternatives were available. Off the top of my head - I question what social forces caused someone like Hitler to come to power in the first place, bringing an entire nation faithfully in line behind him. Gets back to my comment on patriotism. Look at it from the German's perspective - they were being patriotic - they were "right". The pacifist would probably say (taking the long term) - that Hitler was in part a RESULT of the violence of World War I (and the preceeding years). So the goal is not to wait until a tyrant comes to power, then deal REACTIVELY to them with violence, but sow the seeds of peace beforehand, so that everyone (including the Germans) would recognize him for the racist tyrant he became.

Remember the USSR? Remember the commies? The world's "other" super-power? Remember tearing down the wall? We WON. Democracy WON. And it didn't win by violence or a war, but economic and political power. Nary a shot was fired.

Contrast that to Vietnam. I think there are also interesting parallels to North Korea and Hitler, don't you? What makes a nation faithfully follow a tyrant ? Look back in history.

And bringing it up to very recent history, contrast the Iraq outcome to the Libya outcome.
on Feb 15, 2004

There were no alternatives to war in the 1940s.

The options were either be conquered and then exterminated by the Nazis or fight back.

Lybia is giving in because of what happened in Iraq.  The threat of force is what kept the Soviet Union in check (not pacifism). 

Pacifism, like other utoptian concepts, sounds nice on paper but falls apart as soon as it runs into reality.

on Feb 15, 2004
I stand corrected. Well - there you go, I freely admitted I was not alive in 1940 and have little direct knowledge of the history leading up to Hitlers rise to power.

Good thing the "baddies" didn't have our playbook, eh ? [wink and nod]
on Feb 15, 2004
I think the goal of pacifism is a good one, if everyone used it, then it would be true, there would be no need for war, unfortunately, as I think most of our posters agree, there is a need for war in our imperfect world. I don't think we should get down on PoetPhilosopher for giving us a goal to shoot for though.