What Is Pacifism?

This year, the blogger English Professor has written on What Is Militarism, What Is Realism, and What Is Pacifism, all very interesting pieces. I knew that I wanted to try to come to grips with the latter as it applies to me, and when better than Memorial Day weekend.

When I became eligible, I registered for the draft on my 18th birthday. At that time, I noted that I was a conscientious objector. After a whole bunch of stuff (I could probably write an autobiographical chapter just on 1972), I find myself in front of my draft board in the fall of 1972, explaining what being a C.O. meant to me. Among other things, I noted that the military life necessarily put one in the position of having to respond in a particular way to violence, and that my beliefs did not allow for me to put myself in that situation. One board member asked me what I would do if someone were attacking my mother. My response was that I would try to stop the attacker; I went on to note that there was a difference between putting oneself in the position to having to respond to violence and responding when violence unexpectedly comes calling. Someone expanded the question to suggest that someone like Hitler was the equivalent to someone attacking my mother, essentially, “If we don’t stop him now, your mother will be become imperiled.” I’m not quite sure of my response except that I rejected the premise of the question. And eventually, I was given C.O. status.

Which is why I was somewhat troubled by my reaction to our invasion in Afghanistan in 2001, which was, pretty much, none. I did not protest, I did not write letters, as I did in the buildup to the war in Iraq. I was sad when war became the answer, but I certainly understood, in a way I hadn’t before (and haven’t since) the desire to use military force. And I realized that at some level, I’m not as pure in philosophical spirit as I would have liked. At least part of it was that I really disliked the Taliban, in large part because of the capricious and totally unnecessary destruction of the Buddhas earlier that year. And if the troops got Osama, all the better.

So, I’m thinking on Memorial Day, we should remember those who fought and died. But we should also remember that when we send people to war, all sorts of unintended consequences will arise (think Abu Gharib), and that war needs to be the last resort, not the first option.

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