June 2, 2009
By Ian Straus BRONZE, Putney, Vermont
Ian Straus BRONZE, Putney, Vermont
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

War is an evil, gruesome, horrible thing. It is a thing that no one in their right mind would enjoy or enthusiastically support. Due to the utter depravity of warfare and its wrath, some people hold the belief that war is never necessary, and that violence can and should be avoided, whatever the cost. This way of thinking is called pacifism. The values emphasized by pacifism are, if nothing else, quite admirable. After all, who among us looks forward to violence? However, in reality, the dogma of pacifism fails on a number of levels, ranging from general delusion about the state of the world to downright hypocrisy.

As a leftist thinker and activist, I have been frustrated for years by my compatriots’ stubborn opposition to war, even when it may clearly be the best and most humane solution to a conflict. A sad truth is that greater and more heinous constructs than war have been inflicted on people across the planet for as long as history can remember, and sometimes force is the only way to end them.

I often hear my pacifist peers discussing humanitarian crises such as genocide and tyranny, complaining and condemning the U.S. and global community for their inaction. But what will they do, I often ask myself. Hold anger management sessions for the Janjaweed? Gather the Hutu warlords around a circular table and persuade them to stop their killing with rational argument? Is it impossible that a well-planned and well-executed military intervention is not the most efficient way to end an atrocity with the fewest casualties and least amount of human suffering? Diplomacy and a U.N. condemnation are great steps, but they will only get us so far.

This brings us to the first fundamental flaw of the pacifist ideology: oppressors and violent aggressors will realize the error of their ways and relent when confronted with nonviolent, pacifist opponents. Unfortunately, history has shown us through countless abusive dictators and genocides that this is simply not the case. I don’t think the slave traders of the American south were just about to start feeling guilty when the civil war broke out. Nor was the Khmer Rouge regime of Cambodia (an abusive government responsible for an estimated 1.5 million people or 1/5 of the Cambodian population) showing any signs of slowing down until the Vietnamese invaded in 1979, ending the slaughter of innocent civilians and capping the recorded death count at 1 million. And you tell me, when was Hitler going to find the goodness in his heart and start feeling sorry for the Jews of Europe? War is by no means a cure-all solution, but sometimes it is inevitable and immense suffering could have been avoided in all of the aforementioned situations had force been used more swiftly.

Pacifists are often quick to cite the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s as a great triumph of nonviolence. I often use it to point out the inherent hypocrisy of pacifism: it can only exist in a society created and maintained by direct force. Is there a place for pacifism in such a society? Perhaps, but it is important to wonder whether or not this breed of pacifism is truly pacifism, as it relies on the violence (or threat of violence) from the state. Allow me to clarify. The Civil Rights Movement was, ostensibly, nonviolent. However, if it hadn’t been protected by the threat of violence from the National Guard, the southern racists would have drowned the movement in blood. I don’t think the enraged mob outside Little Rock Central High School in 1957 would have hesitated to attack the Little Rock Nine if soldiers from the 101st Airborne weren’t standing behind them with rifles over their shoulders. This is not to diminish the potency, importance or bravery of the Civil Rights Movement and its members (who I commend heartily), simply to illustrate that the movement may well have failed without the support of force. In the context of 1950s-‘60s America, ‘nonviolence’ and skillful manipulation of the opponents’ violence was a very clever choice. It just wouldn’t have worked so well for the Jews in Nazi Germany.
I am the first person to grant that many wars throughout history have been ill-advised and unfitting solutions. Diplomacy and international deliberations should always be considered and outright war should be saved until circumstances call for it. But the world is a troubled place and it is foolish and closed-minded to argue that all war is senseless and unnecessary – there will always be things worth fighting for. It is time for the adamant pacifists among us to finally understand that carefully administered force is a very viable option and should be used when it’s needed.

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