interesting times, the fall of pacifism

  1. 375 Posts.
    Feb. 20, 2003
    The fall of pacifism
    By Megan Gillespie

    Men can only be happy when they do not assume that the object of life is happiness.

    George Orwell, Animal Farm, 1945

    These are words to live by, if there ever were. But they are equally true regarding peace as they are about happiness. Peace, in a way, is a form of happiness; a positive state of being that paradoxically becomes more remote the more it is set up as an absolute.

    There is a related paradox. The masterfully synchronized demonstrations last weekend seemed, particularly after the floundering of the anti-globalization movement, to be a show of strength for the "peace movement." In reality, this dramatic attempt to prevent the liberation of Iraq could end up being the greatest blow to pacifism since World War II.

    Pacifism has a long and distinguished history. "The Spirit of Christ ... will never move us to fight war against any man with outward weapons," declared the Quakers' Peace Testimony in 1661. The Society for the Promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace was founded in London in 1816, in response to mass conscription during the Napoleonic Wars.

    Pre-20th century peace activists were true pioneers in an uphill struggle against the positive, almost ecstatic, elite attitudes towards war. Rudolf Euken, a German Nobel Prize for Literature laureate, wrote of the pro-war "Spirit of 1914" in his country: "An exultation took place, a transformation of an ethical nature ... We experienced a powerful upswing in our souls ... everything stale was swept away, new fountains of life opened themselves up."

    The subsequent wholesale slaughter of World War I gave war a bad name and pacifism its first break toward respectability. But while that war was about defending indefensible monarchies, in the next world war, pacifism itself became indefensible in the face of Nazi tyranny and the Holocaust.

    To this day, the overwhelming justice of the fight to defeat Nazism remains the most powerful proof-text against pacifism. The pendulum swung around again due to the Vietnam War, which, like World War I, boosted pacifism because it was portrayed as a futile war in defense of a corrupt tyranny.

    But as generals tend to fight the last war, so do pacifists. World War I pacifism made no sense in the face of Hitler; Vietnam-era pacifism rings equally hollow in the face of Saddam. Pacifism is about to be discredited more thoroughly than it has been for over half a century.

    THE LIBERATION of Baghdad will make the jubilation at the fall of the Taliban pale by comparison. Since the Soviet bloc collapsed, those who ridiculed Ronald Reagan's characterization of the "evil empire" have themselves been discredited. It will be difficult to disassociate the horrors revealed in Saddam's wake from the Western masses who, intentionally or not, helped protect his rule at such a critical moment.

    Indeed, we can only hope that the fall of Baghdad will do to pacifism what the fall of the Soviet Union did to socialism. Today those who cling to socialism, with the tautological claim that wherever it has failed it has been misapplied, sound somewhat pathetic.

    Socialism is down for the count and pacifism may follow. Yet, so far, the champions of freedom have failed to capture the vacated high moral ground.
    The pursuit of freedom, like pacifism, can become whacky or dangerous when turned into an absolute. But the absence of a "freedom movement" analogous to the "peace movement" is a telling sign that it is the remnants of the leftist zeitgeist that still holds moral sway.

    The ethos of pacifism deserves credit for the fact that today, unlike in 1914, the reluctance to go to war is, fortunately, almost universal. Those who care about freedom feel as Abraham Lincoln described the North's attitude toward the Civil War: "Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came." It is good that war has been discredited and that the burden of proof lies on those who would wage it. What is missing is for tyranny to be as abhorrent as war, and for the burden of proof to be on those who defend tyrants.
    Now, both parties deprecate tyranny, but one would rather block a war and let tyranny survive, and the other would rather accept war to ensure that tyranny perishes.

    In this dichotomy, it is those who care about freedom who are the real altruists. The pacifists, while claiming to care most about preventing the suffering of war, care more about saving themselves the need to fight. Those pressing for liberation are willing to support the sacrifice that war entails; partly for their own security, but largely for the freedom of others.

    The world is still recovering or suffering from the follies of pacifism and socialism. The key to human well-being, including the desired victory over war and poverty that those ideologies claimed they would deliver, lies in the ascent of the value of freedom. When we see more rallies demanding freedom than demanding peace, the world will be on a better track, and we will have more of both.

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