The Empty Space Where A Peace Movement Should Be

Exactly one hundred years ago today, there was still some hope that the monstrous war that had just broken out between (in quick succession) Serbia, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Germany, France, Belgium, Great Britain and Turkey might be over by Christmas. A quick victory was what all the military experts on all the sides had promised, after all.

The Great Fraud wasn’t over by Christmas. Today, we mostly think of the First World War as the prelude to the grudge match that followed it, the Second World War, which was somehow even more destructive. Today, the shrill pitch of global politics shows that we have never really managed to emerge from the cloud of moral poison that emerged from Central Europe in 1914. La Grande Illusion still surrounds us today.

The First World War is almost always remembered by historians as a foolish and massive human tragedy, and that’s why a mood of dignified sadness and cosmic frustration hung in the air on November 8 in the Celeste Bartos room of the New York Public Library, where an impressive group of historians and activists gathered for a day-long event called Voices for Peace, 1914-2014.

The host was Lewis Lapham, and the theme of the program appeared to have been inspired by Adam Hochschild’s important recent book To End All Wars (which I read and reviewed here on Litkicks), a survey of the long-forgotten pacifist and activist movements that tried to prevent the slide to futile madness in Europe in 1914, and a reminder that the philosophy of pacifism has a long tail.

Adam Hochschild, holding the seat of honor next to Lewis Lapham, emphasized the shock of the fast slide to total war, which took nearly every progressive European thinker by surprise. Many political pundits and activists had been absorbed in lofty socialist or idealistic agendas when the war broke out. “The Internationalist dream went up in smoke at this moment,” Hochschild said.

I was glad to find Michael Kazin on this panel, as I had also once read his biography of the famous Christian revivalist William Jennings Bryan, a perennial Democratic candidate for President who is now mostly known as the anti-Darwin foil in Inherit the Wind. I’d originally read A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan because I was interested in Bryan’s career as a religious revivalist, but I was fascinated by the unexpected discovery that this farm-country traditionalist was also a devout pacifist who did God’s work in trying to persuade President Woodrow Wilson not to enter the European war. At the New York Public Library panel, Kazin spoke of the wide variety of anti-war activities in the USA before and after we entered the war in 1917, including a women’s march down Fifth Avenue and popular songs like “I Didn’t Raise My Son To Be A Soldier”.

The final member of the morning panel was Jack Beatty, NPR pundit and author of The Lost History of 1914: Reconsidering the Year the Great War Began. Beatty stated crisply a key point that is too often forgotten: there is a single human emotion that is the engine of war. The emotion is not greed, not hatred, but fear.

After the morning panel we heard stirring tributes by Jessica Tuchman Mathews and David Nasaw to Andrew Carnegie, another famous figure of history who is not typically remembered as a pacifist, though he dedicated his life to the cause. Nasaw referred to Carnegie as a “fool for peace”, and told enough stories to justify this honorific that I will certainly feel much more humbled by the benefactor’s good intentions the next time I walk into Carnegie Hall.

The afternoon session “Where Are the Voices for Peace Now?” was designed to pivot the conversation from history to activism, and this was the session I was most looking forward to. Lewis Lapham had invited a lively group, anchored by the peace and ecology activist Leslie Cagan. Next to Leslie was Steve Fraser, whose upcoming book The Age of Acquiescence criticizes our society’s complacency about abuses of capitalism.

An interesting dynamic became evident as Cagan and Fraser each tried to answer the question “where are the voices for peace now?” in light of their own backgrounds and familiar activist communities. Leslie Cagan spoke of pacifism in terms of its connection to issues of racial equality, environmental policy and gender discrimination. She pointed out that the world’s biggest consumer of fossil fuels is the United States military.

Steve Fraser, meanwhile, became so enmeshed in a tangent about economic justice that I started to feel annoyed, because I began to suspect that he believes we will only be able to solve the problem of war after we overthrow capitalism. Personally, while I probably will be happy to help overthrow capitalism, I am definitely not willing to wait to overthrow militarism until that’s done first and I certainly do not agree with those who say that peace is impossible until Wall Street is defeated. (I personally think it’s the other way around: we won’t be able to solve most other problems in the world until we discover peace, and once we do discover peace, many other problems will easily cure themselves.)

The third panelist was David Cannadine, an extremely vivid and confident speaker who at one point deservingly lambasted an elderly questioner who complained about Cannadine’s kind words about Barack Obama. As much as I enjoyed Cannadine’s performance, I felt that his approach to the panel was disappointing in the same way that Cagan’s and Fraser’s was: he was not primarily there to speak about pacifism. He spoke convincingly of issues of leadership style, and of the odd twists of history that determine our fate, but he did not indicate at any point during this panel that he felt there were any significant voices for peace worth mentioning today. Nor, for that matter, did Cagan or Fraser.

This is not David Cannadine’s or Leslie Cagan’s or Steve Fraser’s fault. They’re probably right: pacifism currently has no currency at all as a political philosophy. Former New York Public Library president Vartan Gregorian addressed this directly in his introduction to the event when he pointed out that pacifism never recovered from the debacle of the Munich peace agreement that empowered Nazi Germany to seize Czechoslovokia in 1938. David Cannadine referred to this later when he pointed out that “pacifist” is now considered equivalent to “appeaser”. This is indeed the major challenge that any pacifist must be able to respond to today. But anybody who considers this a fatal challenge to pacifism is certainly not trying hard enough.

Just as the afternoon panel failed to name any individual voices for pacifism who are making a significant difference today, it also failed to identify any highly relevant peace organizations in the world. There is Greenpeace, and there is Occupy Wall Street, and there is Amnesty International and Medecins Sans Frontieres, and these are all more or less tangentially pacifist to some degree. But these organizations each have specific purposes other than world peace itself. This panel discussion was called “Where Are the Voices for Peace Now?”, but it seems the world has a big empty space where a vibrant peace movement should be.

Or does it? Would we have been able to name some examples of voices for peace today if Lewis Lapham had invited Medea Benjamin, or Yoko Ono, or Nicholson Baker? Maybe so, and I wish they could all have been included, along with many others too. But the truth that was revealed by this afternoon session’s scattered attention span is an important truth in itself, and I think it had to be revealed to help us realize what we must do next.

It was such a subtle omission that I barely even noticed it myself until near the end of the question-and-answer session, when somebody else pointed it out: “I’d like to bring this back,” he said, “to the main question, which really hasn’t been discussed at all. Where are the voices for peace today?”

I left the room with the question still in my head, and I’m going to keep thinking about it. If we don’t know where the peace movement is in the world right now, maybe we need to get off our butts and create one.

22 Responses

  1. I’m glad to see at least one
    I’m glad to see at least one famous Christian revivalist was a pacifist. We need more. Too many people still think war is inevitable, when it’s NOT.

  2. We gotta throw it off, that’s
    We gotta throw it off, that’s all, like in the rodeo.

    It’s really pretty simple.

  3. Only two comments ?
    Only two comments ?

    War will continue to have its way with us as long as we agree to fight it. At the most basic level, this is precisely the entire story.

    What complicates things is a “psychology of fatalism,” for lack of a better way to put it. How many times do people rattle off things like, “it’s just human nature?” And history too. History in this regard is, well, shitty. Even science too– “war is genetic; we are ‘pack,’ or ‘tribal’ animals,” etc. And religion as well, not just in a sense of war, over centuries, elevated to its own sort of religion, but “religious” underpinnings that say “mankind is inherently incapable of saving itself,” or, “man hath dominion,” or “go forth and multiply– a LOT”… And the truth is that a few vendors in the last century figured out how to get insanely rich off of war by making it an industry. But that ruse wouldn’t work if deformed psychology wasn’t in place to power it from the ground up.

    I don’t discount any of these factors entirely, because it’s not like we’re talking about a planet full of angels here, but what any “psychology of fatalism” fails to account for is the human evolution factor.

    So there is that.

  4. Thanks, Mnaz and Bill.
    Thanks, Mnaz and Bill.

    Yeah, it’s depressing that pacifism never seems to get much response — not a lot of feedback on this blog post, and I’m sorry to say that the room at the New York Public Library where this impressive event took place was only half full.

    I really don’t know what issue anybody can think is more important than this one. Well, I’m glad a few of you are showing some interest. Thanks.

  5. Well, here comes the devil’s
    Well, here comes the devil’s advocate regarding this peace stuff. 😉

    What is our world like today..? Yeah, we see it in small clips of the daily news and in the print. The world is not the world we want, period. That’s the problem. It’s not that we don’t have peace but we don’t have peace of mind.

    Placate the people. Give us what we need before we go any further. What are our needs? Are they universal… like we all need food, shelter, jobs, health. These are good beginnings, aren’t they? So why not just begin to provide these basics before we get to the second level – our wants

    That is probably the largest barrier to surmount for any of us – describing what it is that we want. It’s not the word “want” that is the problem but the two words, “we want” or “I want” that makes the problem. Peaceniks “want” peace… at any cost..? Is peace worth fighting for? Is peace a need like what I described above or is peace simply a want because anything less is troublesome and even dangerous..?

    Let’s ask ourselves the most important question regarding “peace” – why do we obsess with the word? Why do we crave peace? The history of mankind has never experience peace as we picture it, have they? I think not.

    Is peace possible or is it merely a dream we can share with our family or friends when we are sitting around the table enjoying a meal discussing mutual beneficial subjects to our well-being. That’s peace, isn’t it? Meditation can gain the essence of peace much better than talking can… it’s pretty well proven that meditation can reduce stress, clear the mind of the impurities that bring about dis-ease and other problems that fuck up our life.

    Would we even recognize peace if suddenly the entire world simultaneously “went peace”? What does peace look like? What does peace sound like? How about it’s smell or taste.. does peace have any qualities that affect our senses? Or is peace a carry-over from those times when we personally feel peaceful… at peace with ourselves and other around us? If we had peace then would we really appreciate it for the rest of our lives? Isn’t that a Utopia that has been chased multiple times by various groups? What has been the outcome of those experiments..?

    If “peace” is the end to all wars, as so many believe, then stopping war *has to* include a drastic change not only in our behavior but in our economic systems. How do we make things *fair* for all… or is that simply a fairytale..? (fair/fairytale)

    Maybe peace in unattainable according to what our mind expects peace to be. We might very well be at peace on another level other than this mundane existence that we feel so trapped in – waking up to go to work to pay our bills to get to work… a cycle that never seems to end. This is not peace, is it? Really? It’s not more money, more things , more responsibilities, more headaches, more stress, more dis-ease… that certainly ain’t peace by any means.

    So let’s define what this “peace” really means to us… each of us individually. Let’s see if there is a common ground that we can all agree upon… a common ground that hasn’t been stepped on before.


  6. Hi Mtmynd … Good questions,
    Hi Mtmynd … Good questions, and I’m happy to answer.

    I’m going to keep it simple and elemental. “Peace” can mean many complex things to many people … Inner peace, spiritual peace, feelings of peace and calm, the enjoyment of civic peace. But I’m not talking about any of these things. I’m talking about peace as the end of the 200-year+ disaster that began with Napoleon’s conquest of Europe in the early 1800s, and the global obsession with militarism that followed. Napoleonic fervor following his defeat in 1815 led to the revolutions of 1848, the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of nationalist movements in Germany and Central Europe, the Crimean War, the Austro-Prussian War, the Franco-Prussian War, the Russo-Japanese War, the Balkan Wars, World War One, World War Two, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Arab-Israeli Wars, the Iraq Wars. It has all been one long gigantic disaster, one Great Fraud. I’m talking about the end of this.

    Ending war is like putting a con artist in jail, or removing a cancer from a healthy body. Peace is the absence of war. Every other connotation of the word “peace” is also relevant in the larger sense. But we will not discover peace as long as we remain followed by the fraud that militarism is honorable, or that war can ever defeat bad people (the obvious fact is rather that war empowers bad people). This is what I mean when I say the word “peace”.

  7. Nice comment, Levi. End war
    Nice comment, Levi. End war and peace prevails is what I’m reading here. Is that about it? Peace is the opposite of war?

    Hmmmm… one cannot stop war, not one individual or one nation or religion or even philosophy can end war IMO. If it was that easy surely wars would cease to be waged. But it’s not happening (and, I do agree, they should, but…).

    People become dissatisfied, whether they be “just folks”, leadership or Presidents/Rulers… satisfaction is stubbornly non static, It’s survival rate is short-lived. We are seldom satisfied long enough to create a world of peace for all.

    That is why sports are so popular. They substitute for the latent violence we carry around with us. The most popular movies are “action” movies that show explosions and blood ‘n’ gore… the Marvel movies with super-heroes that stop the violence (but is unable to prevent the violence or the super-hero would be on the dole). Our fascination with war, (how about the Civil War?), the World Wars that still hold us spell-bound in movies and history books.

    It is true war is a business, a huge moneymaking machine that is insatiable, but it doesn’t seem to matter to the majority… the wars continue while mothers and children seek shelter worrying about their loved ones life in battle against the (perceived) enemy.

    There are moments of peace after war takes it’s financial and hu’man toll until strength and treasury is replenished… there is always the ‘bad man’ out there that someone must subdue, bring an end to, until the next bad guy arises from the ashes of the last war.

    Look at our South American neighbors. Even they are seemingly at war with another neighboring country or within their own borders, overthrowing one gov’t for another like a tennis match until enough blood has been spilled and enough equipment has been broken. Then there is (some) peace under the cries of how many deaths and how much the war cost. It never really matters, does it? In a few year or a decade there’s another war that began as a battle caused by an interference that was unwanted or unnecessary. But the fuse is lit and the explosion is inevitable.

    Europe? A whole lot of years of peace after WWII but at what expense? Add the watchful eye of the U.S. acting like the world police. And if they don’t who will? There is always another waiting in the shadows ready to fill the bill if another doesn’t. The U.S. is the acting power-lord over Europe but how much longer will that last..? I’ve heard various (R)’s in Congress complain that various European countries are overly reliant on the U.S. War Machine and need to care for themselves.

    Peace is temporal. Ghandi’s India has had it’s wars since it tossed out British control. It made peace for awhile. Since it’s independence in 1947, wikipedia lists (11) wars thru 1999. Peaceful Ghandian protests didn’t do much good for 11 wars to be waged.

    I could easily be confused with being a cynic by my rant here, but I see myself as a realist given the facts that I see around me and the world I live in. Any country that is financially poor or agriculturally starved, a country that has no natural resources to sustain their people, a country that does not have any semblance of a decent education system, etc… these qualities may very well make for peace. But when wealth enters the equation, the tendency to war at some point is inevitable.

    What is the answer to people’s long held desire to have money in a world where money is artificially valued by the power elite? Would our world be much better off is there was a recognition that all people should be entitled to the basic needs of mankind?

  8. Well … yes. Thanks, Levi.
    Well … yes. Thanks, Levi. (Why didn’t I write what you just wrote?)

    Completely off-topic– finally picked up “Strictly Business” by EPMD, and the first four tracks are funky as hell (I see (no, hear) what you mean about Erick’s thick, flat rap style). The main sample in “Let the Funk Flow” — I knew I’d heard it before, but couldn’t remember where. It’s from an old jam by the JBs– “(It’s not the express) It’s the JB’s Monaurail.” I used to have a JB’s compilation disc, but it got ripped off several years ago …

  9. Mtmynd — well, it seems that
    Mtmynd — well, it seems that you have completely bought in to the basic premise that militarism is inevitable and that we must suffer from this disease forever. I strongly disagree with this basic premise, and I have explained why in this blog post:

    Why World Peace Will Happen

    As long as you accept the basic premise that we are doomed to a future of permanent militarism, you will not find my brand of pacifism appealing. But I don’t think there is much evidence for this premise. I’d also like to point out that most people all over the world manage to live in peace with their neighbors, despite the “latent violence” within our souls that you refer to.

    Hey Mnaz, well that is a quick switch to a totally different topic, and I may as well also link to the old blog post you are referring to here!

    Strictly Business by EPMD

    So who are these JBs of which you speak? Never heard of them.

  10. Thanks, Levi, for your
    Thanks, Levi, for your comments and that link to your essay. I’m not some raving war hungry madman, my friend, who dreams of war and laughs at the idea of peace. I see myself as a realist based upon my observation throughout the years I been hanging around this mutual rock we share.

    I believe we agree that “peace” is the opposite of “war”..? As much as any of us would like to embrace the end of all wars forever and forever, I have no choice but to see that scenario as a dream built upon wishes.

    Are you familiar with the Bible’s “Book of Ecclesiastes” which puts our dualistic lives in a very concise and easily understood words which begins with –

    ” To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:”

    which then lists many dualities that are facts… just the way life is. It may be the desire of us to negate those words using various comments that attempt to get around that truth. That tactic is putting one’s head into the sand.. not wanting to face the facts of the way of the world.

    “A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

    Right there in B&W is a statement that still rings true hundreds of years later that given our nature to choose or refuse, one would have to prove to me the falsity of this books words. I am not able to word it any better than old Ecclesiastes did.

    As I’ve been ranting here, it’s not that peace is unwanted or even desired, but when we do have peace, do not expect it to be permanent. It just ain’t gonna happen.

  11. Yeah Levi, a pretty radical
    Yeah Levi, a pretty radical topic shift– ha. I normally don’t do that… The JB’s were James Brown’s band in the ’70s, though they went by other names too, and they also performed/recorded their own stuff.

    The original band included Bootsy Collins and Bobby Byrd, and then sax player Maceo Parker and trombonist Fred Wesley joined. It was one hell of a tight, funky-ass ensemble. I always did like that “Monaurail” groove quite a bit.

    I also picked up Eric B and Rakim’s “Paid In Full” recently (more late ’80s stuff), which goes well with “Strictly Business.” Funny how I appreciate this music more now than than I did when it came out . . .

  12. Pretty good stuff, Mnaz — I
    Pretty good stuff, Mnaz — I listened and yeah, there it is. And I agree that Eric B. and Rakim goes well with EPMD, though there’s no question which record is more fun …

    Mtmynd, I see that you’re committed to the sad belief that hyper-militarism will continue to dominate life on planet Earth. I don’t understand why you choose to believe this, but it’s a choice you are free to make. The fact that you quote the Bible doesn’t persuade me much; sure, Ecclesiastes said that, but it’s also a fact that Isaiah said this:

    “And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

    Then of course there’s that new testament, the one that supposedly a lot of people believe in, the one about a devout peacenik named Jesus. I’m pretty sure religion comes down on the “peace” side, not the “war” side … so again, I can’t understand why you are choosing to believe that the human race has no choice but to suffer under the fraudulent leadership of military fools forever. But I know many others also believe what you believe, and I do appreciate you taking the time to explain what you think. Thanks.

  13. I used old Ecclesiastes to
    I used old Ecclesiastes to show that duality is a way of the world. No other reason but to show duality is not a sham or a theory but it’s Truth and has been a fact not only within religious teachings but philosophically. The well-known yin/yang symbol and what it so clearly defines is one of the most brilliantly conceived symbols/thoughts ever conceived in hu’manity’s history.

    There was no word “peace” until “war” became unbearable. The very idea of peace as you are framing it cannot by understood until one understands “war” as you are well-versed in…. and probably more informed about wars historically than what you know about “peace.”

    I am not dissing “peace” as unattainable but I am saying “peace” is in opposition to “war” and most people are certainly opposed to war, especially after 10’s of years of war at the cost to a country with deaths and life-long injuries not to mention a depletion of a nation’s treasury. But knowing that has done nothing to stop the war machine from raising it’s ugly head time after a time.

    There has been and will always be the pacifist whose religion may give the person the right to not carry a weapon or in ay way kill another. These believers are generally given jobs that support life, the country of origin mostly, i.e. hospitalization, transporting food and goods, clerical desk jobs, etc.. But in the end the pacifist in this position is still a participant in “war”. The outcome is to win so the country can go back to normal, including the right of the pacifist to practice their belief.

    As above, so below. As Nature brings about violent storms and earthquakes, floods and wildfires, tsunamis and droughts…. so does mankind bring about destruction, the more massive it becomes the more threatening the fear of war becomes. O! things would be heavenly if only there were no natural disasters, if we could only stop tornadoes and hurricanes, think of all the death and destruction they bring upon us… But we cannot stop the inevitable… we cannot prevent war for war must exist in order for peace to exist… yin/yang work together to give life, to make things happen… yin/yang is the power of evolution.

    Show me or tell me of anything we do that is *not* influenced by duality, by the truth of yin/yang. Convince me and you may have a convert to peace on earth for the rest of our existence on this blue planet.

  14. A lot of good comments here,
    A lot of good comments here, actually (my funk-beat detour aside).

    Levi, I think you assess the situation better than I’ve managed to do so far. And yes, it does seem a “situation” for the species– given its tech and population explosions, and its recent flirtation with global destruction, pushing the war paradigm about as far as it can be pushed.

    Random crime, or a capacity for it, is not the same as organized crime, even if the latter requires the former. Human violence, or a capacity for it, is not the same as institutional, organized violence, even if the latter requires the former.

    History is certainly NOT on the side of anyone with pacifist leanings, but then, history is also full of religious dogma, much of which (even historically) finds a dead-end at some point.

    Those who say they know “the answer” must have a screw loose or two. It does seem that Jesus would have abhorred profiteering in general– perhaps from industrial war in particular. I always thought it ironic that Rome, the empire that executed Jesus for what amounted to “militancy,” ended up adopting the religion built (or supposedly built) on his teaching.

  15. Mtmynd, you are making this
    Mtmynd, you are making this much too complex.

    I am not talking about inner peace. I’m not talking about cosmic duality and the Tao. I’m suggesting that it is a sensible idea for the human race to stop investing incredible amounts of taxpayer money in brutal killing machines that also enrich robber barons while wasting ridiculous amounts of scarce environmental resources all for the sake of killing innocent men, women and children. That’s all I’m suggesting. And I think it’s pretty much a win-win suggestion all around. It’s a no-brainer.

    And yes, after we break our addiction to Napoleonic warfare (because that’s what it is — an addiction) we will still have cosmic duality and good and evil and yin and yang, and human beings will struggle for inner peace. But we will have solved one very big problem. Like I said, it’s a no-brainer.

  16. Levi : “I’m suggesting that
    Levi : “I’m suggesting that it is a sensible idea for the human race to stop investing incredible amounts of taxpayer money in brutal killing machines that also enrich robber barons while wasting ridiculous amounts of scarce environmental resources all for the sake of killing innocent men, women and children. That’s all I’m suggesting. And I think it’s pretty much a win-win suggestion all around. It’s a no-brainer.”

    This seems a long way off from what I understand you to be suggesting, “pacifism.” Are you not seeking peace from all the wars of the 20th C we’ve been subjected to..? We’re off to what seems to be another century of wars is what we’ve experienced so far is any indication.

    Which Nation shall be the first “to stop investing incredible amounts of taxpayer money in brutal killing machines..”? Certainly the wealthiest of nations have the most to lose and hence arm themselves in defense of protecting that wealth.

    It’s a bit amusing to me that you think shutting down the big war machine is a “no brainer” when we have 7.2 Billion people sharing our planet, each of us requiring food, water, shelter, health and education and we all seem to believe the planet has no problem providing these necessities. We know that is not so and will be increasingly scarce as this century continues moving forward. The point being wars will more than likely continue growing in size as our numbers continue increasing and the reasons for the wars become increasingly clear – survival.

    I will agree that we will go through a period without wars being waged with the frequency we’ve been witness to. The numbers of wars fought globally within the past 100 yrs has got to enormous and equally expensive. We do need a break from this and take care of our own, our infrastructure, our children, our health problems… the list is large. The monies our country alone spends on wars and new armaments could certainly bring the country “back into shape.” It is incumbent upon an intelligent, compassionate and wise Congress to put us back on a more productive course. It’s a no brainer.

    Peace unto you and yours, amigo…

  17. Oh Levi. Everyone is a
    Oh Levi. Everyone is a pacifist. For the most part. 

    A pacifist believes differences should not be settled by violence. I know of few today who don’t hold to such a belief. 

    I know there is another type of pacifist, more extreme, who believes that violence is never ever to be used. Not even in cases of self defense or in cases of protecting innocent lives from direct deadly force. 

    You aren’t that type of pacifist, you’ve stated that before. I’m not either. 

    But there are pockets of pacifism-non-adherents in the world today. 

    A fatwa to murder Salmon Rushdie is an example of not believing in pacifism. They do not say “we differ with you with respect to your book, The Satanic Verses, so let’s talk about it – why we feel insulted”; nor “we don’t like your book, we encourage all people to not read it” etc…No, rather the difference of opinion over the book causes a first response of “we disagree with your book, therefore you must be murdered”. That is the antithesis of pacifism. 

    Or the Chinese Communists who, among other things, make it a point to state to the Global Community that they hold the right to use force to take Taiwan if they so decide. And in 1995 and 1996 they shot missiles across Taiwan to underscore their belief when Taiwan had their first Presidential election. 

    Or the cry, “no justice, no peace” is a poke in the eye to pacifism. 

    These are exceptions to most people’s beliefs, values and actions. 

    That these are exceptions is why I do agree with you on future world peace, as per your earlier essay, though I think it will be a longer time frame than you and it won’t be in our lifetimes. 

    Yet, there are still groups like al Qaeda, Boko Haram and IS. 

    What do we do about such things?

  18. TKG, I always ask people if
    TKG, I always ask people if they are pacifists, so I know for sure that most people are not pacifists. Many people react to the word “pacifism” with extreme negativity and disdain. But … I do sense that you may be a pacifist, and I am glad to hear this! I’m particularly glad because I know you are a conservative, and I do believe that pacifism should appeal to both liberals and conservatives.

    So, you ask how we deal with groups like Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Islamic State. Well, first, we should stop creating groups like these. Of course you know that all these groups emerged from war-torn societies, and fund themselves as military organizations.

    As for how we combat these groups right now — there will be no quick or painless solution to the problem, but over many years and decades we will be able to reduce the tensions that empower these groups, starve and isolate their support systems, and carry out sensible police and military operations to stop them from committing war crimes. This is not necessarily incompatible with pacifism. Some pacifists may say that this is incompatible with pacifism, but I do not think it is. We live in the real world, and we sometimes have to make difficult decisions in critical situations.

    A peaceful world will require good leadership and constant vigilance against evil-doers, and of course we will never completely solve the problem of terrorism and malignant violence. But we can do much, much, much better than we are doing now. (Now, I’m sorry to say, we are not only failing to reduce the problem, but we are actively increasing the problem.)

  19. “carry out sensible police
    “carry out sensible police and military operations to stop them from committing war crimes”. That is how Putin is justifying the Russian intervention in Ukraine…

  20. Well, Sigma, of course I didn
    Well, Sigma, of course I didn’t say that every political leader who carries out police/military operations is a pacifist. I said that in some unfortunate circumstances, a pacifist political leader might have to carry out police/military operations.

    You know, a knife can be used to kill someone, or it can be used by a surgeon to save someone’s life. The difference is the intention of the person holding the knife.

  21. Hi Levi,
    Hi Levi,

    The thing is, most people now think pacifism is never ever using any violence for any purpose. The extreme pacifism I mentioned in my earlier post.

    That is why people will say to you they aren’t pacifists, but if you asked them do you believe it is right for people to settle differences using violence, they would certainly say no.

    The mistakes and horrors of the 19th and 20th century have moved the universal belief in pacifism forward a lot, unfortunately the hard way, but that’s how it is often.


    Japan in late 19th and 20th century. This is an example that hit home to me what pacifism is, and isn’t. In the 1890’s Japan wanted to expand. They wanted territory that the Chinese Emperor ruled or had some claim to. Japan asked and wanted to make a deal of some kind. The Qing didn’t want to. So Japan went to war. And won. In suing for peace and making a peace treaty (Shimonoseki), Japan got what it wanted.

    That is an example of how differences were settled. Violence was a valid method. That Sino-Japanese War wasn’t unusual in history or thought of as particularly wrong.

    Germany and their Pre-WWII aspirations is another example we all know well.

    But in each case, Japan and Germany are pacifist nations today. They learned it the hard way and do seem truly committed now.

    Most modern nations and people now consciously hold a moral belief that it is wrong to settle differences with violence.

    It is so common place that people don’t understand what a breakthrough it was for humankind to come to that point and they don’t understand that it is pacifism.

  22. I see what you’re saying, TKG
    I see what you’re saying, TKG, but I don’t think it’s that simple. Are foreign policies of most modern nations truly “pacifist?” True, we’re not marching nation against nation to extent we did in the last 2 centuries (nothing like worldwide mass-destruction, a holocaust or two and a brush with potential nuclear annihilation to get our attention).

    But is the U.S. (or allies) “pacifist” when they bomb or invade/occupy countries they have disputes with? When they support rebels vs. non-compliant (or “unstable” in imperial-speak) regimes, leading to prolonged civil war? When they carry out covert coups or assassinations? Seems to me, much of the aggression transformed from overt to covert as the 20th century wound down. Policy-wise at least, it’s hard for me to think of the actions of some modern nations as “pacifist,” even if overall public consciousness may be shifting in that direction.

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