Squishy Pacifism

“You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” — Matthew, 5:38-39.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” — Matthew, 10:34.

“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: `It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: `If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” — Romans 12:19-21.

“For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” — Romans 13:3-4.

“Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” — Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

“A pacifist is as surely a traitor to his country and to humanity as is the most brutal wrongdoer.” — Theodore Roosevelt, 1917.

It sounds like an oxymoron, but there exists an intellectually honest, devout, resolute, and muscular pacifism that springs both from Christian beliefs and other religious traditions. It is a belief that physical violence is inherently against God’s will. It is a creed that holds evil can only be effectively countered with nonviolent resistance. It is a conviction that violence, even if temporarily effective, is, in the long run, counterproductive. The Mennonites, Quakers, and the followers of Gandhi fall into this tradition of pacifism.

But make no mistake about the courage of the adherents to this position. They believe that nonviolent resistance could very well lead to persecution and death. These people are clear-eyed about the consequences of their faith. They recognize the reality of evil and the cruelty that evil people can inflict on them, their families, and their nations. Their faith may call them to martyrdom. According to Luke 10:3, the Lord commands, “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” There are many pacifists who have tried to build a peaceful world by bringing medical care, clean water, and food for those who lack these necessities. These pacifists have often risked personal safety in doing so.

There is an equally devout and honest tradition that believes that violence and war are sometimes regrettably necessary and can lead to peace. The Catholic tradition, in particular in the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine, has a well-considered and developed “Just War Theory.” A just war must meet at least four criteria:

  1. War must be a last resort. Other avenues to mediate a dispute must be exhausted.
  2. Only a legitimate authority can conduct a just war.
  3. War must be undertaken for the right reasons. In the words of Saint Augustine, “… we go to war that we may have peace.”
  4. The war must entail a reasonable chance of success. The destruction accompanying war should not be inflicted for a hopeless cause. On balance, the expected good from a war must exceed the cost in violence.

In the middle, between deep pacifism and the reluctant acceptance of war as a necessity, there is a squishy and soft pacifism, the pacifism of Phil Donohue and much of the left. This pacifism avoids violence not through courageous nonviolent resistance, but by dismissing the need for any action. Whereas true pacifism recognizes the existence of evil and even the necessity of martyrdom in nonviolent resistance, squishy pacifism will find ways to explain or excuse evil. Squishy pacifism will employ self-hate disguised as reflection to diffuse moral clarity. They will ask, Sure the people who drove planes into the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon did a bad thing, but what has the US done to make them so mad? If moral clarity can be sufficiently muddied, the moral authority to conduct military action atrophies. By blurring distinctions between good and evil and feigning an open-mindedness that hides an uncalibrated moral barometer, squishy pacifism allows evil to continue unabated. Squishy pacifism confronts evil with neither nonviolent nor violent resistance.

America is open to and prospers by exposure to different ideas. Muscular pacifists and believers in the possibility of a just war have much to seriously debate. Squishy pacifism just make clear the adage that one price of freedom is the necessity to tolerate fools.


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