Pacifist Response

by C. Norman Kraus, October 1, 2001

(Published in the Daily News Record (Harrisonburg, Virginia) on October 1, 2001.)

A recent op-ed column in the Washington Post, entitled “Pacifist Claptrap” (9/26) associated pacifism with the political appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s and early 40s, and with the groups who, so the author claims, thought force should not be used to oppose and stop Nazism. The author ends his article with, “That is the pacifists’ position, and it is evil.”

In a far more respectful and reasoned position, the editor of the Daily News Record, Harrisonburg, Virginia, (9/27) asserts that “pacifism will not solve this current crisis.”

Both of these editorial columns make assumptions that a non-pacifist position, or militarism, will solve the current crisis.

To speak to this issue we do not have to go back to an imagined debate between Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington. It was our own revered general and former president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who observed that war never settles the problems of the world; it only exacerbates them. This does not make Eisenhower a pacifist, but it does lend considerable credibility to their contention that war is not an effective solution!

If we are to carry on an intelligent debate between militarism and pacifism we at least need to know what the positions hold to. Of course, no one person can speak for either side since there are many shades of both pacifism and militarism, but there are some basic general characteristics that should be recognized. In this case I will speak as a pacifist although I do not like that label.

Pacifism is not to be identified with passivity. Pacifists are intent on stopping the cycle of terrorism and violence. Many active individuals of pacifist persuasion are involved around the world in resolving violent conflict and restoring justice.

Many more have been sacrificially working for years to effect the just distribution of the world’s goods among the world’s poor, and restorative justice in our penal system.

Pacifists believe in justice, and do not for a moment justify or excuse what the terrorists have done. Not only the latest attack, but also all terrorist attacks, which kill indiscriminately, are travesties against justice! That is true no matter what racial, ethnic, religious or national groups are involved. However, they do not believe that retaliation in kind, assassination, and indiscriminate destruction are forms of justice.

Most pacifists do not reject all use of force. The movements of Ghandi and Martin Luther King have taught us to make a distinction between nonviolent coercive force and retributive violence. They do, however, think that anger and retribution are not an effective means to bring peace and justice.

Pacifists, speaking for myself at least, appreciate very much our governments reasoned caution as it seeks a forceful, effective way to put a stop to this kind of violence, as it attempts to deal with this latest tragedy. There are many things that we can do to stop terrorism, and we must all join hands to defeat this enemy among us.

C. Norman Kraus is professor emeritus at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana. A leading Mennonite theologian, he has lectured at colleges and seminaries in the United States, India, Japan and Australia.