Quick: you’re a pacifist, but somebody is threatening your grandmother with a gun. What would you do?? Remember, you’re a pacifist…
These “What if…” scenarios frustrate me in more ways than I have space to write about. In short, they create unrealistic scenarios that fail to take seriously the complexity of life, all for the sake of a litmus test for how hardcore of a pacifist you really are. Furthermore, they assume that we remain rational actors in the face of extreme stress, neglecting to take seriously the very real physiological response of fight/flight/freeze. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I honestly don’t know what I would actually do in such a situation.
But that’s not what I want to address. I believe the real questions come when we consider how to respond to the aftermath. Let’s assume a terrible ending: I end up killing Grandma’s attacker to save her life. This raises an onslaught of questions. How do we grieve that such a situation could happen in the first place? How do we grieve that somebody died, even somebody who might kill Grandma? How is the community affected, and what needs to be done there? What responsibility does the community have to grandma? To the person I killed? To me? Can my humanity be restored after having taken a life? If so, how? What needs to be done to prevent this from happening again?
Or let’s assume another terrible ending: I cannot stop this person and Grandma dies. I believe these same questions still apply, though tweaked to fit the scenario.
Of course, this inquiry isn’t comprehensive, but it is illustrative of what I believe we need to wrestle with. Yet at some point we must move beyond hypothetical scenarios and address real situations.
I’m writing this on Veterans Day, after struggling with what this day means for a professed pacifist. If I take these hypothetical scenarios seriously, then regardless of what I believe about war, am I not compelled by the reality of war to ask myself how I might respond with integrity to the aftermath of war?
What obligations arise from war? Who has the responsibility to fulfill these obligations? This includes all involved parties—civilians, veterans, soldiers, the U.S. government, other nations, etc. This particular holiday, though, focuses on veterans.
Let me be clear. I do not wish to reduce veterans’ experiences to my hypothetical scenario. Nor do I wish to suggest that all soldiers find themselves in comparable moral dilemmas. I do wish to recognize, however, the struggles many soldiers face while in the army, and the overwhelming difficulties that too many veterans face when they return from duty. Homelessness, substance abuse, depression, and suicide rates among veterans indicate a significant problem. What obligation does society have to support veterans in the process of reintegrating to civilian life? What is my role in that? And, ultimately, doesn’t responsible pacifism require of us this active engagement?
-Brandon Waggy is a Senior Peacebuilding and Development and Biblical Studies double major.
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