The Deeper Rationality of Pacifism

There's a general consensus that people become less radical as they age, and to a lesser extent this is generally a movement to the right on the political spectrum, wherever your original starting point was. There is one belief, however, that more than any other I hope I will cling to against that decay of time, and that is the belief that violence against a human being is wrong, and it is always wrong. That may be an acceptable conclusion for most people, as we know that sometimes doing wrong is right, but I will go further.

It is never right to kill a human being, not in any situation that humanity might ever come across.

This, when I state it, is usually met with what I imagine to be a lot of incredulity and maybe even some anger. Immediately in this kind of debate there are scenarios: suddenly someone is holding my family at gunpoint; suddenly someone is raping my daughter. When these things don't phase me and don't end the argument, things turn to numbers: suddenly I must choose between killing one man or twenty; suddenly the lives of thousands rest on me murdering someone.

I'll say this: maybe I would kill to save a dozen lives, probably two dozen, certainly for hundreds of people, but such scenarios are purely inventions of the mind. Such forced choices do not exist; there is always another way.

Thankfully lessons in pacifism are relatively common and are easy to be found. The problem is that they start small, and they usually stay that way. The lessons are "don't you dare hit your mommy!" and "don't fight with your brother!" A child may even be taught the word "retaliation" by their parents and have it explained to them that if they hit their sister and their sister hits them back and they hit back and she hits back... it doesn't do any good to return that punch again. You see- violence begets violence, and its the tragedy of the age that people can't realize that applies to both childhood bruises and missiles they see exploding on television half a world away.

It's very good to think about pacifism in a small sense, whether it's dealing with a school bully or having that troublesome family of yours conveniently being held at gunpoint again. But for your average person in the developed world, which I would believe to be my audience here, I think the larger focus should be on the fact that war (a nice name we have for state-sponsored murder) is purely evil, and by and large the governments that we support are frequent users of this evil. (And yes, you do support your government, even if you say you don't.)

For those of you more on the practical thinking side, or perhaps for those of you who don't really believe in "evil" or other such moralizing words, you don't need to be driven by morals to see that war is, at its core, a very inefficient method through which to achieve ones goals- unless your goal is violence, in which case you really need to go out and find some love.

Let's take the "War on Terrorism" for example. Calling it the "War on Terror" is one of the most ridiculous things ever, seeing as the war feeds off of terror, just as terrorism does. One might even go so far as to call war terrorism, but truth be told, I don't really care what you call it. Murder can be called a raid, an operation, a "surgical strike," an assassination, whatever- but murder is murder is murder. (Just as a proof is a proof is a proof.)

The Islamic terrorism that we see today cannot be dealt with by killing the leaders of Al Qaeda. It cannot be dealt with by killing plotters and bomb-makers and destroying their homes and driving people who've attacked us into the hills. It cannot even be dealt with by prosecuting them in a fair trial. I'm not saying that prosecution isn't right, but it simply cannot eliminate the threat this religious extremism poses to our lives. You see, when we drop missile after missile on "carefully selected targets," people are killed. I would venture to say that most of those people posed no threat to us, yet with their murder we justify further hatred against us from those who are still living.

Just invading a country is hardly a good thing to do when we're fighting supposedly crazy people who say that we're evil imperialists. Wouldn't it be good to prove them wrong? Realize that in the initial bombing of Bagdhdad in 2003 there were ten thousand casualties. Realize that hundred thousands upon hundred thousands of Iraqis have now died as a result of our little war in Iraq. That, of course, could hardly be said to be about terrorism, but that's a different matter entirely.

Perhaps you can't just talk about "the big picture" when it comes to pacifism, because it truly needs to apply to everything. When someone punches you in the face, get up and let them punch you again. That may seem a little familiar to some people- perhaps those familiar with one of the greatest pacifists of all time. The simple truth is that no sane human being will keep punching that person who doesn't punch back and does nothing to stop their violence. When you never retaliate, those who hurt you begin to move beyond their hatred, whether it's rational or not. If you return what they send in kind, you only fuel the hatred and exacerbate the pain. It all comes back to those little moments fighting with your siblings; isn't just one bruised arm enough?

Killing a criminal doesn't mean there won't be crime. It just proves you can be a criminal too.

As far as war goes, the "greatest" war of all took place during the lifetime of one of the greatest men the world has ever seen. He wouldn't call himself that, but other people besides myself certainly have. One of the most difficult questions I think Gandhi's philosophy had to face was "could non-violence stop Hitler?" Gandhi said yes. For me, I would say- could anything stop Hitler? War certainly didn't stop the Holocaust, but I know that war created the Europe that allowed for that to happen, and it was war that caused all the other deaths we blame on Hitler.

There is so much to talk about on this subject, and I know that I can't possibly do an adequate job of explaining the incredible deeper rationality that is pacifism. To a certain extent I'd prefer to be in a debate about this, working off someone else's legitimate counterpoints and questions. There are many other things that must be a part of this philosophy of healing; civil resistance, of course, is how World War II would have been won without violence. Of course, you can't call it a war if one side is so rooted in truth that they don't fight back. I'd love to write much more about all the aspects of pacifism. I'd love to spread it to the world! Unfortunately, however, I am leaving the world of the internet for the next week and so I'll have to get back to you later.

All I can say, in the end, as my own words run dry (and probably very boring-ly as well) is to turn to the words of Gandhi and of course to that other guy- the one who talks about cheeks. Yeshua- that was it. They say he has a book out and it's selling pretty well.


  1. Anonymous12 July, 2008

    age = life experience = wisdom

    (that is, for human beings who are able to think analytically, and logically. Both are LEARNED abilities (i.e. a major reason for emphasis on study of mathematics in education) which improve with experience)

    In your youth, it's good that you opt to think and analyze, but your assertions are not based on the broader range of knowledge and experience you will acquire as you age. You illustrate this commendably in your acknowledgement:

    "There's a general consensus that people become less radical as they age, and to a lesser extent this is generally a movement to the right on the political spectrum, wherever your original starting point was."

    (even tho' it's as if your unwritten "BUT" at end of said consensus is all but screaming out loud to be verbalized.)

    With age, and experience, one learns where the boundaries of "ideal" and "realistic" either merge, or diverge.

  2. Anonymous12 July, 2008

    It is very commendable that you have the idealism to embrace pacifism.

    There may be some way to convince humans that doing violence to those that don't agree with you or have more wealth than you, but no one has succeeded yet. You try to give arguments why war is evil and, believe me it is evil. However, you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.

    When I was your age I was like you. My big idea was that if everyone had a fascinating job and some good, interesting hobbies, no one would have the time or inclination to make war. Unfortunately for me, there were men on the other side of the world that believed they had the prefect political and economic system. Not everyone agreed with them but enough did that they decided they would convert the rest to their force, if necessary. And that is the sad story of how I ended up being in the military to fight in Korea and Vietnam. I had no beef with the Communists, but they had a beef with me. You see they wanted me to join up and be a Communist.

    It only took 50 years, but the Communists finally got the message that there were many people who didn't want to join their system.

    Gee, it looked like maybe war was going to become unfashionable. But then, whattya know? Another group of men halfway around the world decided they would like to convert the world to their religious, political, and economic system. These men don't have a lot of technology, but they know that terror doesn't take a lot of technology and often works to frighten people into submission. That is their chosen method to try to convert the world to their system.

    We could avoid war by meekly consenting to convert. Maybe you would opt for that. I wouldn't. I am willing to let them live in the 6th century and practice their religion, just leave me alone. But they won't. And so you see, war is interested in you even though you detest it and find it evil.

    Thus endeth the lesson for today.

  3. The Deeper Truth of Peace:

    He who mistakes Conflict Avoidance with Conflict Resolution shall enjoy all the freedoms his conquerors allow.

  4. Adam Daniel Mezei14 July, 2008

    And that lead to this:

  5. See this is why I also needed to talk more about civil resistance; not using violence does not mean giving into other people's demands AT ALL. The Soviet Union could not have forced communism upon us even if we let them occupy us. And for today's terrorism, I'm inclined to think it would actually die out a lot faster if we weren't seeking to destroy it so wantonly and violently.


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