“War is an ugly thing but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feelings, which thinks that nothing is worth war, is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing that is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature. One who has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.” — John Stuart Mill
Regardless of the respect accorded to John Stuart Mill for various important stands he made in history, I find the above statement to be incredibly ignorant. Admittedly, one could certainly be less harsh regarding Mill's ignorance when taking into account his life and times, but unfortunately this was a quote I saw retyped for the world today, and the views held within it are ones I know that many hold in our present time.
Pacifism is something I have addressed before on this blog, perhaps most notably here, which is at least where my views received the most attention. The attention and rejection that writing received, however, almost entirely followed the same line of thought as Mill's: that to reject war is to reject fighting, and that to reject fighting is to deny yourself the ability to make a stand for anything. The accomplishments of non-violence prove this to be false. To reject violence is not to give in to injustice - in fact the exact opposite is true. Rejection of war and violence does not create weakness. It doesn't mean you'll give in to your enemies. On the contrary, it gives you the greatest kind of strength in the world - the strength to challenge your enemies and defeat injustice.
I am no Quaker and my parents are no pacifists. My ideals on violence don't come from doctrine, dogma, or early developmental influences. All the same, my philosophy is in no way original. I am a student of history, just as we all are results of it, and I find my philosophy rooted in my recognition of those few shining achievements that non-violence has created and the countless failures of violence the world sees every day. Not only does non-violence bring holy and spiritual victory, as the words of Jesus, the Buddha, and others remind us, but it is also a potent force for the fight in the here and now - yes - the fight.
Mill states that "A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing that is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature." What disgusts me is how immediately and indiscriminately he jumps to the conclusion that a person who "thinks that nothing is worth war" also must be the man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight. As I stated at the beginning of this post, perhaps Mill can be forgiven, given his place in 19th century English politics. For those that have seen the victories of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., however, there is little to say about the stupidity contained within the idea that to reject war is to reject fighting.
Both Gandhi and MLKJ reiterated in their own ways countless times their unyielding willingness to fight. Again and again they stated that non-violence is a means to fight; civil disobedience is a means to fight. They rejected those who would comply with their enemies. They rejected appeasement. They rejected weakness. They rejected the willingness to give in to injustice just as much as they rejected violence.
Now quote me when I say this: I do not have to join the military to defend my country. I do not need to use a gun to give strength to my ideals. I do not have to lift a finger in violence in order to stand up for what I believe in. Those who say I will not fight are wrong. I know I will fight for my ideals. One of my strongest ideals is that despite all that is thrown at me, I will still stand strong. I will stand strong in saying NO to injustice - and I will use violence against no one to prove it.
Images: John Stuart Mill and Martin Luther King Jr. (Mohandas Gandhi in portrait)