Pacifism is defined as the belief that war and violence are unjustifiable and that all disputes should be settled by peaceful means. It is a noble sentiment built on the best of morals;, indeed many would say that the only way forward for humanity is for all people to embrace the concept. However, there is also much evidence of the flaws of, at least, the current definition. It is idealistic, unrealistic and obstructive to solving many of the problems facing us as a world today.
To return to the definition, there are some disputes that cannot be solved peacefully. As Malcolm x states “Sometimes you have to pick the gun up to put the gun down.” Acts like the attacks in Baghdad and Nice recently – as well as Ankara and Paris should not go unanswered. We should be combating groups like Daesh and Al Qaeda as and when the opportunity arises. In the case of Daesh a Middle East led ground campaign, with Western Air support, should be an effective way of taking back the land they gained in the disturbance after Arab Spring. By doing this we would achieve the removal of their main source of legitimacy, which should make recruitment harder forcing them back into obscurity and, eventually, internal collapse. If we take the view, as good pacifists, that ALL disputes should be settled by peaceful means we would simply give up more and more to people who are committed to our civilisations destruction.
But this can be taken further. I would say that the current definition of Pacifism is as Dangerous as Warmongering. It allows for individual and collective selfishness to grow. Historically this simple branding of all war as unjust has allowed regimes of evil to fortify their hold on power because people didn’t feel it was “right” to fight against their growth – even when they persecute minorities or commit atrocities against those unfortunate enough to live within their borders. The Nazi’s and Daesh are testament to this.
What’s more, this definition demonstrates naivety to the realities of the world. “As long as there are sovereign nations possessing great power, war is inevitable.” – Albert Einstein. This is as true now as it was in the 1940s. America and Russia continue to posture over Eastern Europe and the Middle East, with direct involvement by Russian in the Ukrainian civil war, America in Iraq, and both nations in Syria. In Asia, Chinas years of uncontested dominance are firmly over – as its industry finally seems to have reached its limit and America turns to Asian nations for new trade relations with growing nations ( see the Trans-Pacific Partnership). As I type China is continuing to stake claim to resources in the South China sea and there have been small confrontations between not only them and its neighbours in and around the South China sea but America, who are flying patrols in supposed Chinese airspace. America is, rather sensibly, installing defences against a possible North Korean threat which also happens to be upsetting the Chinese – more due to the high powered radar involved rather than the fate of their closest communist neighbour. What ever the international institutions do these, “Rouge”, states can and will do what they want/is in their own interest. Those who stoically take the Pious anti-war stance will only be unprepared when the reality of the situation engulfs them – such as those protesting about the recent purchase of P-8 Naval Patrol planes by the British – to replace the Nimrods we got rid of years ago. As we are an Island Nation I personally think it is a good idea for us to be able to monitor what goes on in surrounding waters.
Also, I believe that there has been some confusion between an Illegal war and an Unjust war. Specifically the Iraq war in 2003. Was Gulf war 2 illegal, almost certainly yes. Was it unjust, not really. Whatever lies spouted by the American and British governments in the run up to the invasion the truth is that Saddam was in every definition an evil dictator, guilty of crimes against his and others peoples – including the use of WMD when dealing with Kurdish rebels. Yet we seem to be applying the idea that because “we” got Iraq so wrong it proves Pacifists Right. A Jordanian led, western supported, intervention in Iraq in order to prevent Daesh from getting a foothold a couple of years ago – for instance – is not illegal and can also be seen to be just.
Yet this should not be taken as an all out attack on pacifism. It is just that we need to change how we deal with it as an idea. As Martin Luther King stated “Please be peaceful… We [The SCLC]
are not advocating violence, I want you to LOVE your enemies.” The last part is, I believe, crucial to how our society understands Pacifism in the 21st Century. Guatma Buddha states “Those who attempt to conquer hatred by hatred are like warriors who take weapons to overcome others who bear arms. This does not end hatred but gives it room to grow”. Or as Stephen Kings puts it “Fighting for peace is like fucking for chastity”.
This idea is important at the present especially due to the ability of terrorists, with terrorism being of the biggest threats the world faces, to inspire the worst in people. Fear, mistrust, disgust and hatred. Terrorist acts allow these to infect many peaceful, loving innocents. We can see this all over the world, from the candidacy of an anti-Muslim demagogue in the American presidential race to the re-emergence of Nationalism, and in some cases fascism, represented by anti-immigration movements in Europe.
But attempts to combat the global terror threat through force, especially post 9/11 have done as much to generate similar feelings among the, predominantly, Islamic community from which most of these groups have emerged. Islam is built as much on foundations of peace as Christianity yet through activities such as the Iraq Occupation and continued drone strikes the extreme members of Islam have been handed the tools with which to generate the support they have currently got. Thus when confronting this threat it is important to show as much compassion to those you would otherwise brand as the “bad guys”, because by doing this you drain the ability of the extreme minority to grow into the majority. If your response to an act of terror is simply so re-enact terror on the society from which the terrorists come you are failing to address the root of the problem, and succeed only in escalating the ferocity and scale on the conflict in the future. The same applies when dealing with more conventional threats. The beauty of society is that there is little mutual agreement. This is true whether you refer to a democracy or totalitarian state. Yet a bullet is unconcerned about who it hits, a bomb who it kills. Thus the use force is a decision that must be taken with total certainty, certainly the age of rolling thunder is over.
To conclude, it is clear that war is not good. As Eleanor Roosevelt said “Nobody won the last war, nobody will win the next”. But that does not mean they are all unjust. As such it Is obvious that the current definition of Pacifism – that war and violence are unjustifiable and that all disputes should be settled by peaceful means – is outmoded. However, I hope to have shown that for the human race to survive and prosper from where we are now, some form of Pacifism must be obligatory when dealing with other cultures, peoples and threats.