- Are pacifists advocating an intellectually disciplined way of living, or are they lighting an ancient and eternal pathway?
Head or Heart? Is that what this question is asking? Which predominates among pacifists as the basis for their action in real life? As I think back and remember the various groups who ended up in detention for refusing to serve in the army, I am struck by the great variety of experiences that combined to lead them to take this stand. Those whose background was associated with some branch of the Christian church were strongly motivated to remain loyal to a vision which had captured them. There was usually a warmly felt bond with others who shared their vision. Intellectual thinking was often a very minor influence. The same applied to the majority of those who stressed social solidarity of all workers, even beyond our shores.
But for a sizable minority it was important to stake out a position that was intellectually strong and able to hold its own with those who argued for the war. In fact, many had wrestled for some time, at least in their own thinking, against the more popular views, expressed so widely and often that they could not be ignored. Firm intellectually tested convictions, and also heartfelt compassion for those who suffer as a result of war and violence, both these have been present in varying degrees among pacifists I have known. And of course these qualities are found throughout every society, even where they are scorned or severely curbed when the madness of war infects our world.
2. Are not military power and conquest essential to maintain our standard of living and security, else we fall prey to hordes of hungry people or other tyrannies?
This has been the assumption behind most Defence Department thinking in the richer Western nations. Popular attitudes may support this, with some reservations. But doubts increase, as hungry people multiply their numbers, and risk death to escape an intolerable situation. Superior power can suppress this for a time, but a more permanent solution is needed. Climatic changes are making some parts of the world unable to support their present population without help. Only an integrated, just and humane plan can avoid widespread famine and suffering.
Our world is surely rich enough in resources and human skill to find answers to disasters such as now threaten. The thinking which cared little about conditions beyond our shores must give way to a global cooperative and compassionate approach, if we are not to sink amid a multiplicity of human disasters. We cannot insulate our privileged standard of living from the rest of humanity. There is a growing awareness that this is so, though it still has to contend with forces that resist any major alteration of the status quo.
At present a variety of charity organisations struggle to provide some small amelioration of conditions where poverty and hopelessness dominate, and a privileged elite is in charge. Governments must accept more responsibility to change this, and to offer hope by financing .joint development projects or in other ways. As regards military power, I would want to see nothing beyond a glorified Armed Offenders Squad, concerned to disempower anti-social elements but not to kill, and directed by an unarmed police force trained to work in a restorative justice system. The sooner this is established the sooner we will have a more peaceful society.
Read Part Two here
Read Part Two here