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Published by David French -- Harvard Law grad, former lecturer at Cornell Law School, author of books no one reads, master of the three point shot, constant critic of Duke Basketball, Playstation2 addict, owner of a cool new Sony DCRTRV25 MiniDV Digital Handycam, father of two and husband of one extremely hot wife


The Culture Curve
Monday, October 21, 2002  
WHY I'M NOT A PACIFIST. In recent weeks, I've had several interesting e-mail conversations with good friends that consider themselves to be relatively pacifist (or at least much more pacifist than me). In general, they are opposed to any attack on Iraq and have challenged me to explain not only why America should pre-emptively strike another country but also why such an action would be consistent with scriptural principles.

About two years ago, I had an interesting conversation regarding pacifism with a pastor friend of mine. My friend explained that -- despite a personal interest in military history -- he was becoming increasingly pacifist. I challenged his pacifism with the equivalent of the Royal Flush of the anti-pacifism argument: "What about Hitler? Wouldn't pacifism have doomed even millions more? Wasn't pacifism largely responsible for the millions of deaths that did result?" He didn't respond with a defense of American or English pacifism in the face of the German threat, he responded (as I remember) with the statement that Brits and Americans had to fight because German pacifism failed. Had German pacifists had the courage of their convictions -- or had they existed in sufficient numbers -- Hitler would never have been able to initiate wars of conquest or implement the "Final Solution."

This response brought to mind numerous examples of massive social change brought about by nonviolent protest movements -- Ghandi and Indian independence; Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement; "People Power" in the Philippines and the end of Marcos' reign; and, most recently, Bishop Tutu and the end of apartheid in South Africa. However, for each of the examples above, you'll note that the nonviolence worked because the powers in place were civilized enough -- had just enough of a pacifist approach -- that the protestors were given the opportunity to make their case and change the hearts of the nations. In other words, unlike in Germany, British pacifism did not fail -- and neither did American.

By contrast, imagine a nonviolent protest movement in Stalin's Russia, or Mao's China, or Kim's North Korea, or Hitler's Germany. Would Ghandi have lived even for ten minutes after the SS discovered his sedition? For a more modern example, Syria's Hafez Al-Assad once caught wind of a large protest gaining strength against his regime in a town near Damascus (I think its name is Hama, but I could be wrong). Assad's response was to call out the army, circle the town with troops and fire artillery into the city until 20,000 Syrian protestors lay dead. Thus ended the protest movement. Saddam Hussein is known to pave over bound and gagged protestors with hot asphalt. In Southern Iraq, there are streets in Shi'ite towns where you literally drive over the entombed bodies of dead families.

When Neville Chamberlain triumphantly proclaimed "peace in our time," he did not do so out of malevolence or out of any sympathy for Hitler's anti-semitic evil. He did so because, frankly, he could not bear the thought of another war. We in America still weep for our 57,000 Vietnam dead. Imagine Britain in 1938. They were exactly 20 years removed from a conflict where they lost more than a million men -- an entire generation of young people. World War I was supposed to be the event that woke everyone up to the futility of "national greatness" wars -- to the futility of war in general. A great wave of disarmament swept the world. Pacifist-influenced isolationism was so strong in America that we were happy (HAPPY!) to sit on the sidelines as Hitler's panzers blitzed across Europe and as first thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of civilians were slaughtered.

War should never "feel good." War should never be something like it was in August, 1914, when festive crowds gathered in the streets to drape soldiers with flowers and celebrate the dispatch of millions of young men to history's (then) greatest bloodbath. We should never fight simply for "national greatness." Or to avenge an assassination attempt. Or to ensure electoral victory.

But there are things that feel less right than war. It feels less right to allow a nation that is a sworn enemy of Jews and of Americans to build weapons for the purpose of killing Americans and completing Hitler's work in the Holocaust. Think about history. Think about geographic and demographic reality. Saddam has fought against Israel in every major Israeli/Arab war of the last century and unilaterally launched attacks against Israel in 1991. With just three or four nuclear bombs of substantial size, he could kill or maim five million Jews. With one nuclear weapon, he could hold the world hostage while he launches wars of conquest throughout the region. The CIA says that if Saddam can get his hands on fissile material (through the black market or otherwise) he could have a bomb in six months. Why do we think that our first inkling that the danger's "imminent" won't be a mushroom cloud and a tragedy so profound that we as a people never recover?

How many times can we see genocide coming and yet avert our eyes and cover our faces? Rwanda. Bosnia. Kosovo. Can there be any doubt that the hearts of men can be very dark indeed? Can there be any doubt that there are some cultures that learned nothing from Stalin's purges, Hitler's gas chambers, Mao's famines and Pol Pot's killing fields? In the words of Hitler, as he planned the Final Solution: "After all, who remembers the Armenians?" It is our responsibility to remember the Armenians, and the Jews, and the Ukrainians, and the Chinese, and the Cambodians, and the Tutsis, and the Bosnians, and the Kosovars. It is our collective responsibility to swear the same oath sworn by Jewish nation in 1948 -- "Never again."

Many Christians like to draw distinctions between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. While there are two testaments, there are not two Gods. From the dawn of time, there has always been, in the words of Solomon, "a time for peace and a time for war." In the immediate aftermath of September 11, I heard a prominent evangelical Christian note that it was not the place of the American government to punish Osama, that vengeance belonged to God. He quoted Romans 12:19 "It is mine to avenge, I will repay." Yet he forgot to keep reading into the next chapter: ". . . rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer."

I believe God is able to change the hearts of men in response to prayer . . . to bring peace when war seems imminent. The story of the Philippines' "people power" revolution is nothing short of astounding. Yet God himself also recognized that there is a time for war. A time for the sword. Our responsibility is to attempt to accurately discern the times -- to ensure that the sword is unsheathed only when it must be unsheathed. With respect to Saddam Hussein, when a man plots genocide, when he attempts to obtain the weapons of genocide, when he has committed genocide and when he has sworn an oath of hatred and enmity against a people that have already suffered genocide, that is enough for me. Let us unsheathe the sword. Let us liberate a nation from the specter of death and let us stop the genocide before we add one more nation, one more people to the long line of those who died while the world slept.

For the pacifist in the face of horrific danger, I am reminded of the words of the prophet Jeremiah: "They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace." The wounds are serious. The lives of millions of God's children hang in the balance.

I pray for the Iraqi people. I pray for peace in the Middle East. But did we not pray for the Bosnians? Did we not pray for the Tutsis? How many millions shall die while we pray? Can we not pray and act decisively? Or do we stand and wait until we believe nuclear war is imminent, until genocide is in progress, until our morally depraved "allies" receive sufficient financial guarantees, or until another beautiful Tuesday in September?

8:55 AM

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