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Monday, October 27, 2003
"Murky Pacificism"

I stumbled across a though-provoking article in the Financial Times today. (The article was for the weekend edition concerning the dates October 25th to October 26th.) It is by Christopher Caldwell and is entitled "'Murky pacificism' is a parody of the old virtue." The article opens considering the claims of former Solidarity activist and Warsaw editor Adam Michnik. Michnik, who suggests that the anticommunist activists in Poland didn't understand the west European pacifists who urged unilateral disarmament while staring at the Soviet threat, urged attendees of the PASS (Programme of Atlantic Security Studies) to "reject murky pacifism, which in essence is an act of cowardice and capitulation towards totaliarian dictatorships."

Michnik was quick to distinguish between the craven-- present day political pacificism-- and the courageous --religious based-- of pacificism. The Catholics were brave souls in the Polish solidarity movement and religious pacificism, with its turning of the other cheek, may actually increase the dangers to those who practice it. The old religious pacifism was a critique against all war-- founded in Aquinas's just war tradition-- that attempted to break the "cycle of violence" by renouncing the use of force. This position could be summed up in the announcement, scorned by Caldwell, of the National Council of Catholic Bishops that "Catholic moral teaching began with a presumption against war." The new pacificism is really an excuse for indifference and cowardice according to Michnik. These pacifists are, quoting Caldwell here, "people who have objections to particular wars, not to war itself; and such a view involves less sacrifice and rigor."

Caldwell goes one step further and suggests that the very foundations of the just war theory--from Aquinas to Walzer-- are breaking down. (If this is true, then it will strip oppositionists of intelligent arguments.) His first reason is: "the questions of jus ad bellum...have been unsettled by the threat from non-state actors. The traditional requirement that war be a last resort, once non-military means are exhausted, is increasingly hard to apply." Most of the concerns sorrouding the laws of war, to use Kant's phrase, existed because states lived in a state of war, devoid of a juridical condition. Because states were always in a war-prone condition, they gave themselves the laws of war. It is primarily to govern and constrain state behavior. The presence of non-state actors, who exist outside and independent of state borders, whose monetary assets can be moved, accessed and protected by the structures of globalization, are very difficult to deter by 'conventional' means. His second reason is: questions of jus in bello are more complicated. Clearly using chemical weapons is a violation of the principle but does possessing them constitute a casus belli? "Can one conduct a just war to remove such weapons using depleted uranium shells and half-ton bombs? And what are we to make of the attack on Serbia during the Kosovo war, when NATO conducted a military campaign without fear of retaliation?"

It may be that as the foundations of the just war theories shake, so does the moral fiber of the opposition.