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Friday, July 02, 2004
 
Pacifism

It is always very tempting for me to become a pure isolationist pacifist after being reminded of the grief and suffering of civilians in war zones. Reading of the plight of Iraqis caught in the cross-fires, of the Palestinians under occupation in the territories, of the blacks subjugated under the Arab boot in the North Africa, of the Israeli survivors of terrorist attacks, coupled with the pain and suffering of parents, spouses, and siblings who have been informed, in that crisp institutional manner, that their blood relative or spouse has died due to someone's ghastly war, makes me want to march right out the curbside and wave a simplistic sign in protest of warfare everywhere. Orwell once wrote: "The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to taking life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point."

That's me he's talking about there. Taking life is so ghastly that I could not imagine doing it and know that a betrayal of my country would be necessary in the case of a draft. I vacillate between respect, contempt, and pity for all those who, for whatever reasons, find themselves complicitous in the bloody maw of the military-industrial complex, realist power politics, and machinations of political elite globally. Having been rescued from an institution that has been paradoxically progressive (and heavy-handed) concerning matters of integration, but surprisingly backward as thousands of blacks and poor went sent to die in countless interventions throughout the Cold War by both private and public funding for my education, I was appropriately shocked and horrified that my sister is/was considering joining the US airforce. My patriotism is often obscured by my revulsion at the warmongering and fighting of the US.

This anti-war, pro-life sentiment coarsed so thickly through my veins after watching Moore's F 9-11 that I wept with and for the mother as Moore pitilessly directed his camera at her, for minutes after he should have turned it off, encapsulating that shared, but incommunicable, sense of pain and loss. And who could resist crying, both drawn to the screen yet wanting to look away from the grieving mother because her private pain had become public? I sobbed silently into the chair for a few moments. While walking back to from the movie theater to my Princeton dormitory (of course, it's ironic this occurs in an elite university), I exclaim "I can never, in good faith, ever support a war again!" My comrades with whom I was walking quickly affirmed my decision.

Moments later, after safely crossing the road, I realized that could not be true and added: "Except in the case of genocides." This was answered by the usual rejoinders of "Well, who are we to judge?" and in my usual "You're stupid if you don't agree me because I've clearly thought about this more often and more thoroughly than you have" tone of voice I retorted: "I am not really going to debate this with you. In the cases of genocide, like in Rwanda or Darfur, no decently moral person can condemn warfare to make it stop." I was then informed that only persons who had been educated in elite liberal arts colleges could come to such an opinion because war is never justified.

To which I had to quickly add, "And prolonged civil wars of 10 years or longer." They looked at me aghast as my pacifism began to unravel. The usual charges of "Who are we to judge?" and "But it's warfare" or "It's just their business" were quickly answered by this simple fact (and I truly resent all people who don't acknowledge this fact): intra-state conflicts internationalize to the degree that some of the conflictants inhabit neighboring countries, their arms and monetary support comes from external sources and dislocated persons seek refuge in foreign countries. Prolonged civil wars promote large scale arms trafficking, territorial raids and scores of refugees who fester in their resentment and anger.

And there I was unable to remain a pacifist for more than 20 minutes. My friends were able to continue in their blissful uninformed opinions. (I know longer debate persons who do not study political science or political theory on these matters.) It seems to me that if one desires to see structural pacification in this world but also desires human rights enforcement, that warfare is sometimes a necessary evil to deal with this scourge. this tool, of warfare, should be deployed as carefully and as infrequently as possible. I am willing to hear arguments to the contrary but would posit that no intelligent, non-religious defense of pure pacifism is possible. As such, we should begin clamoring for the occupation of Darfur.