Pacifism Remains a Worthy Alternative. (Opinion)

By McCarthy, Colman | National Catholic Reporter, November 16, 2001 | Go to article overview

Pacifism Remains a Worthy Alternative. (Opinion)


McCarthy, Colman, National Catholic Reporter


Since the attacks of Sept. 11, and Oct. 7 when retaliating U.S. pilots began bombing people and buildings in Afghanistan, those of us who are pacifists have found ourselves denounced for bystanding in a time of national peril. We are scorned for not waving flags or supporting the president and his war council. We are damned for being complicit in evil, which is what pacifism, to many critics, clearly is.

The script is followed, as written by Hermann Goering, the Nazi leader: "The people can always be brought to do the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism."

For 20 years, I've taught pacifism and nonviolence -- its history, methods and practitioners -- to more than 5,000 high school, university, law school and prison students. During those two decades, U.S. presidents, members of Congress and military leaders have also been teaching: warism and violence. Their classroom has been the national lectern of Washington from which a lesson plan has sent American troops to kill people or threaten to kill people in nearly a dozen foreign sites: Lebanon in 1982, Grenada in 1983, Libya in 1986, Panama in 1989, the Persian Gulf in 1990 to present. Somalia in 1992, Haiti in 1994, Sudan in 1998, Afghanistan in 1998, Yugoslavia in 1999, and Afghanistan in 2001.

A familiar pattern has been followed: glamorize, demonize, victimize, rationalize.

U.S. leaders glamorize. their interventions by naming them Operation Just Cause (Panama), Operation Restore Hope (Somalia), Operation Desert Storm (Persian Gulf). They demonize the latest enemy: Panama's Noriega was "a drug kingpin,' Somalia's General Aidid "a warlord," Saddam Hussein "another Hitler," bin Laden "the evildoer." U.S. pilots victimize defenseless citizens who are trapped in those countries and helpless to escape the bombing runs. Finally, it is all rationalized: Americans are a peace-loving people but, if pushed, will take action.

In the current war, pacifists are asked, often goadingly, "Ok, you're opposed to violence, but what's your solution instead?"

Fair question. We have a three-part answer based on political, legal and moral solutions.

The political response to Sept. 11 would have been to follow the U.S. government's longtime advice to Israeli and Palestinian leaders: talk to each other, negotiate, deal, compromise, stop the killing and reconcile. The same advice has been repeatedly dispensed to the factions in Northern Ireland. If that advice is fit for those conflicts, why not for ours with the Taliban government, which the U.S. armed and supported in the 1980s during the Afghanistan-Soviet war. Other precedents exist for nonviolent political responses. In the early 1970s, Richard Nixon dealt, negotiated and compromised with the once-demonized Chinese government. In the mid-1980s, Ronald Reagan did the same with the evil empire Russians. Both communist regimes were once portrayed as out to annihilate the U.S., threats far more lethal than the current demons, the ranting ragtag Talibans. Now Russia and China are trading partners. …

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