Wednesday, September 27, 2006


In the dismal economic wilderness of the thirties an arch-criminal took possession of Germany (including the hearts and minds of many or most). Meanwhile pacifism reigned supreme in England, and likely much of the continent.

Hitler began to swallow up Europe, and enslave the conquered people. After he annexed much of Czechoslovakia, England's prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, went to Europe to confab with him and returning home announced "peace in our time", to great acclamation.

But the rest of Czechoslovakia soon became part of the Third Reich. Same for Austria. Then he invaded Poland, and the war began. When it looked like Hitler was about to take over their country, the Brits turned from pacifism ; they began to fight like demons.

Not so the Jews; they persevered in their pacifism and meekly allowed themselves to be slaughtered-- ten million of them.

In the long term England and the rest of the world paid a heavy price for their pacifism. Among other casualties something like 100 million people died in Russia, a trauma from which they have not recovered.

Sunday a man named John, who had spent most of his life is Laos and other countries of SE Asia rose at the Quaker Meeting to share a recent experience. He had been to that unfortunate land recently and visited a large cemetery where rested thousands of Brits, Americans, and others who had been prisoners of the Japanese. John was visibly affected by this and had difficulty finishing his message.

There had just been an anniversary of Hiroshima, which the Quakers had made much of. I knew that John was out of the mode among those good Quakers. After about 20 silent minutes I rose to share my WWII experiences. I pointed out that Cologne, and some other cities in Germany, had suffered a very similar fate, the primary difference being that more planes were used than at Hiroshima.

Agreeing that we all hate war, I ventured to suggest some positive effects of the dreadful WWII.

(Discussing this post with Ellie she pointed out that non-violence is a good and virtuous ideal in regard to protection of your own life or property, but less so when encountering horrible violence against others.

She went on to say that non violence led the Jews to go to the ovens like lambs to the slaughter, and we averted our eyes. Likewise with Somalia, Sudan, and many other recent victims of "ethnic cleansing". Can anyone do anything? Probably not because we are "good Americans" rather than members of the human race.)

I expected a torrent of 'rebuttals'-- with good reason. It came to me that John witnessed from experience while the others witnessed only a posture.

(It would not suprise me to receive a torrent of Quaker comments re this post; no, it would gratify me very much.)


Lorcan said...

Hi Larry, this is all very complicated, it would take a book to respond to this...

"Not so the Jews; they persevered in their pacifism and meekly allowed themselves to be slaughtered-- ten million of them."

Firstly, it is not really completely accurate. There were Jewish uprisings, in the Warsaw Ghetto, in Sobiborg concentration camp, to name a few. I would say it was not so much pacifism, but that very common trait in all humans, conformity. Jewish people had become used to deprivations of rights which would grow worse at times, improve other times, and many Jews believed that this night would also end, it would get worse if folks responded violently. But, when Jewish people realized this was as bad as ever could be, they rose up. Much of the transportation and Ghetto system was to move people into worse and worse conditions depriving them in stages of the resources to resist.

One of the huge lessons of this time is that loss of rights is never a static event. We give up some rights and a government will take away others and we don't know where it will end. I don't think the lesson is that pacifism is responsible for genocide. The time to oppose genocide is before it gets to that degree. We should have stopped the genocide in Somalia by demanding our food be sent there instead of our guns. All that remarkable weaponry in that small nation, where not made by them, but were given to them for free by our people.

In the same light, no death camps were the target of allied military actions. They were liberated as armies led forward, but WWII was not a war to stop the genocide leveled at Romany or Jewish people.

I find I am in agreement with Hannah Arendt. The way to oppose genocide is to oppose conformity to small evils ... don't hurt each other, even under the color of law, it becomes habitual.

Thine dearly in the light

Larry said...

I'm deeply grateful for your comment, Lorcan. It is true that many Jews "persevered in their pacifism and meekly allowed themselves to be slaughtered-- ten million of them."

Unfortunately, omitting the qualifier, I categoried, so often a fatal error.

I appreciate your correction and supplement to the history of the Jews.

Secondly I am as much an enemy of conformism as anybody I know, well maybe except for you, Lor.

BTW I had forgotten your Jewish connection. It's very refreshing to find a Jewish Christian (or at least Quaker). I have just finished Turbulent Souls and found it vividly impressive.

Universalism transcends all religious categories, and Stephen Dubner told a thrilling story about how his family went from orthodox judaism to ardent Catholicism, and back to Judaism (in the person of himself).

And finally he grew to the point where he could express solidarity with both faiths. It was a long road.

We will all meet together some day or somewhere or something.

Some years ago I read Daniel Deronda and found it equally stirring.

I guess what appeals to us about these kind of works is that they provide an opening into sympathetic understanding and affirmation of people of other faiths.

At the hospital I meet patients from every kind of faith, and I've reached the point where I see them all just the same.


I_Wonder said...

Larry, hello. I've been reading in reverse chronological order. I'm glad to see you're still reading, thinking and writing.

I lean not toward pacifism but toward non-violence. I think we need to be ready to jump into a worthy fight but do so with our own values and choose our actions without letting others manipulate us. Violence lays the roots of future conflict. Violence is sometimes necessary but it appears too many people elect violence too quickly as an unrealistic solution to complex problems that have developed over many years.

Larry said...

Nice to hear from you, Paul. I'm pretty much where you are on violence-- 90% of it is completely unnecessary and most often useless.

I'm intrigued with, and thinking of posting more on Thomas P.M.Barnett; right now reading his Blueprint for Action, a sequel to his Pentagon's New Map.

He's worked for the military for most of his career, but he has a more reasoned approach than most militarists.

He thinks that trade can (and will) trump military adventures. He calls it connectedness, by which he primarily means globalization.

All recent (military) violence has been in the gap, by which he means unconnected places not affected significantly by globalization. He proposes to deal with the gap like we did the violent west in the 19th century.

Probably sounds pretty far fetched to most of "our sort of people", but at least it's a plan to give some reason to the things that are happening on the world scale.

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Jon said...

Hi, Larry,

I've struggled with pacifism off and on for decades. I definitely became "pacifism on" about ten years ago when I got bit by the St. Francis bug. And my Zen teacher, over the course of a year or so, helped me, very gently, to come to the point of "pacifism off."
That said, it's not really a big change. I draw a distinction between pacifism, as a the total and complete renunciation of violent means, and nonviolence, which I would call the avoidance of violence except as a last resort.

Nonviolence works miracles, but it must be strong, and foresighted. The Jews of Denmark were saved by a coordinated non-violent effort of the Danes. Kong Christian wore the Jewish star and said that every patriotic Dane would too, and millions of them did. The Nazis had to abandon their plans for the "final solution" in Denmark.

On the other hand, Hitler could only be defeated on the large scale through deadly, terrible force. The success of that effort has become one of the cornerstones of the American mythos as the "land of the free," and I believe, plays a huge part in making us the most warring country in today's world: Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, Grenada, Yugoslavia, Iraq (part I and II.) Because Hitler was evil and we were (relatively) good, our enemy du jour is evil and we are good. Because WWII was won, our war today is winnable. And on and on.

Why solid pacifism and gung-ho warfare both wrong, is that both stem from an unwillingness to face reality: the pacifist is unwilling to admit the conditions where the only sane response would be violent action, and the believer in might is unwilling to admit that the real enemy, actually the only enemy, is the ego itself.

In some of the conflicts you mentioned, perhaps forceful intervention would in fact stop the slaughter. In others, it might indeed make things worse. Certainly a war after the fact is hopeless to help. If we cared about the fact that Saddam "was murdering his own people," we would've tried to stop him during the Anfall campaign of 1989. Jumping into war two years later resulted not only in the horror of the Gulf war, but two disastrous uprisings which we instigated, and sanctions which kill a-million-and-a-half of the most innocent citizens of Iraq. So now another war, to undo those errors, and now perhaps 600,000 more dead, and a country writhing in chaos.

To wage peace or war effectively requires spiritual warriorship, the dedication to purity of heart and intention, to love all, including the enemy, to know the enemy is within, and to seek to bring peace into reality.

Conscious living in love, both personally and globally, means anticipating conflict before it arises, responding as necessary, and addressing the pain ones own actions sow before that karma sprouts as the next conflict.

Larry said...

Thanks, Jon. It seems that Ellie, Paul, you, and I are all in agreement re non-violence rather than pacificism, and likely Lorcan as well.

As usual the truth lies between the two extremes.

Reflecting on your comment it came to me that there are wars and wars, like opinions: good, bad, and indifferent.

Re the Central American affairs: totally wrong! Just continued adherence to the Monroe Doctrine, rather a perversion of it which amounted to rank imperialism.

Ideological: Korea, Vietnam, facets of the "Cold War": we set ourselves up for Korea and foolishly blundered into Vietnam: thousands dead.

Once we became so great we might have obtained our political objectives much more easily if we had clean hands and the willingness to do the right thing although more painful-- such as prohibiting Middle Eastern oil. We chose to become the World Bully.

It's one thing to use military force to save lives, such as prohibiting ethnic cleansing, and another entirely to pursue our economic interests.

One thing I like about Barnett is that his primary interest is in "waging peace", which he called System Adminstrators.

Recently, reading a book called Waging Peace I got an introduction to what he's talking about. These people were in Iraq in charge of creating the things that had been destroyed.

They were an entirely different animal from the generality of GI, who is all too likely to express his contempt for the Iraqi, just like we did for the 'Krauts' and 'Japs' in WWII, and every other war since.

It's this contempt for the people outside one's tribe that leads to wars and something that we can work with continually rubbing elbows with the populace.

So good to hear from you , Jon. You've caused me to run off at the uh keyboard again.

Blessings to all.