Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Pacifists, Part Three of Three: The Future of War

PART THREE: “My subject is War, and the Pity of War. The Poetry is in the Pity.” -----Wilfred Owen. Pacifism was not yet back in style in 1967. It became fashionable within a year: I was ahead of the curve. I believe to this day that you cannot stop killing by killing, that the death of one soldier never ended a war, and that war is no longer a viable means of diplomacy. And yet we continue, we arm, we fight, we kill, we die. Peace, it turns out, is much harder to wage than war, even though war comes with the Surgeon General’s explicit label on it: “Warning: War has been shown to be hazardous to your health; in fact, War causes death.” Stupidity lives. Ignorance is curable. Human beings enjoy the culture of war and violence. The culture of peace remains a lofty ideal most of us accept as unattainable. I do not want to believe that Mankind cannot change. If that makes me crazy, then so be it. Sanity is highly overrated, and I have seen what allegedly sane people do to each other. We know that non-violence works. Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King stand as proof. That change is slow. But all social change is gradual – or gradually accepted. Violent change, such as via revolution, most often leads not to a true change in social structure but only a change in leadership. True social change comes not from the top down, but from within, spreading outward. Not one dead soldier ever brought about true social change. The cost, however, is dear even for the most patient: King was assassinated long before the change he envisioned began earnestly to be accepted; Gandhi saw change come about only to be assassinated at that very moment. Gandhi once said, “There are many causes I would die for. There is not one cause I would kill for.” To those who clamor that such and such would have happened if we did not join the fight, the comment begs the question, “And has the fighting stopped?” It is easy to recognize that pacifism is impractical given the nature of Man. This does not mean that pacifism is wrong; instead, it is the ideal toward which we all must strive. How many Wilfred Owens must we allow to die days before the Peace? Woodrow Wilson tried desperately to keep America out of World War One. When he no longer could, he seized the opportunity to promote his own ideals at the peace talks at Versailles, though less than welcome. His vision of the post-war world included establishing a League of Nations that would prevent further wars. The rest of the world, including his own countrymen, was not ready. The failure of the United States to ratify the treaty nearly killed him. Still, he left us these words: “I would rather fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed than succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail.”

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