Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Pacifists, Part Two: In and Out of Style

“I do wish people would not deceive themselves by talk of a just war. There is no such thing as a just war. What we are doing is casting out Satan by Satan.” -----Charles Hamilton Sorley Pacifism goes in and out of style. Memories are short, and most young people are too naive to realize that all wars are waged to the benefit of a select few at the expense of a great many. There are no exceptions, even if the cause is just. Just causes are a reaction to unjust ones, and justice is often defined – and later conveniently re-defined – by the victors. We stopped Hitler after six million Jews and five million non-Jews were murdered in concentration and work camps. We did not stop the Rape of Nanking, the Killing Fields, the destruction of Biafra, the ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia, and on and on. Governments, our own included, examine the costs relative to the gain. Perhaps World War Two was the last justifiable war, from our point of view. We had to stop Hitler. We did not stop Stalin. Since World War Two, the United States has been embroiled in conflict after conflict, leading at least one social critic to call us “cops of the world.” He was a Canadian pacifist named Phil Oochs. For me, the tradition of pacifism is ingrained: my family lived through the occupation of Holland by the Germans. I was a teenager when the Vietnam War escalated into an American war, and faced the possibility of being drafted. I made my decision not to run away to Canada but to stand up for my beliefs and go to prison if necessary, modeling myself after a man who did just that, David Harris. Harris served three years of a five year prison sentence; to us he was imprisoned for refusing to kill. I was lucky. I won the draft lottery, and did not have to face that choice. I was off the hook but still vehemently and loudly opposed that war and our involvement in it, along with millions of others. Vietnam so polarized American opinion that I thought peace really did have a chance. But I was wrong: subsequent history continued America’s path down a warrior’s highway. Once again, an army of brutal extremists demands that we stop them. We created Saddam Hussein (as a buffer against Iran), then toppled him, creating a power vacuum and destabilizing the region. This in turn created ISIS, at least in part within the prison walls we guarded. We did not strangle ISIS in its infancy, and now it is growing into a threat large enough to warrant the return of US troops on Iraqi soil – and probably on Syrian soil as well. Why? Not for humanitarian reasons – we might have intervened w hen there were ten thousand ISIS warriors butchering women and children and beheading Iraqi soldiers. Instead, we have been watching the numbers grow. Our interests are served better by the need for our return. And, why? In a word: oil. It does not matter which billionaires’ politicians control Congress. If they want a war, they will find a way to have it. World War One proved that point a hundred years ago. Germany felt left out of the empire building that dominated Western European politics for the previous three centuries. They wanted their share. The balance of power in Europe, designed to prevent a major war, now aligned the two blocks that would duke it out – one side fighting to gain territory, the other to preserve territory already gained. Most of the nations involved were ruled by descendants of Queen Victoria, but this was no family feud. When Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was murdered in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, it formed the perfect pretext for war. What followed was a four year struggle that is best described as “redundant slaughter.” Incidentally, ethnic cleansing was a big part of the picture. Most of the nations of Europe, as well as the Ottoman Empire, actively sought ways to force “undesirables” to leave or face violent consequences. Large numbers escaped, mainly to America. Some were turned away even from there and sent back to Europe. Millions were slaughtered. The Turkish genocide of the Armenians in 1915 set a tone for the century to follow. In that century, 187 million human beings would die in war or by genocide. After World War One, pacifism became fashionable among the victors. So much was lost, and so brutally, that repeating the performance seemed out of the question. But the peace that was brokered at Versailles instead set the stage for another global conflict. That war began almost 25 years to the day from the beginning of the first. Pacifism once again slipped into disfavor and those who believed in it were considered cowards, even if they chose to serve in non-combative ways. War after war followed; the United States met its match in a faraway place called Vietnam.

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