- why is war wrong?
- aggression and revenge
- the right to live
- the web of war
- changing the way we think
- pacifism in action
- further reading
- Religions, War and Peace
- Just War
- Albert Camus
Here are some of the things people say in defence of war, and some possible answers (and questions) in response.
"WAR CAN BE USED TO MAKE PEACE"
Peace can never come from violent methods: if you use violence, you risk a violent response now or in the future. It's true that wars have often been fought under the flag of democracy, freedom or justice. But war is undemocratic, restrictive and unjust; and, of course, not peaceful. The First World War was called 'the war to end wars': did it? So-called 'peace-keeping' troops (another contradiction in terms) are deployed in battle areas: have they stopped war for good? Real peace - the complete absence of war - can never be gained with a gun.
"WAR IS SOMETIMES NECESSARY"
What for? Revenge? The human impulse to retribution is certainly strong, and can be pumped up until it's out of control; but that doesn't justify it. Acts of vengeance solve no problems but create new ones instead - and always involve harming people, many of whom may have (or want) nothing to do with the conflict. Self-defence? Armed resistance is not - really not - the only response to threats. It is certainly the most damaging response and the one most likely to create threats and reprisals in the future. War is a kind of mutual suicide: what could be less necessary than that?
"THERE CAN BE GOOD REASONS TO GO TO WAR"
The idea of a 'just war' is an ancient one, and is still upheld by some religions. It's upheld, too, by the Western idea of 'humanitarian' war which, it's claimed, is to prevent or stop unjust oppression. Political 'good' causes are also used to justify wars, such as wars of liberation or revolution. The fact remains, however, that whatever the justice of the cause, that justice is cancelled out when the means of promoting it are unjust. And the many-faceted injustice of war is in a league of its own. War can't justify a cause any more than it can be justified by it. What do slaughter and violence prove? What do slaughter and violence provoke?
"WE'VE GOT TO BE ARMED TO PROTECT OURSELVES"
The French writer Albert Camus said that the great political question of modern times is what we do with fear. Fear makes us regard murder as militarily legitimate, and thus (wrongly) treat human lives as insignificant. He suggests that we ask ourselves two questions: 'Do I want to be killed or assaulted, directly or indirectly?' and 'Do I want to kill or assault, directly or indirectly?' If you answer No to both, what does that logically commit you to?
"BUT IF WE AREN'T ARMED, THEY'LL INVADE"
Fear of invasion is ancient, deep-rooted and strong. People who work for the abolition of war are also working to preserve everyone's right to live undisturbed. Take a look at the history of invasions round the world. Armed invasions are more often than not provoked by the existence of an opposing armed force, and most of the disastrous results of invasion are caused by the use of armed force on both sides - but unarmed nonviolent resistance has achieved remarkable results. Invasions are, in fact, relatively rare - the logistical problems are huge, and if land has been bombed to bits its value is lost. Occupying territory is difficult, and costly in money and manpower. In modern times most invasions have been partial and small-scale; land is seized for strategic purposes rather than to take control of a population. There's more than one way of responding to an invading force: nonviolence can lead to fruitful outcomes, including the peaceful thwarting of the invader [see Nonviolence in World War Two].or even enlightened integration: history has examples of that too.
"IF THEY ATTACK US, WE'VE GOT TO DEFEND OURSELVES"
Pacifists are always being asked how they would tackle armed aggression. It's usually difficult to satisfy the questioner. No single situation is the same as another, and no single answer can cover all situations. But some things can be said. First, pacifists would not respond with weapons; they wouldn't have any. They would try hard not to provoke the aggressor; but would look for ways of opening a dialogue - which would mean using imagination, resourcefulness and lateral thinking. A question: Why do you think aggression can only be met with violence (whether on an 'it's the only language they understand' principle or as tit-for-tat)? If you meet aggression with violence, what are likely to be the short-term and long-term results? As it happens, most societies have developed ways of containing their disturbed and violent elements without killing them; shouldn't that be just as possible where conflicts with other societies are concerned?
"WAR BRINGS OUT THE BEST IN PEOPLE"
This may sometimes happen, not least because some people respond heroically to disaster of any kind. Natural disasters can't be abolished, and like war they are expensive in lives, livelihoods and repair bills. War is an unnatural disaster, entirely man-made. Must we really create our own disasters to increase our opportunities to show heroism and team spirit? In reality, war brings out the worst in people, stirring hate and anger and hostility and encouraging murder and violence and crime. Stories of 'Dunkirk spirit' may be told, and some of them may be true; but what prevails in the disaster-zones of war isn't so much 'pulling together' as 'putting Number One first'. Wartime is always a lawless time, despite the laws that have so ineffectually been made for conducting it; and history records how greatly it has been exploited for personal gain, or just basic survival, at other people's expense. In any event, pacifism offers plenty of chances to show courage, without harming anyone else. Surely that's a healthier sort of heroism?
"WAR PRESERVES THE BALANCE OF POWER"
It's certainly true that power - looking for it, getting it and keeping it - has been a problem for human beings throughout recorded history. But power based on armed might has never been lasting or stable or safe. Solving the problem of power is part of the pacifist agenda, which begins with the unshakeable fact that preparation for war creates the possibility of war. What is more, being equipped for war keeps distrust simmering, makes trust impossible. What does 'balance of power' really mean? Isn't it an armed stand-off, always at risk of exploding into violence? 'Balance of power' is a pretty term for something not at all desirable: the sustained and terrible risk of war.