Violence and Pacifism

September 22, 2009

As a side note in one of our discussions in my Ethics class, the topic of pacifism was brought up, and our professor suggested that “pacifism is not something we can apply on the political or social level”.  I was surprised, but the class seemed to be in general agreement with this notion.  Of course, I didn’t voice my disagreement, so there could have been others like me, who simply failed to represent the other side, but I noted a wave of non-verbal agreement.

I started wondering about the logic in this claim.  I do believe that we can solve conflict without violence, and I believe in pacifism, but I also see the truth in my professor’s words.  So why is it, that pacifism is not realistic?  Why do we still feel the need to cling to war?

Well, maybe pacifism isn’t socially/politically realistic because we don’t believe that pacifism is realistic.  We don’t believe in pacifism, so when we move toward peace, we still keep our violence tucked away, in case we should ever need it.  And as long as we still have our potential for war, everyone else is going to do the same.

The Cold War was just a dramatic metaphor for the way our world powers interact.  It would be crazy for the United States to disband its military, wouldn’t it?  We would be trampled underfoot!  And so we continue pouring fortunes into our weaponry, while we dream bloated dreams of peace.  And the lowest of us starve and suffer under oppression and misfortune, and we cut funding for schools and social service projects.

We don’t need war to solve problems.  Our famous world-changing figures, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, teach us that.  So why do we even have war?  Well, the only decent argument for having a strong military in a society that strives for peace–at least that I can think of–is self-defense.  Is that it?  We need war so we’ll be safe from war?  I suppose violence is the world’s biggest self-fulfilling prophecy.

3 Responses to “Violence and Pacifism”

  1. Glad you mentioned MLK and Gandhi, they showed the power of peace and non-violent resistance to change socio-political powers. My conviction is this: if we’d spend the money we currently spend on military might and prowess on truly helping others around the world, we really wouldn’t need the military for protective purposes. (The military does do a wonderful job of restoring order and hope after natural disasters too, it’s just way down on their priority list).

  2. Ben Godby said

    I think you’re bang on. I studied philosophy and political science in university and the idea that “pacifism is not something we can apply on the political or social level” was constantly iterated and reinforced, despite the protests of many well-reasoned folks.

    There are people who benefit from war (viz.: business and political leaders, who are after all the same), and they’ve created a narrative in our society that to be without a military is to give someone else the chance to militarily oppress you. But to think like that is to create a society where war is the status quo, and humanity will never reach its full potential if killing and destroying things is part of our “normal.”

    As for the military being useful in other ways, I do not believe it is useful enough to warrant existence; I think the police and emergency services do a fine job already. And we’d have much bigger domestic budgets for emergency relief, etc., if we weren’t mucking about in foreign countries, “making the world a better place” [sic].


  3. wanderingponderer said

    Yes! Thanks Ethan and Ben!

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