Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Pacifism Is Self-Defense

It all depends on how largely you define “self.”

Many people wrote penetrating responses to a posting I put on www.truthout.org last week. The most insightful suggested that absolute pacifism is a deceptive position, and such pacifists are secretly grateful that others are willing to kill and die for our safety. The writer said that if push ever came to shove, and my own safety was directly threatened, I too would kill to save my own life. The writer suggested that to work toward global acceptance of non-violence as an organizing principle of society, and to argue for unilateral, pre-emptive American disarmament as a precondition for universal disarmament, are naïve and “tautological” views, suitable perhaps for slogans and bumper stickers, but not for actual foreign policy.

I’ve confronted this tautology argument before; it’s often a showstopper, as though the speaker is saying: “Duh. If nobody had any weapons and everybody agreed not to fight, of course there would be peace. But they do, and they won’t, so the goal of no war and no weapons is worthless. Never gonna happen. Got any other ideas?”

I thought tautology referred to arguments that make logic circles, as in: President Bush claims the right to unilaterally make and discard laws to protect national security. Using his presumed authority, he ordered NSA wiretapping of American citizens without FISA court approval as required by Congress. Therefore, the wiretapping is legal, and, for “national security reasons,” can be neither challenged in court and nor overseen by Congress.

Under that definition, there could be a difference between a more or less coherent logical construct and observable fact, or what I think of as true.

But I looked up tautology, and it’s even more simple than a logic circle: “needless repetition of an idea in a different word, phrase, or sentence, redundancy.”

A.J. Muste summed up the absolute pacifist position as: “There’s no way to peace. Peace is the way.”

Is that redundant, tautological? Or is it as summation of the observable fact that there is literally no safety for any one of us, until there is guaranteed safety for all of us? There will always be somebody willing to hit back, at least until we stop hitting them, and probably long after, as the rage works its way out of our planetary system.

If it were true that I was happy to have others kill and die for my safety, then I would shut up about the horror of other people’s children being blown up, and other children losing their parents to violence, guns, bombs, radiation. At this point, I haven’t killed anyone, or had a loved one violently killed, and I don’t live in a war zone. So my work as a pacifist writer is primarily about stopping my government’s destruction of other people’s lives, and helping to create conditions for those other people to survive, and someday flourish. It’s secondarily about me, my family, my dwelling, my neighborhood.

But even that hierarchy doesn’t get at how I really look at things, which lays the groundwork for the idea that non-violence is self-defense. I really do think of their children as if they were my children, because I believe all children are everyone’s children, and everyone’s pain and grief are part of mine. I believe everything is connected, and, in the end, One.

I believe that not only as an act of faith and a coherent logical position, but as an observable, physical reality. The chair under me, connected to the floor, connected to the ground under the house, is connected to the ground under every other person and thing – living and non-living – on Earth. Try as I might, I cannot escape from this connection. I jump, and gravity brings me right back down.

This volunteer, unpaid, all hours community building and peace writing is exhausting work, if all I want is self-righteous hypocrisy and somebody else to shoot the guns for me. Plus, I’m personally no good at denial as a coping mechanism. Rationalizing, intellectualizing, somatizing, yes. But I am terrible at pretending things to myself, hence my frequent despair in this terrible, tenuous turning moment in history.

I know it could go many directions other than the peace-filled way. At the end of the day, there’s a slide show in my mind’s eye, of blood and guts and rubble and babies just like my daughter, little boys just like my son, but with split-open skulls and intestines spilling out of giant holes in their bellies. If I’m lucky, that imagining is followed by the one about no cars, and friendly little neighborhood clinics and schools, and lots of trees where parking lots used to be, and clean water to drink, and art studios open to everyone, and I wind up thinking: “Why not?”

Why not aim unrealistically high? The forces of violent death and destruction are all around us, making their vision into reality. Our notion of our future world is undeniably better: no guns, no bombs, no armies, no children crying over their father’s shrapnel-filled bodies, no fighting and hunger and hopelessness.

What have we got to lose by holding it in mind, describing it to each other, and working for it with all the energy of mind and body we can muster? Even if we fall far short of our ultimate goal, we win by doing what we can and refusing to let go of our vision.

But the truth is, I could no more stop dreaming/ than I could make them all come true.”
-Buddy Mondlock


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