Volume 1, Number 22
17 September 2001

Pacifism in the Face of Terror, Part 1

Dear Friends,

As a conscientious objector in World War II, I told my draft board I would rather be killed than kill. I would lie down in front of an approaching German tank and hope its driver would have the conscience to stop. Bold words, but never put to test. How do I feel now that Terror has come to our shores?

Why do I feel more strongly about the Terror of September 11 than I did about Hitler's concentration camps? Not knowing about them in 1941 is no excuse. I feel more strongly because I identify more with the victims in the World Trade Tower than I did with German Jews or the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who were also people, families with children, just like us. Not very Quakerly, is it, or consistent, for someone who affirms that everyone, everywhere, is a child of God? At least, it is the truth.

I have tried to rationalize. World War II had goals — to win — and bombing innocent victims was an accepted part of it. In 1948 I stood in the rubble of Frankfurt with my 19-year-old friend Klaus, speechless as Klaus told me of the horror the Germans had suffered. Too young for war, he had served on the bucket lines. Last week I visited Klaus and his family in a rebuilt Frankfurt, and he said to me, "At least in this war we are on the same side." I shuddered. Are we at war? If so, this is not a war in which the Terrorists have any goals other than to spread chaos to the Western World. They must be stopped. Am I still a conscientious objector?

Yes. I will not support military action against any country or its people. I would not bomb Afghanistan (if I were of draftable age). But I have always supported the use of force to bring criminals to justice. Force may also be used on those who hide or defend the criminals. The only "revenge" for the victims of the Tragedy should be every effort to make sure it does not happen again.

This is my stand, but it is a blurry one. Wasn't Hitler a criminal? I cannot reconcile my logic, only answer to my heart.

Love and Peace, Jack

PS: Robin and I have just returned from our river trip through central Europe. It rained every day — no sitting on the sun deck — and the water on the Danube was so high that our ship could not fit under the bridge at Regensburg. So we were bussed to Vienna. At Passau news of the Tragedy arrived. Then my conference at Heidelberg was called off. For five hours yesterday we stood in security lines at the Frankfurt airport. Klaus, my friend of 53 years ago, and his daughter stood by us all the time. Now, after nine hours in the air we are thankful to be home. I will have more to say in the next Letter, when comments on previous Letters will also be published. Right now, I am tired.

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Publisher: Russ Nelson, St. Lawrence Valley (NY) Friends Meeting

Editorial Board

  • Roger Conant, Mount Toby Meeting, Northampton, MA.
  • Virginia Flagg, San Diego (CA) Friends Meeting.
  • Janet Minshall, Anneewakee Creek Friends Worship Group, Douglasvillle (GA).
  • Jack Powelson, Boulder (CO) Meeting of Friends, Principal Editor.
  • J.D. von Pischke, a Friend from Reston, VA.
  • Geoffrey Williams, Attender at New York Fifteenth Street Meeting.

Members of the Editorial Board receive Letters several days in advance for their criticisms, but they do not necessarily endorse the contents of any of them.

This newsletter was formerly known as The Classic Liberal Quaker.

Copyright © 2001 by Jack Powelson. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for non-commercial reproduction.

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