Volume 1, Number 27
5 November 2001

Pacifism in the Face of Terror, Part 3

Dear Friends,

When I wrote TQE #22 on Pacifism, I was too shocked by the tragedy of September 11 to express myself clearly. Now I have had time to give some thought to my position as a Pacifist.

I believe that whoever is a conscientious objector when his or her country is at war ought to have an alternative plan — something beyond "Don't bomb Afghanistan." Pacifism means "make peace." from the Latin pax (peace) and facere (to make). I emphasize the "make."

Let us begin with common objectives. I think virtually all Americans (and surely all Quakers) believe in the following:

  1. The perpetrators of the crimes of September 11 should be captured and punished.
  2. Precautions must be taken so that similar actions do not occur, in so far as is possible.
  3. Promote all means of communication. For example, World Learning (in Brattleboro VT), which I visited last week, brings young Israelis and Palestinians together to become friends and discuss their problems. They do the same for North Ireland Catholics and Protestants.

Beyond these points, we may not agree. Here is my proposal:

  1. Stop bombing Afghanistan. (We never should have begun).
  2. The common objectives should be agreed as binding by as many governments as are willing to accept them.
  3. Any attack on civilians shall hereafter be illegal under international law. (I hold this as absolute. Some, believing the bombing of Germany and Japan was legitimate to win World War II, will wish to confine it to a nation with which one is nominally at peace). It should apply to all guerrilla actions in the Middle East and North Ireland, no matter which side commits them. These attacks should be just as illegal, and just as much prosecuted, as the attacks of September 11 in New York and on the Pentagon.
  4. Any nation agreeing to these principles shall have the right to apprehend, try, and convict those who commit such acts, when evidence of their guilt is agreed by an international assembly acting as a grand jury (deciding whether to indict). This principle applies whether the suspect is an ordinary citizen or the Prime Minister or Leader of any people. (The Milosevic case is a precedent.) But in so acting, no nation shall have the right to harm any civilian.
  5. Covert action by intelligence agencies would be an appropriate means of detection, just as covert action may be used within a nation to apprehend a suspected criminal.
  6. The United States, Western Europe, and Japan should promote the development of solar cells and photovoltaic cells as rapidly as possible, to rid ourselves of dependency on oil for energy (and on Saudi Arabia in particular). The technology for both of these is available now; we are just unwilling to pay the price (but we seem willing to pay the price of war).
  7. All mail in the United States should be subject to irradiation to kill anthrax and other bacteria. This will not be cheap, but life is not cheap either. Private services such as Federal Express might begin this on an optional basis as "good business."
  8. When a means of terrorism (hijacking, anthrax, etc.) is found to be not cost effective, we can count on its being stopped. Our major effort should be toward making terrorism more costly to the terrorists.

Still beyond these points, I propose the following:

  1. Despite denials by the Israeli government and many Jewish citizens in the United States, American support of Israel is a principal focus of the current crisis. (Not all feel that way; there is a peace movement in each country). We should no longer send arms to Israel (or anywhere else, for that matter). Likewise, our support for governments that commit crimes against humanity should be withdrawn, and our military presence in Saudi Arabia should be removed. (As Steve Williams pointed out in his response to TQE #25, buying oil provides funds passed on to terrorists.)
  2. Israel and Palestine have had over fifty years to reconcile their controversy. The United Nations should agree that this is long enough and impose its own solution. This would include the declaration of a Palestinian state and international supervision of elections. It might - though as a Pacifist I shudder at this - include sending U.N. soldiers to monitor and protect the boundary between Israel and Palestine.
  3. Non-military sanctions against Iraq should be ended. They have done no good. (Readers probably know that I oppose sanctions in principle, anywhere, since depriving people of their livelihood is to me only one step away from killing them in war.)

Obviously, my proposal will not be widely accepted. My only justification for it is that I would not be true to myself if I am only a conscientious objector to this war. To validate that position, I must hold in mind an alternative, whether it would be widely accepted or not. (I had an analogous alternative in mind during World War II).

President Bush is conducting World War II all over again, when the object was to win — to occupy the territory of the enemy. Whatever "enemy" we have now cannot be defeated in the same way. The terrorists' purpose may be to destroy our society, but I believe they do not want to govern our territory. Such a "war" demands a totally different approach (the one I just outlined) from the one we are taking.

Surely you will find reasons why my proposal would not work. That is all right. If so, however, please suggest something better. If you are a conscientious objector to bombing in Afghanistan, what is your pacifist alternative? Let us use the pages of TQE to discuss these questions (though not exclusively; the world has other problems as well).

Yours in Peace,

Jack Powelson

Readers' Comments:

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I have just read TQE #27, and was delighted to see a written expression that was very close to my thinking, plus adding some new insights. The only missing element was a stated objective to achieve our former position in the world enjoyed briefly after World War II when all other peoples thought we were great benefactors and leaders. Despite bombing civilian populations in Germany and Japan, we then went in and helped them rebuild their countries so that they became effectively working democracies and our best friends. Ever since, we have been arrogantly bombing where we pleased, and then leaving the population to rot in the ruins. And most of our "Foreign Aid" has been US weapons.

— Joe Willits, Los Altos Hills, CA

The image that sticks with me is the fighter jets that scrambled after the passenger planes had been hijacked. If I had been in one of those fighter jets, or in some other way had had the potential to destroy one of the planes before they hit their target, I would have done so. I think the killing of innocents would be counterbalanced by the opportunity to save the lives of others.

If you agree to that choice, then you are admitting that there are circumstances that justify lethal force - to paraphrase Shaw, the rest is simply discussing the price. Even in the case of your proposal for international legal action, the need for lethal force would remain.

I still believe that moral and ethical persuasion should be used whenever possible with any person or persons who threaten us, sometimes it simply is not possible. In some of those cases, I think it may be moral to move beyond moral persuasion and to use physical violence to thwart the goals of people who would cause damage to others, and to risk the lives of innocents to protect some larger good. But I'm still conflicted and unsure what is the best way.

— Geoffrey Williams, Bethesda (MD) Friends Meeting.

Question: How would you know whether it was about to hit a target, and which one? — Jack

By jolley, Jack, you are full of surprises. Your statement of 11/5 puts it together superbly. You are becoming a radical liberal after all.

I support your proposals. Not just because you mentioned solar electric generation, my work. The absolute prohibition or illegality of purposely doing harm to individuals for any reason, any time or place is what the world needs to stop terrorism in all its forms. Most citizens of every country would not want to harm their neighbors, and would attempt to rescue a neighbor from drowning or house fire. When these same majorities everywhere see someone making or preparing to use a bomb or other preparation to do harm, and feels the personal responsibility to get help and get it stopped, and when that help is available, only then can we get control of terrorism. And it matters not whether the bomb maker is a "crazy" man down the street, or wears the uniform of your own country.

— Steve Willey, Sandpoint (ID) Friends Meeting.

Question for Steve: Thanks for your support. But: Are pacifism and radical liberal thought melded? Can one be a classic liberal and a pacifist at the same time? — Jack

Your ideas on peacemaking all rest on two assumptions: (1) that the sides in conflicts are morally equivalent, and (2) that the sides are equally likely to be brought to justice. Both of these assumptions are mistaken. To take the most controversial example of (1), the position of the Arabs is that Israel should not exist; their goal is to end its existence. Israel's position is that is should coexist with its neighbors. It is difficult to see how more communication is going to change this, or how a UN solution would change the minds of the Arabs. It reminds me of a compromise with Hitler: Hitler wants to kill all the Jews, I want none to be killed; so Hitler gets to kill half the Jews.

I do believe that a prolonged effort to show the Arabs the benefits of freedom will work in the long run, but not in the short term we are dealing with here.

— Judy Warner, Lutheran, Rohrersville, Maryland.

Your point #4 (of the second batch) is fraught with booby traps. I can see Iraq, for example, arresting and trying an American citizen on whatever "war crime" they might conjure up to fit the situation, and the U.S. being unable to come to the aid of its citizen because it is party to an international agreement that countries can arrest and try individuals they deem to be terrorist criminals. It gets close to home. I, for example, after the revolution in Iran, was tried along with my partners (in absentia I hasten to add) in an Iranian court, found guilty and condemned to death for "defrauding" the State of Iran of large sums of money. Needless to say, I never expect to go to Iran. But, suppose they had the right, by international agreement, to demand the extradition of the citizens of another state to stand trial in Iran? I shudder to think of it. While I agree in principle with almost all of your proposals, the terms of their execution would need to be studied with cautious and careful attention.

— Tom Todd (Jack's brother-in-law), Jamestown RI.

I liked TQE #27 so much that I have copied it to reread and share. I believe I am in 100% agreement! Maybe on closer study I'll take exception to something, but not at this point!

— Lois Jordan, New Castle Friends Meeting, Indiana.

Why would a pacifist object to a permanent U.N. peacekeeping force in Palestine if they would do it, which is dubious anyway? Isn't that the purpose of the U.N.? Perhaps the best solution is to admit any and all Israelis to Florida, and cease funding of the current Israel by the U.S. [It would be] Exodus III.

— Maurice Boyd, Friends Meeting of Washington (DC).

I agree with your proposals. I have been thinking along the same lines. We should pursue and prosecute the terrorists in the same way that we would pursue any international criminals. After all, one murder by one individual, for whatever the motivation, is a kind of terrorist act. But by bombing Afghanistan, we are recruiting more terrorists.

— Virginia Flagg, San Diego (CA) Friends Meeting.

I find this so helpful, Jack. Especially living as I do in an environment where not everyone agrees with this proposal. And many feel more bombing would be better. Sigh. At school, almost all the children have been told to hit back and hit back harder. Such advice does not produce a peaceful atmosphere.

— Faith Williams, Bethesda (MD) Friends Meeting.

Note: Faith Williams is librarian at an inner-city school in Washington, D.C. — Jack

What the people under Osama are doing, are what they feel is right. They are not guilty, by any means. They have grown up in a world that has taught them, and shown to them, that extreme measures are required to achieve their goals. They are fighting against the evil United States, in their eyes. They are doing the just and right thing, by killing Americans. And we have our own beliefs, from what we have experienced in our society and the world.

— Tony R.

Here in Louisville there is to be a Thanksgiving dinner for the "Children of Abraham." Thus Islamic, Jews and Christians will break bread together. I wish the Buddhists, and Hindus had been included, but it is oversold. A positive step. I have been told that 60% of the think tank participants at the Council on Foreign Relations are now opposed to the bombing and the percentage is growing. Please let us observe Ramadan. A big fault of many Americans, particularly those in power is arrogance. As a business leader, I finally learned to listen. It is remarkable how many great partnerships can be formed and strengthened that way. Of course, it is also the way Friends find unity with the Eternal Spirit.

— Lee B. Thomas, Jr., Friends Meeting of Louisville (KY).


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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.
  • Merlyn Holmes, Unitarian, Boulder, Colorado.
  • 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 John P. Powelson. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for non-commercial reproduction.

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