I want to be a pacifist when I grow up.
But I’m not there yet. And as we stop for a day to remember and thank the men and women who have risked life and limb on my behalf, I thought I’d spend a minute thinking about why I just can’t get on the pacifist bus quite yet. Unfortunately, this won’t be a logical post – because I’m pretty sure that all of the logic falls with the pacifists.
Christian advocates of “just war” come pretty close to what sounds logical, at least to my ears. I mean what could be wrong with saying that you can’t go to war unless it meets certain very reasonable criteria, like: the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. But whenever the just war advocates are done explaining their position, I’m always left with a troubling, “But what about …?” Whether it’s all of those pesky quotes from Jesus, or a suspicion I have that they really want to be pacifists but at some point no longer think God can have his way without our counter-insurgency tactics, something always falls apart for me when I listen to or read just war philosophy.
No, it’s the pacifists who win the consistency of thought prize. At least the Christian pacifists who’ve thought out their position for more than a few minutes. I think Ghandi was the bomb dot com, but his version of pacifism makes no sense to me. He believed that in the end, humanity would do the right thing: “If love or non-violence be not the law of our being, the whole of my argument falls to pieces.”
That sounds good, but it’s not my experience of the law of human beings, especially the human being I know best. So I can’t buy Ghandi’s kind of pacifism. And I don’t mean some kind of boo-America, down-with-governments kind of pacifism. That was a younger version of me, one where I asked my Air Force veteran father to take down the American flag from our house because it was a symbol of our horrible military. He ripped me a new one, saying, “Six million of your ancestors died because they couldn’t defend themselves!”
Nope, I’m not into any kumbayah, soft-thinking version of pacifism. The one that makes sense to me is one that says that Jesus simply would not take up a weapon against an enemy, and so we can’t either. Period. We can lay down our lives in front of a violent oppressor, but we can’t fight back with violence. Period. If it looks like catastrophe to us now, God knows better than we do. In the end, he will put all things right. Period. It’s not up to me to decide the fate of history, except to play my part by walking in the way of Jesus. The early church fathers would never have conceived of Christians waging war, and neither should we. Period. Of course, the Christian philosophers say it much better than that, but you get the picture.
It makes so much sense. And I want to sign up. I want to teach Nafisa and the boys the way of pacifism so that they never participate in any war. Period.
The problem is that I don’t believe it. At least not in any way that matters. Sure, I can ascribe to it intellectually, but I don’t really live that way. If I could wave a magic wand and disband the US military, I wouldn’t do it. If I could make my husband promise not to kill someone who was trying to kill our family, I wouldn’t do it. If someone was hurting my kids, and I could knock them out with a shovel or shoot them in the head with a gun, I think I would shoot them in the head. Just so they couldn’t get back up later.
So maybe I’m not a pacifist after all. Maybe, in my heart of hearts, I know that sometimes killing is justified. But maybe it just means that I’m a coward. I don’t want war and violence, but I don’t want to die for that belief. That’s the difference between me and my dad, between me and everyone who has ever put on a uniform. They’re willing to die for it.
But like I said, I’m not done growing up. So either I’m gonna become a bona fide pacifist, or a less cowardly just-war believer. Either way, thank you Daddy, and everyone else who served and fought and died so I can take the time to figure it out.