Pacifism

Pacifism has several definitions, all of which are consistent with this one: an opposition to war or violence of any kind.

How does one oppose violence? Let me count the ways:

  1. Refuse to partake of it, regardless of the consequences of refusal (e.g., one’s own death).
  2. Oppose it by means of indoctrination and persuasion.
  3. Respond to the threat of violence by promising a forceful defense against it, and carrying through on that promise if aggression ensues, so as to prevent or reduce the harm that an aggressor might cause.

Option 1 is useless against aggressors, of whom there have been, are, and always will be an abundance. Given the permanence of aggression, option 1 amounts to a futile gesture. It doesn’t break the so-called cycle of violence because there is no such cycle. Aggression is something that many people just do, regardless of any provocation or lack thereof. In fact, many aggressors view supineness as an invitation to attack. Bullies are drawn to those who are obviously weak or cowardly, and they see pacifists as either or both. So option 1 really does nothing to reduce violence, and may even provoke it. The only beneficiary of option 1 is the pacifist who practices it; his family, friends, and countrymen may suffer because of it.

In option 2, indoctrination can be applied only to members of one’s own group (club, gang, nation), which means that it makes that group vulnerable to aggression by outsiders; that is, internal indoctrination may foster violence against the indoctrinated group.

Option 2 also contemplates diplomacy toward other groups (e.g., other nations), which may take form of pleading for restraint or (in effect) offering a bribe.

Pleading for restraint (e.g., by appealing to the other party’s better nature). This is unlikely to sway a determined aggressor, regardless of soothing public pronouncements that he may issue.

Offering a bribe (e.g., an economic or military concession). This may (temporarily) assuage an aggressive party, but it does so by enabling that part to acquire at least some of its aims without incurring the heavier cost of violence. And a demonstrated willingness to make concessions just invites an aggressive party to demand more of them — or else. This is the “better red than dead” strategy of appeasement preferred by leftists during the Cold War. Leftists are so wedded to the strategy that they refuse to admit that it was Reagan’s “provocative’ defense buildup that broke the back of the Soviet Union and eliminated it as a military threat to the United States. (The subsequent military build-down has, of course, encouraged the military resurgence of the Soviet Union, in the guise of Russia.)

Option 3 — deterrence — is a kind of persuasion, but it’s persuasion backed by force. When deterrence works, it works because the other person or the other side’s leaders believe (with or without justification) that violence will be met with violence of an unacceptable degree. Credibility is the key to deterrence. It requires the appearance and fact of resolve and an overt display of prowess. In international affairs, a display of prowess requires a nation to build and maintain substantial and obviously capable armed forces. (American leftists have been undermining the resolve of the nation’s leaders and the attainment of military might since the end of World War II.) Deterrence encompasses the resolve and ability to strike first when it becomes obvious that the other side is preparing to strike. The first blow can, in some cases, be the last one. When deterrence doesn’t work, it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway — because the other side is recklessly aggressive, and would have attacked in any event.

The pacifist believes that the world ought to operate in a certain way, that there ought not to be violence. And so he commits himself to nonviolence. But the pacifist’s ought disregards the is of human nature. Pacifism works only if everyone is a pacifist to begin with — a demonstrably false proposition.

A true pacifist is a person who will die for the sake of his pacifism, by refusing to defend himself. That’s quite all right with me if my group’s gene pool thereby becomes less pacifistic. But it’s not all right with me to be dragged into subjection and defeat by pacifists. Or by leftists whose policies are no better than pacifism.

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Related posts:

Defense as the Ultimate Social Service

A Grand Strategy for the United States

The Folly of Pacifism

The Folly of Pacifism, Again