Pacifism: Well Intentioned, but Ultimately Immoral
No one likes war. That goes without saying. But some contend that war is evil in itself, and should never be engaged in for any reason. Some pacifists have theological reasons for their stance, while others are motivated by humanistic idealism. While pacifism is a wonderful ideal, is it a realistic and responsible position to take? Everyone wants peace, but can pacifism bring peace to this world?
For those who believe God is opposed to any and all war consider the following: Would God ever command us to do something evil? No. Did God ever tell people to go to war? Yes. Then war in itself cannot be evil.1 While some wars are unjust, there must be such a thing as a "just war."
What sort of thing justifies going to war, then? One such justification is to secure justice in the face of gross evil. Sometimes it's right to fight when it is the only means by which we can stop evil people from prevailing over weaker people.
Consider the following scenarios. What would you do if you saw an old lady being beaten by a mugger, a young lady being raped by a stalker, or a man fighting for his life against an armed attacker? Would you do nothing? Would you try to talk the criminal out of what they were doing? Of course not. Either response is morally irresponsible, if not reprehensible. We would do whatever was necessary to save the individuals from harm.
Now multiply the scenario 10,000 fold. Imagine that a nation is engaged in the unjust killing of thousands of its citizens, maybe even ethnic cleansing. What do we do? Do we turn our cheek because it's occurring on a national, rather than a personal level, or do we do what we can to intervene on behalf of the innocent? Whether the target is a single individual or a group of individuals, the principle remains the same. If we would intervene with force to rescue the elderly woman from being victimized by an evil man, why would we not intervene with force to rescue a group of individuals from being victimized by evil men?
It has been said that all it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing. How true that is. That is why we have a moral obligation to stop gross evil from prevailing when it is within our ability to do so. In fact, when we have the opportunity to stop evil but do not do so, that is evil. While there are several ways we might effectively stop evil, when those methods are not effective we can and should use military force. "War is the worst option imaginable, until it is the only option left."2 At that point it is not only morally permissible to fight, but morally necessary. It is evil is to stand aside and not act when we have the ability to do so.
That's why pacifism is immoral at its core. While pacifists have good intentions, pacifism is immoral because it says we are to stand aside and do nothing to stop evil when it is within our ability to do something about it. Pacifists place more evil on using force than they do on the evil itself that the force is trying to stop. In my opinion that is logically incomprehensible and morally irresponsible. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary agrees, noting that
pacifists claim that war can never be justified, whatever the cause or conditions. The moral failure of pacifism is found in its deadly naiveté, not in its abhorrence of violence. In reality, the world is a violent place where humans with evil intent will make war on others. In such a world, respect for human life sometimes requires the taking of human life. That tragic fact is as clearly revealed in history as any other, and far more than most. Pacifism fails to keep the peace against those who would take it.3
But pacifists really don't believe that violence and physical force is always wrong. How do I know this? I know this by their reactions. If you were to punch a pacifist in the face they would use equal or greater force to defend themselves from being further abused. If someone attacked their family, the pacifist would use lethal force if necessary to protect his family from harm. Considering the fact that society is nothing more than a collection of families, why is it wrong for a nation to use force to protect its families from unjust tyranny? Is it ok to ignore evil simply because it's not directed against your family?
The pacifistic motto is that "war is not the answer" or its corollary "war never solves anything." While war is not always the answer, in certain circumstances war is the best answer; and while wars cannot solve every evil, war has solved many evils. Dennis Prager noted that "war has ended more evil than anything the left has ever thought of. In the last 60 years alone, it ended Nazism and the Holocaust; it saved half of Korea from genocide; it kept Israel from national extinction and a second Holocaust; it saved Finland from becoming a Stalinist totalitarian state; and according to most of the people who put 'War is not the answer' stickers on their bumpers, it saved Bosnian Muslims from ethnic cleansing."4
I find it strange that the motto of pacifism is "peace," and yet they fail to recognize that the absence of war does not produce peace. Take Iraq for example. If 30,000 Iraqis are being killed unjustly each and every year, how is that peace? Pacifists fail to realize that in some instances war is the only way to achieve peace. To free the Iraqis from the unjust and tyrannical rule of Saddam and his sons, America intervened. Our intervention did not disrupt peace, because there was no peace to begin with. It is true that had we not intervened there would be no war, but neither would there have been peace. Evil and injustice would have been permitted to flourish. Our efforts in Iraq are efforts to bring justice where there was once injustice, and secure a peaceful future for Iraq.
How do pacifists suggest we stop evil? The usual response is that we talk with the enemy, trying to persuade them to stop committing the evil they are committing. Some will suggest economic sanctions should those talks be unsuccessful. But what do we do when the summits, the peace talks, and the sanctions aren't working? How long do we continue trying to reason with the unreasonable?
I often wonder what the world would look like if pacifists had their way during the reign of Hitler. Every year hundreds of thousands of Jews were being exterminated like fleas at the hands of a madman. Do we really think peace summits would have stopped Hitler? Every year we "kept up the talks" would have been another year in which 500,000 Jews went to their graves. How long do we let injustice continue when talks are not working? If pacifists were in power I am afraid they would have continued talking until there was nothing left to talk about, because the entire Jewish race would have been exterminated.
I have yet to find a pacifist who really has a plan for stopping evil without force. They advocate talking indefinitely. Pacifism is a nice ideal, but it can only work in an ideal world. Until then, we are left to live in a world that is full of evil men who will stop at nothing to fulfill their evil desires at the expense of the innocent. In that world we have a moral obligation to use force when necessary to protect those innocent people. That is why absolute pacifism must be rejected as moral foolishness, despite its honorable intentions.
1. I owe this argument to Greg Koukl, who offered it during one of his live radio broadcasts on KBRT AM 740.
2. Albert Mohler, "Is War Ever Justified? A Reality Check"; available from http://www.crosswalk.com/news/weblogs/mohler/?adate=4/19/2004#1257960; Internet, accessed 15 November 2004.
4. Dennis Prager, http://www.townhall.com/columnists/dennisprager/dp20041207.shtml.
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