We’re Peace Action, not Peace Book Club or Peace Magazine Reader, but sometimes it’s good to share books or articles that raise our issues and provoke analytical thinking or inspiration.
Two such articles are in the May issue of Harper’s Magazine (well three actually, there’s one on the phenomenal people’s mobilization in Wisconsin). Unfortunately I don’t think you can read these articles online unless you subscribe to the magazine, but you can get the magazine at a newsstand or library.
“Owned By the Army: Has the president lost control of his generals?” by Jonathan Stevenson, a professor of strategic studies at the US Naval War College, raises troubling concerns about the expansion of the uniformed military into strategic decision-making, a function supposedly still under civilian control. We may soon see a practical manifestation of how influential the military is in setting strategy, as the president will soon decide on an initial withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, scheduled to begin in July. The people must be the biggest influence on the president, not the military.
“Why I’m A Pacifist: The dangerous myth of the Good War” by Nicholson Baker is, to me, even more interesting.
Peace Action is not an explicitly pacifist organization, as some of our colleague organizations are. On the other hand, I don’t believe we’ve ever supported a US war or military intervention in our organization’s 54-year history, dating to the founding of Sane in 1957.
Baker’s article tackles the hardest argument for pacifists, the consensus that World War II was “the Good War” and that there was no choice but to fight it. He builds a strong case that the era’s pacifists were actually the most practical, and the most genuinely concerned people regarding the plight of the Jews and others being targeted by the Nazis in Europe. Pacifists argued for negotiating with the German government for the release of Jews and other prisoners, which unfortunately was never seriously considered by the US and Britain. It would not have hurt to try, and if Germany had refused, things would have been no better or worse off than they were. Meantime, the Allies didn’t fully engage in the battle to free Europe from Nazi control until the Normandy invasion in 1944, when much was known about the ongoing Holocaust and much of Hitler’s “final solution” was already carried out or was in place.
A British pacifist and parliamentarian of the time, Arthur Ponsonby, called war “a monster born of hypocrisy, fed on falsehood, fattened on humbug, kept alive by superstition, directed to the death and torture of millions, succeeding in no high purpose, degrading to humanity, endangering civilization and bringing forth in its travail a hideous brood of strife, conflict and war, more war.”
Hard to argue with that, even if one thinks World War II was necessary. And one can agree, as many WW II veterans do, that it was necessary, but than none of our wars since have been, and that our gargantuan national security state apparatus is blight on our democracy and on world peace.
(My two teenage children think the US is always at war, and why wouldn’t they? It’s certainly been true for as long as they can remember, as it has been for most of our country’s history.)
Personally, I have not decided whether I am an “absolute pacifist” or not, and I don’t know if it is necessary to figure that question out, absolutely. I do believe nonviolence works better than war (and this is currently being played out in the Middle East every day).
What do you believe? And what are you reading related to peace?