Pacifism, from the Latin pax (peace) and ficus (to make), an “ism” which has asserted itself more and more since the turn of the century, is the doctrine that opposes war as inherently wrong, works for peace between the nations, and in many cases, with or without reservations, advocates the refusal on the part of the individual to actively participate in any given conflict between one’s own country and another. I say “in many cases”, because there is a form of pacifism that would not subscribe to the last part of the above definition and does not advocate the right of the individual to refuse active participation in any war. I added “with or without reservation” in view of the fact, that we must differentiate between those who condemn participation in any war, regardless of circumstances, and those who believe that an individual should refuse to take part only if he is sincerely convinced that a given war is an unjust one. Both, of course, assume the erroneous position that active participation in war is invariably a matter of individual responsibility.
Since the First World War the doctrine of pacifism has narrowed considerably. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, that pacifism, since that first global conflict, has branched out into numerous, types and shades. Its general tendency, however, as a specific philosophy and attitude, has been to become more and more absolute, extreme and individualistic. Whereas pacifism in its earlier form maintained that very few wars are worth fighting, the same “ism” today is inclining more and more toward the absolute stand, that all wars stand condemned and that it is always wrong to take human life. While a few decades ago pacifism was solely a political question, concerning itself about keeping the nation as a whole out of war, it later became for many people an individual matter.
Prior to and during the First World War the word “Pacifism” was used to describe the general doctrine that the abolition of war is both desirable and possible. Men did not refuse flatly to heed their country’s call to arms, but rather advocated joint action toward the eventual extermination of this evil from human society. The radical stand was not taken that all war, irrespective of circumstances, is evil; but the more conservative position was assumed, that very few wars are worth fighting, that the evils of war are nearly always greater than might appear at first, and that therefore the abolition of war in any form must be sought. This type of pacifism, then and today, does not repudiate all force, without reservation. In fact, force was advocated. War, it taught, can be eliminated only by collective effort and peace can and should be forced and enforced. Such was pacifism in the early part of this century, in the days of Woodrow Wilson, e.g., who himself was often described as a pacifist, especially by his opponents, in spite of the fact that at the time America entered World War I he did ask for “force to the uttermost.”
This early form of pacifism was born largely out of opposition to the extreme militarism of some European and Asiatic peoples. According to the latter, war is in itself good, inevitable and desirable. Peace is not only an empty dream, but also an evil one. Lasting peace is as undesirable as it is impossible of realization. Militarism glorifies war; makes war its business; views war as a necessary and healthy expression of life itself. This philosophy is well exemplified by what the now deflated Mussolini once wrote “Fascism believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace.
. . . .It repudiates pacifism as an evil born of a renunciation of all struggle and an act of cowardice in the face of sacrifice. War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to meet it. . . . For fascism the growth of empire, that is, the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite a sign of decadence.
. . . .Peoples, which are rising are always -imperialistic.” It is in opposition to such proud glorification of war that pacifism came to reject entirely the view that war is both inevitable and desirable in itself.
It stands to reason, that from a mere natural point of view, much can, be said in favor of this form of pacifism. It strives for peace rather than war. It does not set the individual at variance with his own government as later pacifism does. It does not make the blanket denial that no government has the right to wage war, nor does it repudiate force altogether. It simply sets itself against war, and what man does, not hate war as one dreads a fatal disease?
This does not mean, however, that pacifism also in this form, did and does, not rest on altogether false premises, viewed now in the light of the Word of God. It is pure humanism. It does not consider God, but seeks only the welfare of mere man. When it preaches that, war is not inevitable and that its abolition is entirely possible in this world of sin it militates against all Scripture clearly teaches on this point. It plainly reveals that, it does not apprehend what real peace is. That peace is the fruit of love, that it is spiritual harmony of thought and desire, purpose and method, all rooted in the love of God in Christ, pacifism does and will not see. It rules out the element of sin altogether. It simply rejects the terrible truth, that all men are enmity against God, that enmity against God is enmity against one another, and that therefore there can be no peace In a world of sin. Besides, pacifism ignores the plain predictions of God’s own Word, that there will be wars and rumors, of wars until the end of time and God Himself stamps out all that is of sin in the day of His appearance. And certainly, the pacifist has no eye for either the need or the divine beauty of God’s righteous judgments against an ungodly world. It would continue in its way of sin and rebellion against God and have peace nevertheless.
Since World War I pacifism gradually came to have a far narrower meaning, until today it represents largely the doctrine of non-resistance or non-violence; the doctrine that all use of arms even for defense is unjustifiable; the doctrine of complete repudiation of all force as either a social or political instrument; and the right of the individual to refuse to take up arms and actively participate in any given war. The position is clearly stated by a certain A. J. Muste, Executive Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, “To work and fight for the military victory of this state means to hope that Americans may be able to destroy, maim, kill more cleverly, scientifically and effectively than’ Germans or Japanese. I do not feel any desire to lift a finger to bring about such a victory and I will not knowingly and of my own will lift a finger to bring it about.”
Actually it may be said also of this doctrine, that it presents nothing new. Most of its basic principles will be found to permeate even the most ancient pagan religions. Return good for evil, cultivate humility, refrain from assertiveness, and justice will have its way in the end. From the beginning of its history the Quaker faith is best known for its pacifistic leanings, Hence, the pacifism of today as described in the preceding paragraph may be more drastic, more absolute and individualistic in form, essentially and principally it is nothing new.
Politically pacifism is based on certain broad assumptions which are common to all its exponents. The worst evil, they feel, which can befall human society, is war. Evils accruing from defeat or passive submission to an invader may be great, but not as great as those resulting from war. To adopt violence as an instrument against violence, they say, is to produce the very condition we are seeking so zealously to avoid. The use of violence against us, they teach, is usually prompted by the fear, that we ourselves might resort to violence. Therefore the best preventive is to make it entirely clear to the foe that we have no such intention. “Treat others well, and others will treat you well.” An invader will not likely indulge in cruelty and butchery if not resisted. How shall we appraise this reasoning? Much of what they say is. true, perhaps. The Netherlands might have fared much better had they (decided against meeting the Nazi aggressor with force. However: (1) It may be seriously questioned whether it is really true, that the evil of war is invariably greater than that of defeat and passive submission. That depends greatly on how individuals and nations may feel about their honor and self-respect. (2) Besides, from the viewpoint of actual life, such pacifism will defeat itself. “Treat others well, and they will treat you well”, certainly will not apply in all cases. Moreover, pacifism also has its ways of antagonizing the invader. Yies, it may escape the immediate horrors that usually attend invasion. However, prolonged moral resistance, the “non-violent non-cooperation” policy of a Gandhi, civil disobedience along with other elusive methods of frustrating the invader’s government will ultimately excite resentment and forcible suppression as well as violence. Much depends on who is the nation against which the “non-violent non-cooperation“ is practiced. It is quite safe to assume, that if Gandhi had attempted his methods against the Nazi or Jap his head would have rolled in the dust long before this. Then, too, there is always the inevitable presence of minorities who refuse to accept the nonviolence creed. A ten percent or less offering an in vader violent opposition would certainly bring down on the entire nation the ire and vengeance of the invader. Even from a purely natural point of view pacifism asks too much of too many for too long.
Those who urge pacifism on Christian and religious grounds like to appeal to such modernistic doctrines as the universal Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of man. God is the Father of all men, also our enemies. Therefore they should be made to see their faults, not ruthlessly destroyed. Especially do these Christian pacifists like to appeal to the teachings of Christ, particularly the Sermon on the Mount, which to them is little more than a repudiation of what they prefer to call the eye-for-an-eye philosophy of the O.T. These people forget, that Jesus is preaching to the subjects of the Kingdom of Heaven; that He means to teach them that they must act from the principle of true loveand righteousness; but surely does not intend to teach, that in the New Dispensation there is no such thing as sword-power which God has given to divinely appointed magistrates, and that this sword-power does not imply the right to declare and wage war.
In addition to the objections already adduced against the political and religious assumptions of pacifism, I would urge all the arguments, presented above against the position of the more conservative pacifists. The former, too, is pure humanism. It, too, reveals plainly that it does not understand the true meaning of peace. It also rules out the element of sin altogether. And it, too, ignores all God Himself predicts in His Word about wars and rumors of wars to the end of time. To all of which we still desire to add: (1) That pacifism errs in as far as it takes the position that all war is a priori evil and contrary to the living God, and that all taking of human life is necessarily murder.
The O.T. is full of wars commanded by God Himself (2) That pacifism therefore certainly is mistaken when it flatly assumes that the government has no right at any time to wage war. Scripture clearly grants the magistrate this right. (3) That pacifism errs seriously when it maintains the individual’s right to oppose its government and refuse to participate actively in any given war. This position is dangerous and revolutionary. It denies the plain teaching of Scripture, that as long las the government exercises; its authority in its own domain, the individual citizen is obliged to obey. In principle it is anarchy. On the basis of such pacifism one can as well refuse to work in defense factories, pay taxes or do anything that in any way tends to support a war in which the nation is involved. Such a standpoint would certainly be consistent, would be carrying a principle to its logical conclusion, but such consistency should also be more than sufficient to prove the pacifistic position untenable.
One could hardly consider the subject treated without a least a reference to the form of pacifism adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in recent years, when it officially adopted a “Testimony” wherein it maintains, that we must distinguish between just and unjust wars, that no Christian can be justified in participating in a given war when convinced that his country is fighting for a wrong cause, and that the only course open to such a Christian is that of passive resistance and refusal to bear arms in that, particular war.
Space does not permit an exhaustive discussion of this position. It should be obvious, however, that this standpoint principally adopts the position of pacifism. The one may feel, that all wars as such are wrong and unjust; the other may maintain a distinction between just and unjust wars; both leave the question of active participation in the given war to the individual conscience. And who will say, that the Christian Reformed brethren have any more right to their form of pacifism and doctrine of passive resistance than the more drastic pacifists have to theirs?
I will refrain from further comment. For a truly masterful refutation of this entire position I refer you to the article of our editor-in-chief in Vol. 16 of our Standard Bearer, “As to the Christian’s Participation in War.”
There is one sense in which pacifism is wonderful and exceedingly blessed. That is the Scriptural sense. A “pacifist” is a “peacemaker”, according to the literal meaning of the word. Taking the word in that strictly literal sense Jesus is the Great Pacifist of all time, who in His own blood merits for ns eternal peace. Who by His Spirit realizes that peace in the hearts of all the elect, and who thus “makes peace” forever between the living God and an innumerable host of elect. In Him we also become true “pacifists”, who hate all sin, hunger after all righteousness, seek peace and ensue it. And doing this we are blessed forever, according to the word of the Lord Jesus: “Blessed are the peacemakers (pacifists), for they shall be called the children of God.”