I am a pacifist. I am a Quaker. I believe in turning the other cheek. I do not believe in killing other human beings. I do not believe that making war can be justified.
Human life is special and precious. We are unique amongst the animals of this earth. The gift of self-awareness is an incredible one. It allows us to feel empathy; it allows us to imagine the plight of another. How can any human, exercising this gift, wish the destruction of another human being like him/herself? Self-awareness and empathy are what separates us from animals. Failing to exercise these feelings is to lose what it means to be human.
I am aware that this is not the world that I live in. As a student of political science, it is clear to me that self-interest and competition dominate world politics. Cooperation is only exercised if it is beneficial to a country’s self-interest. Under these norms, war is sometimes a necessary means to ensuring one’s survival or bettering one’s self.
These may be the norms accepted by most people in our world, but I reject them. I want to live in a better, more peaceful world. I know I am not the only one who dreams of a world without murder. I know that there are others who dream of peace. We are in the minority and our dream may never be realized. But we will keep dreaming.
The most difficult part of holding this position is knowing that I only have the liberty to express these beliefs and others because others have fought and died. Millions of Americans have risked life and limb to protect our rights. They have squeezed the trigger and ended others’ lives in wars throughout our nation’s short history. I greatly respect their principled sacrifice on the behalf of liberty and freedom. And to express these beliefs of pacifism to a veteran would make me a little shameful, for she has legitimate reason to call me naïve and foolish. It is paradoxical to be grateful for the freedom that I have, yet reject the means by which it was achieved, through war.
There are two sorts of war that make me question my convictions. First is war for liberty. Oppressed and in chains, a slave has no freedom. How can the slave be expected to show empathy for the master who has no empathy for him? I cannot imagine what it would be like to be enslaved, so I can pass no judgment on the decision of a slave to fight for freedom.
The second is war in the name preserving life, however paradoxical that may seem. Genocide is all too common. Should a more powerful, outside force intervene in the name of saving the lives of tens of thousands of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? millions? Are the lives of those who have decided to murder worth less than those that they kill? Perhaps a successful intervention with pure intentions could be justified. All too often, however, “humanitarian” interventions are motivated by politics, perverting the goals of the intervention and jeopardizing its success.
While both of these justifications for war give me pause, fighting for peace can reduce the frequency that we have to make this difficult choice. The war for peace is a preemptive one, with many different manifestations. It’s battlefronts are endless and everywhere. But the fight for peace is just and worth fighting.