From Syrian bombing to simplicity and complexity
Like Andrew Hughes Nind (11 December 2015) I, too, believe that there are situations in which the use of physical force is justified. I am, therefore, also not a pacifist in the sense of holding to the principle in all situations. I suspect that, if I had belonged to a different generation, I would have regarded it as my duty to fight Nazism during the second world war.
However, I also believe that the number of occasions in which a military intervention has made a situation safer or more just are extremely few. So, in practically all cases, I abhor the use of violence because of pragmatic considerations rather than the adherence to a principle or testimony.
Further, while I have the deepest respect for those who embrace and bear witness to the pacifist principle, I feel it has little place in a debate such as BBC Radio 4’s Moral Maze (‘Just war and Syria’, 25 November 2015). An allusion to a principle does not constitute an argument unless that principle has been established and agreed by the others in the debate. Where this is not the case, I fear that its rhetorical force may be to create the appearance of naivety.
However, I remain conscious of George Fox’s response to William Penn when he asked his advice about wearing a sword. Fox replied: ‘I advise thee to wear it as long as thou canst.’ I hope I am open to new light on this matter.
Andrew Hughes Nind says that he is ‘arguably not a Quaker…’ because he might shoot (if he had a gun) to save innocent victims. He is not, therefore, an absolute pacifist.
Absolutism is arguably something foisted upon us by conscientious objection tribunals. It is a test not generally applied to other moral characteristics. Does a truthful person forfeit the right to strive to be truthful if they can be forced to admit that they might lie to a murderer to save his intended victim? Honesty and pacifism, I submit, are both reasonable and desirable characteristics for an individual to seek to live by.
Truthful people may lie under severe duress, but this does not invalidate truth or imply that the best default is to lie. An honest fear that we might lapse into violence under extreme provocation is not a reason to reject pacifism. And that honest fear should certainly not stop anyone from becoming a Quaker.
T Roger S Wilson
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