When I worked in a large hostel in East London, one of my colleagues intervened when he saw one of the residents threatening someone else. The aggressor turned on my colleague, punching him hard enough to break his jaw, and then left the hostel.
I was on shift the next day when the attacker returned. We immediately called the police and they arrived shortly afterwards to make an arrest.
However, when he saw the police officers arrive in the hostel’s reception area he made further abusive threats to them as well. He was warned but continued to be aggressive, so the officers drew their retractable batons (known as asps) and hit the man’s legs to subdue and handcuff him.
I watched all this happening right in front of me. What sticks in my mind most vividly was the man’s shrieks of pain from the blows of the batons. It contrasted sharply with the swaggering aggression he had displayed up till that point.
It was a horrible incident. But if I am honest I felt a deep sense of relief that his aggressive behaviour was contained and dealt with.
So why am I sharing this story? Its because it illustrates why I am not a pacifist.
In this situation, I believed the police officers were justified in their use of force because it was defensive, restrained and proportional to the threat they were dealing with. It served the cause of justice and protected other innocent people.
I felt similarly about the police who shot dead the attacker who injured multiple people in my South London community in 2020.
Most of the arguments about the justification of war in the last 30 years have involved debates about modern forms of Western imperialism. I was one of millions who marched against the Iraq War back in 2002.
But in the Ukraine, we are seeing the blatant re-emergence of Russian imperialism, seeking to re-assert domination over a now democratically-run country. In response, we have seen Ukrainian civilians being issued with machine guns and large groups of women mass produce home-made Molotov cocktails.
Yesterday, I went to the protest outside the Russian Embassy in London. I spoke with a Ukrainian woman (pictured above) who told me about her mother and wider family currently sheltering in their basements. She said they were terrified but also that they will fight to the very end.
A key reason for the strength of their resolve, she said, is because so many remember the era of Soviet imperialism. They will not give up their hard-won democratic freedoms for the oppression of totalitarian rule.
Just one example was Holodomor, the horrific 1932/33 famine in which it is estimated that 6-8 million people died. In a poll in 2021, 85% of Ukrainians believed this was a deliberate act of genocide by the Soviet leadership.
In that era, George Orwell criticised the English left-wing who failed to grasp the dangers of totalitarianism and were naively positive about Russia:
‘For all its injustices, England is still the land of habeas corpus, and overwhelming majority of English people have no experience of violence or illegality. If you have grown up in that sort of atmosphere it is not at all easy to imagine what a despotic regime is like…such things as purges, secret police, summary executions, imprisonment without trial etc etc are too remote to be terrifying…so much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know fire is hot.’
Quite rightly, the non-violent example of leaders such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King are inspiring. But neither were battling totalitarian dictators.
Again to quote Orwell, who wrote this in his essay Reflections on Gandhi (1948)
‘He believed in ‘arousing the world’, which is only possible if the world gets a chance to hear what you are doing. It is difficult to see how Gandhi’s methods could be applied in a country where opponents of the regime disappear in the middle of the night and are never seen again.’
He then adds:
‘Is there a Gandhi in Russia at the moment? And if there is, what is he accomplishing? The Russian masses could only practice civil disobedience if the same idea happened to occur to all of them simultaneously, and even then, to judge by the history of the Ukraine famine, it would make no difference.’
Everyone wants peace, but the misuse of power must be confronted. Bullies, whether they are aggressive individuals who punch people, or tyrannical dictators who invade other countries, must be stood up to.
The fortitude and bravery of the people of Ukraine is setting an example to the world. Let’s pray for them and support them in any way we can.
- Donate to support Ukrainian refugees: UNICEF, Red Cross or this Christian mission in Poland
- Consider joining many other fasting and praying for Ukraine on Ash Wednesday
- Read Giles Fraser on the spiritual and historical roots of Russia’s imperialism
10 thoughts on “Why I am not a pacifist”
Jon Kuhrt, Pacifism is the insistence on all humanity’s ancient ‘indigenous’ (Latin ‘self-generating’) COUNCIL-PROCESS. You might become familiar with your own pre-colonial (eg. Roman invasion & genocide) Celtic Briton ancestry. European indigenous Celtic & Slavic peoples resisted colonization for a couple of thousand years & have passed on some indigenous traits mixed into the European psyche. I lived & worked among 1st Nation, ‘indigenous’ (58 years) Russian Doukhobor, German-Mennonite, English-Quaker & American-pacifist (during 1969-80) ‘communities’ (Latin ‘com’ = ‘together’ + ‘munus’ = ‘gift-or-service’) https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/e-history/3-celtic-europe
Once you’ve had a look at the following ‘Pacifist-Criteria & Processes’, then I’ll be glad to look with you at the situation of Russia’s protection of Donetsk & Luhansk civilians from the relentless last 8 years of Ukrainian Svoboda & Pravy-Sektor onslaught which has genocided 20,000 people mostly Russian speaking civilians, many who had fled such as the burning of the Odessa Trade-Union building & other violences. Personally, I support Svoboda & Pravy-Sektor’s proud recall of Ukraine’s economic heritage promotion of Multistakeholder-economic-Participation, just not their resort to violence, so I hope you can understand how complex this human issue is. I live in a neighbourhood with 450 Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Bulgarian & other Slav speakers. I’ll be glad to formally dialogue or debate with you in a Both-sided, Equal-time, Recorded & Published Dialogue.
I have devoted much of the last 58 (since 1963) of my 69 years to understanding ‘pacifism’, with a number of personal mistakes, failures & successes. Since 1979, I live with a personal vow of human solidarity. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/relational-economy/solidarity
PACIFIST-CRITERIA & PROCESSES
All humanity’s indigenous ancestors on every continent cultivated ‘Dialectic-rights’, whereby anyone in relationship with another person, family, extended-family, Multihome-Dwelling-Complex (eg. Longhouse-apartment, Pueblo-townhouse & Kanata-village), workplace, city, region, nation, confederacy, continent & hemisphere, had the right to challenge another person to Both-sided, Equal-time, witnessed dialogue aka ‘debate’ (French ‘de’ = ‘undo’ + ‘bate’ = ‘the-fight’). The dialogue challenge may arise with any person, to which one is impacted both: 1) positively to research collaboration & 2) negatively for conflict-resolution.
You might imagine today in our primitive oligarch ‘exogenous’ (L. ‘other-stealth-generated’) centralized regimes, how important such recorded & published or private dialogues would be for positive human relations, collaboration & the prevention of conflict. Pacifism requires that; one “Lives-love or becomes the change, we want to see in the world”. So we don’t just ask for our governments, institutions or corporations to change, but we ourselves must implement these changes or open-economy, welcoming mutual-aid in our own lives. As Mohandas Gandhi as a converted adherent to ‘Swadeshi’ (Hindi ‘indigenous’ aka ‘self-sufficiency’) insisted, all have the right & duty to protect themselves, loved-ones & others, but must first cultivate this ancient cultural process of ‘Satyagraha’ (Hindi ‘Truth-search’). Gandhi exemplified Satyagraha in convening multiple dialogues among people of diverse races, religions & belief in India. Gandhi also tried to intervene Satyagraha among the litigants of WW2, but Churchill rejected or sidetracked this initiative.
Its this lack of formal dialogues in our homes, families, multihome-buildings, business, schools, which leads to: aggression, murder & suicide. Personally, I was raised in a family which held regular ‘Both-sides-now’ dialogues around the Dining-room table. Each person, would express thoughts & feeling on issues equally as our turn arrived. During life-decisions, I was asked to verbalize my plans, reasons & pathways with many counter-arguments provided. During conflicts or fighting, such as with my brother or friends, one parent or another would intervene & ask each person involved to equally express their experience or perspective about what was happening.
Mohandas Gandhi developed ‘Satyagraha’ (Hindi ‘truth-search’) based upon simultaneous inquiry with both parties in dispute or re-search asking “What are your best intentions & how can we help you fulfill these?”. Gandhi, “I can imagine a fully armed man to be at heart a coward. Possession of arms implies an element of fear, if not cowardice. But true non-violence is an impossibility without the possession of unadulterated fearlessness.” We need transparency in all levels of human interaction including military, government, education, business listening to both sides.
DIALECTIC RIGHTS We need to openly engage each other. As Socrates proposed, dialectics (both-sided inquiry) should be the foundation of social & economic literacy. Most conflicts, issues & events in our colonially manipulated & consumptive world aren’t as they appear. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/structure/both-sides-now-equal-time-recorded-dialogues
BESIDES TALKING, DOING
MULTIHOME-DWELLING-COMPLEXES Our indigenous ancestors cultivated the 1st collective ‘Fractal’ of living-love within Circular-Economy of the ~100 (50-150) person Multihome. Today 70% of people in the world, live in Multihomes with an average of 32 dwelling-units or ~100 people. 20% of Multihome-Dwellers are living intentionally in proximity (with privacy) in extended-family for social & economic intimate, intergenerational, female-male, interdisciplinary, critical-mass, economies-of-scale. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/relational-economy/extending-our-welcome-participatory-multi-home-cohousing
RELATIONAL-ECONOMY Time-based equivalency accounting on the String-shell (eg. Wampum on Turtle-Island / N. America, Quipu in S. America, Cowrie in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia & all islands) integrated Value System is used in the specialized Production-Society-Guilds as a system of recognition for all collective Domestic, Industrial & Commercial ‘economy’ (Greek ‘oikos’ = ‘home’ + ‘namein’ = ‘care-&-nurture’) contributions & progressive ownership within these. String-shell integrates 1) ‘Capital’ (L ‘head’ = ‘collective-intelligence’), 2) ‘Currency’ (‘flow’ or ‘money’ from Gk ‘mnemosis’ = ‘memory’), 3) ‘Condolence’ (‘social-security’), 4) Collegial mentored-apprenticeship ‘educational’ (L ‘to-lead-forth-from-within’), 5) time-math ‘Communication’, 6) professional ‘Costume’ identification of expertise. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/relational-economy
Hi DouglasJack, I think this is the second time you have commented on one of my blogs and I genuinely do not know how to respond as you make so many points and write so much that I cannot really follow the point(s) you are making. From what I can see, you have some very significant experience with the Russian-Ukraine tensions and think my analysis is somewhat superficial. I accept that challenge as I really know very little about the geo-political history and underlying issues. I would be keen to know more but if I could ask that you make less points but with more clarity (and its fine to strongly disagree!) so that I can engage with your views. Hope that’s OK – and thanks for reading and commenting.
This is exactly how I feel. We do not have the Kingdom of God on earth yet, and until we do, we have to defend the right, proportionately and appropriately.
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thanks for reading and commenting
Genuine question… how do you deal with Jesus’ rebuke of Peter using, arguably, violence-as-defence against the soldier who was out to harm an innocent man, i.e. Jesus?
thanks Jo – its a good question and I also find Jesus’ injunction ‘not to resist an evil person’ in the Sermon on the Mount also very challenging to what I have set out. I think in this case, Jesus has said what will happen, its part of his plan that he will be betrayed, arrested and killed. He has not even resisted this non-violently but walked into a trap he knew was going to happen. He rebukes Peter for thinking that his retaliation will be effective as if Jesus could not have called for God’s immediate intervention.
I think Jesus’ radical example gives us an incredible challenge and for the vast majority of cases it shows that violence should be avoided at almost all costs. But, as with someone like Bonhoeffer, who chose to try to kill Hitler, there are times when we have to ‘sin’ to avoid worse sins.
Most matters are complex and opinion becomes polarised depending on what our own experience or knowledge might be, but I also think right and wrong can be quite clear and what the Russian leader is doing is simply wrong in my view. Well said Jon.
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Hi Jon.. thanks for making your case but, while I recognize that the arguments between just war and Christian pacifism are finely balanced, I think there are some weaknesses in your argument. It does seem evident that the current invasion is unjust, unnecessary and plain evil and ought to be resisted. I think there is a difference between a policing operation against an individual (or small group) does make it legitimate to use proportionate violence to restrain or disable an attacker, and horrible though it is, that may mean on some occasions the use of lethal force. However, I don’t think that argument can be extended to all out and fairly indiscriminate lethal force in an attempt to defeat state sponsored military aggression. I can understand why Ukrainians feel they need to do so in response to an existential threat, but even just war theory talks about the need to establish a reasonable chance of success using proportionate means. I fear that arming civilians and Western powers sending more arms to Ukraine makes it worse rather than better.
Second I don’t think the argument that Gandhi and MLK could not have achieved anything against a totalitarian state holds up. The Raj was pretty brutal after all, for example in supressing the uprising of 1857 and in General Dwyer’s massacre at Amritsar. MLK was facing brutal racists, the KKK and faced down armed state troopers.. I don’t think there is a clear line between totalitarian and democratic (or at least moveable).. though of course Putin’s regime is very far down the spectrum, and Hitler and Stalin’s further down still… which does make a non violent response incredibly difficult.. and likely to end in martyrdom as it did with both Gandhi and MLK.
I think though we must not give up hope that prayer, and non violent resistance, including economic sanctions, anti war protests in Russia, people lying down in front of tanks, and Christians caring for victims of the violence (both combatants and civilians) can bring back sanity to the continent.
But I speak of course as one who is not directly under hostile fire and don’t immediately have to make life or death decisions.. let alone ones of huge international significance.
thanks for reading and commenting and I appreciate the critique.
In response to your first point, does not the first 5 days of this war show that it IS potentially winnable if there is sufficient unity and moral, economic and cultural pressure is brought to bear on Russia? Should the Ukraine just lie down and meekly surrender?
Secondly, the Raj was incredibly harsh at times but generally the British (by the 1920/30s and US authorities in the 50s/60s were constrained by the (more) democratic environment they existed in. They could not just get rid of either of these people as Putin has done to opponents. This is where Orwell’s appreciative but ‘realistic’ assessment of Gandhi is helpful, I think.
And I agree – lets hope peace can break out – but I think it will be a mix of military, economic and moral pressure rather than just prayers and people laying down in front of tanks that will do it.