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Why I am a pacifist

Virginia Moffatt on the "p" word ...

Chris’ recent  stay in Wandsworth Prison has led to some interesting conversations lately. And that’s got me thinking about when I became a pacifist and why I still am one.

I’m not sure I can pinpoint an exact moment in my life when pacifism made sense to me. But I know the milestones. The first was reading the World War 1 poets – particularly Wilfred Owen - whose  lines in Dulce et Decorum Est still resonate  with me today: “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest/To children ardent for some desperate glory, /The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est/ Pro patria mori.”  (The old lie being, ”It is sweet and fitting to die for your country.”) Then there was the terror of growing up in an age where a nuclear war seemed a real possibility. I was an over-imaginative teenager, and spent many a night thinking planes overhead were Russian bombers. Finally, the Falklands War terrified me in a different way, as I realised many friends were turning 18, old enough to join up if the war escalated.

I never did much about it as a teenager. I vaguely thought war was wrong, but most of my reasoning was due to the pity induced by poetry and my own self-interest in imagining the effects of war on me.  Anything more than that was squashed my Dad’s stern warning that MI5 monitored CND protesters, and the sense that the War he’d fought in (World War 2) must have been OK because it got rid of Hitler didn’t it? I certainly never thought about it in the light of  my Christian faith, and at University proudly considered myself apolitical. (In fact, I was anything but, being involved in a variety of community groups, Amnesty International and the student newspaper, I just had a narrow view of politics at the time.)

It was after University, that I began to move towards a pacifist position. A major influence was  Gerry Hughes, a Jesuit priest, whose book on spiritual development, “God of Surprises” both reinvigorated my faith and challenged me with the idea that being serious about Christianity meant being serious about peace. But the turning point was the 1990 Gulf War. As media reports trickled in about the invasion of Kuwait, my initial response was to buy the media line that here was a dictator as evil as Hitler, and the only solution was to go to war. It was only through reading the thoughtful articles of Robert Fisk that I realised there was an alternative point of view. As the war unfolded, and I saw what my government was doing to the people of Iraq, I came to the conclusion that a military response was the worst possible solution to conflict between nations.

Twenty years later, I consider myself to be a Christian pacifist. The two go hand in hand for me, despite what prominent Christians such as George Bush and Tony Blair may preach. I realise that pacifism does not necessarily have all the answers. I am not sure a nonviolent solution would have stopped the Srebrenica massacres (though neither did the military protection of UN peacekeepers). Many people have died in recent weeks in  nonviolent protests in Egypt and Libya. And when nonviolent revolutions fail, as has happened in Burma and Iran repressive governments often crack down even harder.

Despite these limitations, I’m a pacifist, because it seems to me to be the only solution that offers humanity hope. I continue to be inspired by the nonviolent revolutionaries who effected change with persistent, dogged commitment to peace in the face of appalling violence, in India, the USA, Egypt and many other places. And whilst nonviolent revolutions don’t succeed without sacrifice, nor do violent ones. Regime change was effected in Egypt, by Egyptian people themselves,  with the loss of 365 lives,  up to 5,500 casualties, and economic disruption for a few weeks. Regime change in Iraq resulted in the destruction of the country’s infrastructure, approximately 100,000 civilian deaths, nearly 5,000 military deaths, civil disorder for the years since, and has resulted in a society that is still controlled by the USA. Which solution would you say was the most effective?