60 years ago: Hypothetical dilemmas

IssueDecember 2016 - January 2017
Comment by Albert Beale

The large number of hypothetical questions addressed to pacifists is due to the fact that in the last resort the reliance upon muscular strength rather than argument, upon some kind of force rather than reason, upon military weapons rather than upon negotiation, is commonly accepted by almost all the people of the world – and that any moral stand against it immediately rouses fear and a corresponding resistance to the idea.

The fact that the use of force only settles who is the strongest and may fail to save [the assumed helpless victim of the hypothetical scenario] is seldom considered. Even less consideration is given to the fact that the evil of [this posited attack] must have some motive power behind it, which could be, and indeed should be, dealt with in a different way.

In individual cases the circumstances would always be different and the causes dissimilar, but obviously violence cannot be the final solution; for instance, if the attacker should be victorious he will continue to rely upon his brute strength, and the helpless victim will not be saved, nor some other victim of a future occasion.

It would be a natural instinct with the majority to try to stand between a helpless person and an attacker; it might also be a natural and uncontrollable instinct if assailed with fear, or with anger, to strike back at the attacker. But even so, and whatever the result, this situation is not to be, indeed cannot be, equated with war, in which anger and fear are stimulated by propaganda and are not instinctive ....

No excuses about saving the Middle East from Russian domination can give back life to those now dead in Suez, restore the sight of those blinded, or the limbs of those crippled, or the happiness of those bereaved.

Decisions of this kind are not made on moral grounds but upon grounds of expediency, and with the object of sectional victory in war. But, for those to whom the sanctity of human life is a reality these decisions are morally indefensible; every life is of equal value, and one cannot be set against another ....

Only when war has been renounced can humankind escape from the dilemma of taking a gamble on which of the human race, and how many, are to be slaughtered.

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