Pacifism is (Usually) Stupid

MSNBC has an article by National Journal writer Michael Kelly ripping on pacifism. Kelly essentially recycles George Orwell’s excellent debunking of the British pacifist movement during World War II. As Kelly notes, since Nazi Germany wanted to conquer Great Britain, pacifists were helping that effort even if it was not their intent.

Doc Searls seems to think he can refute this with the line, “Hey, it failed for Christ, Ghandi and Martin Luther King, right?” Unfortunately, his examples only illustrate why pacifism only works under a set of very circumscribed conditions.

The inclusion of Jesus Christ is a bit odd, since I believe Christ was eventually crucified. I think that’s a fate most of us would prefer to avoid.

But Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. are the obvious exceptions to the rule. Why did their nonviolent policies actually succeed? The answer is that both were opposing liberal democracies who claimed to uphold certain values in theory, but, in fact, did not uphold those values in practice.

Ghandi and King put British and American hypocrisy on full display for the world to see. Ultimately each leader succeeded because their respective societies found the reflection in the mirror to be revolting.

Nonviolent movements, however, have a very poor track record in societies that are not liberal democracies. A group of brave students in Nazi Germany, calling themselves the White Rose, secretly distributed anti-Nazi leaflets in 1942 and 1943.

When they were finally caught, the Nazis didn’t let them sit in jail to write inspiring letters as King was allowed to do. Only four days after their arrest, the three students at the core of the White Rose movement were put on trial. After a trial that lasted only four hours, they were convicted and sentenced to death. All three were beheaded later that afternoon.

Another student, who evaded arrest for a short time, was also tried, convicted, and executed just as swiftly, while others who played less important roles in the organization were sent off to forced labor camps.

I am not arguing that the White Rose was a failure because they stuck to leafletting rather than taking up arms against the German state. What I am arguing is that it is sheer delusion to think that nonviolence and pacifism will bring down states like Nazi Germany.

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