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.

Japanese Textbooks and American Media Hypocrisy

I almost forgot about an event a few nights ago that infuriated me while watching the nightly news (I am one of those people with the extremely annoying habit of talking back to the TV which causes my wife to eject me from the living room on occasion).

I can’t remember which network I was watching, but they ran a short piece about a controversial Japanese history textbook. The textbook is controversial because it whitewashes Japanese war crimes during World War II. Because of the controversy, the publisher has decided to sell the textbook in general bookstores where, according to the BBC it has become a bestseller.

No, that’s not what infuriated me. In fact I’m not certain why this particular book is generating so much controversy since the sort of revisionism it embraces is pretty standard fare in Japanese accounts of World War II.

What infuriated me was the hypocrisy of the network I was watching. In the brief segment about the book, the reporter opens up talking about how many people in Asia believe the book distorts the truth. So what do our intrepid news producers do when they finally give us a full-screen shot of the book’s cover? They used a special lens filter on the camera to bathe the entire screen in red, which had the effect of making the book appear to be covered in blood.

You would think that a news story highlighting how easily truth and history can be distorted would be the last place a news show would want to use such cheap gimmicks, but apparently not. I used to think such predictions were way off the mark, but I have come to agree with people who speculate that we won’t have to be too long before news reports like this begin using music and other techniques to further dramatize (and, yes, inevitably further fictionalize) their stories.

A World War II Urban Legend?

The other day I was surfing the web and came across any essay about whether video games, etc., cause violence. The essay repeated a claim I’d read before. Supposedly the Pentagon commissioned a study which found that only 25 percent of soldiers actually fired their guns at the enemy. As a result, this little anecdote claims, the military actively work on ways to train recruits to overcome their reticence at killing the enemy — a program which bore fruit in Vietnam.

I’ve never seen this so-called study sourced and I am extremely skeptical of its claims. That only 25 percent of those serving in the military actually discharged a weapon during WWII wouldn’t necessarily surprise me, but that it’s implication is that upon encountering the enemy large numbers of American soldiers simply refused to fire back seems to be geared at misconceptions about combat that are exacerbated by media portrayals of war, specifically the war movie.

I’m made even more skeptical by what little I can drum up on the number of rounds fired per enemy casualty in both wars. I couldn’t find any sourced statistics on this either, but the general consensus seems to be that far more rounds were fired per enemy casualty in Vietnam than in World War II — with some folks estimating up to 1 million rounds per dead foe in Vietnam (which, if true, is likely a total of all ordinance rather than total small arms fire). Even for WWII the best estimates I could find were about 50,000 rounds of small arms fire per dead enemy.

One of the major differences between the two wars was the improvement in small arms which made it possible to more accurately aim automatic weapons fire, but even given that based on the information I’ve been able to find, even if soldiers serving in Vietnam were more trigger happy than those serving in World War II, the only net effect seems to have been that they used up ammunition at a greater rate.

I would be extremely gratified if anybody who knows of any solid, sourced information on this topic would pass said information along via e-mail to [email protected] or by posting it on this site.