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June 11, 2004



The difference between being only being willing to kill or die for a cause, on the one hand, and only being willing to die for it, on the other, is the difference between effective and ineffective. If someone invades my home, pointing a gun at him and threatening to kill him might work. Pointing the same gun at my own head and threatening to shoot myself, won't.

The only scenario I can think of in which merely being will to die for a cause has the potential to be effective is when confronting a largely benevolent enemy who values your health and safety more than you value it yourself.

Oscar Chamberlain

Your take on the "Battle Hymn" is an interesting one. While I think you are right the spirit of sacrifice is often overlooked, it is still a "battle hymn."

One can argue that the deemphasis on killing is an evasion of the central truth of war, which is that killing is essential to victory. This is the point that Mark Twain made with his "War Prayer," that the deemphasis on killing is a hypocrisy. I like your suggestion that this need not be true, but I suspect for the most part it is.


Xrlq, effectiveness depends on what effect you're going for. If the effect is to keep yourself alive or protect your property, then certainly pacifism is ineffective. If the effect is to enter the kingdom of God, that's a different question.


Camassia: if you believe in a God who rewards those who sit back and allow evil to prevail, while punishing those who make a serious effort to stop it, then I suppose so.


XRLQ, I think you're setting up a forced choice:

Either respond with violence, or do nothing to attempt to stop others from being violent. "Getting in the way" is a good deal different than putting a gun to one's own head! Always, there are more than two stark choices!


On the contrary, the Christian premise is that God defeated evil on the Cross, so by following the way of the Cross you share in the victory. Taking the fight into your own hands according your own strategies shows a lack of trust in God. Like it or not, believe it or not, but it's not about allowing evil to prevail.

Always, there are more than two stark choices!

No, there aren't. Sometimes, sure, but NOT always, no matter how badly the pacifist may wish things to be otherwise. Sometimes there is a third option, and sometimes there isn't. Hitler would never have been stopped without war. Neither would Saddam Hussein or the Taliban. Gandhi's tactics worked very well when against the British, but would have been worthless against Nazi Germany, as they were in Tian An Man Square.

It's all well and good to talk about the bad effects of violence. Sometimes, however, the results of NOT using violence can be much worse. Imagine the chaos that would result if even one city adopted your rule and disbanded its police force!


Camassia: sorry, but I refuse to believe in a God who first gives us the wherewithal to stop human suffering, and then expects us NOT to use that power for good. I don't believe that any remotely plausible interpretation of the Bible, taken as a whole, supports that view, either. If I did, I'd stop being a casual agnostic and become a true blue atheist.


But XRLQ, police forces across Britain (for example) combine effective policing with an absence of lethal force. In other words, no guns. Obviously, they are doing something right. I just think you're creating a false dichotomy to force an unpalatable choice.


No, they don't. All cops, British, American, or otherwise, reserve the right to use lethal force when needed. Fortunately, it's usually not needed, here or there, but that's because the threat alone is enough. The only difference between being arrested by an unarmed cop there vs. an armed one here is that his armed backup units are not in the immediate vicinity, and the implicit threat of lethal force is thus a bit more subtle. But it's there, nonetheless, as effective policing is impossible without it.


Pacifists cover a pretty wide spectrum - I would highly recommend Yoder's Nevertheless or What Would You Do as good primers on this -

A Just War pacifist would have no problem with being a police officer, for example.


I would also point out that Jesus doesn't call us to be effective - only faithful.

Col Steve

One can argue that the deemphasis on killing is an evasion of the central truth of war, which is that killing is essential to victory.

Killing is not necessarily the central truth of war. As Sun-Tzu wrote, "For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the supreme of excellence. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence."

War is the application of force for sure, but force application can occur through fire and maneuver. War is imposing your will on an adversary. Sometimes killing is necessary to that end, but it is rarely sufficient.

I believe though this discussion is only focusing on a sub-component of a larger issue: conflict. War is an extension of the political aims of a state (or sometimes even a non-state organization); however, war is but one component of conflict that also has other dimensions such as economic, diplomatic, information, and ideological.

And while the nature of war may be immutable, its conduct, or character, changes in accordance with the changes (technology, culture, values, beliefs for example) in the underlying societies that engage in war. For example, there is on-going work that soon may yield effective operational and tactical "non-lethal" weapons that may provide the capabilities to render people immobile temporarily without any long-term effects (imagine this ability as opposed to the stark choices of either shooting at people in a mosque or having to withdraw - both actions having strategic implications).

Additionally, we already talk of "non-lethal" capabilities such as cyberspace actions that may not "kill" anyone, but can in some cases, when taken to extreme, have almost as devasting consequences on a person or group of people as lethal force.

Being anti-war in my opinion is a limiting, and probably the easiest, form of being for "peace," especially if you view war as the only proxy for conflict and if you consider war only from its application of lethal effects dimension.

Or perhaps, what I maybe asking, is whether pacifism is only universal or also has a dynamic character that must change as the character of the things it opposes evolves.


Bridgier: my references to pacifism - and Hugo's as well, if I understand his position correctly - are to the view that war is always immoral. They do not include any views compatible with the just war doctrine, or any other belief that concedes that some wars are morally appropriate.

As to being effective vs. faithful, I have to question whether there is a difference, prospectively speaking. If you are truly faithful, shouldn't you take the course of action that is most likely to actually succeed in bringing about the (allegedly) desired results?

Col Steve


There is also a "jus in bello" component to just war theory.

If you're talking about just war theory, it still does not follow that individuals waging conflict - even if deemed just under just war doctrine - should be absolved of breaching the principles of just conduct such as discrimination (legitimate targets), proportionality (tempering the degree of violence necessary to achieve the end), and responsibility.

If you're talking about a generalized principle, I would say that it still doesn't follow that the most effective course of action is always the best option to pursue. Or maybe you'll have to define effective in much broader terms that already accounts for other factors such as explicit and implicit costs.


The "Battle Hymn" was always one of my favorites as well. But I had always heard it as "let us live to make men free." A bit of Googling suggests that the the "live" version, which is in the Lutheran hymnal, is newer while "die" was the original words.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

Setting just war doctrine aside, pacifism still covers a range of beliefs about force. For instance, Quakers (like other peace churches) traditionally oppose war, and, for another example, capital punishment, but we vary in our attitudes toward police force. There is, after all, a major difference between the level of force used by police (usually non-lethal, with occasional lethal force generally directed at people who are actually a violent threat), and war (always lethal, and inevitably killing a lot of people in addition to the ones who are actually fighting you).

Personally, as a Quaker and a pacifist, I believe that being faithful, following Christ, and following the way of the Cross does involve forgoing the right to kill (either in personal self-defense or in case of war). And I don't think it's my business, here, to consider what's effective; I do think I'm simply bound to be faithful. But I'm hardly confined to pointing a gun to my own head; in addition to moral suasion, I can use all kinds of non-lethal methods, including proportional use of non-lethal force, to defend myself and others.


Lynn: it's a free country, so you can believe what you want. Nonetheless, I might point out that there is no such thing as a Quaker Bible, just the same Bible that the rest of Christianity reads and does not confuse with a treatise on pacifism. When Jesus commanded his disciples to buy swords in 22:35-38, he was telling them to protect themselves for life in the real world; he wasn't recommending them as wall ornaments.

Moral suasion and "proportional use of non-lethal force" are fine when you're dealing with peole of goodwill. No amount of it, however, would have ended slavery, the Holocaust, or Saddam Hussein's personal reign of terror. Wars ended all three. Yes, they killed some people in the process; the first two examples being extremely bloody. That doesn't mean it wasn't the right thing to do, however, as the alternative in each case would have been much worse. The notion that war is always immoral depends on one of two lazy assumptions, namely, that (1) only intentions count, not results, or (2) people who die as a result of war count, but people who live because of a war, or die because of a war that was not fought, are chopped liver.

Some people are dead because of the war in Iraq. That's bad. Up until the very end of his regime, many, many more died because of Saddam's "peace." That's worse.


"22:35-38" should read "Luke 22:35-38."


XRLQ has one way to read Luke. There are others.

Luke 22:38 includes the cryptic exchange:

The disciples said, "See, Lord, here are two swords."
"That is enough," he replied.

Well, do the math. Two swords will NOT suffice for defense of the entire apostolic band. Here's how Mennonites read this whole passage:

In 22:37, Jesus says:

"it is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment."

The two swords are sufficient not for defense, but they are sufficient for the fulfillment of Scripture -- those who come to arrest Jesus will see him surrounded by armed men -- transgressors! The swords have nothing to do with practical defense, but with creating the false appearance that Jesus's followers were engaged in insurrection. All of this is only to fulfill Scripture.

So we don't buy Luke 22:35-38 as a battle-cry for each apostle to arm himself.


I don't why you assume that two swords would not be enough for the group. In the 38 states that allow concealed carry today, only about 1% of the population actually applies for the permits, but the effects on crime (downward, fortunately) are much stronger than that.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

Two swords wouldn't be enough because Jesus was facing the Roman army, not some solitary criminal. And the context of the passage shows that.


Twelve swords wouldn't be enough to face down the Roman army, either, nor would any other number of swords that 12 individuals (or 13, counting Jesus himself) could possibly have carried. Besides, Jesus was supposed to die on the cross, the swords weren't there to defend *him* (recall what he told the one disciple who did try to use one of the swords for that purpose). The purpose of the swords was to enable the disciples to defend themselves against common criminals after he went away, and they were once again as vulnerable to attack as anyone else.


Jesus commanded his apostles to buy swords so he would have the opportunity to demonstrate his love. Only one sword was used only once -- and Jesus healed the wound it caused. Alternately, we may read his statement as a metaphor the disciples once again misunderstood, and read his "It is enough" as an expression of diappointment. Under no circumstances, however, can we see any advocation of violence. Had Jesus intended the disciples fight, he would have allowed them to fight, and we would have a history of brawlers and killers rather than righteous martyrs.

Secondly, the main reason Southerners have for hating the "Battle Hymn" -- it was written to stir up Northern armies and citizens for war against the South. That's the reason I, as a Southerner, first decided long ago to never sing it again. Later, as I became a pacifist, its history became still more disgusting to me because it represents a perversion of religion -- it used the language of faith to fan the flames of fratricide. It has a history as twisted as Bush and Co.'s hijacking of the American evangelical movement for emperialism.

Finally, I love your log, Hugh. God bless you.


Thanks for stopping by, Gabe -- I appreciate your words as a Southerner and a pacifist. I have always wished I were the former, and am struggling to be the latter.

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