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Let's Get Clear On What Pacifism Really Means

05/05/2017 03:19 EDT | Updated 05/05/2017 03:19 EDT

I'm tired of pacifists. I'm not going to be polite around them anymore. I'm not going to be accommodating in polite society and pretend that while I differ, I respect the pacifist opinion. I don't. Pacifists are wrong, and this is why.

Pacifism tolerates, even abets, terrorism and fascism -- and the war and violence that come from them.

This isn't news. George Orwell pointed out half a century ago the uncomplicated logic that "pacifism is objectively pro-fascist." But somehow today it's become less embarrassing to declare oneself a pacifist. While I don't mean to excuse the pacifists, I do think it's worth theorizing over the confusion that has led so many to embrace such an illogical position.

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Pacifists stage a sit-in with a model of the MOAB during an anti-war demonstration and on April 29, 2017 in Naples, Italy. (Photo: SalvatoreEsposito/Getty Images)

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, pacifism is "the belief that war and violence are unjustifiable and that all disputes should be settled by peaceful means." Sounds like pretty honourable stuff.

Indeed the pacifists among us tend to be likeable people, generally categorized as progressive in terms of most of their preferences: the ones you know probably express concern about climate change, buy organic food, favour pro-poor social policies. I can only hypothesize that their thinking goes something like: peace is a desired state; therefore I like peace; therefore it's an honourable thing to be a pacifist.

The fallacy in this argument is that peace is an ends and pacifism is a means. And the means does not lead to the ends. A pacifist is not the same as a person who wants everyone in the world to live in peace.

In fact, pacifism does not even have the same root word as peace; and they mean different things. Pacifism comes from the French pacifisme, for which the earliest recorded usage dates back to 1845. Peace, on the other hand, is a much older word. It goes back to the 1100s, derived from the Anglo-French word pais, which draws further back from the Latin pacem and pax, which means an agreement or treaty.

Pax had a pragmatic function: it ended war by taking action -- imposing a compact between warring parties for instance -- whereas pacifism in contrast, is inaction: a refusal to engage, which can be an individual's personal moral position, but not a practical strategy in most cases. Pacifism is passivity, "plein d'espoir et d'attente, mais sans programme d'action," as Trotsky put it in 1922: pacifism is full of hope and waiting, but absent any plan of action.

Assad will not be defeated by a Gandhi. He crushes all forms of opposition.

For me, the desired end game of any situation of violence is peace. For that reason I support the responsibility to protect doctrine, which includes resorting to the use of military force when human lives are at stake. The road to peace is not one paved by passivity. Tyrants don't typically step down because they are ignored. In fact being ignored often fuels them, allowing them to commit atrocities unfettered.

It should be pretty obvious to anyone who has spent more than four minutes learning about the pathology of figures like Assad, Mussolini, Hitler, or the leaders of ISIS, that they've not exhibited great sensitivity to public opinion, either of the people under their rule, or the people observing their actions from afar.

In such cases, under just war theory, the use of force is warranted. Assad will not be defeated by a Gandhi. He crushes all forms of opposition.

For pacifism to work, everyone has to play ball. And in real life, they don't. Despots like Assad are not principled actors. They are the regime equivalent of a psychopath: devoid of compassion and moral reasoning. Pacifism will always be the flag of idealists, and the tent for the irrational, because the Assads of now and tomorrow, and the armies they control, will never be part of the critical mass pacifism needs to win peace. Bullying governments that drop chemical weapons on babies don't care that violence makes you uncomfortable. In fact, they count on the brand of pacifism that prevails today, an especially self-serving form of pacifism where we want to keep our own armies out of messy places, but we have little to say about the people in those places as long as there is no western government involved.

This pattern was on especially ludicrous display with the recent auto-response to the MOAB, or Massive Ordnance Air Blast, the bomb that detonated in Eastern Afghanistan, killing 96 ISIS militants at last count -- and no civilian casualties. Immediately, small protest events were organized in western countries, by people who had never feigned to attend a protest event for Assad's murdering of children, or ISIS's terrorizing of rural Afghan communities or their sexual enslavement of Yazidi women.

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The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb is pictured in this undated handout photo. (Photo: Eglin Air Force Base/Handout/Reuters)

Such protests, when they do occur, tend to be attended almost exclusively by people linked to those who fled such situations, the diaspora, grieving for their defenceless people back home. They are snubbed by the anti-war community, whose interests are decidedly self-centred. The same anti-war community overlooks the inconvenience that the undead civilians in Eastern Afghanistan -- those Afghans who actually live in the place where ISIS was targeted -- welcomed the MOAB.

I'm tired of this hypocrisy. I don't give the pacifists the benefit of the doubt anymore. At this point, they should know better. They should be called out and tasked to defend their stance according to the same standards of reasoning that any other position is held to. But they can't because pacifists are abetters of war, and their position of passivity in the face of great atrocities cannot hold water either ethically or logically.

Pacifists were properly mocked for their nonsensical views during and after the Second World War. But somehow the stigma has lifted in 2017. People can shamelessly protest a bombing that killed no one but ISIS militants, secure that they're safe from mockery, and hopeful that they're fashionable, maybe even meme worthy.

Back in the 12th century, peace meant "freedom from civil disorder." The even older word, shalom and the related salaam, commonly translated as "peace" into English, actually have a wider original meaning that encompassed security, welfare, prosperity, and justice. Those are end states worth fighting for. Real peace -- the enduring absence of war -- demands strategy, courage and action in the face of fascism. Enough with the bumper sticker version of peace. If you really are for peace, be for peace in the original sense of the word.

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