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Pacifism & Existentialism

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  • Mary Jo
    Pondering the recent posts of Serge, Bill, and Trinidad, I wondered about pacifism and existentialism. I found the following. Some choices are difficult, and I
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 3, 2004
      Pondering the recent posts of Serge, Bill, and Trinidad, I wondered
      about pacifism and existentialism. I found the following. Some
      choices are difficult, and I think the recent public debate over
      whether citizens can question when and how we wage wars and freedom
      of expression are central problems to people everywhere, but
      especially in democratic republics. Some people need to get knocked
      down. Dealing death is the greatest of existential decisions.
      "Absolute pacifists are absolutely rare. Even the ancient Jewish
      pacifist, Jesus of Nazareth, got so pissed off at the sight of
      holiday shopping that he tossed tables around with his bare hands.
      Yet when it came time to acquit himself before imperial authorities,
      he steadfastly refused.

      Stew Albert tells a story about the late Dave Dellinger, "the life
      long pacifist" who "got in some real shoving matches with the Federal
      Marshals" as they tied Bobby Seale to a courtroom chair. Yet
      Dellinger, "the wrestling pacifist," chose prison over war. So
      pacifism is nearly always a position that one takes in relation to

      Anti-war pacifism in recent centuries arises out of a judgment that
      the institution of war, waged by structures of the capitalist state,
      cooly delivers death to the many and profits to the few. The stronger
      the institution of war becomes, the more death and profit we may
      expect, with ever diminishing returns to the greater good.

      Yet along with modern pacifism come modern philosophies of
      existentialism, pragmatism, and postmodernism, with their
      philosophical assertions that reality always resists the single
      meaning. If war is indeed a profiteering enterprise, it can be other
      things, too. Even among liberals and lefties, there are very few who
      oppose all war at all times.

      And finally, even among the very few pacifists who counsel young
      folks about conscientious objection, who refuse to pay taxes for
      military use, and who go to prison for crossing some line, even among
      these present day saints one finds abiding respect for the individual
      conscience, and therefore respect for the soldier or citizen who
      believes that wars can be
      fought a right way.

      So on this Memorial Day, the third one to be celebrated since the
      massacres of Sept. 11, 2001, I wonder if there is a liberal, lefty,
      pacifist, anti-war activist to be found who does not find a way to
      honor the soldier of conscience.

      For the soldier of conscience, military service is a way of risking
      one's life for others, Preparing to take a bullet, and being part
      of a larger whole that lives because some are willing to die. For the
      soldier of conscience then, the value of war lies not in the
      willingness to kill, but in the readiness to be killed.

      The military uniform, therefore, when worn by a soldier of
      conscience, is a public sign to the rest of the world that here walks
      a person who is prepared to do your dying for you. On Memorial Day,
      the graves call up to us. Here lie soldiers of conscience who died so
      that you could live.

      The soldier of conscience is in on my mind this Memorial Day weekend
      as I think about the publicity stunt that the President pulled
      Monday, when he staged a reading of his stock war speech at the Army
      War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

      Surely the President noticed right away that the audience at the War
      College was not going to be the adoring crowd that he had found a few
      days earlier at an AIPAC rally. But this is precisely the difference
      that one would expect to find between an audience that does not wear
      uniforms and one that does, because, when you talk about war to
      audiences that wear
      uniforms, you are talking to them about making use of their readiness
      to die.

      I wonder for instance, whether the President is aware of Directive
      1344.10, published by the Department of Defense. It is an updated
      regulation that reiterates some long-standing ethical principles that
      are supposed to regulate the power of the uniform in political
      affairs. Simply put, the American military uniform is not to be used
      for political purposes.

      Yet press reports and commentaries surrounding the President's speech
      were hardly guessing at the political nature of the President's
      speech. He was speaking in a "battleground state" about political
      policies that were clearly a matter of national and international

      "Generations of officers have come here to study the strategies and
      history of warfare," said the President to the War College. "I've
      come here tonight to report to all Americans, and to the Iraqi
      people, on the strategy our nation is pursuing in Iraq, and the
      specific steps we're taking to achieve our goals."

      With two disjointed sentences, the President tells the War College
      audience that regardless of their reasons for being at Carlisle, he
      is here to make a national and international political appeal. The
      uniforms of the Army War College, here on display, will serve as so
      much televised backdrop for a flagging political campaign.
      What "we're doing" with the political use of the Army becomes a
      strategy already dressed in uniform.

      A soldier on active duty, says Directive 1344.10 (Enclosure C.3.9)
      shall not: "Participate in any radio, television, or other program or
      group discussion as an advocate of a partisan political party or
      candidate." Yet on Monday night the Commander in Chief of the War
      College in effect ordered his troops to lend their uniforms to
      unethical purposes. What choice did they have but to salute him?

      Well, perhaps the press has been accurately reporting that Monday
      night's speech was "more of the same." It all depends which same you
      start from. On the unethical use of the lives and uniforms of
      soldiers of conscience indeed, this President continues to sink lower
      each day."

      By Greg Moses

      Veterans Working Together for Peace & Justice
      Through Non-violence. Wage Peace!
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