“My faceless neighbor spoke up:
“Don’t be deluded. Hitler has made it clear that he will annihilate all Jews before the clock strikes twelve.”
“What do you care what he said? Would you want us to consider him a prophet?
His cold eyes stared at me. At last he said, wearily:
“I have more faith in Hitler than in anyone else. He alone has kept his promises, all his promises, to the Jewish people.” – Ellie Wiesel, Night
She slowly put down her glass of merlot on the white tablecloth and looked up at me. I didn’t mean my question to provoke such an intense, emotional response, but then again, a part of me did. A part of me wanted to know about this highly charged place in her past. I wasn’t sure if she would burst into tears or flip the table over.
It was the late nineties. She was a too-young expectant mother rushed outside her parents house, sobbing. She was pleading to stay, or, for them to come with her. Her mother looked at her, tear streaked and sober. It was an impossible situation. They just couldn’t bear to leave their home. And they also couldn’t let their daughter and one-day granddaughter stay. Heartbroken, she got in her car and drove, mopping her eyes as she went, savoring the sight of them in the mirror as they faded out in a swirl of dust.
“I got to Amsterdam with no money.” She said, hoarsely, hardly able to continue the story. “I was young and pregnant and broke. I had no idea what to do. Just a pregnant girl walking around in a world that didn’t speak my language”
Her parents made it. But many families didn’t, not in the late nineties in Kosovo.
At my heart, in my idealized version of myself- I am a pacifist through and through… but in reality, I’m not. True, I will knock on congressional doors for gun control, march at the front of the parade for peace and I will annoyingly drop into escalating conversations, “watch your tone, now. Let’s be civil…”
But I’m thinking about Syria now.
I’m not a pacifist. Though I once was-passionately- against all things violent, I found that I couldn’t live it completely. I couldn’t say that, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t’ve defended the Kosovars.
I want peace, but I also want to be rational, smart, calculating, not holding so sternly to ideology, my principles, when there is so much slaughter.
None of this is easy.
You can reduce violent action as “thoughtless revenge” or “two wrongs don’t make a right”, but that’s insultingly simplistic. On the other hand, you can justify violent action through talks of “just war” and simply “defending the vulnerable”, when- as we’ve seen in Iraq, it can leave a half a million of those we were trying to save, dead.
Not every moral dilemma is an all or nothing decision. As a pacifist, I used to stutter my way through strange, unrealistic, answers of how I would handle an intruder trying to harm my family. Usually, it would sound like, “I’d subdue them, not harm”, which sent every brow in the room to a full arch. Inside, I knew my pacifism was cracked and falling apart. I knew I would defend my family with whatever I could.
I don’t believe God wishes us to be fundamentalists and pacifism is a form of fundamentalism. It is easy, I think, to join with popular opinion and holler about how the United States isn’t the “world police.” It isn’t easy, however, to face the morally hazardous future of our action or inaction. We are responsible for our actions and our inaction.
Kosovo isn’t a perfect analogy to Syria. They are two different regions and, likely, the strike on Syria would be much less intense than the boots-on-the-ground strategy of Kosovo. We would be going in without the support of NATO and committed to a short-term close-ended operation. Yes, it is different.
But it is also an example where had we done nothing, an entire group of people would’ve been wiped off the face of the earth.
If i hear you say, “look at Iraq!”, I will tell you to listen to my friends in Kosovo, their mothers and fathers were killed because we waited too long. I will tell you about my friends in Kosovo who’s children have been able to grow up in a free country because the US protected their village. I will tell you how on 9/11, a hundred Kosovars lined up outside the American Embassy asking to sign up for the US military because when the sword was at their throat, the US intervened.
I will remind you of how we’ve mourned over our inaction in Rwanda and Cambodia and Darfur and Burundi. I will remind you of Pol Pot and Jean Kambanda and al-Bashir and the blood that drops from their hands.
I will ask you what it means to promise to protect humanity from weaponry that makes skin slip off bone and then, do nothing to stop it. I will ask you what it means for the future, when we did nothing while thousands were gassed into the most excruciating sadistic kind of death, what is to stop the next power hungry leader? We said we’d intervene if they chose this kind of evil. We promised.
All of this is to say- it isn’t simple and I wanted to wake you up to that. Could military action in Syria be morally wrong? Take innocent lives? Draw us further into this war? Yes, and that terrifies me.
But I think we also have to be aware that there are real implications to our lack of military action. Pacifism, I know, is not tantamount to inaction. Pacifism is very, very active in efforts to engage without violence. I guess, my question is, is nonviolent action rational? Is nonviolent action enough?