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VIOLENCE AND PACIFISM November 16, 2008

Posted by wmmbb in Peace.
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The problem of war raises the problem of opposition to wars. Barack Obama, I believe said, that he was not opposed to war, only stupid wars.

To which the obvious rejoinder is that all wars are stupid, or that the only possible just war is resistance to overt invasion. What is clear, whatever the justifications offered, war is a means to an end. In a self contradictory way, this end is usually described as peace.

Australia has been always involved in global wars. The Maori Wars, the Boer War, and Confrontation between Indonesia and Malaysia,  were like the First World War imperial wars for the glory of the empire upon which the sun never set. The anticipated British-Russian war of the late nineteenth century failed to materialize, although the coastal gun emplacements remained as residues of past anxieties. The Pacific War as a stage of the Second World War might be seen as a clash of imperial systems of domination – European (British and Dutch) and American (Philippines) against the Japanese Greater East Asian Prosperity Sphere.

Not only was the wartime Prime Minister in Australia, John Curtin, an opponent of conscription in the First World War, but the situation was not only perilous but falling apart. Earlier in 1910, for reasons unknown to me, the Australian Parliament had  passed laws on conscientious objection – unlike New Zealand which had dominion status within the British Empire since 1908 – so the soldiers that were part of the invasion of Turkey were said to be volunteers, operating under the direction of reportedly incompetent British generals.

The long and short of it is that I got things wrong when I made the following post at John Quiggin’s blog:

Let’s also remember the extraordinary fortitude and principled stand of the few conscientious objectors, not members of the prescribed listed religious groups. They were cruelly treated. For example, being spreadeagled adjacent to the targets on the firing range. Otherwise they might served as a example. The majority found themselves,albeit with the odd shot of rum, going like sheep going over the top, to join the slaughter, and the futility, and to make history serving whatever that Empire was, and whatever that Empire did.

Donald there is, as far as I know, no gene for war, and no gene for violence. In fact, human beings are “programmed” for compassion. Check out the science related to mirror neurons(there are many more links on Google).

I expect somebody who knows about these matters to correct me. I would say in my defence that the example of conscientious objection was taken from Archibald Baxter and his colleagues in New Zealand, and that conscientious objectors were subject to solitary confinement, which is a form of violence (thus opening the topic to the efficacy of the Correction Services, or prison system for long term offenders).

It is interesting that Archibald Baxter’s tormentors (torturers) were candid enough to declare:

“It’s your submission we want, Baxter, not your service.”

The fact that Baxter did not submit, although he was obviously grievously affected for the rest of his life by the experience, contradicts the indictment of weakness, often implied by the notion of “pacificism”.

War, conquest, dominance, subjugation, and submission are expressions of political, cultural and economic power, and intimately related to the purpose of war as a methodology of violence.

War works. It was the means of building empires, while other forms of violence were used to maintain them, short of war. Usually invasions have been met by violence resistance, although not always. The repercussions of war, particularly the one-sided affairs the Americans and the Israelis, seem to specialize in lately, where one side has recourse to aerial bombing – asymmetric war – usually are overt attempts at cultural and economic exploitation giving rise to inbuilt or structural violence. The type of violence we witness but at the same time can be blind to.

I think it can be argued, most obviously since the First World War, that wars, and by implication the use of violence as an instrument of state power are dysfunctional. They do not work, if they ever did, since the costs of an industrial war as illustrated by the First World War, far outweigh their benefits.

Mass societies seem blind to the costs of war. The strategy of the Bush Administration has been to marginalize their invasions and occupations from daily life to most people, by relying on volunteers and keeping the caskets of the dead and the problems of the veterans off the television news. The economic consequences are part, perhaps, of the present global financial meltdown.

With distance comes dispassion. Agincourt might have been won by archers, but no doubt there were moments of face to face combat. Most deaths in the First World War were caused by the new industrial technology at a distance. Maori warriors may have welded wooden spears, but expertly used they were lethal. When the costs of war became too great, negotiations would resulted in land in question was left alone as the price of peace.

The dream of the global uber power probably lives on as embodied in the doctrine of full spectrum dominance. In one reading the technology of terrorism, which involves the old Roman Christian practice of martyrdom, can be seen as political, cultural and religious response, which possibly makes more sense that individual and social pathology, as a medical, psychiatric model would suggest.

The implication that might at least be suggested is that it is possible to live without violence, which raises questions. What would that look like? Where could we begin? And what could be done in the face of violence?

Fortunately that is a wheel I do not have to invent. For example, M K Gandhi spent the greatest part of his life giving examples of how peace might be lived and violence opposed. Since Gandhi was the founder of the modern Indian Republic, his ideas are at least as well known as those of Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin among Americans. Martin Luther King Jnr demonstrated an effective opposition to Jim Crow, a good example of structural violence in an overtly democratic political system.

Comments»

1. Google Conquest - November 25, 2008

War is War however its disguised.

2. wmmbb - November 26, 2008

Violence is violence regardless of what its form and at what level it occurs. Violence can be overt and individual, as well as structural and systemic.


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