Ted Grimsrud

Michael Kelly, “…Pacifist claptrap”

Michael Kelly. “…Pacifist claptrap.” Washington Post (September 26, 2001).

Pacifists are not serious people, although they devoutly believe they are, and their arguments are not being taken seriously at the moment. Yet, it is worth taking seriously, and in advance of need, the pacifists and their appeal.

It is worth it, first of all, because the idea of peace is inherently attractive; and the more war there is, the more attractive the idea becomes.

It is worth it, secondly, because the reactionary left-liberal crowd in America and in Europe has already staked out its ground here: What happened to America is America’s fault, the fruits of foolish arrogance and greedy imperialism, racism, colonialism, etc., etc. From this rises an argument that the resulting war is also an exercise in arrogance and imperialism, etc., and not deserving of support. This argument will be made with greater fearlessness as the first memories of the 7,000 murdered recede.

It is worth it, thirdly, because the American foreign policy establishment has all the heart for war of a titmouse, and not one of your braver titmice. The first faint, let-us-be-reasonable bleats can even now be heard: Yes, we must do something, but is an escalation of aggression really the right thing? Mightn’t it just make matters ever so much worse?

Pacifists see themselves as obviously on the side of a higher morality, and there is a surface appeal to this notion, even for those who dismiss pacifism as hopelessly naive. The pacifists’ argument is rooted entirely in this appeal: Two wrongs don’t make a right; violence only begets more violence.

There can be truth in the pacifists’ claim to the moral high ground, notably in the case of a war that is waged for manifestly evil purposes. So, for instance, a German citizen who declined to fight for the Nazi cause could be seen (although not likely by his family and friends) as occupying the moral position.

But in the situation where one’s nation has been attacked — a situation such as we are now in — pacifism is, inescapably and profoundly, immoral. Indeed, in the case of this specific situation, pacifism is on the side of the murderers, and it is on the side of letting them murder again.

In 1942, George Orwell wrote, in Partisan Review, this of Great Britain’s pacifists:

“Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help out that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, ‘he that is not with me is against me.’ ”

England’s pacifists howled, but Orwell’s logic was implacable. The Nazis wished the British to not fight. If the British did not fight, the Nazis would conquer Britain. The British pacifists also wished the British to not fight. The British pacifists, therefore, were on the side of a Nazi victory over Britain. They were objectively pro-Fascist.

An essentially identical logic obtains now. Organized terrorist groups have attacked America. These groups wish the Americans to not fight. The American pacifists wish the Americans to not fight. If the Americans do not fight, the terrorists will attack America again. And now we know such attacks can kill many thousands of Americans. The American pacifists, therefore, are on the side of future mass murders of Americans. They are objectively pro-terrorist.

There is no way out of this reasoning. No honest person can pretend that the groups that attacked America will, if let alone, not attack again. Nor can any honest person say that this attack is not at least reasonably likely to kill thousands upon thousands of innocent people. To not fight in this instance is to let the attackers live to attack and murder again; to be a pacifist in this instance is to accept and, in practice, support this outcome.

As President Bush said of nations: a war has been declared; you are either on one side or another. You are either for doing what is necessary to capture or kill those who control and fund and harbor the terrorists, or you are for not doing this.

If you are for not doing this, you are for allowing the terrorists to continue their attacks on America. You are saying, in fact: I believe that it is better to allow more Americans — perhaps a great many more — to be murdered than to capture or kill the murderers.

That is the pacifists’ position, and it is evil.

  1. For some reason I never read this intellectually and spiritually impoverished “gem” until today. My goodness, I wonder if Kelly would still write the same 15 years (instead of 15 days) after 9/11 — after trillions have been spent on “fighting back” with no improvement in the situation whatsoever. Even some of the best minds at the Pentagon have argued with the hawks (internally) that this war with terrorists cannot be won by military force but only by political and morally constructive (non-violent) means.

    And the problem is made incredibly more complex by orders of magnitude since it is readily apparent that “our side” has been fostering the care and feeding of some of the “terrorists” who were formerly deemed to be “freedom fighters” but are now biting the hand that fed them, which proliferated into the ISIS crisis. Not to speak of the civilian carnage foisted by our imperialistic drone wars, the incredible level of devastation on the home front resulting from the high levels of suicide among our returned vets… and we could go on and on.

    Ted, have you ever directly engaged with or responded to Michael Kelly. If not, I wonder what he would say if you sent him a copy of one of your books such as The Good War That Wasn’t—And Why It Matters, and asked him to review it?

    • Nice idea about engaging Michael Kelly, Clair. I would hope that my WWII book would have been accessible to him. Hard to imagine he would have bothered, though.

      As it turns out, sadly, Kelly died in Iraq (ironically) while covering the war not long after it started.

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