I Am Not A Pacifist
I won’t repost the entirety of what he wrote, but you should feel free to read it here.
He begins thusly:
As I have mentioned before, I am not a very good pacifist. I’ve serious reservations about intervention in Libya—but when I hear about French fighter jets patrolling the sky above Benghazi and more planes arriving in the region from all around the world, I feel a certain deep joy. The world is pulling together to stand up against tyranny. For once, we’re using our military to do something right. This is the good war.
Except … war is never good. It may be necessary. I may be a lesser evil. But good? Don’t believe it.
There are several important points of disagreement between us, but I’ll begin with the most obvious. Dan says that he’s “not a very good pacifist.” From that point forward, we run into a serious problem wherein we are likely going to simply talk past one another. Whether of the good or not very good variety, pacifism and my post on Libya just aren’t going to work together. Dan is some sort of a pacifist and I’m simply not. So I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree. I think that most of our problems should be solved diplomatically … but I don’t just throw up my hands and say “Shucks!” when diplomacy fails.
This isn’t because I think that war is good and that, in the end, everyone comes out a winner. It isn’t because I won’t curse or because I somehow view the world through rose-colored glasses. But I also don’t believe for one second that just because people are killed by war that we should somehow prefer to let people be killed by our insistence on not-war.
The choice that Dan seems to desire is between war and peace … but that’s not actually the choice. The choice is between people being killed and people being killed. I don’t want to sugar-coat that at all. In both instances, people die and it’s violent and bloody and awful. But in one instance — when we eschew intervention — the people who generally die violently are those who are attempting (and failing, due to inferior military capabilities) to throw off a tyrant. In those instances, it’s my position that to fall back on pacifism because war is awful amounts to something of a moral failing insofar as it amounts to siding with the tyrant.
Approximately 800,000 people were killed in the Rwandan genocide. Most were non-combatants. In Libya, the death toll was somewhere around 5,000 before we got involved. It’s not clear what portion of those were civilians, what portion were armed rebels, and what portions were Qaddafi’s forces. Heavy clashes had death tolls numbering well into the … dozens. Without diminishing for a moment the suffering of those who died prior to the intervention, can we imagine for a moment that the death toll will remain in the four digits once we start adding more powerful weapons to the mix?
In this, he intimates that my Rwanda analogy is not apt. But his reasoning seems to be that not enough people would likely be killed in Libya if we failed to intervene or that the people who would be killed simply aren’t innocent enough. One has to wonder, then, whether he would be wholeheartedly in support of intervention if the government had killed more people or more obviously innocent people. It seems hard to imagine, given his pacifism (even if he’s not good at it). We could presumably ask the same with Cambodia, or the Holocaust. The trick would be to find the appropriate number of innocent deaths that would justify putting aside our pacifism. What’s more, Dan wants us to remember that many more people will likely die because of our advanced weaponry … though he remains silent on the fact that the 800,000 Rwandans he mentions were largely murdered with machetes and that, in the case of Rwanda (and, one must hope, in the case of Libya) a great many deaths might have been prevented by a brief intervention. (This is the argument, incidentally, that has long been made by Romeo Dallaire, UN force commander in Rwanda in 1994.)
And yet Dan wants to also remind us:
There isn’t a “bad guy” gene. Governments are made of people—and dismantling a despotic regime through force literally means dismembering the people who through loyalty, self-interest, or bad luck ended up on the other side. They too are worth some tears.
If we’d intervened militarily in Rwanda — and it seems pretty difficult to argue that we shouldn’t have done so — some of the Hutu who were slaughtering Tutsi would certainly have lost their lives. And their mothers and brothers and so on would have wept for them. Perhaps Dan will want to argue that the international community ought not to have intervened in the Rwandan case, but I’ll let him make that case. And if he does think that such an intervention ought to have happened, will he be so quick to remind us of the tears that loved ones would have shed for those who were so committed to hacking others to death?
We can play this game historically and hypothetically, too. Are the French to blame for assisting the American colonists in their war against Great Britain? Would someone have been morally blameworthy for assisting the Algerians against the French? How about helping Mandela defeat the apartheid government of South Africa (rather than waiting for decades for it to happen by boycott or, worse, standing on the side of the minority regime, as the U.S. did for so long)? What if the Egyptians hadn’t succeeded in ousting Mubarak, as the Iranians did not succeed in their revolution? Do we simply say “Shucks!” and watch the pictures of their executions come flooding in via Tumblr?
I don’t ask these questions merely rhetorically, but as something of a response to his strong conclusion:
War is not a loud clear voice for justice and human rights. It is not glorious. It is not beautiful. There are no good wars. There are bad wars and worse wars. Let’s hope we’ve chosen the bad over the worse. And let’s not act too smug about it.
I agree with Dan about so much of this. War isn’t glorious or beautiful. But, frankly, this intervention does express our commitment to justice and human rights … just as not intervening would be (again!) a tremendous shirking of our responsibilty to protect those who are being abused by a tyrant. I don’t fault Dan for his position that war is hell, nor do I dispute that claim for an instant. What I dispute, instead, are the ideas that seem to undergird his argument, namely that there can’t ever be a good motive for military intervention and that there are no possible outcomes that can come from intervention other than violent death and destruction.