On November 8, I published a blog piece that provided a description of Christian pacifism and some arguments on its behalf. I wrote it intentionally to appear prior to Remembrance Day. I wrote that “pacifism is not the chosen position of the majority but it does remain a respectable minority position, and more so all of the time.” I have received a number of comments, one of them from Jim. He wrote as follows: Interesting Dennis, but what do you do when another country’s army is approaching your house and home with intent to kill and destroy?
I began to draft a reply for the Comments section of this blog but found that it was becoming quite lengthy. Jim’s comment-question is the core one that is frequently posed to people who are pacifists, or even those who make arguments against specific wars and armed engagements. So I decided to elevate the Comment into another blog entry — as follows:
Thanks for your question. You ask what I would do if another country’s army was approaching my house with intent to kill and destroy.
I don’t think Canada has ever been in such a situation. Perhaps once, in the war of 1812, and that in a very limited fashion. The wars that we have participated in were always fought on other people’s soil – whether it be the Boer War in South Africa, the First World War, the Second World War, Korea, and more recently in Afghanistan and Libya (where we bombed them).
So the question has to be dealt with specifically, in terms of what army, what war, what situation? In Canada’s wars, we were not defending our homes and our families but rather taking the war to other people’s turf. What was the justification for doing so in each case? That is a very different question from the hypothetical one that you pose about having a hostile army massed on our border.
But let’s for a moment imagine that American troops were indeed massed on our border with the intention of invading Canada. I use the example of American troops because, given our geography, I can’t imagine who else would possibly plan to invade us.
We would want to know why are they planning to invade us? Have we done something terrible to them for which they want redress? If so, would it not make more sense to try diplomacy rather than preparing to fight? Perhaps we could head off a war and save thousands of Canadian lives and much destruction of property.
Okay, but let’s even allow that diplomacy does not work in this case. The Americans are massing troops and weapons on our border — and they would likely soften us up first with a so-called shock and awe wave of bombing such as they used against Iraq. The Americans have troops and weaponry that vastly outnumber ours. Would our best response be to threaten war against them in this situation? That would obviously be suicidal. We would far better off not to offer a resistance that would leave our cities and infrastructure destroyed and our people killed and maimed. Our fighting a war in this case would be folly.
I have noticed that often when someone challenges war as the solution to a conflictual situation, that person is immediately asked the big “What if” question — in this case, what if another country’s army is approaching my house with intent to kill and destroy?
But such a question exists at a level of abstraction that does not deal with the concrete situation at hand. It skips over all kind of questions that we would ask ourselves in any other situation where there was lot at stake, and it skips over the range of solutions that we would consider to save the lives and protect the well-being of our loved ones.