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Belief Listing Project: War and Pacifism

January 19th, 2012
current_beliefs, pacifism

Growing up Quaker I was pacifist by default. As a small child I didn't have 'war toys', especially guns, and I learned that fighting was wrong for both individuals and nations. Later I learned more about the peace testimony and how nonviolent resistance worked in practice. My pacifism was of the form "killing is wrong, war is horrible, and there is always a better way."

In high school I became less certain. I remember a schoolmate asking me how absolute my commitment to non-violence was: what if my family was at risk? I rejected the question, calling it unfair. I'm embarrassed by this response now: there was nothing unfair about the question, and by objecting to it I was protecting an inner contradiction from scrutiny.

My eighteenth birthday was ten months into the Iraq War, and I had to decide what to do about registering for the draft. Registration was mandatory, and though it hadn't been enforced since before I was born, I would be ineligible for college financial aid if I didn't register. This was the first time I really had to think about what I would do if I were drafted. After lots of thought I decided to register, and further, if I were drafted I would not try to claim CO status. My view was that the government was going to draft the same number of people either way, and so if I didn't go someone else would have to. It wouldn't be fair of me to avoid the danger and hardship of war just because I had happened to be raised Quaker. I still thought war was wrong, but if I wouldn't be preventing people from being killed wouldn't I just be looking out for myself?

Most of a decade later I no longer think that it's always wrong. War is incredibly harmful, damaging, expensive, and tragic. Peaceful resistance and nonviolent conflict resolution are dramatically underused. Politicians and most of society is much too optimistic about war, especially when we haven't had one for a while. But I think there could be and probably have been some wars that were positive on balance.

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