Monday, October 29, 2007

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Naivete at heart of Canadian "peace" movement

When Robert Batsch brought his daughters Jamie, 18, and Robyn, 12, to Saturday's "Pan-Canadian Day of Action Against War in Afghanistan", he probably thought he was making some kind of grand point.

"War is not the answer. You don't fight to create peace," he insisted.

His older daughter, however, made a far more interesting point.

"[The government] shouldn't be making decisions that not everyone agrees with," Jamie Batsch announced.

This particular comment really only marks a growing trend toward institutionalized naivete within Canada's so-called "peace" movement (which, as alluded to in a previous post, becomes highly suspect when the "peace" it envisions doesn't really resemble anything like peace).

The incredibly naive suggestion that the government should require complete consensus before making any kind of a decision (when, precisely, will everyone agree with a decision that has been made?) notwithstanding, what is truly surprising is that this naivete is only echoed in the words of the elder Batsch. One can expect such naivete from an 18-year-old with little surprise. It's when one hears it from a 49-year-old that it becomes alarming.

Jell-O Biafra once said that "fighting for peace is like fucking for cellibacy."

While to Biafra and those who think like him, such a statement may seem like a truism, the fact is that history entirely contradicts it.

While Biafra, Batsch and their cohorts may loathe to admit it -- often engaging in protracted rhetorical gymnastics in order to avoid doing so -- history has proven to be full of beligerents who simply had to be fought. Those who suggest that peace can be attained simply by not fighting has clearly neither dealt with a schoolyard bully, nor paid sufficient attention to their history books.

It should be unsurprising that those who espouse pacifism would have difficulty measuring their beliefs against the shadow of a belligerent. Yet, some pacifists have managed to find the wisdom necessary to do so.

Consider the example of Freeman Dyson, who had to resolve his own pacifist beliefs against the threat posed by Adolph Hitler. He relates them in Weapons and Hope:

"…We had made our break with the establishment and we were fierce pacifists. We saw no hope that any acceptable future would emerge from the coming war. We had made up our minds that we would at least not be led like sheep to the slaughter as the class of 1915 had been.

We were not so na├»ve as to blame our predicament upon Hitler. We saw Hitler only as a symptom of the decay of our civilization, not as the cause of it. To us the Germans were not enemies but fellow victims of the general insanity. … We did not bother to read
Mein Kampf.

We seized upon non-violence as the alternative to never-ending bombs and death. We were not sure whether Hitler could be successfully opposed with non-violence and turned from his evil ways, but at least there was a chance. With bombs and guns we were convinced there was no chance. If the worst came to the worst, if we opposed Hitler non-violently and he killed us, we should be dying for a good cause. That would be better than dying for Mr Churchill and the empire.

We had grand visions of the redemption of Europe by non-violence. The goose-stepping soldiers, marching from country to country, meeting no resistance, finding only sullen non-cooperation and six-hour lectures. The leaders of the non-violence being shot, and others coming forward fearlessly to take their places. The goose-stepping soldiers, sickened by the cold-blooded slaughter, one day refusing to carry out the order to shoot. The massive disobedience of the soldiers disrupting the machinery of military occupation. The soldiers, converted to non-violence, returning to their own country to use on their government the tactics that we had taught them. The final impotence of Hitler confronted with the refusal of his own soldiers to hate their enemies. The collapse of military institutions everywhere, leading to an era of worldwide peace and sanity.

…If our program did not make sense in terms of immediate practical politics, the idea of fighting World War II in order to save the Czechs or Poles or the European Jews made sense even less. We could see clearly that however badly we might suffer in the coming war, the Czechs and Poles and Jews would suffer worse.

…Above all, we were strengthened by the certainty that our program was moral and the society around us was immoral.
Just as Canada's so-called "peace" movement would surely insist, Dyson and his cohorts at the time believed that only they had learned the lessons of history, and only they, with their pacifist beliefs, could claim a moral position during this time of conflict.

However, as the war progressed, Dyson and his friends changed their minds, in part because of the concessions their fellow pacifists made to the belligerents of their time:

"Our little band of pacifists was dwindling. … Those of us who were still faithful continued to grow cabbages and boycott the OTC, but we felt less and less sure of our moral superiority.

For me the final stumbling block was the establishment of the Petain-Laval government in France. This was in some sense a pacifist government. It had abandoned violent resistance to Hitler and chosen the path of reconciliation. Many of the Frenchmen who supported Petain were sincere pacifists, sharing my faith in non-violent resistance to evil. Unfortunately, many of them were not. The worst of it was that there was no way to distinguish the sincere pacifists from the opportunists and collaborators. Pacifism was destroyed as a moral force as soon as Laval touched it.

Gradually it became clear to me that what had happened in France would also happen in England, if ever our pacifist principles were put into practice. Suppose that we succeeded in converting Mr Churchill and a majority of the British people to the gospel of non-violence. What then? We would nobly lay down our arms and impress our moral superiority upon the German invaders by silent noncooperation. But the English equivalent of Laval would soon appear, to make a deal with the Germans and make us contemptible in their eyes.
Unfortunately, activists such as Batsch doesn't share Dyson's wisdom. They lack his ability to measure their beliefs against the realities of the conflict at hand, and choose the lesser evil over the greater.

Few will answer that war is not an evil in and of itself. War is what Michael Ignatieff would describe as a moral hazard, and it in turn leads to other moral hazards.

However, there are times at which war, as a moral hazard, is necessary because the alternative, as physical hazard, is not permissable.

Allowing the Taliban to rule Afghanistan so they may continue to harbour terrorists as a passive-aggressive act against the Western world is no more permissable than allowing Adolph Hitler to sieze control of Europe so he may do as he wills.

Furthermore, neither of these alternatives to war -- in present as in history -- actually qualifies as peace. Therein lies the quandry for the pacifists among the modern peace movement, well-intentioned though many of them may be, and are.

So just as young Jamie Batsch doesn't seem to understand the concept of democracy -- only democratic paralysis results when the government is obligated to act only under conditions of complete public agreement -- the elder Robert Batsch doesn't seem to truly understand the concept of peace, and fails to comprehend that while fighting is not a peaceful act, sometimes not fighting is actually less peaceful.

And while he may have thought that he was making some kind of grand point by parading his young daughters in front of newspaper reporters, in the end, he's really only demonstrated the remarkable ability of two generations of Batsch's to miss the point.

So much for truisms.

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