Essay from Norman J. Olson

Black and white charcoal sketch of a tree trunk in winter with no leaves and a person with a sword standing in front of it. Some grass and a broken log in the foreground.
Art by Norman J. Olson

on pacifism


I guess I have just recently recommitted to, or decided I need to accept, that I am and must be a pacifist…  in this year of 2024, there are wars and armed conflicts in various places around the world… some of these wars seem justified on one side or the other and some just seem to be the result of blundering on the part of national governments…  but, the more I read the news, the more I think about these conflicts, the more true it seems that if the human race is to flourish, or even survive, we must find a way to eliminate war from this planet…

my first argument against war is always to appeal to logic…  even if one has no moral objection to the killing and maiming of other human beings in pursuit of some national goal, war or indeed, even smaller armed conflict, is seldom efficacious in resolving the dispute…  so often international affairs seem like building houses of cards based on negotiations and diplomacy while war comes in with a sledge hammer…  that simply destroys everything and makes matters worse…  

war is built on the foundation of violence and the belief that killing certain people will make nations live together in peace…  that does not work…  killing people just makes their families and friends angry and outraged…  they do not want to live in peace with the killers of their loved ones, they want revenge on them… war begets hate which begets more war which begets more hate, etc. etc. etc…  war is not an efficient or effective way to solve international problems…
my second argument against war is that it is morally backwards…  might does not make right…  and just because one nation has a better army and can kill more efficiently,  that does not make that nation more right than any other nation…  usually the things fought over are in grey areas anyway, so there is no one side that is fully right and no one side that is fully wrong…  so compromise and negotiation are the way to make sure that each side gets some of what it wants…  

my third argument against war is that it is always fueled by greed for money…  and the people who wind up fighting in the war and harmed by the war are almost never the people who wind up with the money, no matter who wins or loses…  and in trying to negotiate a compromise over things like border disputes, the only way these issues can be resolved is if both sides are willing to dial back their greed and settle for less than all the money, land, water rights, natural resources, etc… killing a bunch of people does not in any way help for any nation to put aside greed and attempt a fair and respectful resolution of international problems…

my fourth argument against war is the obvious moral observation that it is immoral for any of us to take the life of anyone else…  I believe that each and every human being is born into this life with a right to live and participate in all of the joys and pains that make up our lives…  these include a right to food, shelter and safety…  the first things usually destroyed in a war are food, shelter and safety…  it is immoral to kill our fellow men and women period…  under any circumstances, any time… and it is also immoral to allow our fellow men and women to live without food, shelter and safety…   war is always always always immoral…  war is always evil…  English poet Wilfred Owen, who knew a few things about war, called it a “cesspool…”  there is nothing glorious about it, ever…

okay, now that I have convinced everybody that war is ineffective, evil and immoral, let us proceed to the question of how do we end it…  one would have hoped back in the 1950s when I was a child, that the inventions of nuclear weapons would make war obsolete…  when nations have this horrible weapon in hand that would make any large war, the last war, because the effect of the war would be to eradicate human beings from the planet; one would think that we would look at each other and say, “let us lay down our arms and look for peaceful ways to solve international problems…”  before we finish ourselves off altogether…

but that did not happen…  instead nations kept building more and more nuclear weapons in an arms race that goes on to this day with weapons armed and ready to launch right now that would bring on a nuclear winter that would end human life on this planet and most other life as well…  this is lunacy…  it is like a person walking night and day with a razor sharp knife pressed against his or her throat…  we must get rid of those terrible weapons…  and we do that not by using them, which would be suicidal, but by education and arms negotiations…  we need to all know and acknowledge the danger we are in and make our governments destroy those weapons…  there is no harm that any nation can inflict on me that makes it morally right for me to launch a nuclear weapon….  killing one person is immoral…  killing hundreds, thousands and millions of people is hundreds and thousands and millions of times more immoral…

I am not sure how to go about accomplishing this goal but, I truly believe that military actions of every kind will not lead to the goal of nuclear disarmament… military action does not solve international problems, it always makes them worse…  increasing the hate and dehumanizing those denoted as “enemy” makes it more and more likely that an accidental international blunder or an intentional act of lunacy will send us over that precipice and start a nuclear annihilation of humanity…  

so, I advocate demilitarization of this planet…  I believe that it is the only way to prevent a humanity annihilating nuclear war…  there are so many challenges facing humanity… this planet is rich and abundant but we should be carefully tending it and setting it up to support our human communities so that all people can have food, shelter and safety… we are threatened by disease, by natural disaster, by things like climate change and ozone depletion and dozens of other threats… 

I think that we could work together to solve these problem and to make a long and healthy life easier for each of us to attain, if we could quit fighting with each other and start working together to make the world a better place for the benefit of us all…

the first step, I think, is for us all to embrace pacifism…  we must change our attitudes about military in every way…  there is nothing good about military actions…  all military action is immoral in that it aims to kill people…  that is what guns, tanks, bombs, etc. exist to do… to kill people… so we must stop extolling the warrior…  we must stop funding the military…  and we should be working with every resource we have to spread pacifism to every human being on the planet…  it is the logical, moral and decent thing to do…  we must accept that every human on this planet is our brother or sister and deserves respect and all human rights and happiness being born here should provide… and we must always remember that might does not make right…  it never has and it never will… 

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