War & Pacifism

last updated: February 4, 2023

Kafka’s reimagining of Lady Liberty from his novel Amerika (source)
  1. Background
  2. Outcomes
  3. Reading List
    1. Novels about War
    2. War Memoirs
    3. Critique of War
    4. Pacifism
  4. Frequently Anticipated Questions
    1. What about intervention to help an ally / other country in distress?
    2. What about self-defense? That’s a no-brainer, right?
    3. Are you [insert political labels here]?
    4. Why does this matter so much to you?

Background

Since the spring of 2022, I have felt a strong draw towards Christian pacifism. This was not a spur-of-the-moment whim but rather a quiet, steady flame that has been growing in me for a long time, its origins planted by reading, reflection, dialogue, and painfully existential experiences. It challenges certain beliefs I grew up with and a nearly lifelong fascination with warfare, as memorialized in many a great work of fiction or historical account. It keeps following me around and will not rest until further explored.

Before I can fully realize my views on the subject, including whether or not to call myself a “pacifist,” I have decided to do some serious reading and learning on this topic. Pacifism is a controversial belief in some circles—including among many Christians—but I am more interested in being transparent here than universally agreeable, and the call I feel towards it is too strong to outright ignore. With that said . . . this page is mainly for my own reference, but perhaps it will help someone else, too.

Outcomes

I look to gain a better understanding of the following:

  • War in the abstract (motives, methods, etc), using historical examples
  • An overview of pacifism and major thought around it, especially from Christian perspectives
  • The concept of “just war,” in theory and in practice
  • The concept of “consistent life ethic”
  • Ramifications of adopting pacifism—in faith, politics, and personal life
  • Where I fall on the pacifist spectrum, if at all

Reading List

Here is a list of titles in this general space (suggestions welcome).

Novels about War

War Memoirs

  • Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926) – T.E. Lawrence – Read 12.16.15
  • The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II (2017) – Svetlana Alexievich – Read 12.26.22
  • Safe Area Gorazde (2000) – Joe Sacco

Critique of War

  • War is a Racket (1935) – Smedley Butler – Read 11.22.21

Pacifism

I have a long Goodreads shelf, growing all the time. Here are some books from it I’d like to start with:

  • Pacifism and War: When Christians Disagree (1984) – Oliver Barclay
  • The Hauerwas Reader (2001) – Stanley Haerwas – n.b., this is a massive collection that covers much more than war, so I will likely just read selections of it
  • Ends and Means (1937) – Aldous Huxley
  • The Kingdom of God is Within You (1894) – Leo Tolstoy

Frequently Anticipated Questions

December 18, 2022 – Some initial thoughts early in this learning journey, to compare with notes later on after I’ve done more reading:

What about intervention to help an ally / other country in distress?

It’s frequently argued (compellingly so) that doing nothing in an escalated situation could in itself be harmful, like watching someone get mugged in the street and not stepping in to help. This is obvious enough when we are talking about individuals, but I am unsure if this scales to large geopolitical conflicts, where the number of variables is greater and every nation, even those with the most noble ideals, is selective about what conflicts they participate in.

Regarding military intervention in other nations… it’s a combination of confusing criteria (why do we intervene in some genocides and not others?) plus a blurry end-date on war (e.g. invasion/occupation, generational casualties) that I’m greatly wrestling with. I wish there were more transparency, consistency, and direct democratic process in this. Currently I am not against intervention in principle, but I am hugely skeptical of it in practice.

What about self-defense? That’s a no-brainer, right?

When it comes to self-defense, I don’t think I could be a total pacifist at this point in my learning journey, or ever will be.

That said…let’s take an example from fairly recent history. It’s well known the Soviets committed atrocities against German civilians after capturing Berlin. In her book The Unwomanly Face of War, Svetlana Alexievich recounts how some of the soldiers were fueled to hatred and retribution by what their side had suffered and the wretched conditions they were living in as soldiers. Keep in mind, many had first gone to fight as an act of self-defense.

What could a recruit do to prevent themselves from descending to war crimes, under tremendous peer pressure? This is a disturbing possibility, and from a Christian perspective, the stakes couldn’t be higher… one’s own soul. Someone who intends to fight even for a noble cause ought to form a plan for how to deal with this kind of temptation—and even that may not be trustworthy. There would need to be some external checks and balances in order to physically prevent such crimes from occurring. I think we (as a nation) are capable of coming up with such a system of checks and balances, but if we don’t talk about it or plan for it, we may easily repeat the horrors of the past.

Are you [insert political labels here]?

I try hard to keep this blog relatively apolitical and friendly to all, so I prefer not to share my political leanings.

Why does this matter so much to you?

Personal reasons, primarily… I’m a daughter of a survivor of war. I have a deep understanding of its psychological scars.

I also believe Christianity was never intended to be tied to the state, and that it holds a unique life ethic which sets it apart from all other worldviews.

Lastly… I’m continually grieving the division that has spread in my country over the last decade. We have become so complacent with this downward trajectory—so perversely entertained by it—as if it is inevitable. I don’t think it has to be.

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About Me

Hi, I’m Marian—sharing a fondness for classics and other books here and on my YouTube channel. I’m a Christian, designer, and avid tea drinker, and my home is the beautiful Pacific Northwest, US.


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