May 30, 2009

Pacifism is pathological?

Russell:  Churchill’s third juryIn keeping with my normal practice of revealing my biases, I admit to being most offended by Churchill’s “Pacifism as Pathology: Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America” (1998). It is, perhaps, his justification for that famous photograph of the learned professor with an assault rifle. My complaint comes from having worked with Cesar Chavez, admired Martin Luther King Jr., and spent no small amount of my life urging young Indians to train as “briefcase warriors.” American Indians are oppressed peoples, now as well as historically, but the way out for us is community organizing rather than gunplay.

This fundamental disagreement about the role of an American Indian university professor colors my views of Churchill. Eichmann, Arendt famously observed, was not a particularly bright cog in a genocidal machine. Assuming everyone agrees that capitalism is a genocidal machine (although I, for one, do not), the idea that one who happens to be present in the World Trade Center is a cog in that machine is preposterous.
More on the book in question:

Pacifism as Pathology"This extraordinarily important book cuts to the heart of one of the central reasons movements to bring about social and environmental justice always fail. The fundamental question here is: is violence ever an acceptable tool to help bring about social change? This is probably the most important question of our time, yet so often discussions around it fall into clichés and magical thinking: that somehow if we are merely good and nice enough people, the state will stop using its violence to exploit us all. Would that this were true." --Derrick Jensen, author of Endgame, from the introduction.

Pacifism, the ideology of nonviolent political resistance, has been the norm among mainstream North American progressive groups for decades. But to what end? Ward Churchill challenges the pacifist movement's heralded victories--Gandhi in India, 1960s antiwar activists, even Martin Luther King's civil rights movement--suggesting that their success was in spite of, rather than because of, their nonviolent tactics. Pacifism as Pathology was written as a response not only to Churchill's frustration with his own activist experience, but also to a debate raging in the activist and academic communities. He argues that pacifism is in many ways counterrevolutionary; that it defends the status quo, and doesn't lead to social change.
Comment:  In the wake of 9/11, I posted Diplomacy Works, Violence Doesn't--a response to those who wanted to launch a "crusade" against Muslims. I'm glad to see history has proved me right again. We haven't captured Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda has regrouped, Afghanistan is still a failed state, Pakistan is still supporting terrorists, and we've wasted countless resources fighting a nonexistent threat in Iraq.

Anyway, I agree with Russell on this issue. I can't think of many cases where armed revolution has led to a democracy that improved the lives of the masses. No doubt I'd kick Churchill's butt if we debated the issue.


dmarks said...

" and we've wasted countless resources fighting a nonexistent enemy in Iraq"

I can't see how anyone would count Saddam Hussein and his large army, and the other terrorist groups as "nonexistent". Other than that they are now as "nonexistent" as they have ever been due to the US and allies successfully fighting to eliminate them.

On to another point:

"I can't think of many cases where armed revolution has led to a democracy that improved the lives of the masses."

Excellent observation. I've long thought this.

Ward is quoted as mentioning as pacifist movements "Gandhi in India, 1960s antiwar activists, even Martin Luther King's civil rights movement". I wonder if this is pretty much it? Because at the time of 1998, a huge and successful pacifist movement was already part of history. In terms of change and numbers of lives affected, it is comparable to the Gandhi effort, and much bigger than the other ones. I am referring to the "Revolutions of 1989", described as a "a surge of mostly peaceful revolutions" that turned the Iron Curtain into a few flakes of rust.

These peaceful internal grassroots efforts did more to end the Soviet empire than Reagan's military efforts.

Stephen said...

People (including various Irish republicans I've argued with) forget that violence is a last resort (the Irish war for independence is a perfect example) just like at the NI troubles to see what 'armed struggle' achieves (like I posted before AIM has a history being pro-SF/IRA and pro-PLO). Personally I find the glorification of 'armed struggle' to be extremely offensive, as that pic of wardo clearly demonstrates militant idealogies are for losers.

dmarks said...

The picture of Ward makes me think of those pictures of SLA members and other "homegrown" terrorist groups.

Stephen said...

Somehow I missed this lil' gem:

"we've wasted countless resources fighting a nonexistent enemy in Iraq."

So in other words you consider money spent to protect Iraqis from terrorism and improve Iraq to be a 'waste'; thank for showing how little a 'compassionate' lefty like yourself cares about the Iraq people. This plus your sexist language shows just how warped your world view is.

Stephen said...

Also here some factual Iraq casualty stats:

If what's going on in Iraq is truly as horrible as anti-warriors try to make it out to be (when they're glorifying terrorists of course) why do such people have to exaggerate the numbers?

Stephen said...

The reason I find that stupid phrase 'armed struggle' offensive is that when I hear I don't think of mythical 'freedom fighters' that Wardo's twisted little tribe drools over I think of Marie Wilson a nurse who never lived to see her 21st birthday thanks to the IRA's enniskillen bombing. I think of little 8 year old Oran Doherty who was murdered in the RIRA's Omagh bomb who just wanted to have a fun day in Omagh and the rest of these people:

I think of Margaret O'Hare an innocent 34 year old woman murdered in this example of 'armed struggle':

People who advocate pacifism are not talking about being meek but simply using brains over idiotic adolescent 'freedom fighter' fantasies. It's very easy for scum like Ward to hoot 'n howl from the safety of their arm chairs about 'resistance' but the people who've actually experienced such things never see it the same way. It's always the people who've never been to war who are so quick to glorify it, to hell with Churchill, to hell with Means, AIM and anyone who dares to defend or support or take part in this kind of inhumanity.

dmarks said...

Stephen: I see the actual death figures in Iraq get exaggerated an astounding 1,300%. Yes, one thousand three-hundred percent. There is nothing wrong with pointing out the factual numbers, just like a person is not a "Holocaust denier" for pointing out that Hitler killed 6 million Jews instead of some imaginary 1,300% inflated figure of 78 million Jews.

Stephen said...

Exactly, also compare the actual numbers to how many Saddam slaughtered (I don't recall seeing any flower children protesting that), so lives have been saved. And not just in Iraq; Palestinian terrorism has gone because Saddam is no longer around to pay the families of suicide bombers $25,000 per homicide bombing, so quite a few Israeli lives have also been saved. Plus it's worth pointing out that Vladimir Putin revealed, Russian intelligence believed Saddam was planning terrorist attacks inside the US:

"I can confirm that after the events of September 11, 2001, and up to the military operation in Iraq, Russian special services and Russian intelligence several times received...information that official organs of Saddam's regime were preparing terrorist acts on the territory of the United States and beyond its borders, at U.S. military and civilian locations."

dmarks said...

"so quite a few Israeli lives have also been saved."

The main victims of the Palestinian terrorists have been Palestinians, much more than Israelis. Palestinians die when Palestinians execute them for being the "wrong" kind of Palestinian or for being friends with Jews (yes, the PLO has had a death penalty for that crime). Palestinians die because their military launches missiles from civilian apartment houses and uses civilians as "human shields" in other ways. Palestinian children die when their government orders them to engage in deadly assaults on soldiers, and the soldiers are forced to fire back. Palestinians die when Palestinian suicide bombers blow up busses and restaurants, and there are always Arab casualties along with Jewish ones.

And finally, Palestinians die because of the disruption in medical services due to the Palestinian military's habit of disguising troop transports as ambulances.

So, less terrorism is a lot better for Palestinians too.

Stephen said...

Well put, sorry I forgot to mention that (I'm not exactly on an expert on that conflict). But you've highlighted a very common pattern; terrorist groups never improve anything for the 'their' people, the IRA made NI worse, AIM made pine ridge poverty worse etc...