Crisis for Pacifism – Again: Thoughts on Ukraine War and other Crises
by Jean Buskin
Recently, I followed a link to this article: https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2023/3/20/2159214/-No-more-Ben-Jerry-s-founder-comes-out-as-tankie . There I learned two new words “tankie” and “Holodomor,” so that’s something. If they are new to you too, each one has a Wikipedia page.
This article criticizes Ben Cohen, the Ben of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, for opposing the U.S. sending weapons to Ukraine. Ben has company, such as Medea Benjamin of Code Pink and Helena Cobban. I count myself among that school of thought. Weapons to Ukraine will only prolong the suffering of the Ukrainians, yet in this camp we are seen as enemies of Ukraine, and sometimes seen as apologists for the Russian atrocities.
I won’t elaborate here, since many already have, about the blatant hypocrisy of those supporters of Ukraine who were gung-ho on Shock and Awe, the euphemism for the 2003 U.S. military killing of Iraqis. Clearly, the U.S. attack on Iraq was just atrocious as Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
We who oppose weapons to Ukraine appear to be in the minority. The most progressive Congressional members, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders have voted to approve money for weapons to Ukraine. Traditional anti-war activists are split, with many also favoring military assistance to Ukraine. It feels odd to align with many reactionary politicians on this issue.
Pacifists have always been challenged. “You mean you wouldn’t use violence if a guy was raping your sister?” Many pacifists agree that certain situations would justify violence. But let’s not be distracted by hypothetical situations and consider real ones.
Today we hear not only the usual skepticism by non-pacifists, but also from self-declared pacifists who see Ukraine as the big exception.
This has happened before. Beloved late Seattle activist and Western Washington Fellowship of Reconciliation member Abe Keller, in whose honor the Abe Keller Peace Education Fund is named, used to say he was always a pacifist, except during World War II. Of course, most people are horrified by German plans to kill all the Jewish, Roma, gay, and dissident people.
Who would justify ignoring that? Armed soldiers did free Death Camp prisoners – those traumatized, starved, diseased remnants of the millions already dead. How many more could have been saved by nonviolent means – for example, had the U.S. opened its borders to all who tried to escape? A larger consideration is that tens of millions were killed in that war, mostly civilians, and every human life is as precious as those who were directly targeted by the German Nazis.
What could the US have done differently? Another late Seattle peace activist, Anci Koppel, was protesting the sale of U.S. iron to Japan in the 1930s while that country was building its occupied empire. US profiteers who enriched themselves while supporting German empire could have been reined in (just google “Bush profit Nazis” if you aren’t familiar with that aspect of the war). And as mentioned above, open borders to asylum seekers. This would not only have saved lives of those fleeing but deprived the Nazis of sources of slave labor.
But just think: the entire deadly conflict could have been avoided had the pacifists of the warring countries been numerous and vocal enough.
A more recent crisis for pacifists came with the “9/11” attacks. This time, it was the people of the U.S. who were “shocked and awed,” not to mention frightened and angry. At least one WWFOR member asked for her membership to be withdrawn from national FOR. Some people who had protested earlier U.S. attacks on Iraq (1991), Grenada, Panama, etc. declined to protest the impending attack on Afghanistan. I hope by now these “peace dropouts” recognize that the war and occupation had no benefit. Any temporary decrease in oppression of Afghan women pales against the deaths and long-lasting destruction.
It seems unlikely that our call for an immediate armistice will prevail – as that appears to be opposed by the Russian leadership, the Ukrainian population and president, and the U.S. Congress.
Should we listen to the will of the Ukrainian people who oppose an armistice? Will adding weapons to this war have any benefit or will it just increase the suffering? Will we look back and say that more people should have spoken in opposition?