Pacifism—A Flight from Reality


By ALFRED GRANT WALTON, D.D., Pastor, Tompkins Ave. Congregational Church, Brooklyn, N. Y.

Delivered at a Conference of Congregational Churches and Ministers at Utica, N. Y. [~July 21, 1941]

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 658-660.

A VIGOROUS conflict is now going on in the Christian church between the champions of pacifism and the supporters of intervention. The tensions are increasing every day and open schisms have been avoided only because of a generous amount of tolerance and good will on both sides. But the divisions still remain and there is little hope that they will be resolved. Pacifists are unquestionably sincere. Many of them are suffering greatly because of their convictions. There is no appeal from conscience and the pacifists deserve the sympathetic understanding of those who differ from them. Such understanding is in no sense an admission that the pacifists are right and their opponents are firmly convinced that the pacifist point of view is not only dangerous but contrary to the deeper obligations of the Christian faith.

In its fundamental essence, pacifism is a flight from reality both in human affairs and in the realm of the spirit. While bitterly opposed to war the pacifist fails to see that he has nothing to offer to the immediate situations confronting the peoples of the earth and that he is ignoring major Christian responsibilities which are fully as important as the ideal of peace to which he is dedicated. The weakness of pacifism is in its devotion to a Christian perfectionism which is quite unattainable in the present world. Jesus said to his followers, "Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." The Christian is called upon to do all things to the glory of God.

Such injunctions cannot be fully obeyed but they do not free the Christian from the responsibility of doing the best that he can in any given situation. The ideal of a world at peace in which all conflicts among the nations are settled by pacific means belongs to the heart of the Christian gospel. But since such a goal cannot now be realized there is the moral obligation to choose the immediate course which though imperfect is most likely to lead to the ultimate goal. Thus the Christian may consent to the use of force and yet not negate his Christian purposes. Indeed he may thereby fulfill them. The best in any given circumstance is right. As Bishop Everett L. Parsons puts it: "The great absolutes are of God. They must be the goals of our striving. The search is holy, the warfare is holy, but the particular campaign we can undertake only with the qualification that it is the best we can see with our present knowledge and vision. A war may be neither altogether holy nor altogether a crime. It may be right."

The pacifist's program defeats the very goals it seeks to realize. Governments must have power to rule or there can be no government at all. A government without power is reduced to impotence and ultimately to anarchy. A pacifist wants freedom for the individual, freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, and of religion, but how can these values be achieved unless there is a government with power to guarantee them? The pacifist wants to preserve civil liberties,the rights of minorities, and the sanctity of the individual. Such blessings cannot be enjoyed unless government is strong enough to assure them. He wants the rights of labor to be recognized, so that working men will not be crushed by the avarice and greed of others. Only a government in control can insure such rights. He asks for the maintenance of law and order, that homes may be safe, property secure, and life lived in quietness and peace, but to have such conditions the government must be able to maintain them. He wants freedom of the seas, and the right to exchange goods with other peoples and so promote the prosperity and well being of all. But to have freedom of the seas a nation must be strong enough to keep the seas open. Supremely, he wants to live at peace with other people. To do so, his government must be strong enough to insist on peace. In a word, the realization of the greatest spiritual hopes and aspirations of the Christian pacifist presupposes a power sufficiently strong to guarantee all such values. Pacifism if carried to its logical conclusion, would not only preclude an army, a navy, and an air force, but would conceivably preclude a state without even a police force to preserve law and order. Thus law and order would be reduced to a state of anarchy.

The pacifist deludes himself if he thinks that the course which he advocates is justifiable because it would bring an end to suffering. On the contrary if he is at all realistic he knows that his program, if attempted, might lead to suffering greater than that which war itself may bring. For example, suppose China should no longer resist. Four hundred millions of people who love peace and freedom would be enslaved and be placed under the domination of their ruthless conquerors. If Great Britain should not resist, millions whose lives have been rooted in a freedom going back to the days of the Magna Charta would know that priceless treasure only as a memory. If America should not resist, all the benefits that have come to us through our forefathers, through the Constitution and through those who have fought to give us the democratic way of life would be thrown out of the window overnight. It is tragic to think of the children of tomorrow being brought up to be goose-stepping automatons, denied the benefits of freedom and filled with the false conceptions of race and of religion which are the heart and soul of Nazi ideology. Some pacifists think that non-resistance would be effective and cite the non-resistance of Gandhi's followers in India as proof of their claims. Let us not delude ourselves. The British government in India is not the government dominating Europe today. The iniquitous Nazi regime is out to destroy every force that seeks to oppose it. If Gandhi were in Germany he would be thrown into a concentration camp. More likely he would be executed. His followers would be crushed. A ruthless dictator that came first into power by liquidating nearly a million German citizens through torture, death or imprisonment, would laugh at non-resistance. To make non-resistance effective there must be an opponent who has some regard for moral values and there is little of that among the rulers of the totalitarian states today.

The pacifist overlooks completely the Christian's inevitable obligation to oppose every form of evil. It is just as much a duty to resist evil and to succor the needy and the oppressed as it is a duty to seek the ways of peace. It there is injustice in the world, it must be righted. If there is cruelty it must be suppressed. If there is a cry of need from the weak and the oppressed it is the Christian's duty to answer.

A casual glimpse at the sinister force of evil that is now at work in the world will reveal its monstrous character. This vicious coalition of deviltry and brute force is out to destroy democracy, to wipe it from the face of the earth and to rob humanity of all the priceless achievements of civilzation. The state is everything. The individual is nothing. All freedoms are thrown into discard. Freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience are myths. Not even a radio dial may be turned and violations mean imprisonment or even death. Men are not brothers but Aryans are superior and have a right to hold inferior peoples in subjection. Pursuing this obsession they have subjected the Jews to a relentless, cruel, degrading persecution that for bestiality and sordidness is worse than anything that the darkest ages have produced. Jews have been denied citizenship rights. They have been shut out of the professions. Their children cannot attend the public schools. Their infants must bear prescribed Jewish names. Their wealth has been confiscated. They have been herded into ghettos and must provide for themselves in any way that they can. They have been beaten, starved, thrown into concentration camps, put to death in a vicious and insane policy of racial extermination. Aryan children are taught to sing: "When Jewish blood drips from the knife, everything goes twice as well!" When a frenzied Jewish lad broke under the persecutions of his people and killed a minor attache of the German embassy in Paris, every synagogue in the German Reich was burned or desecrated. But this is not all. This villainous force of evil is out not only to destroy Jews but to destroy Christianity as well. It is calling upon people to turn aside from God and to worship blood and soil. It has replaced Jesus Christ with Hitler. It has crushed the free voice of the pulpit. It has killed and imprisoned hundreds of priests and pastors. Between 2,000 and 4,000 Protestant and Catholic clergymen are now in concentration camps in Germany. It has closed religious schools and theological seminaries. It has put Gestapo agents in the churches and has deliberately sought to wean youth away from the church. It has utterly ignored the sovereign rights of other states. The facts are well-nigh unbelievable. What sin did Norway commit that she should be invaded? Far to the north, outside of the normal field of European political maneuvering, Norway did its level best to remain neutral, to avoid trouble, to keep the peace. But Norway had to be crushed because her rugged coast was needed for submarine bases to get at England from the northeast. What was the sin of little Holland which also sought to remain neutral, to live in a spirit of good will, to harm nobody? Her policy was as pacifistic as anything ever could be. Was Queen Wilhemina guilty of any perfidy or political chicanery? Thirty thousand were killed in Rotterdam alone. So one might mention Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Luxembourg, Yugoslavia, and Greece, all prostrate before a malevolent and diabolical foe who found it convenient to subdue them.

This same sinister force of evil has had no regard for its pledged word. Innumerable treaties of non-aggression have been violated. In the well known book, "The Revolution of Nihilism," by Hermann Rauschnigg, the former Nazi and mayor of Danzig, there is this interesting quotation: "Hitler has told me that he was ready to sign anything. He was ready to guarantee any frontier and to conclude a non-aggression pact with anyone. It was a simpleton's idea not to avail oneself of expedience of this sort because the day might come when some formal agreement would have to be broken. Anyone who was so fussy that he had to consult his conscience about whether he could keep to a pact, whatever the pact, and whatever the situation was a fool. He could conclude any treaty in any given field and yet be ready to break it in cold blood the next day if that were in the interests of the future of Germany." One night before the invasion of the lowlands a Berlin broadcast was on the air for forty-five minutes assuring the people of Belgium and Holland that they should not believe the British propaganda.

that Germany would violate their neutrality. It was untrue. Germany was their friend and wanted to help them! One hundred and eight minutes afterwards the German troops marched into these countries and crushed them. This same sinister force of evil has penetrated other countries with tourists, technicians and visitors who have become the Fifth columnists of internal disruption. For five years a man was an elevator attendant in the office of the newspaper, the "Paris Soir." The day the German soldiers marched into Paris this elevator man entered the editor's office and took control of the newspaper. He is now the supervisor of all the French newspapers in occupied France. He was a Ph. D. from Leipzig, and a fifth columnist. Consider the way this monstrous force of evil regards human misery and suffering. Japan will do for an illustration. Dr. Walter Judd tells us that the Japanese soldiers have been specifically ordered to engage in brutal and vicious attacks on the civil population in order to break down civilian morale. He tells of the wife of one Christian convert who was raped twenty-seven times in a single night. A million Chinese women have been subjected to deliberate cruelty aimed to break morale. Madame Chiang Kai-shek estimates that the civilian dead in China are about twelve millions. Or take a look at Mussolini, the tiny tyrant of the Tiber, the little man of the heroic pose and the ten million bayonets. Remember what he did in Ethiopia. It was his valiant son who described the spurting blood caused by the dropping of an aerial bomb among a company of helpless natives as having the beauty of an unfolding rose. Listen to the words of this bombastic son of Predappio as he sought to inspire his soldiers running in the wrong direction from Greece:—"The events during these months exasperate our will and must accentuate against the enemy that cold, conscious implacable hate, hate in every home, which is indispensable for victory." One might continue to enumerate the evils of the iniquitous triumvirate of fascism almost indefinitely. Nothing has been said of the poisoning influence of Nazi ideology on the minds of growing youth. Maude Royden makes that evil vivid in the statement of a former British pacifist who said: "I used to be a pacifist but I would rather go to hell for fighting than have my son brought up to think that it was funny to kick a Jew in the stomach." Nor can one overlook the exile of the great constructive and creative leaders of German thought, the millions of good German people who have been cowed into abject submission, the pillage of the wealth of France, the plight of millions of refugees and a thousand and one other kindred evils. There is a force of evil loose in the world such as humanity has never seen before. For viciousness and diabolical fury it has never been equalled since creation's first bright hour.

The citizens of America live in a land rich beyond the fabled wealth of Croesus. They are comfortable, well fed and far away from the scenes of combat. Across the seas are multitudes of our fellow men, children of God, bound in chains and in misery. We are Americans and we are also Christians. Have we nothing more to offer in this tragic hour than a weak and impotent protest to the wickedness and the villainy of the aggressors? Are we to be content with the proclamation of a purely idealistic doctrine utterly incapable of realization in the present world? Shall we answer the pain of Norway, Holland, Czechoslovakia, and Greece with solemn ecclesiastical processions, with academic habiliments, and all the trimmings? Shall we reply to the bewildered, hungry, orphaned children of a continent by saying with one pacifist that when everything else has failed we can at least let the light of our little candles shine in the darkness of this present world? It is a pretty statement but it certainly is not very practical. Shall we tell the wounded andthe dying that we will send bandages, medicines, and sweaters for their hurt, but will do nothing to keep them from being hurt any more? Shall we tell the stricken widows and orphans that we are holding prayer meetings

for them but that is all that they may expect right now? Shall we bow in weak submissiveness before the arch enemiesof decency and honor, of freedom and democracy, close our eyes to brutality and injustice, close our ears to the pleading cries of millions of women and children and bid the international brigands come over and conquer us if they so desire? Does anyone think that we conquer them by love and good will when they do not even know the meaning of these terms? Is there no realism to our Christian faith, no practicality? Is there no dynamism of the spirit, no will to overcome the forces of evil, no determination to succor the needy and the oppressed? For America to stand by unmoved in such an hour, to answer such wickedness with nothing but a weak submissiveness, indeed a submissiveness often tainted with smugness and self-righteousness, and to allow our children to be enslaved and to have all the achievements of culture and of civilization taken from them does not make common sense. It isn't reasonable; it isn't honorable; it isn't Christian. Such a course reduces religion to impotence and makes man's devotion to Christianity a sham and a mockery.

Because I believe that the pacifist doctrine of perfection is incapable of present realization, because I believe that the state must have force behind it in order to provide the very blessings that the pacifists desire, because I believe that in every situation we must do the best we can, because I believe that Christians have just as much a duty to resist evil as to seek peace, and because I believe that there are some things even worse than war I assert that as Christians it is our duty in this present hour to stand by our country, to support our program of national defense and to give all possible assistance to the embattled democracies in the dangers that now confront them. War is distasteful to everyone. No one wants it. We must do all in our power to avoid it. While in some instances it has achieved some permanent benefits, in other situations it has solved nothing. But when forces are unleashed that get out of control and war breaks out as it has done 2,517 times in the last 2,500 years, Christians must not lose a sense of moral perspective or ignore the imperative obligation to do the best they can. We must not shirk from unpleasant duty in the pursuit of an irrational, impractical dream. Pacifism is a flight from reality. It has no answer to the needs of the world right now. Indeed it is about the weakest answer that one can give.

To love our country and the sacred soil whereon our life is cast, to love our homes and to wish to preserve them in happiness, security and in peace, to love our children and to desire that the years allotted to them may offer opportunities for growth, development, and the fullest expression of personality, to love freedom, justice and good will and to wish to preserve them for posterity, in a word to desire to bring to life its best: these are ideals not far from the kingdom of God. But to attain them we must have something more than pacifism, with its wishful thinking and its noble hopes. We must have something more than beautiful thoughts with which to meet the powers of anti-Christ who would seize the scepter and the royal throne. We must have courage, patriotism, aggressiveness, the compulsion of a living faith, and a willingness to resist, if need be, with force, all the hosts of evil. It is not un-Christian to fight the devil. It is not un-Christian to hold fast to the soul's most priceless possessions. There are still some things more sacred than life to which men may dedicate themselves, with clear conscience and souls unsullied, and to the realization of which we may "pledge our lives, our fortune, and our sacred honor."