In pre-World War II England students at the Oxford Union debated on February 9, 1933 the resolution: "That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country." It was passed by 275 votes to 153. Months later British Liberal MP Robert Bernays visited Germany where he was told by a prominent young Nazi leader, "you English are soft." At that point, Bernays realized, "the world enemies of peace might be the pacifists" [#].
In order to understand this seeming contradiction - that those who most wish for peace might encourage war - one need only look into the mind of the aggressor. Whether the schoolyard bully, the power-hungry politician, or the dictator on the make - an aggressor always responds to weakness with greater hostility. Bullies will back down in the face of strength, never to an offer of compromise. This is true in personal relationships, diplomacy, business, and war.
A case study. By 1986 Libya's Muamar Gaddafi was one of the prime sponsors of international terrorism. Tension had been building with Libya since the Gulf of Sidra incident in August 1981 when Libyan war planes tried to intimidate a U.S. Navy task group enforcing freedom of navigation rights according to international law of the sea through offshore waters that Gadaffi claimed constituted a "line of death" [#]. In the latest of a string of bombings, including the destruction of Pan American flight 103 over Scotland [#], the Libyan dictator ordered an attack against La Belle, a West Berlin discotheque, that killed two American servicemen and a Turkish woman [#].
American warplanes were ordered to strike Libya, including an attack directly on Gadaffi that barely missed killing him. Abruptly, Gadaffi changed course and withdrew as a major sponsor of terrorism. By 2003, with the liberation of Iraq, Libya voluntarily invited UN inspectors to oversee dismantling of its clandestine nuclear development program. When faced with a position of strength, the dictator backed down.
Those who say that "violence never solves anything" are bereft of historical knowledge. Violence removed Julius Caesar, Tojo, Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, most of the Gandi family, Napoleon, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and uncounted other leaders - great and small, good or evil - from power. Violence has overthrown dictators, freed slaves, and suppressed popular rebellion. Denial that violence has been a major factor throughout history is failure to recognize an essential truth: violence is neither good nor bad, it simply exists and must be dealt with.
By renouncing violence as an acceptable option - albeit one of last resort - the pacifist then opens the way, if not encourages violence to be used against him. This is especially true when facing an enemy bereft of moral scruples. Passive resistance works only in the face of those who are basically principled, if misguided. Hence Gandhi was able to force Indian independence, and the apartheid regime of South Africa caved to internal and external pressures. Though violence in the form of riots primarily played a part, it was a lesser one.
Contrast this to Prague Spring, in 1968 when an attempt to rise up peaceably against Soviet domination resulted in Soviet tanks rolling through the streets of Prague. The BBC reported that hundreds were killed and the West, although vociferously condemning Soviet attacks, took no action to assist the citizens of Czechoslovakia in this naked aggression.
Appeasement is the handmaiden of pacifism. Winston Churchill said that "an appeaser is one who feeds the crocodile, hoping that it will eat him last." Offers of compromise fell on deaf ears when Neville Chamberlain entreated Hitler to satisfy himself with just a small piece of Europe, a "faraway country of which we know nothing," as the former lamented. Resolution was attained only after the bloodiest war in history that ended with Hitler's predictable demise. Nor are such sentiments dusty remnants in the corner of history's pantry.
In a piece written with the revealing headline, "We have learnt the wrong lessons from Munich: 1938 was a shameful moment. But appeasement is not always wrong," UK Times correspondent Correlli Barnett makes the case that caving to dictatorship is preferable to war. Referring to the Russian invasion of Georgia, he writes, in a phrase eerily reminiscent of the language of Chamberlain who he admires, that the aggression is "a matter affecting only a distant region of the Caucasus and in no way posing a threat to Europe or the United States."
"Still, if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed, if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not so costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance for survival.
There may be a worse case.
You may have to fight when there is no chance of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves."
— Gordon Cucullu
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