Pacifism - Framing policy issues with pacifist perspectives

Pacifists have not evolved a vision of foreign policy as coherent as collective security or its counterpart, containment. Nonetheless, they have shared distinctive qualities with which they helped to frame foreign policy issues. These qualities include their transnational orientation, moral thrust, and skepticism about the efficacy of military force.

Transnational Orientation The orientation of nineteenth-century pacifists was largely religious and resulted from the dualism of Christian perfectionism, which assigned different roles to religious bodies and secular societies. To this was added the antistate individualism of philosophical anarchists and the class analysis of socialists. But none of these elements yielded specific implications for foreign policy.

In the twentieth century the perspective of pacifists was secularized, but it remained essentially ethical and humanistic rather than political. It was oriented to the quality of life and the equitable distribution of power rather than to the political relations of states. In this sense, leading pacifists found World War I, for all its magnitude, to be irrelevant to the solution of fundamental world problems. What they found truly basic was human need, creativity, and community. Progressive pacifists, and especially the articulate women among them, thus brought a strong sense of community to peace work (by contrast to the social, legal, and political structures emphasized by other peace advocates). They eventually supported the League of Nations, but they harbored the reservation that such international organizations were inadequate vehicles for change and human welfare.

But some pacifists were systems oriented. The outstanding pacifist analyst of international affairs in the 1930s was Kirby Page, who argued that traditional European rivalries had vitiated the League of Nations and would lead to another world war unless a new foundation could be built for international relations. Ironically, although pacifists viewed historical revisionism as the basis for a realistic assessment of traditional diplomacy and a justification for radically internationalizing world power, many Americans used it as their justification for a new isolationism.

Following World War II some pacifists followed pacifist leader Abraham J. Muste in seeking a new basis for a transnational foreign policy. By the 1950s, Muste viewed the Third World as the fulcrum for a global policy beyond the bipolar terms of the Cold War. This notion was taken up in the following decade by some New Left radicals; but as a basis for foreign policy analysis, it was eclipsed by the rhetoric against nuclear arms and then war in Vietnam. Nonetheless, the American Fellowship of Reconciliation and other pacifists actively promoted the "Third Force" concept of Vietnamese Buddhists as a standard against which to frame U.S. policy goals.

Moral Emphasis The moral emphasis of nineteenth-century pacifism was individualistic. Pacifists tended to assume that good people would make a good world. Twentieth-century pacifists, however, initially reflected the Progressive emphasis on social environmentalism. They included war among the social institutions in which good men and women become enmeshed with devastating consequences. Accordingly, they made pacifism an expression of social ethics; and their journal, The World Tomorrow (published 1918–1934), became the most forthright exponent of the social gospel. "If war is sin," wrote Kirby Page, then it must be abjured and overcome by every available stratagem. Their essentially moral outlook enabled several pacifist leaders to transcend the narrow allegiances to specific programs that set so many internationalists at odds with one another.

In the 1920s, for example, Page and his colleagues made futile attempts to devise a plan of unity between the advocates of a World Court and of a general treaty to outlaw war. Similarly, in the 1930s pacifists were able to write an umbrella platform that attracted nonpacifist internationalists to their Emergency Peace Campaign, with its neutralist bias. In 1957 a pacifist nucleus stimulated the formation of both the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy and the Committee for Nonviolent Direct Action in order to enlist both liberal and pacifist constituencies in action against nuclear arms. And in the 1960s, a generalized sense of moral outrage accounted for whatever cohesion there was in the organized antiwar movement. It was the basis on which pacifists could associate with groups having nonpacifist political biases.

The very sense of moral commitment that led to comprehensiveness in some circumstances engendered division in others. Ideologies often have served as standards of factional loyalty within out-of-power groups, and the principled total repudiation of violence and warfare sometimes functioned in this way among pacifists in the coalitions they joined. A few examples illustrate this problem. Prior to the Civil War, the American Peace Society was impelled by a sense of moral obligation, but it was wracked by factional disputes over the question of whether to prohibit all wars or only aggressive ones. Again, in World War I absolute pacifism was both the cohesive element of pacifist organization and the reason that prowar liberals refused to work with pacifists even for liberal goals. Although the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, formed just after the war, included pacifists Jane Addams and Emily Balch, the coalition was too broad for Fanny Garrison Villard and other absolutists, who created the separate Women's Peace Society. Early in the 1930s both the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Socialist Party were sharply divided over how completely they should renounce violence in a potential class struggle. Socialists never recovered from the political effects of that controversy, and they also were faced with the theoretical issue of whether to support an antifascist war.

By 1938 pacifist groups were united against intervention, but they tended to withdraw from political action in order to prepare communities of believers for the coming crisis. During World War II the pacifist community was divided over the implications of its moral commitment to conscientious objection, and its support groups disagreed about the limits of cooperation with Civilian Public Service, the administrative agency for objectors.

The antiwar movement of the 1960s was no more immune to factionalism than its predecessors, and the division was often over conflicting principles. Divisive issues included whether to exclude communists from coalitions, whether to criticize North Vietnamese and communist policy in the context of analyses of American involvement, tactics for demonstrations, and organizational principles within the movement. Protest during the Vietnam conflict was united under an intense sense of moral outrage, but it also was divided by the question of allegiance to specific principles, of which the total repudiation of violence and authoritarianism was one.

In any case, pacifists have reinforced an essentially ethical interpretation of national interest: that world interest should be a criterion of national policy and that the concomitants of peace are change as well as order, justice as well as stability. This moral thrust is not unique to pacifists, but it has been sharpened by their participation in American peace movements.

Skepticism of War No less than belief, skepticism has characterized pacifist propaganda and attitudes. Indeed, modern pacifism was formed in opposition to a popular war, the so-called Great War, and to the power assumed by government in it. That skepticism became a valuable credential when disillusionment followed the war. Pacifists themselves assiduously propagated skepticism about the justness of specific wars, the credibility of war aims, and the constructive potential of victory. For most of the twentieth century they challenged the general claim that preparedness deters warfare and the specific claims of military security needs. From Woodrow Wilson's 1916 preparedness campaign to legislation for arms spending in the 1920s and nuclear arms in the 1950s, from the inauguration of conscription in 1917 to its reinstatement in 1940 and the peacetime draft of 1948, the small body of pacifists constituted a core of political opposition. They challenged not only programs but also the rationale for them. Some pacifists also marshaled economic and anti-imperialist interpretations of war to expose the economic linkages of warfare and to challenge official explanations of foreign policy. And they propagated skepticism about the efficacy of American intervention abroad, whether public or covert, whether in World War I or the Cold War, in Southeast Asia or Latin America.

Skepticism about the use of military power and the rationale for violence has been extended to systematic inquiries about the nature of power by building first on the experience of Mohandas Gandhi and then on American reform experience. Late-twentieth-century scholarship put nonviolent application of social force on a systematic and empirical basis and explored its implications for national security. In this sense the study of nonviolence is no longer confined to ethical pacifism.

Skepticism about foreign policy and governmental accountability is the legacy of the nonresistants and the experience of the peace sects. It was reinforced when pacifists were persecuted or were treated as irrelevant. It is the concomitant of the pacifist values of individual worth, harmony, and brotherhood, contrasted as they are with articles of foreign policy such as national interest, conflict, and sovereignty. Skepticism follows from the pacifist emphasis on a transnational orientation and moral commitment, as against foreign policy based on national interest and pragmatic choices. It is at the heart of the demand that foreign policy be tested publicly by the very values it purports to secure. Skepticism is not unique to pacifism, but it has been significantly sharpened in the American peace movement as a result of pacifist activity.

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