How To Defeat Terrorism: Pacifism Or Guns?

By Chuck Hawks


When addressing this question, pacifists often use as their examples great historical figures commonly identified with pacifism such as Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. Christian pacifists, in particular, point out that in the New Testament Jesus Christ advocated turning the other cheek as a response to aggression against the individual. This is indeed the best and most practical response in the context of Jesus' mission on earth. But the Bible, like any source, should be taken in context.

Jesus' purpose was to save men's souls, and he rightly eschewed violence in so doing. Unlike some holy men, he never advocated or permitted "sword point" conversions. Gandhi successfully used a non-violent strategy to secure India's independence from Great Britain. And Martin Luther King used non-violent protest in his fight to achieve equal rights for Negroes during the American Civil Rights movement. All three of these great individuals were fundamentally pacifists, all three were spectacularly successful in their pursuits, and all three were (if I may use a military term) tactically sound in their non-violent approach.

But do the conditions that made non-violence a successful strategy in these three historical cases pertain to the present confrontation between the civilized world and international terrorism? In particular, do such conditions exist in the present confrontation between, on one side, the fundamentalist Muslim terrorist organization al Qaeda and their allies in the Taliban government of Afghanistan and, on the other side, the United States, the United Kingdom, and their allies in the civilized world?

This is a question worth considerable thought and analysis, and I do not pretend to have all the answers. My formal degrees are in the field of political science (I particularly studied international affairs), and I have a modest reputation as an amateur historian, especially as regards 20th Century military history. I like to think that I also have a smidgen of intelligence, and some small talent for logical analysis. Whether I do, here are my observations about pacifism and the current war on terrorism.

After some thought I have concluded that for pacifist tactics to succeed, at the minimum, the following conditions must pertain. One, the pacifist's opponents must be rational (capable of understanding the logic of the pacifist's position). Two, the opponents must have moral values and ideals that are not inimical to the pacifist's. Three, the opponents must respect basic human rights. And four, the pacifist's opponents must not necessarily equate non-violence with weakness.

Looking at our historical pacifist models, Jesus was a rabbi saving souls and teaching people in the (Jewish) culture in which he was raised. Dr. King was a Christian minister leading a movement for the rights of his people in the (American) culture in which he was raised. And Gandhi was leading his people in their struggle for independence from the British (a rational and moral people with a long democratic tradition of self-rule). The fundamental ingredients for successful pacifism were in place in all three instances.

Of the three historical examples, I am most familiar with the American Civil Rights movement of the 1950's and early 1960's, because it took place during my lifetime, and because I gave it my support. In that case, the American population was literate and well educated, basically rational, and had a long democratic tradition. Furthermore, all of the participants were Americans and were raised in the same culture, there was widespread respect for human rights, the Judeo/Christian ethic was the cultural norm, and virtually no one wanted violence. Also, in that case, the vast majority of Caucasian Americans had (and have) no desire to oppress Negro Americans. All of the conditions required for successful pacifism were indeed fulfilled.

Unfortunately, at least one (and usually more) of the required conditions are always missing when opposing totaliarian regimes (due to the nature of totaliarian regimes). Nor can they be present in any struggle against international terrorism (the fundamental tenents of terrorism preclude points two and three). In fact, none of the requisite conditions for successful pacifism are fufilled in the present struggle against Islamic terrorists.

Throughout history, pacifism and non-violence has encouraged those with a totalitarian bent (whether religious or secular) to ever-greater crimes against their own people, their neighbors, and the rest of humanity. They have historically interpreted it as weakness, which they invariably attempt to exploit for their own demented purposes. This is clear from the writings and statements of modern totalitarian leaders.

For example: The vast majority of European Jews responded non-violently to the Nazi pogrom. They went peacefully to the concentration camps, and ultimately to their deaths, a fact that has puzzled historians for years. This pacifistic approach did nothing to slow down the "Final Solution," and in fact increased its efficiency. Which is the history behind the slogan popular in modern Israel: "Never again!"

Another example: Non-violence was simply not a viable option when the forces of the Imperial Japanese Empire attacked the US, the UK, and their allies in December of 1941. Had the Western Allies not resisted with armed force, the Japanese would clearly have gone on to occupy, and exploit by force, all of Southeast Asia and the entire Pacific basin, as well as China.

Had they not been opposed by armed force Germany, Japan, and the other Axis nations would have eventually built a power base that made them literally unstoppable. War was the only viable way to prevent this and, with 20-20 hindsight, clearly the correct decision. (Paradoxically, had the Axis succeeded in world domination, international terrorism would probably not be a problem today. Axis [state] terrorism would have systematically executed all of the dissidents in the occupied territories, and long since crushed the independent states of the Middle East. The entire region would be under the boot heel of the Axis, and the people there would be slaves. Terrorism is effective only where there are moral and innocent people to terrorize.)

The United States of America had, until the events of 11 September 2001, largely ignored terrorism. This was especially true during the 8 years of the Clinton Administration. You could even make the argument that the terrorist acts of 11 September 2001 were, at least in part, the result of President Clinton's legacy of inaction.

The Clinton Administration took no effective action when the al Qaeda terrorist organization attacked the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people, and again did nothing when al Qaeda attacked the United States Ship Cole. Both of those assaults were ipso-facto declarations of war, acts that historically require a declaration of war from the aggrieved state. But the Clinton Administration chose not to take decisive action. At the end of his administration, in a move cynically designed to garner Puerto Rican votes for Hillary Clinton's senate bid, President Clinton pardoned 16 terrorists convicted of bombing attacks against New York city, over the vociferous objections of the entire law enforcement community. President Clinton evidently believed that terrorists would leave America alone if America did not respond to, even forgave, terrorist provocation.

Clearly, American restraint did not convince the al Qaeda terrorists to leave America alone. (Neither, for that matter, did America's repeated attempts to save Moslem people from violence and starvation in various parts of the world.) The leaders and members of al Qaeda did not become more amenable to reason, their ethics and morality did not improve, they steadfastly rejected the concept of human rights, and they did not abandon violence. (Unlikely in any case, as their "culture" views pacifism as weakness.)

Instead, they were emboldened to greater acts of terrorism, which resulted in the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. These fanatics have stated that, If they could, they would kill everyone in America and every American anywhere in the world to achieve their goals. (Interestingly, this would include almost all American Muslims, who are not proper "fundamentalists" by al Qaeda standards.) The notorious al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, among others, has made this clear in his speeches and recent statements. So have the leaders of the totalitarian theocracy in Afghanistan known as the Taliban, who support al Qaeda and international terrorism.

Personally, I have serious reservations about the practicality of any "war" against intangibles, whether poverty, drugs, or terrorism. But, one way or another, I am convinced that international terrorists and the regimes that support them must be rooted out and brought to justice--which means killed--because they will not stop killing us. (As I understand it, the theology of the Islamic terrorists promises them rewards in heaven for killing us.) I have reluctantly accepted the necessity for a broad based campaign on the economic, political, and military fronts against the terrorists themselves and the nation states that support them, as outlined by President Bush.

No citizen of the civilized world should expect a quick victory over international terrorism. Understand that the terrorists who attacked the United States on 11 September 2001 have drawn us into a long series of wars. We have embarked on a process that will take many years to bring to a successful conclusion.

Want it or not, the United States in particular and the Western democracies in general, are involved in a war to the death with these terrorists and their supporters. A war in which there are no real front lines, and in which the terrorist "fighters" would much rather attack defenseless civilians than engage our troops.

Since terrorists have forced civilized people everywhere to be on the "front lines" of this battle, my first suggestion to decent people on the home front is to arm themselves. In the United States, federal and state governments should encourage those Americans who so desire to arm themselves, in accordance with our individual Constitutional right "to keep and bear arms." (That means to own and carry guns, without superfluous government restrictions on law-abiding citizens.) And I would suggest that the governments of the other democratic nations of the world ease their draconian restrictions on the private ownership of firearms (especially handguns). It is time for the leaders of democratic governments worldwide to trust their own citizens. Permit those people of the civilized world, who are willing to do so, to accept responsibility for their own safety, on the Israeli model.

Islamic terrorists claim that they are willing to die to the last man for their cause; unfortunately, we must be ready and willing to help them do just that. On the home front, this has become a battle between fanatical terrorists fighting to die and decent people fighting to live. To paraphrase General Patton: Our job is not to die for our beliefs, it is to make the other poor bastard die for his.




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