Suzanne left a comment recently in the post I did about the mark reading "Hiroshima" by John Hersey and "Night" by Elie Wiesel left on me. She made an excellent point, something that I had not touched on in my original post because I was, at the time, only talking about how much the books themselves had left a lasting impression that carries on even today. I want to address her comment now though, because she brought up something that is an issue I face quite often.
Here is the comment:
"I agree with you that war is vile, but I am curious how the Holocaust would have come to an end had WWII not happened. It wasn't the war that perpetrated the Holocaust. I'm pretty sure that no one would have done anything about it at all had their been no war."
The point she makes is right on the nose. In fact there is historical evidence to support the assertion that our government was aware that Hitler and his military were carrying out the systematic murder of millions and did nothing. Our government continues this type of behavior even today. You only have to look at the situation in Darfur to see what I mean.
The question then becomes, how do I reconcile, in my mind and in my soul the violence that would be necessary to stop the genocide of millions with my distaste and hatred for war and violence?
I struggled with that question and here is the answer that I arrived at. I believe that being a pacifist, just like anything else, is never an absolute. You can never say, "There is NEVER a good reason..." because, as much as we would like to say that, sometimes, stepping in to defend those less powerful than we are becomes a necessity.
The defense of one person against harm from another is a vastly different thing from the wholesale destruction of a people and culture because of some misguided attempt to inflict "democracy" on a society. I say "inflict" because when you go into a country, as we have done in Iraq, and become responsible for the destruction of their homes, businesses and lives...you are not helping anyone. The violence, in a case like that, is senseless, useless and in the end, serves no real purpose. It only serves to perpetuate the cycle of violence.
Using WWII as an example: Had our government stepped in when the war first started and they were first made aware of Hitler's genocide against the Jewish people, it would have been a humanitarian effort. The defense of a people. When we went in after the attack by Japan, it was in retaliation for that attack...and to prevent them from doing it again. The end of the Holocaust was a by-product of that. A good by-product, but a by-product none the less. The truth is that most likely our government would never have involved themselves UNLESS the war brought itself to our shores.
Compare two situations that are occuring today:
There are millions of people dying in Darfur. Millions being targeted for slaughter and our government sits and talks about "diplomatic solutions" and basically turns a blind eye, much the way it did with the Rwandan genocide. There is no gain to be had by stepping in to defend these people, and so our government doesn't. It would be for the greater moral good, outweighing even my belief that violence is a terrible way to solve things. It would be the defense of the defenseless. Yet we do nothing.
Then you have the war with Iraq. A war started and perpetuated by lies. While Saddam Hussein was a terrible man, the Iraqi people had not reached out to the world and asked for help. They had not gotten to the point of wanting to solve their internal struggles with outside military intervention. Our government presumed to step in and inflict our beliefs and our culture on a society that hadn't asked for our help. The result was what we see on the news everyday. A country now torn apart by continued violence, violence that escalates daily.
While Hussein was a dictator and a vile man in every sense, under his government the streets were not lined with burned out husks of cars. Sidewalks were not littered with the remains of buildings and covered with the blood of innocent bystanders to a war they did not start. It's true that he needed to be stopped, but that should have been up to the Iraqi people, not to us. It was a matter for them to handle, to decide when they had had enough of him. It happens all the time. China, Cuba, Romania...just a few countries where political change has been led by the people. Sometimes that change is good, sometimes it isn't, but it's the people of that country who decide what path it takes.
This is that kind of war I am talking about. This is the kind of violence. The needless, senseless destruction of a people. We will leave Iraq one day and what we will have left behind is not the image of a benevolant friend who came to the aid of someone who was defenseless, but that of a country who believed it knew what was best and then stepped in and inflicted that on a people with no regard to what that group of people wanted. In short, we started a civil war. We have also helped to perpetuate the cycle of terrorisim, a by-product that no likes to talk about.
An entire generation of Iraqi children will grow up hating this country, hating everything it stands for. That entire generation of children will be the crop the fanatics and zealots recruit from. They will use the images of dead loved ones and destroyed homes to spurn these new recruits to violence, and we played a hand in giving them that ammunition. For no real reason.
The war in Iraq has not stopped terrorism, it hasn't even made a dent. The war in Iraq has served no greater good, no humanitarian cause. The war in Iraq has brought no one peace, installed no stability to a country in turmoil. It has simply caused chaos and more violence. Meanwhile, our soldiers die and the Iraqi people die and our government buries its head in the sand to avoid admitting it made a mistake.
This is what I abhor. This is what I am opposed to.
The images in those books drove home the reality of war to a twelve year old child. They stayed with me as I grew and helped me form an opinion about the necessity of defense vs the futility of violence.
I don't have all the answers. I wish I did. I know that I see mothers, not unlike myself, watching their children suffer and die and I ache for them. I cry for the women in Darfur who will watch their children starve, or worse, be slaughtered and I am angry because I know we could stop that pain. I cry for the mother in Iraq who will rage and scream because she lost a child to another bomb and I will know that this to, is something we could help to stop.
These are two very different sides of a coin. There are no easy answers to some problems. I don't think morality was meant to be easy. I think we try to make it easy. I think we try to shape morality to fit what makes us comfortable and it's not supposed to be like that. We have become to used to turning a blind eye to the things we don't want to see.