The pacifists who went to war; violence and pacifism in a world of war
December 7, 2010 1:55 AM   Subscribe

This documentary is the story of two Mennonite brothers from Manitoba who were forced to make a decision in 1939, as Canada joined World War II. In the face of 400 years of pacifist tradition, should they now go to war? Ted became a conscientious objector while his brother went into military service. Fifty years later, the town of Winkler dedicates its first war memorial and John begins to share his war experiences with Ted.

The Moral Dilemma of Pacifism in a World of War
An interview with David Rieff

The Paradox of War and Pacifism:
First, the two extreme positions, the pacifist and the crusader, commit the cross-level fallacy and violate principles of hermeneutics, however benign the intention. Upon closer examination, there is little support for these positions as fully biblical ones. Each, taken logically to the extreme, distorts the role of the Christian as a member of his society. In the pacifist, it requires him to disengage from the society in which he lives. In the crusader, it requires him to so identify the function of the church with that of the state that he becomes more involved in it than with his call to Christian service (indeed, causes him to confuse the two).

Part three of a three-part series, Canada Remembers, Endings and Beginnings focuses on the final phase of WWII in Europe in 1945 and the aftermath. Veterans recount their memories of the conflict at the Rhine and the celebrations on VE Day, followed by their contribution to the victory in the Far East. These recollections are complemented by outstanding footage filmed by army cameramen. The film also focuses on what transpired after the war, when the soldiers had to reintegrate back into society.

Rewind-Nov 11, 2010- Matthew Halton
On the Rewind podcast, Canada's most famous foreign correspondent of the Second World War- Matthew Halton. He was the eyes and ears of the frontlines telling stories about the people he met and the place he saw. Even through the crackles and pops of 60-year-old tape, his powerful story telling shines through. (mp3 download)

Canada recently unveiled The Memory Project, the largest database of Canadian Second World War oral history:
This nationwide bilingual project will create a record of Canada’s participation in the Second World War as seen through the eyes of thousands of veterans. The Memory Project will provide every living Second World War veteran with the opportunity to share their memories through oral interviews and digitized artefacts and memorabilia. These stories and artefacts will be available on this site for teachers, students and the general public.
Veterans were asked to specifically discuss their roles, ranks, positions, locations, and battles they were involved in; you can browse Veteran stories by historical events (Theatre of War, Campaign, Operation, or Battle), military details (Regiment, Squadron, Ship, Aircraft, Medal, Branch of Service, Prisoner of War Camp or Equipment) or by Keyword (audio tags or artefact tags). Check the currently featured stories. World War Two; in the words of some of those involved.
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posted by infinite intimation (19 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow! What a gorgeous post! People really step it up around here in December.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 1:56 AM on December 7, 2010


Way too much to look at all at once. Love it.
posted by randomyahoo at 2:32 AM on December 7, 2010


One video finished, the rest of the post to go. Outstanding post. Many thanks!
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 3:15 AM on December 7, 2010


"The Paradox of War and Pacificism" isn't really a paradox though, is it? I mean, the author's contention is that Jesus said to turn the other cheek, but on the other hand, the Old Testament is full of God-sanctioned violence. Yet isn't the whole explanation of the New Testament that Jesus rewrote the rules, or clarified them? That his words supersede the earlier ones?

Seemingly Mark T. Clark is not vexed by the paradox of OT rulings about dietary requirements, vs Jesus and Paul's changing of those standards, right? Like most Christians, he's happy to accept that food restrictions were required at one point, and that Jesus set up a different system. If it means we can eat tasty, tasty bacon, there's no paradox!


Having never heard of "Leadership University", I did a little poking around - that article was originally published in "Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith", a magazine run by the "American Scientific Affiliation". Leadership University is sponsored by Faculty Commons, a division of Campus Crusade.

There are certainly other Christian viewpoints to consider when discussing nonviolence - Walter Wink, for example, or David Augsburger have written books on the topic, and much of John Howard Yoder's work deals with Christian ethical systems.


Regarding the Mennonites - there are Mennonite communities all over the world, partially because of this issue of military service. Sure, now you can fill out a form and have your pastor or religious leader certify that you're a pacifist. It used to be that you had to serve in the military or leave the country. Because the Mennonites have traditionally been farmers, it was an attractive proposition for countries that needed some land farmed to invite the Mennonites to come live there, to set up their communities in the way they saw fit, and to be exempt from military service. Like the film says, eventually these exemptions run out.

It's a fascinating history, and leads to strange cultural juxtapositions like the German-speaking Mennonites of Mexico and Paraguay, who got there from Switzerland via Holland, to the US and from there either to Canada or South America.

(full disclosure - I have a lot of Mennonite relatives and have done some volunteer work for MDS.)
posted by dubold at 3:36 AM on December 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


Those stories from The Memory Hole are gripping reads (flying through monsoon clouds, anyone?). Nicely tagged and organized, too. Thanks, infinite intimation, this is great.
posted by mediareport at 4:11 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


One could go after Mark T. Clark's "Paradox of War and Pacifism" hammer and tongs given sufficient caffeine. Suffice it to say that the "paradoxes" of the Bible are an illusion. They're caused by the belief that the Bible is something other than what Umberto Eco has called "a monster omnibus" of texts written by various people at various times for various purposes -- no one at any time having the intention that his or her text should be gathered into a single volume that would serve as the ultimate and infallible guide to the mind of God.

Christian pacifism arises from a belief in eternal life. A man who measures his personal time on an eternal scale has no logical justification for killing another man to gain some temporary advantage in this world. What difference does it make if I am ruled by Barack Obama or Kim Jong-il for a few years on Earth? I'm going to live forever. We don't need to hurry one another to the grave. We all get there soon enough.

The Bible is full of paradoxes. The wars of extermination practiced by the ancient Hebrews were unquestionably vile. The Gospels are unequivocally about non-resistance to evil. Acts and the Epistles are weird, and Paul's legalistic defense in the face of arrest is the precise opposite of Jesus's reaction to his arrest. Our job is not to resolve or fight the paradoxes. But to live with them. Using the measuring stick of eternity, it is also possible to live with and accept that greatest of all paradoxes: other people.
posted by Faze at 4:31 AM on December 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


This is an odd post. Is it about Canadians who fought in WWII, or is it about why Christian pacifists are wrong?

I'm not a pacifist, and I'm certainly grateful to Canadians and others who fought in World War II, but I've got tremendous respect for Mennonites and other Christian pacifists. It takes extraordinary moral courage to resist the claims of a nation at war.
posted by craichead at 6:08 AM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


My grandfather. Sadly my other grandfather passed away before they started this project. Towards the end he told me stories about V1 rocket attacks that raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
posted by smcniven at 6:17 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seemingly Mark T. Clark is not vexed by the paradox of OT rulings about dietary requirements, vs Jesus and Paul's changing of those standards, right? Like most Christians, he's happy to accept that food restrictions were required at one point, and that Jesus set up a different system. If it means we can eat tasty, tasty bacon, there's no paradox!

I wouldn't assume that at all. There's certainly still a lot of ink being spilled over these issues.

Christian pacifism arises from a belief in eternal life. A man who measures his personal time on an eternal scale has no logical justification for killing another man to gain some temporary advantage in this world. What difference does it make if I am ruled by Barack Obama or Kim Jong-il for a few years on Earth? I'm going to live forever. We don't need to hurry one another to the grave. We all get there soon enough.

That makes sense if the only possible use of violence is self-defense. But, say you're a Christian (who arguendo has no reason to defend your own life), but you see others who perhaps are not Christians yet and therefore not destined for eternal life being killed. There's an argument from eternal life that you should fight their attackers to protect them so that they have the opportunity to be "saved".
posted by Jahaza at 6:39 AM on December 7, 2010


The Gospels are unequivocally about non-resistance to evil.

This is simply not true.

"And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise." John 2:13-16

That's some pretty active resistance to evil right there. This story is found in all four Gospels.

Also:

"Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take [it], and likewise [his] scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one." Luke 22:36
posted by Jahaza at 6:47 AM on December 7, 2010


Isn't that circular, though, Jahaza? What if, in protecting the non-believers, you kill their attackers, thereby denying them the chance to repent and leading to their not being saved?
posted by craichead at 6:47 AM on December 7, 2010


Well, Faze's argument is a fairly naive one, so I presented only the initial steps of a counterargument, not a fully fleshed out Christian theory of self-defense. That will eventually rest on other questions, like the guilt of the attackers vs. the innocence of the attacked and the natural desire of beings to extend their life, etc. My point was the more limited one that it's not enough to say "Well Christians believe they're headed for eternal life, so they can be pacifists, because if they die it doesn't matter." That argument only works with an additional premiss that they don't care about what happens to other people.
posted by Jahaza at 6:51 AM on December 7, 2010


The immigration of Conscientious Objectors resistors of the use of force, (and draft refugees entering Canada) has had an undeniable and lasting impact on the nation of Canada and the unique character that defines the modern nation of Canada… (so too have earlier Canadian Conscientious objectors added greatly to a Canadian Culture of Peace.) As noted, pacifism is not an 'easy' position to hold, and did not in any way imply a lack of service nor the deepest commitment to society and country.
posted by infinite intimation at 6:52 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Some Christian pacifism arises from a belief in eternal life. A man who measures his personal time on an eternal scale has no logical justification for killing another man to gain some temporary advantage in this world. Many Mennonites (who are generally anabaptist in their theology, though we are not a very homogeneous bunch) understand the teaching of Christ to be relevant for daily living right here on Earth, based on the his conflation of the ten commandments into two great commandments "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself" (Mark 12:31, et.al) . We read the Bible progressively, that is, we suggest that the principles behind what Christ said and did supersede the principles behind the actions of the children of Israel (say at Ai - Josh 8). We rather call ourselves nonresistant, than pacifist. Some other texts to consider in this discussion are Yoder's The Politics of Jesus, Donald Kraybill's The Upside Down Kingdom, Stanley Hauerwas's A Community of Character, and, most currently, Chris Huebner's A Precarious Peace. Ted (the brother who didn't go to war) attends the same church I do and is one of the wisest, gentlest men I know.
posted by kneecapped at 9:16 AM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Well Christians believe they're headed for eternal life, so they can be pacifists, because if they die it doesn't matter."

I would never say such a thing. It's not about "me". Belief in eternal life for anyone should radically change one's values and perspective on killing. Whatever we gain from war, even if it is of world-historical dimensions, is pretty paltry on the timescale of planetary geology, much less eternity. It's true that Jesus exorcised the money changers from the temple (just as he exorcised demons from the afflicted), but when he was finally arrested (probably on account of those Temple antics), and could have resisted the armed force of his captors with a word of legal argument on his own behalf -- not to mention legions of angels armed heavenly super-weapons -- he instead allowed himself to be revilled, tortured and killed. Go you and do likewise.
posted by Faze at 10:04 AM on December 7, 2010


I would never say such a thing. It's not about "me".

Well it is about what you said.

Belief in eternal life for anyone should radically change one's values and perspective on killing. Whatever we gain from war, even if it is of world-historical dimensions, is pretty paltry on the timescale of planetary geology, much less eternity.

But if you believe in eternal life, you can, as many Christians do, believe there's there are eternal life consquences from war. If you believe that being a Christian is (ordinarily) neccesary for salvation and that that decision can only be made in this life, obviously killing people is going to deny them the possibility. Surely then that's a possible reason to use violence to prevent innocent people from being killed.

It's true that Jesus exorcised the money changers from the temple (just as he exorcised demons from the afflicted), but when he was finally arrested (probably on account of those Temple antics), and could have resisted the armed force of his captors with a word of legal argument on his own behalf -- not to mention legions of angels armed heavenly super-weapons -- he instead allowed himself to be revilled, tortured and killed. Go you and do likewise.

Which is to say, you agree with me that it's false that "The Gospels are unequivocally about non-resistance to evil."

Of course, Jesus's death and execution is problematic as an example of non-resistance to evil too, because the final effect of his death is seen as being victory over sin and death. This kind of soft-power is hard to label simply "non-resistance".
posted by Jahaza at 10:13 AM on December 7, 2010


I wouldn't assume that at all. There's certainly still a lot of ink being spilled over these issues.


You know what, fair enough. I haven't (knowingly) read anything else written by that author; he might really be concerned about dietary law. It was a cheap shot on my part.

The larger issue here is that the author, and I would guess Leadership U, Campus Crusade, and other evangelical organizations, have a wildly different view of the role of Christianity than that of the anabaptists. Clark argues that there is a different moral code for the state vs. the individual; and that since Christ did not specifically repudiate violence for the state, this resolves the paradox and allows for Just War. I'd really rather not sidetrack into talking about how bad things can get if "following orders" is a moral loophole, so let's just make a note and move on.

For Mark T. Clark's argument to make sense, you have to accept that what John Howard Yoder called "Constantinism" - or the state and the church acting in concert - is the ideal. But the anabaptist argument would be that the church is called to be radically separate from the state, so much so that there's never a question as to what a "Christian nation" looks like, because there wouldn't be one. There's only nations, and Christians who live in them.
posted by dubold at 10:40 AM on December 7, 2010


The Bible is full of paradoxes. The wars of extermination practiced by the ancient Hebrews were unquestionably vile.

According to what standard were they "unquestionably vile"?

Our job is not to resolve or fight the paradoxes. But to live with them. Using the measuring stick of eternity, it is also possible to live with and accept that greatest of all paradoxes: other people.

I don't think that "paradox" means what you think it means.
posted by dubold at 10:43 AM on December 7, 2010


Great post, thank you.
posted by smoke at 2:52 PM on December 7, 2010


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