I have, throughout my life, maintained an unwavering belief in the principle of pacifism. I first embraced pacifism during my teen years in the late 1960s, in response to the horror of the monstrous war that America was waging in Vietnam. Reading daily descriptions of the war in newspapers and magazines, and seeing nightly reports of the sickening bloodshed on television, caused me to conclude that I could never be a soldier. I felt a deep loathing toward guns and violence. I came to believe that all wars were unjust and immoral, and I vowed that I would never take part in the destruction of human life.
Although I was a native of the United Kingdom and therefore was a British citizen, I had lived in the United States for most of my life, and my American father had procured American citizenship for me when I was younger, making me eligible to be drafted. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, I joined with thousands of other people in taking a firm stand against the war in Vietnam. I knew beyond any doubt that I was not willing to kill for America.
Living in the Bay Area, where open condemnation of the war in Vietnam was loud and widespread, helped to strengthen my own feeling of resistance. In spite of my youth and my lack of experience, I attended a number of demonstrations and voiced my opposition to the war at every opportunity. I was a young man, still growing into a complete person and learning about the world from day to day, but my earnest convictions prompted me to pledge myself to a pacifist outlook.
Finally, after many years of useless conflict, the war in Vietnam came to an end in April, 1975, and Americans soon turned their minds to other matters. In my own case, although the war was over and the draft was no longer in effect, I continued to regard myself as a pacifist. I have never doubted that nonviolence, as espoused by Mohandas K. Gandhi, Dorothy Day, and Martin Luther King, Jr., is the only way to bring about a peaceful world. While many people blithely extol war as an estimable adventure, I am committed to the unalterable belief that every war is an instance of profound sin. War should never be regarded as anything less than a complete breakdown of human morality.
It is not easy to be a pacifist in America. Most Americans, having been totally conditioned by generations of constant warmongering, are inclined to reject pacifism out of hand, believing that an unwillingness to take up arms is unwise at best and dangerous at worst. In their view, we must be ready to defend ourselves against our "enemies." Violence, they claim, is not always wrong and not always avoidable. War is sometimes necessary, they say. Our leaders know what they are doing and must be obeyed without question. Anyone who wants nations to disarm is an unworldly fool. Being a pacifist, to most Americans, is the same as being a coward and an appeaser.
These thoughtless opinions have prevailed for too long, allowing repeated acts of slaughter to be carried out and excused. Accepting the "necessity" of war always makes it more likely that war will happen. Why is war regarded as being more acceptable than peace? Why is violence considered to be more courageous than nonviolence? Why is mindless killing generally favored over honest discussion? Why is servile loyalty to a country always put ahead of our common bond as members of the human family? Why are millions of "upright" citizens willing to support the murder of civilians?
The true experience of war is not brave and is not justifiable. In every war, the same lies are freely told and the same follies are falsely glorified. Those who are able to keep themselves out of danger may easily pretend that defenseless people are not being killed, and those who actually do the killing may choose not to admit their own guilt, but the murderous truth will always remain, and can never be completely whitewashed. The screams of frightened children during wartime are an accusation that can never be denied. All wars are an offense against reason. All wars are evil and needless. All wars breed hate, misery, and despair.
In 1991, America went to war in the Persian Gulf, wantonly killing thousands of civilians and compelling me to take to the streets with crowds of like-minded people, to protest in the same way that I had protested during the war in Vietnam. It seemed that America had not learned anything from its well-known mistakes of the past, and still was bent on willfully pursuing its violent delusions of martial triumph. In March of 2003, under the shamelessly dishonest leadership of President George W. Bush, America was at war in the Middle East again, after recklessly invading Iraq, and once more I was compelled to speak out and be active in the streets, giving voice to both my anger and my opposition.
During the war in Iraq, a bad situation soon became much worse, and then went completely out of control, descending into an unbridled hell of bloodthirsty madness. Troops advanced and tanks rolled. Bombs fell and missiles flew. Soldiers were cut down and civilians were blown to pieces. On the home front, most Americans easily yielded themselves to the shameful allure of blind patriotism, waving flags and expressing pride in the brutal actions of their country. Why is it that Americans appear to be happiest when they have a war to celebrate?
The American war against Iraq was a stark act of deliberate savagery, another unpardonable instance of one nation using the full power of its brute strength to prey on a weaker nation. Once again, American forces were sent abroad, to conquer the defenseless inhabitants of a distant land, with no apparent resolution in sight. Once again, many thousands of helpless children were killed by American weapons, while most Americans chose to make no objection. Once again, those who opposed the war were widely reviled as cowards and traitors.
I choose pacifism because I can see no other acceptable choice. However, I view myself as a tough-minded pacifist, a pacifist with no illusions. I am well aware that my lifelong hope for peace in the world is no more than a frail dream. Everywhere, it seems, there is war and violence. Mass bloodshed happens with appalling frequency, and usually is taken for granted. America, in particular, has repeatedly proven itself to have no qualms in regard to the use of mass killing as a means of getting its own way.
My own view of war has never changed: I maintain that nothing good ever comes from the use of force. As a pacifist, I am constrained to believe in a higher ethic, an ethic that is more worthy, and more powerful, than violence. I believe in an ethic that is not held within the unhealthy bounds of fear and suspicion. I believe in an ethic that calls for all people to resolve their differences not through violent means, but through open-minded discussion. I believe in an ethic founded on honesty and compassion. I believe in an ethic that rejects greed and self-interest. Most of all, I believe in an ethic that affirms the absolute value of human life.
I am certain that without the guidance of such an ethic, we are lost. A total rejection of war and violence is the only way forward. If we do not openly renounce the ways of war, if we do not abandon our foolish reliance on weapons, then we are ensuring our own doom. A future of endless war is a future without hope, a future in which human life is worth nothing. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once eloquently stated, "Wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete."
In 2010, with thousands of American troops still in Iraq, and thousands more now in Afghanistan (as a result of policies devised by President Barack Obama, another warmonger), the question of resistance to war is more pressing than ever. I hold that in any democracy in which freedom of speech supposedly is regarded as an acknowledged right, maintaining an outspoken resistance to the mentality of war is a moral obligation. Hiding behind the dishonorable safety of comfortable sentiments is not enough. We must stand up and be counted, as citizens and as human beings. The quality of our citizenship, and the depth of our own humanity, is determined by our willingness to oppose the evil that is done in our collective name.
How can peace ever happen, on a planet where there is so much conflict? It can begin to happen when people refuse to fight, refuse to kill, refuse to serve as soldiers, refuse to allow their taxes to be directed toward the purchase of weapons, refuse to be deceived and distracted by expedient falsehoods, refuse to support the depraved policies of corrupt leaders, and refuse to accept war as a path to glory. Only then can there be any chance of achieving peace in our world.