A Temperate Pacifism

A Temperate Pacifism  Saturday, July 18, 2009 at 5:00pm

The Salt Lake Tribune published this piece as a guest editorial on Easter Sunday, 2007. For those who haven't seen it, here it is. This was my first published op-ed (well, since my high school newspaper).

A Temperate Pacifism Forged in Youth

As a Latter-Day Saint youth I was taught and committed pretty well to the principal that it is best to be prepared with moral standards before temptation arises. This was emphasized in the areas of sexual purity and the avoidance of prohibited harmful substances under the church's teachings referred to as the Word of Wisdom. While attending Brigham Young University, I took a class for my major in International Relations offered by Ray C. Hillam entitled "War." (He explained jokingly that no one would register if it was called "Peace.") In that amazing course we surveyed war from various perspectives, political science, history, philosophy, literature, and heard the most shockingly stunning personal stories from honorable faculty veterans of war from World War II through Viet Nam.

I decided on my own to follow a commitment to a moderate Pacifism, that war should be avoided unless absolutely necessary and only allowed in the most extreme cases and only when there was unquestionable international approval from the United Nations or otherwise justified as a matter of urgent national defense as authorized by the UN Charter. Professor Hillam cautioned me about making commitments before a national crisis arises. I responded with a perspective gained as a result of reading outside of the curriculum Solzhenitsyn's August 1914 and Tuchman's The Guns of August. I had read how the nation's of Europe, particularly Russia, were caught up in the most seemingly noble patriotism to rush off to a war that proved disastrous, especially for the Russians, and that resulted in the Communist Soviet Union and the horror of World War II. As Solzhenitsyn explained in The Gulag Archipelago, millions of people were killed in the Twentieth Century in the name of Ideology. It all seemed to begin in the patriotic passions leading to WWI. I proposed in an open class room discussion that much like the church's teachings on sexual purity and the Word of Wisdom, I thought I would decide in my youth what my standards were so that I could be prepared before the emotions of the moment led me to do something irrevocable in an extreme situation that I would later regret.

This principle has served me well, particularly in the most recent conflict in which our nation finds itself. After the horrific national wound of 9/11, the broad War on Terror had my support along with that of most nations of the world. The necessary war in Afghanistan to root out the Taliban was absolutely within my pre-established moral standards with its clear international and UN support. I never understood the varying rationales for the war in Iraq under my standards. I refused to be caught up in the chest-thumping, even if well-intentioned, patriotism of our President and so many others. I respect those who serve and those who differ from my opinions. But my personal convictions would not allow my heart to be in it.

It brings me back to a moment at the beginning of this war. As a resident of New Mexico at the time, I went to a "Support-the-Troops" rally that was held on the Albuquerque Plaza just below my office. I was quiet in my heart-broken respect for those who serve with the best of patriotic commitments even in conflict of my personal beliefs. I happened to meet our Congresswoman, Heather Wilson, on the plaza handing out small flags to waive. I said to her, "Heather, this is not a good war. Bring our boys home." I admit I was a bit flustered forgetting that in these days we have noble young women who serve as well. Congresswoman Wilson without a word thrust a flag at me. I said, "Oh, I'll take the flag." And I treasure that flag now four years gone as my conviction remains that we need to bring our honorable boys and girls home.