Pacifists as Cowards? Tell that to Gandhi and Jesus

Ian Robinson is a columnist for the Calgary Sun, and today he weighed in on his Remembrance Day yesterday, expressing his gratitude that he didn’t run into anyone wearing a white poppy. While I agree in general with his opinion that selling or wearing the white poppy at this time of year is insulting to veterans (see my post from a few days ago on the subject, Reds vs Whites: Poppies at War), the rest of his rant was so completely off base, its hard to know where to start.

First of all, I should say that Robinson does an excellent job of giving a history of the red poppy, what it symbolizes for Canadian Veterans, and why its become our primary symbol of Remembrance. The first few paragraphs of the column are a great example of some much needed Canadian history. And Robinson is even free to criticize the White Poppy Organization … one of the advantages of having a newspaper column (or even a blog, for that matter) is that you can voice your opinions, but beyond that, one of the great things about living in a free society is that we all have contrary opinions on things … its really what makes the world go ’round, so to speak.

But in this case, its the way Robinson argues his point thats the problem. Especially when it comes to throwing around the label of pacifism, this article is a masterful example of knocking down straw men. Robinson’s list of ‘moral wars’ purposely leaves out even ‘big’ wars like Vietnam, because they don’t quite fit his bill, but he also ignores all the coup’s, the puppet Shah’s, and the Houses of Saud that the western Nations coddle and support. He deliberately ignores all the nefarious activity in Afghanistan and Iraq in the 80’s that created Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, even while he mentions the end result of that support, our current war against al-Queda and Iraq.

Beyond playing loose with the facts though, he tries to paint all of pacifism as cowardly by using the straw men of wars like WW I and WW II. I’ve discussed the notion of pacifism as a military strategy on this blog before, and the problem here is that Robinson makes the same mistake others do in assuming that pacifism is a passive strategy that avoids conflict. Take another look at the history of what Gandhi went through, what Martin Luther King Jr. went through … really LOOK at what happened to Martin and the marchers in Selma sometime … and its impossible to miss the active nature of the marcher’s pacifism. They DO refuse to be cajoled into fighting back … for me, some of the most compelling film in the world is grainy black and white newsreel footage of waves of Indian civilians being beaten down by British soldiers, while the Indians simply keep coming, peacefully into the carnage. Take a close look at that footage … there is nothing cowardly about what those people are doing.

Robinson and his ilk think that the only way to stand up to evil is to fight against it on its own terms, and they are wrong. There is nothing new in this idea … people have been fighting evil on its own terms as long as we’ve been around. But pacifism is nothing new either … Buddha was a supreme pacifist and Jesus first brought the world pacifism as a weapon when he commanded us to turn the other cheek when struck on one. Throughout his discussions with humanity, Jesus uses the metaphor of a sword to discuss his pacifism … in no way did Jesus ever consider his pacifism a passive act. For Jesus, non-violence was an active thing, and act of intense bravery that served him very well in his eventual trial and crucification.

Robinson says “Pacifists are cowards and deluded morons.” I’d like to line up the legacies of Jesus, of Gandhi, of MLK Jr. and ask Mr. Robinson if he’ll call these three famous pacifists cowards? Will he look at the achievement of driving the British from India without ever fighting back, at the blood shed, but not drawn, by Indians and call the Mahatma and his people cowards? Will he look at the marches in Selma and around the south and call Martin and his followers morons? Will he look at Jesus, quietly accepting his fate, never calling on his followers to fight back, or fighting back himself and call Jesus a coward?

Pacifism isn’t about being afraid to fight, or running from a fight. Anyone whose made even a cursory study of an ACTUAL pacifist, like Gandhi as an example, would see that pacifism is about confronting evil head on. It is never about cowardice … it is always about standing up to evil and saying “No more … do your worst.” Most importantly, its about continuing to do your best, even while the evil does its worst. Robinson is entitled to his opinion … i even agree with the notion that white poppies shouldn’t be sold in Canada at Remembrance Day. But when he calls pacifists “cowards and morons” he crosses the line. Is Robinson really willing to call the Mahatma and his followers cowards and morons? Will Robinson call those who were beaten for civil rights under Martin Luther King Jr. morons? Will he REALLY call Jesus a coward? All three of those groups are bona-fide pacifists … is Robinson really calling Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus cowards and morons?


9 Responses

  1. Dear Elron:
    I agree with your comments concerning Mr Robinson 100%. Any ideas how we could get him fired from the Calgary Sun? See also (if you can find it) his article of July 16, 2006, “No Pride in Harbouring Cowards From U.S.” with regard to the Our Way Home Reunion (July 4-9, 2006) of Vietnam War Resisters in Castlegar, British Columbia. I speak as a proud Vietnam war resister who emigrated to Canada in August 1968, and never regretted it.

    David J. Brown
    Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada

  2. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA letting someone beat the crap out of you without standing up for yourself IS cowardly my GOSH you have to be kidding. What would have happened if we did it your way in WW2? Guess what, you wouldn’t even be here to write your preachy bs. You’ve given 3 examples in the history of humanity where pacifism has worked, and it was ONLY because those who it was directed against (the british, etc) actually had some scruples. In the face of an enemy who is utterly barbaric and holds your pathetic pacifism to be weak (nazis germany?) would laugh as they mercilessly killed all you cowards. Yeah I said COWARDS. I wish someone WOULD invade the western world so you could put your ridiculous practises to the test.

    • i agree wid…gandhi was a COWARD….gandhi dint do shit….he just kept taking da shit wich britishers threw at him and in d end dey r bored thats y dey left….nd many dickheads say gandhi won da battle gandhi threw out da british…..evn if he did…evn if dat was gandhi’s victory…den da biggest defeat was partion of india nad pakistan….and this defeat was bigger dan da victory…if we wud hav fought dem out dis woudnt happen…

  3. As for the white poppy….honestly…whoever suggested that idea from the No More War Movement should be deeply ashamed of themselves. Everyone should strive for peace, but to steal the symbol of the poppy and push for it to be worn on rememberence day is so unbelievably disrespectful it moves me to tears. It’s not the glorification of war or the ignorance of non-combatants that died that the red poppy represents (or what some hippie assholes would have you believe), it is to APPRECIATE those who actually fought and changed the outcome of the war. THAT INCLUDES NON-COMBATANTS who helped that outcome. We aren’t talking about the unfortunate collateral damages but those who FOUGHT the war. Civilians died, a terrible tragedy, but the soldiers FOUGHT and died tragically. There is a DIFFERENCE. All should be mourned equally, no doubt, but there IS a difference. Soldiers PURPOSEFULLY put themselves in harms way. THAT is what we remember, THAT is what the red poppy represents.

  4. I’ll respectfully disagree with Kevin, and again Kevin, I ask if you call Jesus a coward? He counsels you to “turn the other cheek” when struck. Would you call Gandhi a coward when he stood up to British soldiers, and won? Would you call the people who marched from Selma cowards when they were beaten back angry racists? Feel free to call any of those people cowards, if you are brave enough Kevin … they all agree with the way I see things.

  5. Haha at Kevin, just another meat head in the western world. I would gladly let someone hit me, it just results in money in my pocket 🙂 If you’re weak enough to let someone get the better of your emotions, it shows how MENTALLY WEAK you are as a human.

  6. Neither Jesus nor Gandhi was a pacifist.

    Jesus counseled his apostles to carry swords; when he said turn the other cheek, he was telling how to respond to an insult, not a grave wound. He never addressed the issue of being attacked by force, because he did want peace to work.

    Gandhi wrote on multiple occasions that the taking of human life was necessary at times. He negotiated independence in part through agreeing to have Indians sign up to serve in the British army during World War II, this after thinking that WWII was God’s punishment to the Brits for developing their empire!

    Yes, pacifism is the best way, in a perfect world where noone uses force. But there are occasions when one must apply force to maintain a greater good for humanity. If one applies force to destroy the life of one violent person to save the lives of one hundred, that is a greater good, but one is no longer a pacifist.

  7. Pacifism only works on people with morals. And Keith, it’s hard to collect a check when you’re dead. You can giggle about how mentally weak someone is from hell. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, might is right.Pacifists are cowards because they refuse to lift a finger to defend themselves, but look down on those of us that defend this country on their behalf. They are parasites.

    EDITOR RESPONSE: Gandhi was a pacifist … when he stood up to legions of British soldiers, and won, was he a coward and a parasite? MLK Jr was a pacifist … was he a coward when he faced down the police of Selma? Jesus was a pacifist … would YOU call him a coward for asking you to turn the other cheek?

    Call all these men cowards at your own peril …

  8. A coward is someone who runs away in the face of danger. Pacifists do not run away.

    A coward is someone who refuses to lift a finger to defend themselves? Wolfy, I’d like to see you stand your ground and take a beating without reacting. Pacifism is about making the oppressor look bad. Pacifism was successful in achieving this, both in Gandhi’s and MLK’s time.

    Gandhi was pacifist, but if anyone ever bothered to do REAL research on the man, they will find that Gandhi believed violence was an option in certain circumstances:

    “I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence….I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour.”

    Non-violence is not cowardly, IT IS AN OPTION. To emphasize to those who don’t seem to understand, THE USE OF NON-VIOLENCE DEPENDS ON THE SITUATION. I hate using caps.

    To those people who use WWII, or any other war, as an example to prove that the pacifist movement is cowardly are very shortsighted. Initially, WWII was less about sending a message and more about protecting the allied nations and its people. Not even a pacifist (or at least not the intelligent ones) would condone using non-violence in such a time of extreme, worldwide danger. WWII is a perfect example of demonstrating non-cowardice, but also using violence as the only means necessary to defeat the oppressor. In the case of India, non-violence was localized and a more effective method of sending a message directly to colonists.
    India was not at war in the technical sense. India was being occupied for economic reasons; to maintain the legitimacy of Britain. IT’S A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT SITUATION THAN WWII. Did anyone ever think of what would have happened if India went the course of warfare? Those in Britain would think, “well, these people are just hostile! We must respond with force!” Certainly, there are many instances of pre-independence when Indians resorted to nonsensical violence, and the British response was twofold. When non-violence was used instead, everyday people in Britain got the message. That’s when people start to lose faith in their own government, and that is a significant weapon.

    This has been a terrible effort in making my point, but the gist of it should be clear.

    Imagine a man pulls a gun at your friend and asks for his or her wallet. If you offer your wallet instead, and reason with the man to leave your friend alone, that is brave. If you place yourself between the gun and your friend, that is brave. If you go half-lotus and begin meditating, that is idiotic. If you die doing nothing at the hands of a random man who performed a random purposeless killing, you’re a pathetic coward. Gandhi would agree.

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