Pacifist fantasies

December 02, 2003|By Joseph DiCarlo

EVERY DAY as I walk along west Towson's quiet, residential streets, I pass a sign in front of someone's house. Not one of the yard sale posters or lost dog notices often seen in this upscale suburban neighborhood, but a peace sign.

The sign is small and unobtrusive, yet still manages to look out of place in a community not known for much activism beyond reminding people to keep their dogs on leashes. Its purple background highlights a white dove holding an olive branch next to a large caption that states: "War is not the answer!"

I've never met the people who own this sign, but I've often wondered what message they want it to send.

Perhaps they mean to declare themselves pacifists who oppose any war regardless of its justification. Pacifism without the anti-Americanism that so often debases it can be a principled position. But it's one that strikes me as mindless. Are there no wars worth fighting? Even Catholic bishops, certainly no warmongers, would concede that some conflicts are justified.

But maybe my neighbors aren't pacifists at all. Maybe they're just pragmatists who believe that what happens within a country's borders is of little concern, as long as it poses no threat to us or our interests. In the case of Iraq, this realpolitik formula is simple: Despite Saddam Hussein's brutality, no hard evidence of weapons of mass destruction or Iraqi complicity in terrorism, no invasion.

Some thoughtful opponents of the war have articulated this position. But I suspect it's not what the sign is meant to convey. People who think carefully about their views usually don't express them with slogans. "Give peace a chance," "No blood for oil" and "War is not the answer" are not the signatures of a well-considered opinion. Instead, they are platitudes used as a substitute for thought by people whose politics often tack far left of the mainstream, people such as those in the Friends Committee for National Legislation, the creator of my neighbors' sign.

A survey of the articles posted on the FCNL's Web site reveals it to be a standard-issue pacifist group, long on criticism of the Bush administration but short on ideas anybody this side of Utopia would consider workable. Typical are the pronouncements of Joe Volk, the FCNL's executive secretary. To Mr. Volk, the real religious fanatics aren't in the Middle East, but in Washington in the persons of George W. Bush and John Ashcroft. Thus, the war in Afghanistan is Mr. Bush's "enactment of the biblical edict of an eye for an eye" and the invasion of Iraq his Manichean crusade of "good vs. evil." Meanwhile, back in the American "police state," Mr. Ashcroft, borrowing the "tactics of Joe McCarthy," darkly plots to "silence opponents of the war."

In the FCNL's policy papers, "terror," "terrorism" and "the war on terror" always appear in quotation marks, presumably to alert the reader to the author's skepticism about their validity. America's effort to combat terrorism, the result of its "obsession to defend itself since Sept. 11, 2001," is dismissed as just a "U.S. version of jihad."

If the FCNL's criticism of the administration lacks seriousness, its policy prescriptions are equally thin gruel. One searches these papers in vain for anything more substantial than such warmed-over radical boilerplate as calls for international peace commissions, U.N. arbitration of disputes and complete and unilateral disarmament. One paper laughably offers up Scandinavian resistance to Nazism as a lesson of the power of nonviolent resistance. (Memo to the FCNL: Allied blood and treasure defeated Hitler, not pacifism.)

Not surprisingly, the FCNL's papers also fail to discuss the rape, murder and unspeakable torture practiced by the former Iraqi regime. Nor do they acknowledge that the Iraqi people might just be better off for its removal. One gets the sense reading these articles that the Americans aren't liberators, but conquistadors gone to the Middle East for dominion and oil.

I doubt if my neighbors buy into all of this. They probably aren't anti-war zealots but gentle people, understandably concerned by the carnage they see every night on TV. I'm sure they sympathize with the troops, if not the cause, and probably wince, as most of us do, when there is news of a casualty.

But despite the FCNL's pacifist fantasies, "terrorism" is real, not just a contrived threat. So if war isn't the answer, I wish my neighbors would tell us what is. This might require some thought as well as a bigger sign. But I, for one, would stop and read it. After all, Towson's neighborhoods are pleasant to walk through this time of year.

Joseph DiCarlo is a structural engineer who works in Baltimore.

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