Chapter 3 of Speak Truth To Power

The Enemy Redefined

"To consider mankind otherwise than brethren, to think favors are peculiar to one nation and exclude others, plainly supposes a darkness in the understanding."[9]
-JOHN WOOLMAN

The Devil Theory

If the United States has not been able to translate its desire for peace into policies that will actually achieve it, and if, as we have suggested, the underlying cause of the failure is our commitment to violence, is there any other policy that could be pursued which would offer more hope? A considerable number of our fellow Americans insist there is not. When it is suggested that reliance upon military might may well bring about our national ruin, they respond: "Perhaps you are right about that, but we have no other choice. The Soviet Union and communism are trying to impose upon us an evil so inhuman that under it life would not be worth living at all. To submit to this evil is to condemn our children to a degraded existence, and this is something which Americans cannot in honor accept. And since the Soviet Union will not be deterred by anything but force, we must be prepared to meet force with force, even though the process may end by destroying us."

We are not insensitive to this dilemma in which so many Americans find themselves. It arises at least in part from the conviction that for nations, as for individuals, there are values greater than physical survival. Moreover, we cannot brush aside the extent of evil within the Soviet orbit. The police state, government by terrorism and thought control, slave labor, mass deportations, and a monolithic party that demands unconditional obedience and denies the right of private conscience-all these are characteristics of any totalitarian system of government. In the face of such facts, it is understandable that most Americans have concluded that Soviet communism is the great evil abroad in the world, and that it is the prime responsibility of the United States to wield its vast power to protect mankind from its destructive influence.

This is the point where we believe many Americans misread the problem. Without overlooking the evils of communism, we must still reject the devil theory in history. It is an easy theory to accept, for men have made devils out of those they feared since the dawn of time. Indeed, in all the great conflicts of history, each belligerent has tended uniformly and insistently to attribute a monopoly of evil to the other. So in the struggles between Athens and Sparta, Rome and Carthage, Christian and Moslem, Catholic and Protestant. So in our own time in two world wars, and now finally in the growing conflict with the Soviet Union.

It should be a sobering thought to recall that in every case the verdict of history has been to reject or modify drastically the heated judgments of the moment. Frequently these judgments have not even been shared by contemporary opinion outside the area of immediate belligerency, as is indeed clearly the case in the present conflict. We believe there could be no better antidote for the hysteria of our times than for every American and every Russian to read the speeches of the Athenian and Spartan leaders to their respective peoples in Thucydides' The History, of the Peloponnesian War or the utterances of Martin Luther and Pope Pius V on the subject of coexistence between Protestants and Catholics in the Sixteenth Century. It is man's tragedy that he cannot see himself as others see him, nor judge others when lie and they are in dispute. "Our antiquarians," Edward Gibbon wrote in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, "would spare themselves and us much exertion if they would but observe that similar conditions will produce similar manners." When men are afraid, they make devils out of those they fear. And as men are, so also are states. For, as Plato pointed out long ago, states are not made "of oak and rock," but of men, and as the men are, so will the states be.

Like primitive people attacking the problem of disease by, amputating the affected part, the world has tried to rid itself of the evil that plagued it by cutting off whatever member of the body politic seemed most virulently affected. Should we not learn, as medicine has, that when disease is in the organism itself, it cannot be localized? We believe it is appropriate for all Americans to consider afresh whether the evil that must be overcome resides in Spartan man or in Soviet man, or whether it resides in Man.

Men tried to make the world safe for democracy by destroying Imperial Germany. But the devil reappeared in the Germany of Hitler, and so that Germany, too, was destroyed. Now once again the devil comes to life, and this time Americans are told his nationality is Russian, while Russians are told he is American. We think both are guilty of tragic oversimplification. We think the basic assumption of many of our fellow Americans as to the location of evil is wrong. We think, therefore, that the simple moral dilemma to which they point is false.

Our Real Enemy

The real evils that have driven the world to the present Impasse, and which we must struggle to overcome, spring from the false values by which man has lived in East and West alike. Man's curse lies in his worship of the work of his hands, in his glorification of material things, in his failure to set any limit on his material needs. This idolatry leads him to lust for power, to disregard human personality, to ignore God, and to accept violence or any other means of achieving his ends. It is not an idolatry of which the communists alone are guilty. All men share it, and when it is examined, the global power struggle is given a new perspective. Let us be specific.

1. Lust for power. One of the things that the United States fears most about the Soviet Union is its expansionism. The communist revolution proclaims itself as a global revolution, and in its seemingly insatiable lust for power has already brought much of the world within its orbit. Americans see this expansionism as something that must be halted at any cost and by whatever means.

But no less an historian than Arnold Toynbee has pointed out that a dominant factor in world history from about 1450 on was the expansionism of the West."[10] It was the peoples of Western Europe, driven by their lust for power and possessions, who pushed out in all directions, subjugating or exterminating those who blocked the path, and resorting in their colonial operations to bloodshed and slavery and humiliation whenever it appeared necessary. Nor can the United States escape responsibility. Our history has also been marked by a dynamic, persistent, and seldom interrupted expansionism.

Less than two centuries ago the nation was a string of colonies along the Atlantic seaboard. Now it straddles the continent, and its military bastions are found in over half of all the nations in the world. Its navies cruise the coasts of Russia and China, and its bombers are based in Germany and Japan. It is easy for Americans to regard this as normal, though they would be outraged and terrified if Russian warships cruised our coasts and Russian bombers were based on Canada or Guatemala. It is also easy for Americans to forget that this expansionism was often as ruthless as that which we fear in others. The Indian was almost exterminated, the Negro and later the flood of European immigrants were cruelly exploited; violence was threatened or provoked with Mexico, with Spain, with Colombia, with Nicaragua-all in the name of expanding the power and influence of the United States.

To point out such things is not to justify either Russian or Western expansionism, nor is it to underestimate the human suffering and the social cost that are involved in new embodiments and contests of power. But it suggests that the disease is not geographical and that to build ever greater instruments of power is not to end the disease but to spread it until it destroys the whole organism of civilization.

2. Denial of human dignity. Another of the fundamental evils in modern totalitarian regimes that is often cited is the degradation of the human being into an impersonal object to be manipulated in the interests of the state. Men become mere cogs in the machinery of a monolithic party which recognizes no higher authority than its own. The concept of man as a child of God, possessing dignity and worth, and vested with inalienable rights, is patently denied.

It is clear on the other hand that this noble concept of man, and the limits it imposes on the power of government, still has vitality in the West. But the West has been quick to ignore it when the situation demanded. The tendency toward centralization of power, toward subjugation of men to the demands of an impersonal technology, did not originate in modern Russia or the Orient, or in the minds of Marxist theoreticians. It was, and is, a part of the process of industrialization and technical development of the West. The tragedy of material progress is that nowhere in the world, any more than in Russia today, has enough original capital been accumulated for both industrial development and military expansion without subjecting men to some degree of exploitation and indignity. Indeed, the process of Western industrialization made virtual slaves of vast multitudes of peasants and laborers in undeveloped countries and often imposed on them in addition the humiliation of "white supremacy." There is obviously room for much freedom and material well-being to flourish in the more highly developed countries, but as we noted in the preceding chapter, even these blessings are endangered as the demands of military preparedness make inroads on liberty and accelerate the drive toward centralized authority.

Again, this is in no sense to condone the invasion of human personality wherever it may occur, but only to indicate that the virus is not localized. The elimination of communism would not eliminate the evil we see in communism. Indeed, it may safely be predicted that the waging of atomic war against the Soviet Union, far from providing a cure, would itself be a virulent, if not final, instrument for the destruction of liberty and the dehumanizing of men.

3. Atheism. A third charge against Soviet communism is its atheism. Religion is rejected as the "opiate of the people" and in its place is put the Marxist doctrine of materialism. However tragic and blasphemous this denial may seem to us, it is relevant to remember that it, too, is a product of the West. Karl Marx denounced religion on the basis of his observation of Western, not Russian, society. Arnold Toynbee, in The World and the West, points out that Western culture has become in recent centuries ever more materialistic and secular, and has moved steadily away from its Christian or spiritual origin. More recently the Evanston Assembly of the World Council of Churches recognized the "practical atheism" of much of life in the so-called Christian countries.

Communism has simply carried to its logical conclusion, and expressed in theoretical form, what the West has practiced. "It seems in many ways," says William Hordern, in his Christianity, Communism, and History, "to be nothing but one particularly unruly expression of the modern view of life. While condemning communist materialism in theory, the rest of the world has lived by materialistic motives. The communists have been hated primarily because they dragged the skeleton from the closet of Western culture."[11] This is a harsh judgment, but we believe it is an accurate one, for the power of Hydrogen is clearly trusted among us more than the power of Love. Like the communist East, therefore, the Christian West is secular, and the secularism that unites all men in its bondage will not be ended by the simple expedient of destroying those nations where where the disease is most virulent at the moment.

4. The cult of violence. Finally, we come to the acceptance of violence as the essential means of social revolution, and the corollary doctrine that the end justifies the means. Here again for many Americans are decisive reasons for citing Soviet communism as an absolute evil, which must at all costs be destroyed.

Violence has, indeed, reached unsurpassed proportions in our time. The outbreak of the first World War marked the beginning of this modern orgy of uncontrolled violence, and it has continued ever since. But no reputable historian has ventured the idea that either the first or the second World War was spawned by communism. Nor are the Russians responsible for the concept of blitzkrieg, or obliteration bombing, or for the first use of atomic weapons. These have all been loosed upon the world by the very nations which now profess outrage at the cynical Soviet concept of the role of violence and the validity of any means. Western theory is indeed outraged, but Western practice has in this area, too, belied Western theory. We have, in fact, been prepared to use any means to achieve our ends. Here again, as in so many other points in the exposure of the devil theory, we are reminded of the words Shakespeare put into the mouth of Shylock: "The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard, but I will better the instruction."[12]

Moreover, military leaders are apparently ready now to use any means, even the ultimate immorality of hydrogen bombs, to stop communism. Is it not clear that to resort to immoral means in order to resist what is immoral is not to preserve or vindicate moral values, but only to become collaborators in destroying all moral life among men? Especially if the issue is a moral one, we must renounce modern war. If we say that any means are justified, we adopt a completely amoral position, for there is then no ethical line that can be drawn anywhere. All morality has been discarded. Only if we ourselves completely reject the doctrine that the achievement of our ends justifies any means is there any hope that we may be able to bring healing to a world caught in the fearful dilemma of our time.

The conclusion seems to us to be clear that the real evils at the root of the tragic conflicts which threaten to destroy mankind are those that flow from man's idolatry: lust for power and the inability of power to set limits to itself; the violation of human personality and infringements on its freedom and dignity; the "practical atheism" of a pervading materialism and secularism; the spreading cult and practice of violence and the poisonous doctrine that our ends justify any means. These evils will not be rooted out, or so much as disturbed, even if we succeed in cutting off all their heads in one geographical area or another. On the contrary, the recent experience of two victorious world wars for democracy, with the subsequent decline of the democratic spirit in the world, is evidence which all who run may read that resistance to evil, when evil is attributed exclusively to the occupants of this or that geographical or ideological area, is futile.

The Moral Basis of East-West Conflict

The result of this redefinition of the situation is to recast our problem. No longer can it be discussed in simplified terms of good and evil, and no longer can the military approach be regarded as a way of challenging evil. This is not to say that the conflict between the democratic and communist worlds has no moral content. We have insisted that judgments cannot be drawn between geographical groups of men, but if the focus is shifted from men to the social institutions they have created, the situation is altered. Here, in two radically different forms of societal organization, lies the moral basis for conflict between the democratic and communist worlds.

Through certain fortunate accidents of history and geography and through the sacrifice of individuals who have lived before us, Americans are the heirs of a political and cultural tradition that is profoundly colored by the Judaeo-Christian philosophy of man's innate worth and dignity. From this has emerged a gradually developing concept of government based on law and justice that protects us from the arbitrary use of power, and insists that the state is the servant and not the master of men.

Communism, on the other hand, has been perverted by other accidents of history and geography into a totalitarian framework that denies this concept and substitutes for it the rule of force. Man is treated as essentially an instrument of the state, which demands unquestioning obedience and limits individual rights to those it may see fit to grant. The military code is applied to all of life, and this necessarily makes regimentation and authoritarianism the characteristics of communist society.

Thus it is precisely the factor of Judaeo-Christian philosophy that lifts the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union to the moral plane. In so far as we deny it by ourselves falling victim to the doctrine of force, just so far is the conflict stripped of its moral quality. Now, as for centuries past, the philosophy of violence and the Judaeo-Christian ethic exist side by side in Western culture. The Society of Friends has always insisted on the basic contradiction inherent in this dualism, but as long as war and preparation for war made only partial demands it was possible for both philosophies to exist within the same society. It was even possible at the time of the first World War for nations to believe that the world was to be made safe for democracy by means of war. In any event it has been true that a state could pursue its search for power and possessions, and employ violence to gain its ends, while at the same time giving at least partial allegiance to the Judaeo-Christian ethic. That time is drawing to a close, for war and preparation for war now require total effort and involve total destruction, not only of life and property, but of spiritual integrity as well. It is clear, therefore, that we must seek some other method than violence to resolve the conflict that besets us.

It may be suggested that a way out is to attempt to coexist without war and without resolving the conflict. This course envisages an indefinite armed truce in the hope that time will produce changed conditions under which a more fundamental solution will be possible. To many thoughtful persons this is the most that can be hoped for, and certainly it is preferable to an attempt at violent resolution, but we believe no one should regard it as more than a temporary expedient. The dynamic nature of the principal contending powers and the basic conflict in their social philosophies promise continuing crises unless a more fundamental solution is found. Moreover, with each succeeding crisis will come new impatience and new temptation to resort to violence. Coexistence under such circumstances is possible only as long as one side or the other is prepared to make concessions, and the record of history offers little encouragement that this flexibility can be indefinitely maintained.

A First Requirement for Solution

This emphasizes the importance of continuing to search for a more fundamental solution. We have insisted that violence is not the answer, but violence will persist until men rid themselves of the attitudes that justify it. As long as they remain blinded by self-righteousness, clinging to the dogmatic assumption that we-are-right-and-they-are-wrong or we-may-not-be-perfect-but-we're-better-than-they-are, so long will they justify a resort to violence. We believe, therefore, that any proposal to resolve the conflict without violence must begin with a recognition of the humbling fact of man's common guilt and common nobility. Without this recognition, the diplomatic representatives of the major contending powers, even if they can be persuaded to talk to one another, are bound when they negotiate to try to negotiate one another out of something which, ultimately, neither is willing to surrender. Negotiation on the assumption of moral superiority may succeed in marginal conflicts, but in central conflicts it is self-defeating. Self-righteousness is a rock on which negotiation always founders.

As the conflict between our country and the Soviet Union can in no case be resolved by might, so in no case can it be resolved by any method chained to self-righteousness. We who write this statement maintain that the only realistic hope left is to find a new basis for the resolution of the USA-USSR conflict, a basis that will free us for the truly creative action our times demand. The recognition that the evil is in Man is the basis and the only basis upon which efforts to reach a peaceful settlement can be saved from the fatal corruption of self-righteousness.

We are aware that the very urgency and bitterness of the power conflict may discourage many from serious consideration of a radically new and different approach to its resolution. The cold war is, indeed, a fact with which we must daily reckon. But Quakers, who through their history have clung to the conviction that evil can only be overcome by good, are not without experience in dealing with conflict in a creative and non-violent way. This experience leads us to be hopeful that such an approach is practical even in the present critical situation.

To an attempt to explain and illustrate these non-violent ways of overcoming evil and dealing with human conflicts we now turn. We do so aware of the danger that those who profess non-violence may be tempted to self-righteousness. No one can be more wrong than those who are complacent about their own virtue or believe they have a simple and painless solution for the crisis of our age.


Russell Nelson
Last modified: Tue Oct 3 15:14:52 EDT 2006