Chapter 5 of Speak Truth To Power

A Choice With Hope

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say until you, love your enemies...

-MATTHEW 5: 43-44

The False Assumptions of Present Policy

Surely no American, when faced with the choice between war and peace with honor, would choose war. The United States, despite unfair charges to the contrary, has been trying to choose peace with honor since 1945, and Americans are still ready today to sacrifice their blood and their treasure in the effort to obtain it. Foreign policy decisions have been the subject of widespread discussion in Congress and across the country. A great national debate preceded approval of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In 1954, the nation was aroused to weigh the merits of intervention in Indo-China. The American people considered carefully the question of relative priority between Europe and Asia in defense plans. They have debated whether to commit the nation to resist aggression when it occurs, by threatening instant and massive retaliation against the Soviet Union itself. They have argued the wisdom of relying primarily upon air power as against maintaining a balance between all the military forces. Questions of collective or unilateral action, of neutralism, of United Nations memberships-all these have been discussed, and each time the choice is determined by what the majority feels is the most likely to produce peace. Through this period of crisis, American choices have been made as choices for peace.

Yet they have not produced peace. We believe the reason is that they have been content to deal with problems at the level of strategy. Rarely have they examined the assumptions upon which strategy is based, and in our opinion it is here that the difficulty lies. We have suggested that in at least three major respects, the fundamental assumptions of the American people are in error. First, we challenged the assumption that under present circumstances power could be applied rationally, and a constructive program for peace carried on simultaneously with a program for military defense. Second, we challenged the assumption that the Soviet Union is the source of our problems, and that by achieving its disintegration or even its containment we would move toward a peaceful world. Finally, we challenged the assumption that force is the only realistic means of dealing with international problems.

The Real Choice

Obviously, our analysis suggests that America's discussion of peace, however sincere, has been carried forward on too shallow a basis. If the underlying presuppositions of policy are false, discussion of the policies themselves is idle business. We believe the real choice lies between continuing to deal with international problems on the old basis of military power and attempting to deal with them on the new and revolutionary basis of non-violence.

Faced with such a choice, and cognizant of the dangers of moving into a largely unknown and unexplored area, we must still choose, and urge others to choose, the second alternative.

1. We make this choice for moral reasons. Our faith insists that God did not create men to hate, nor establish His law so that peace could emerge from fury. Man is answerable for his actions, and can neither violate his faith on pleas of urgency nor escape his moral responsibility by the simple device of turning it over to others. The United States government itself insisted on this principle at the Nurenberg war crime trials; we believe it applies equally at home, for we do not recognize the existence anywhere of a double standard of morality that justifies conduct in the name of the state that would be reprehensible in the name of God.

2. We make the choice because we believe that democracy is the noblest philosophy of social organization that man has yet developed, and we are convinced that under modern conditions democracy and militarism are incompatible. Thus, we would rather give up our military strength and accept the risks that this involves, than keep our guns and lose our democracy. Gandhi, who understood the nature of power as well as any man in our time, put it explicitly:

"There is no escape from the impending doom save through a bold unconditional acceptance of the non-violent method. Democracy and violence go ill together. The States that today are nominally democratic have either to become frankly totalitarian or, if they are to become truly democratic, they must become courageously non-violent."[15]

3.We make this choice because we believe that modern conditions have brought us to the end of the military road. The heavy polarization of power into two world centers, the development of ultimate weapons, and the miracles of communication and transportation are new factors in history that demand new attitudes toward conflict. If men continue to hold on to an old rehearsed response in the presence of these new elements, they will not grow, but die. This is the crisis that all living things periodically have faced. To try to cling to outworn patterns of security rather than face the risks of striving for a new approach, has always meant death. We believe it will again mean death.

The Choice--Untried

The choice we propose is a radical one, requiring new attitudes, new risks, and it may be, new suffering. It is not a choice that the United States has ever made before. It has no relation whatever to what military leaders and patriotic groups like to refer to as the "pacifist virus that undermined America" in the years after the first World War. Campaigns to demobilize and "bring the boys home," pressures for a quick "return to normalcy," insistence on lower taxes and smaller military budgets, and drifts toward isolationism, may be sincere expressions of a war-weary people, but they are not pacifism. These attitudes, stemming as they did from selfish motives, and unaccompanied by concern for the welfare of others, may, indeed, have hastened war in a world where power is necessary to retain privilege and protect position. It does not follow, however, that peace is only for the militarily strong, as Americans are being so insistently advised. Indeed, even if military superiority once did insure a kind of enforced peace, it can do so no longer now that cosmic weapons place cosmic power at the disposal of more than one nation.

We suggest that from now on, peace will not be for the strong, but for the just, and further, that there will neither be peace until men learn to be just, nor justice until men determine to renounce violence.

The Choice--Not Utopian

Thus, we dissociate ourselves from the basically selfish attitude that has been miscalled pacifism, but that might be more accurately described as a kind of irresponsible anti-militarism. We dissociate ourselves also from utopianism. Though the choice of non-violence involves a radical change in men, it does not require perfection.

The renunciation of violence and the creation of a new climate in the world community will certainly be difficult, but we believe human nature, illuminated and ennobled by divine power, can bear effective witness in the direction of world community. Man's character is a strange mixture of the petty, the self-centered, the fearful, and the complacent on the one hand, and the compassionate, the patient, the forgiving, and the noble on the other. The redemptive working of God in human lives, perhaps through the person of an inspired leader, can invoke on a large scale the qualities of sacrifice and service which are evidenced daily in common living, and which make up the heart of the non-violent alternative. Man can rise to noble heights, but he must first free himself from the compulsions of fear and the pressures of conformity.

Nor is this assertion of man's capacity to rise to noble heights only a philosophical conjecture. A concrete demonstration exists in the Indian campaign for independence, in which multitudes of men and women, without being raised to individual sainthood, were able to make an entirely new response to injustice and humiliation. In this situation, under the stimulus of a beloved cause and inspired leadership, ordinary . people were enabled to find new courage and self-respect, were able to overcome hostility toward an enemy, and to endure physical suffering, imprisonment and other outrages without resorting to violence in return. The failure of Indians always to live up to Gandhi's exacting standards only underscores their humanity, and establishes the very point we are here making: it is not necessary to wait until a nation is made of saints to call forth other attitudes and responses than those which have for so long held men in the bondage of hatred and violence.

Thus we believe that while man's nature makes war possible, it does not make war inevitable. Under the inspiration of a great cause and with great leadership, human nature can be made adequate to achieve creative solutions to whatever problems confront it. Moreover, man's struggle to control himself has been marked by a continuing series of successes. In the course of history he has gradually learned how to live peacefully in larger and larger units, and consequently to push his savage qualities farther and farther away. His concept of community has grown from a narrow tribal basis to one which embraces half the world. It must now be pushed further, for in our age there can be no stopping short of a global community. We will either find a way to replace savagery with law and government on this last frontier, or there will soon be no community left at all.

The Choice--Necessary

Thus, we insist that if Americans want to live and not die, if they want to lead the way toward a world where peace prevails and the miracles of science are put to work for man's benefit, and not his destruction, they must face individually the need for an ultimate and fundamental break with violence. There is, we believe, no other way to eliminate the scourge of war. Man must put aside his barren militarism and dare to embark courageously on the search for non-violent solutions to his problems. Moreover, the choice is inescapable. It will be made, either deliberately or by default.

In thus insisting on the rejection of violence as a method, we do not imply that all men must become pacifist. Rather our reading of history indicates that without the unconditional acceptance of an ideal by a minority, the vision and perseverance required to move the world in the direction of that ideal will be lacking. Specifically in the present situation, we believe the unconditional acceptance of non-violence by a growing number of committed men and women is necessary to provide the dynamic , and create the atmosphere, in which order can replace anarchy in the international community.

Nor do we imply in stressing the importance of a pacifist commitment, that the devoted work of non-pacifist individuals and agencies on behalf of peace is unimportant. The great number of concerned people who labor for constructive policies, but who refrain from challenging the need for military power, make a major contribution in checking the growth of tension and preventing the outbreak of hostilities. We have shared in many of their past undertakings, and expect to share in future efforts. Campaigns for universal disarmament keep public interest alive in a crucial area of public policy. Efforts to suggest formulas for truce agreements in peripheral conflicts introduce a rational note into irrational situations. Public education on the important role and practical achievements of the United Nations is the best means of counteracting the corrosive effect of political attacks on the only world organization we have. Support for international exchange programs and technical assistance keeps attention focused on the need for a constructive peace program. All these efforts, and many more, have provided a climate of patience, and facilitated agreements in marginal areas that have kept down international temperatures.

But we believe something more is needed if men are to find the inspiration and the wisdom finally to banish war from the international scene. Leadership at a new and deeper level is required; leadership that rejects violence and calls men to a new and revolutionary commitment to practice love in every area of life. Such a commitment will demand a high price, but we believe that those who would lead must be ready to pay it. Great goals are always costly, and we doubt there is any road to peace save that which for many leads through suffering and sacrifice. Indeed, we go further and say that paying this price is the most relevant political and spiritual act of our day. In order that others may judge its relevance, we therefore turn to a consideration of its meaning, in personal and in political terms. Since no superhuman demand is made, it should be possible to learn peace by practicing peace. What does this involve?

Russell Nelson
Last modified: Tue Oct 3 15:15:18 EDT 2006