July 28th, 1915 - New Fatherland League Publishes Pacifist Manifesto

Pictured - Georg von Arco, German physicist and founding member of the New Fatherland League.

In Berlin on July 28th the New Fatherland League, a group of German intellectuals promoting pacifism, published a manifesto pressing for a peace with no territorial annexations. This group included Albert Einstein, who had also been one of the signatories of an earlier call for peace from German scientists and thinkers in November of 1914.

Pacifists in Britain circulated the New Fatherland League’s declaration, including the philosopher Bertrand Russell and the playwright George Bernard Shaw.  The German authorities did not tolerate this international effort, and responded by raiding the Berlin offices of the League.  The New Fatherland League was forbidden from any further publications and its members forbidden to contact one another.  Two secretaries were imprisoned.  In the following months the League itself would be banned.

Non-violence is an inherently privileged position in the modern context. Besides the fact that the typical pacifist is quite clearly white and middle class, pacifism as an ideology comes from a privileged context. It ignores that violence is already here; that violence is an unavoidable, structurally integral part of the current social hierarchy; and that it is people of color who are most affected by that violence. Pacifism assumes that white people who grew up in the suburbs with all their basic needs met can counsel oppressed people, many of whom are people of color, to suffer patiently under an inconceivably greater violence, until such time as the Great White Father is swayed by the movement’s demands or the pacifists achieve that legendary “critical mass.”

People of color in the internal colonies of the US cannot defend themselves against police brutality or expropriate the means of survival to free themselves from economic servitude. They must wait for enough people of color who have attained more economic privilege (the “house slaves” of Malcolm X’s analysis) and conscientious white people to gather together and hold hands and sing songs. Then, they believe, change will surely come. People in Latin America must suffer patiently, like true martyrs, while white activists in the US “bear witness” and write to Congress. People in Iraq must not fight back. Only if they remain civilians will their deaths be counted and mourned by white peace activists who will, one of these days, muster a protest large enough to stop the war. Indigenous people need to wait just a little longer (say, another 500 years) under the shadow of genocide, slowly dying off on marginal lands, until-well, they’re not a priority right now, so perhaps they need to organize a demonstration or two to win the attention and sympathy of the powerful. Or maybe they could go on strike, engage in Gandhian noncooperation? But wait-a majority of them are already unemployed, noncooperating, fully excluded from the functioning of the system.

Nonviolence declares that the American Indians could have fought off Columbus, George Washington, and all the other genocidal butchers with sit-ins; that Crazy Horse, by using violent resistance, became part of the cycle of violence, and was “as bad as” Custer. Nonviolence declares that Africans could have stopped the slave trade with hunger strikes and petitions, and that those who mutinied were as bad as their captors; that mutiny, a form of violence, led to more violence, and, thus, resistance led to more enslavement. Nonviolence refuses to recognize that it can only work for privileged people, who have a status protected by violence, as the perpetrators and beneficiaries of a violent hierarchy.

Pacifists must know, at least subconsciously, that nonviolence is an absurdly privileged position, so they make frequent usage of race by taking activists of color out of their contexts and selectively using them as spokespersons for nonviolence. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. are turned into representatives for all people of color. Nelson Mandela was too, until it dawned on white pacifists that Mandela used nonviolence selectively, and that he actually was involved in liberation activities such as bombings and preparation for armed uprising. Even Gandhi and King agreed it was necessary to support armed liberation movements (citing two examples, those in Palestine and Vietnam, respectively) where there was no nonviolent alternative, clearly prioritizing goals over particular tactics. But the mostly white pacifists of today erase this part of the history and re-create nonviolence to fit their comfort level, even while “claiming the mantle” of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. One gets the impression that if Martin Luther King Jr. were to come in disguise to one of these pacifist vigils, he would not be allowed to speak. As he pointed out:

“Apart from bigots and backlashers, it seems to be a malady even among those whites who like to regard themselves as “enlightened.” I would especially refer to those who counsel, “Wait!” and to those who say that they sympathize with our goals but cannot condone our methods of direct-action in pursuit of those goals. I wonder at men who dare to feel that they have some paternalistic right to set the timetable for another man’s liberation.”

God I hate pacifism. “An eye for an eye leaves the world blind”? Bullshit. Failure to act leaves those without power in death and squalor. In that world only the privileged have eyes. If you would rather preserve your moral purity than fight oppression – by any means necessary – your morality is selfish and bankrupt. Please unfollow me.

From his 1942 enlistment in the U.S. Army, Desmond Doss was a living contradiction. He was a Seventh Day Adventist pacifist there voluntarily, but even under direct orders, he refused to so much as hold a rifle. He did have the excuse that he was going to be serving as a field medic, but his commanding officer still tried unsuccessfully to get rid of him through Section 8. … One of his comrades even told him that when the troop went into battle, he would shoot Doss himself. 

Then came the May 1945 Battle of Okinawa. Doss and his group in the 307th Infantry were forced to climb a 400-foot cliff to attack entrenched Japanese troops. Once there, they received heavy resistance. This is where Doss went the pacifist version of totally berserk. According to his later citations, at one point Doss ran “through a shower of grenades to within eight yards of enemy forces.” Over the course of the next two days, Doss provided medical services and pulled soldiers to safety, and was credited with saving the lives of 75 wounded, including the soldier who had threatened to kill him.

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As the [Black] Panthers evidenced signs of making significant headway, organizing first in their home community of Oakland and then nationally, the state perceived something more threatening then yet another series of candlelight vigils. It reacted accordingly, targeting Panthers for physical elimination. When Party cadres responded (as promised) by meeting the violence of repression with armed resistance, the bulk of their “principled” white support evaporated. This horrifying retreat rapidly isolated the Party from any possible mediating or buffering from the full force of state terror and left its members nakedly exposed to “surgical termination” by special police units.

… [I]t became fashionable to observe that the Panthers were “as bad as the cops” in that they resorted to arms…; they had “brought this on themselves” when they “provoked violence” by refusing the state an uncontested right to maintain the lethal business as usual it had visited upon black America since the inception of the Republic…

Such conscientious avoidance of personal sacrifice (i.e., dodging the experience of being on the receiving end of violence, not the inflicting of it) has nothing to do with the lofty ideals and integrity by which American pacifists claim to inform their practice. But it does explain the real nature of such curious phenomena as movement marshal, steadfast refusals to attempt to bring the seat of government to a standstill even when a million people are on hand to accomplish the task, and the consistently convoluted victim-blaming engaged in with regard to domestic groups such as the Black Panther Party. Massive and unremitting violence in the colonies is appalling to right-thinking people but ultimately acceptable when compared to the unthinkable alternative that any degree of real violence might be redirected against “mother country radicals.”

We must never confuse the positive things that America does with the kingdom of God, for the kingdom of God is not centered on being morally, politically, or socially positive relative to other versions of the kingdom of the world. Rather, the kingdom of God is centered on being beautiful, as defined by Jesus Christ dying on a cross for those who crucified him. To promote law, order, and justice is good, and we certainly should do all we can to support this. But to love enemies, forgive transgressors, bless persecutors, serve sinners, accept social rejects, abolish racist walls, share resources with the poor, bear the burden of neighbors, suffer with the oppressed – all the while making no claims to promote oneself – this is beautiful; this is Christ-like. Only this, therefore, is distinct kingdom-of-God activity.
—  Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation, pg. 103
A distinction must always be made between the oppressor’s violence, which descends down the hierarchy onto the marginalized with the explicit purpose of oppressing, and oppressed peoples’ resistance and self-defense, which is using force — by any means necessary — to secure their liberation. The former is an exercise of domination, the later is the pursuit of freedom.

Like these two, I’m a pacifist, and have been my whole life. I’m a moral vegetarian and I catch bugs and put them outside rather than harm them. I only support violence in cases of literal self defense.

So I’m sharing this not to endorse violence, but to say to America, “If you want to stop what’s happening, YOU have to stop the bloodshed, THEREBY TAKING AWAY THE CAUSE OF THE RESPONSE.”