I’m not against personal pacifism; as a matter of fact I am all for it. It’s signature of one part of my heritage, so I guess you could say it’s in my blood. But it’s also a deliberate choice I’ve made, a way I’ve decided to orient my life.
But in this world that’s become increasingly restless in the past few months, I have begun thinking of the implications of a more general, national pacifism. What does it look like for a nation to take this stance? Is it even practical or possible?
NPR has interviewed various figureheads recently about the multilateral involvement in Libya. One pundit praised the intervention, and another questioned its needfulness. After all, this is Libya’s own private civil war, so why should the international community get involved? I found myself tending to agree with him, wondering why the US always felt the need to stick its grubby hands in everybody else’s business.
And then they interviewed a Libyan man who used to be high up in Gadhafi’s government but defected to the rebels, a man who could not tell the interviewer his location because Gadhafi currently has a price on his head. His response to the international involvement? “This needed to happen. It prevented a massacre.”
And suddenly my thoughts fell back to a bench outside the Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali, Rwanda, where I sat weeping. Of all the turmoil in my mind that sunny June day, the one thought that surfaced the most was, “Why did no one care?” From my journal, June 11, 2009:
One part of the museum dealt with genocides that have happened throughout the 20th century … and for every single one, the international community did nothing. There were always individuals who helped, who loved their neighbors, but never the international organizations. The UN? They removed troops from Rwanda. Not that troops would have really implemented peace. …
Why does the world not care? Why do we let it happen? Why have we NEVER DECLARED A GENOCIDE until it’s already passed? Have we so little concern for our brothers? How can we be so selfish? If it’s not happening to us, we look away and ignore countries, ethnicities, religions that are cut with wounds so deep they may never heal.
I shrink from ever advocating violence. But everything within me retches at the thought of allowing a massacre. During the killing days in Rwanda, so many world figures knew the situation, yet so few acted. The majority created loopholes to jump through and excuse themselves from being responsible.
So what can a nation do against angry autocrats who won’t lay down their arms? Is violence the only answer? Are air strikes justified if they prevent a massacre of the innocent? The conscience of nations is still plagued by the lakes of blood spilled in Rwanda. But is the only retaliation to spill more? I can’t believe it is. But I don’t have an answer.