A Pacifist's Dilemma

[Letter to various news organizations and emailed to friends September 21, 2001]

I suppose I am a pragmatic pacifist. I recognize that we are a violent species, and that some situations call for meeting violence with force. But I always prefer a nonviolent solution. I regard the destruction of September 11, as a criminal act that should be prosecuted as such.

I think little can be gained and much can be lost by violating other nations' sovereignty, taking innocent lives, abandoning the rules of law that we would have others adopt as their own, and starting a vicious spiral of escalating violence.

That said, I also recognize the power of the threat of violence. As we have seen, the threat of massive retaliation against Afghanistan has already resulted in an opinion of clerics there that Osama bin Laden should voluntarily leave the country. The problem, I fear, is that this powerful rhetoric leaves no room for us not to bomb Kabul and other population centers if the threat of violence is not sufficient.

This in turn could lead to the taking of innocent lives in Afghanistan, and the possibility of reprisal terrorist attacks in the US, Europe and elsewhere. I am also concerned with the potential loss of our civil liberties in the name of greater security. (Click here for a comparison of the Ashcroft anti-terrorism bill and Leahy's alternative and this NY Times article.

This Saturday, September 29, there will be a Mobilization Against War and Racism in Washington DC and San Francisco. I am contemplating attending the one in Dolores Park, San Francisco. My dilemma, if America is seen to be unanimous in its support of military action, this threat may dislodge bin Laden, and prevent bombing by us and the consequent taking of more lives, and likely the loss of US military personnel.

If Taliban leaders see the stirrings of popular discontent on CNN, will it cause them to assess our resolve as typically fleeting, and hunker down? If I don't go, and even the show of resolve already manifest in recent polls does persuade the Taliban, and the seemingly inevitable escalation ensues, and there are abuses associated with the loss of our own civil rights, will I regret not having spoken up earlier?

Whatever my choice, I do understand how remarkably fortunate I am to have the freedom to contemplate such options. I don't take them lightly, and under less ambiguous circumstances I would support going to war to defend them. For me, the war for infinite justice is thus far remarkably narrow.

PS. I did go. Click here to see pictures.