In my last post I expressed some doubts about the efficacy of pacifism at all times, and wasn't sure what to do with that. I'm still not completely sure, but after thinking about it for a while, and after class this morning, I think I at least have more clarity, or better categories to think about it with.
In class today my professor talked about the difference between people who use nonviolence as a technique, as opposed to those who hold it as a principle. Those who see it as a technique use nonviolence when it's effective, although they might at other times be willing to use violence to achieve their ends. This might be the case for people who go on strike in order to get more fair wages: they can see that a nonviolent method of achieving their ends is more efficient and less costly in terms of lives and consequences. But they might not be against using violence in other areas, say, on an international level.
Then there are those of us who believe in nonviolence as an ethical and/or religious principle. Instead of just looking at what method would be most effective in bringing about our desired end, we see it as a matter of faithfulness. (This could be faithfulness to a Deity or to a sense of moral truth and rightness.) Whether or not it is going to be most effective to use nonviolent action, we refuse to use violence because we know it is wrong, that violence begets violence, and evil cannot overcome evil and magically become good.
So, in regards to my last post, where I was thinking about whether we ever get to a point where using violence might make it so that less violence would occur, I think for myself that I would still have to say, in order to be faithful to my belief that God calls us not to use violence, I would still not use violence.
The key, as I think Andre Trocme discovered, is just that we need to begin using nonviolent methods incredibly early so that we don't get to that point where violence is the only option. We can't force our nation to do this, but we can do everything in our power to bring things to our government's attention and hope they will deal with conflicts nonviolently from the outset so violence isn't necessary later on. We may not be able to make our nation do nonviolent struggle so well that it will never need to go to war again, but we can work in that direction.
My professor also talked about using nonviolent methods in ways that are still as effective as possible, even when we're principled nonviolent advocates. We need to actually ACT on our beliefs, and act early, in order to keep ourselves out of situations where we'll be implicated in violence that happens (as those of us who are Americans are right now by virtue of the fact that our country is at war). We can't just sit around believing in nonviolence, but we have to do the action, or else we're passivists instead of pacifists.
This is really hard. I'm not very good at it. Sure, I do what I can to live sustainably and to treat those around me in loving, nonviolent ways. But what about the bigger picture? What do I do to try to see reasons others might resort to violence coming on the horizon, and try to do something about it before it escalates too far? For example, what have I been doing to stop the torture our country has been inflicting on prisoners while it's still somewhat illegal, before Congress enacts a law where this kind of work will be much more difficult because everything will be legal? Or what am I doing about conflicts in African countries that were largely begun by my own ancestors, and are now causing situations of genocide? Or what am I doing about people in my own community who are not being given the same kind of opportunities I have because of the color of their skin or the socio-economic status of their parents?
There are so many ways we can try to prevent the need for violence, and I think that's truly as much a part of a principle of nonviolence as the decision whether or not to use violent force in a moment of crisis.