For my Theology of Nonviolence class we're reading a book called "Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed," written by Philip Hallie about a French pastor named Andre Trocme. He was the pastor of a little Hugenot congregation in Le Chambon, France, during World War II, and he and his town helped save the lives of many Jews and other refugees during that time. He was committed to a theology of nonviolence, and had even started a school there based on principles of nonviolence before the war even started.
The story of Andre Trocme and the village of Le Chambon is captivating and encouraging. I would highly recommend it!
One thing that particularly stood out to me was Trocme’s story about a map-making excursion to Morocco that he volunteered for with the French Army sometime before the war. He got to Morocco and realized that they were expected to carry a gun, which he refused to do. His lieutenant “spoke to him about timing….By giving up his weapon and ammunition he had put the whole group in danger” (Hallie, 1994, p. 93). Now that he was there and the group was depending partially on him, it put his teammates in danger for him to not carry a weapon. He realized that “the ethical commandment against killing had to be obeyed as early as possible if it was to be obeyed effectively. It taught him that nonviolence could, in fact, increase violence if it was not chosen in the right way at the right time.”
This is an incredibly interesting observation, and one that has far-reaching implications for international conflict. Although I am a pacifist, it does seem that sometimes the only choice left for a nation is to use force and violence. In World War II, once Hitler had taken over and Jews and others were being exterminated, would it have been possible on a national level to choose to use nonviolent methods to combat this evil? Many point back to the end of WWI, saying that if Germany had not been treated so poorly in the aftermath of that war, perhaps WWII would not have happened as easily because the German people would not have felt they needed to prove their worth to the world. If this chance had been taken by nations around the world, if they had agreed that although they were angry with Germany for its position in the Great War, they wanted to treat it with respect and dignity, perhaps this would have spread rather than the retribution and revenge that ensued and led to WWII.
Perhaps if our government had not encouraged the reign of Saddam Hussein, knowing it was corrupt, and helped Osama bin Laden for the last 20+ years we would not be in the war in which we find ourselves now. Perhaps if we had not “helped” Viet Nam only to serve our own interests after French colonization we would not have been in that war.
This is also an important thought for individual situations. Is there ever a point of no return, where we have made so many poor choices that we have no options left but to resort to violence? In cases only involving my own life, I can say no: there is never a time where I would use violence to save my own life. That is my choice. But what if the lives of others are involved? Do I have the right to choose not to use violence that might save their lives if I’ve made poor choices before which put them into that position? Are there times when the use of violence causes less violence to happen, as Trocme’s lieutenant suggested?
Can we take biblical imperatives at face value and trust that good will ensue? Can we love our enemies and call it good? Is it best to “not repay anyone evil for evil” and “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” at all times (Rom 12:17, 21)? Is there ever a time when we've backed ourselves into a corner so much that the "best" solution is violence?