Friday, March 23, 2007


Bio: During his lifetime, A. J. Muste was regarded as one of the most prominent spokesmen for the pacifist movement in America. He wavered in the mid-1930’s, believing violence to be an effective means for change, but after 1936 he was reconverted to the validity of a religious-based pacifism, as the fol lowing selection ‘K indicates.


"There are two ultimate questions we must now consider. If we may use a military figure to state a pacifist case, we can say that one is the question of what we fight for; the other of what we fight with and rely on for a sense of security.

Paradoxically, life is worth living for those who have something for which they will gladly give up life. Individuals and nations need something beyond themselves to which they give unconditional homage and devotion. A nation cannot exist if it has no purpose save to exist, to survive at any cost and on any terms. It needs a spiritual goal. In the words of the Psalmist, “Except the Lord build the city, they labor in vain that build it.” "

"In answer to the question, “What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence?" Lincoln replied: “It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts, our army and our navy. These are not our reliance against tyranny. All of these may be turned against us without making us weaker for the struggle. . . . Our defense is in the spirit which prized liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere.”

A people thus devoted to a spiritual goal and thus skilled in wielding spiritual weapons would have immense driving and staying power, It would have a faith that other peoples, especially the long down-trodden masses, could embrace in place of the Communist faith that has so vast an attraction for them now. .

The Western world in its concept of democracy, the United States in “the American dream,” and Christians in their gospel and ethic of love, of evil, overcome not by evil but by good, have knowledge of such a spiritual goal."

"With the chanting of the magic word “utopianism,” these people dismiss the challenge and the hope of building brotherhood on earth as in heaven. Alas, not a few peace-workers are among them, placing their reliance on some device by which an unrepent ant and essentially unbelieving nation will on the basis of self-interest work out an agreement with an unrepentant and avowedly unbelieving Communist regime that will bring peace!'

On the other hand, if in any typical Protestant church of a Sun day morning I were to say pretty much what I have here been writing about centering our national policy around the needy children of the world, Christian hearts would be touched and Christian heads would be nodded gravely in assent. And then, as the Roper polls show, these good Christian folk would agree nearly to the man that it is also right and wise for the United States to keep adding to the H-bomb stockpile as the best way to keep the godless, Christ-denying Communists from coming over here and closing Christ’s churches!"

"The problem of morale and faith facing the West is here vividly laid bare. It is that the Christian nations, Christian churches, Christian people are in thorough agreement with that Communist. Again the “enemy” is ourselves. We and that Communist are agreed that the Christian faith and way are superior; agreed that someday it has to prevail; and agreed that this will come to pass after we—Communists and Christians—have made it possible for our ways of life to survive and prevail by our respective impure and violent means. The Communists believe it will come to pass “after the revolution” when they are in control. American Christians believe it will come after they by the threat or use of their atomic arsenal have got things under control. But they all unite in the grand chorus: “But it isn’t practical now!”

At an earlier stage we found that it is not possible to be ab sorbed at one and the same time in the power struggle and in the task of spreading general well-being across the world and building a stable world economy. We are faced with a choice of goals.

A choice of means must likewise be made, however we may shrink from it. Our firm conviction as pacifists is that it is not possible to achieve democracy by undemocratic means, to over come Communism by resorting increasingly to Communist methods, to save the values of. Christian civilization by throwing them overboard as modern war requires us to do. On the positive side it is our conviction that love translated into concrete action for hu­man brotherhood is the way to overcome evil and that the spiritual power which flows through men when they give themselves to God in faith and obedience is real and the most potent force in the universe.

In this context we always come up against the question, “Will it work?” Will it work with the Russians, the Communists, the totalitarians? In the abstract and in general people are usually will­ing to grant the pacifist case, but the concrete enemy of the mo­ment is always a special case. Nor would pacifists deny that totalitarianism in its modern forms and equipped with modern weapons of thought control, regimentation and terrorism presents a tremendous challenge to pacifists. It does also to the advocates of any other method for meeting aggression and tyranny, a point which non-pacifists sometimes overlook. Their record, as we pointed out at length in the beginning of this essay, is not one of success!

But what is the pacifist’s answer to the question of workability?"

"In Christian terms we are proposing that men apply Christ’s method of uncalculating love, of feeding the enemy and so on, rather than depending upon the sword for defense or liberation.

Stating the matter in other terms, we are here thinking of the morally responsible human being. All who believe in some kind of moral order, whether or not they are Christians or consider them­selves religious at all, face a crucial problem in connection with war. The question is not whether one is going to die in war; at the appointed time all men, and nations also, die. This is in the order of nature. The question for the morally responsible being is what happens to himself if he becomes a murderer, drops atomic bombs on little enemy children instead of trying to bring them food and healing. The question is what moral price he is prepared to pay for his country’s victory in war.

When on this level the Christian is asked whether the way of uncalculating love—of not “offending one of these little ones” be hind the Iron Curtain—”works” in some immediate political sense, his first answer is bound to be that he doesn’t think this is any of his business. God whom he knows in Christ commands love. He does not promise success to today’s Christian any more than he did to Jesus. Indeed, there is sure to be a cross in the picture some where. One of the signs that we are off the track is that everything goes smoothly and all men speak well of us. When the Christian asks God for victory, success, a blank check, he has ceased to believe in God.

The morally responsible person will give essentially the same answer. He has to be true, in the final pinch, to the highest that he knows. He has to be able to live with himself. If his moral standard amounts to obeying whatever orders some government gives him (remember the Nuremberg doctrine of the guilt of individual Nazis) or if his standard is what he can get away with, then he is no longer a moral being. This is why, in fact, any human being not bereft of sanity altogether “draws a line somewhere,” at some point says, “I can do no other.”

The modern pacifist draws the line at participation in atomic and bacteriological war. When he is asked whether this pacifism is “politically effective,” his reply is: “If human beings do not draw this line, then where will they draw the line? What are they waiting for?” In the great drama, Jakobowski and the Colonel, Jakobowski, the refugee, says to the Nazi colonel who has just been engaged in torturing certain victims: “There is one advantage that the hunted has over the hunter—namely, that he is not the hunter.” The advantage is an ultimate one: not to join the hunters. If a man loses it, there is nothing to compensate for the loss.

Totalitarian regimes do indeed present a grave problem, and our argument in no sense proceeds on the basis of minimizing the evil of such regimes. But the familiar argument that Gandhi could get by with non-violence in dealing with the British but that non-violence is no good in dealing with this or that other regime in practice means that any methods have to be used with the latter. This clearly means surrender of the moral life. It is capitulation to the amoral or antimoral philosophy of Bolshevism: any means is justified because my end is good. Indeed, it is to fall lower than this in the moral scale because it amounts to saying: “The mere survival of my coun­try at any cost and by any means in a naked struggle for power is justified.” It is to enthrone the doctrine of military necessity as the moral imperative and to deny, utterly and finally, that “he who seeketh his life shall lose it.” "

"What faith in material things and military means is here revealed!

If men are not willing to practice the way of non-violence with the same kind of commitment and recklessness of cost or con­sequences as they practice the way of war and as Communists work for Communism, clearly non-violence will not work."

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