Notes on pacifism
A colleague of mine likes to call me a fundamentalist pacifist, and he's not wrong. Or if he's wrong, it's only in implying that there's some other sort of pacifist. Pacifism is always a fundamentalist position; pacifists say, "We reject war in general." Everyone else says, "depends on the war."
Holding an explicitly fundamentalist position may seem a strange thing for an intellectual to do, but it's not. Plenty of intellectuals, plenty of people generally, hold such positions. People who oppose slavery often oppose it categorically, can't imagine supporting it in any circumstances, regardless of noble goals or enlightened modes of slaveholding, would not be open to a utilitarian assessment of whether it's better to have the institution of slavery or not. Plenty of intellectuals, plenty of people generally, hold similarly categorical views of torture, rape, abortion, capital punishment, racism, female genital mutilation, genocide, ethnic cleansing. What practices it feels right to reject categorically will vary with who we are. But most of us draw a line somewhere.
My pacifism being the fundamentalist position it is, I can't give a very clear rationale for why I hold it, nothing that leads inexorably, by agreed-on rules of argument and evidence, from axioms to a conclusion. I can, though, identify some of the experiences and emotions that I'm aware of when I look at my own pacifist life. Before I'd become a pacifist, before I had any political positions of my own at all, I found that the company of some pacifists was the company I liked to keep: the pacifist draft resisters I met and talked with during the Vietnam War, whose courage and serenity and commitment to principle I was inspired by, whom I wanted to resemble. I hate war, hate its systematic, dehumanizing violence. I know--from what I've read and heard, not from my own sheltered experience--that war is hell, whatever noble reason it may be fought for. I regard human life as sacred. As Gandalf tells Frodo, "many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement." Or, as we read in Genesis, "God created human beings in the image of God." I like holding radical positions. (I especially like holding positions more radical than those of my parents, with their mix of socialist ideals and left-Democratic practice and opposition to particular wars but not to war in general.) I know that the actions I've taken to express my pacifism are usually moral by Hemingway's criterion: I feel good after them. I feel more and more that without a commitment to pacifism I can't think clearly, have no space in which to move; I need the absolute commitment in order to see what happens next, and without that commitment I can feel myself slipping into an acceptance of what's horrible.
But that I haven't come to pacifism through argument doesn't mean that argument is irrelevant here. What follows is just that, a series of arguments about aspects of pacifism. Not all of them are flattering, many are pessimistic, none is conclusive. But none is despairing.
I. Useful Qualities
Serious pacifism has to be realistic, tragic, and responsible. "Realistic" was Martin Luther King's word: "I tried to arrive at a realistic pacifism. In other words, I came to see the pacifist position not as sinless but as the lesser evil in the circumstances. I felt then, and I feel now, that the pacifist would have a greater appeal if he did not claim to be free from the moral dilemmas that the Christian non pacifist confronts." That's a fine formulation. King states it too modestly, I think, too tactically--"the [realistic] pacifist would have a greater appeal," he writes. Probably that's true; pacifists not "claiming to be free from the moral dilemmas that the Christian non pacifist confronts," or for that matter from those that any serious observer of the human condition confronts, would probably be listened to more respectfully, satirized less harshly. But even if they weren't, their position would be a sounder one.
Pacifism also has to be tragic, has to acknowledge not only the evil impulse in human nature but also the certainty of some pacifist failure. That's not to say that pacifists shouldn't tell stories about pacifist success, of course, stories about Gandhi, about the personal and collective triumphs of the American civil rights movement, about the nonviolent overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic. Such stories are good to keep in mind when nonviolent action seems useless, when we need a remedy against despair.
But they have to be juxtaposed to grimmer stories, e.g., the story of the civil rights activist Mickey Schwerner, murdered by the Ku Klux Klan along with James Chaney and Andrew Goodman in 1964, vividly told in Taylor Branch's Pillar of Fire:
|Only Schwerner's last words confounded the Klansmen themselves.... The Klansmen heard nothing fearful or defiant, nor anything practical to escape the moment of terror, but they could not forget the spark of supremely disciplined faith that reached across the last human barrier. Alton Wayne Roberts exploded past more hesitant Klansmen to yank Schwerner from the cruiser next to a ditch. He jammed a pistol into his ribs and screamed from a face of animal hatred, "Are you that nigger lover?" Schwerner had just an instant to reply, "Sir, I know just how you feel."|
A central meaning of many stories of pacifist success is that a person profoundly committed to nonviolence can transform an opponent. That's true. But so is a central meaning of the Schwerner story. It tells of a man of faith in nonviolence, confronting a man with a face full of hatred. His faith commands our admiration. But Schwerner didn't transform Alton Wayne Roberts; he got murdered by him. And no pacifism can really matter that doesn't acknowledge that a commitment to pacifism can get you killed.
George Orwell wrote, "Pacifism refuses to face the problem of government and pacifists think always as people who will never be in a position of control, which is why I call them irresponsible." He was wrong in his assessment of pacifist behavior, but not in regarding responsibility in this sense as a standard pacifists have to meet, the third of the essential three.
Certain pacifists, at any rate. Pacifists who believe that our life in this world is the brief, painful prelude to life everlasting don't need to figure out how to defend, to govern, to intervene, to punish. If we are going to be justly rewarded in the world to come, then what we most need to do in the world we live in is act according to our consciences. We need less to worry about whether our actions are effective, whether they save lives or diminish suffering, since those who suffer and die unjustly will themselves be rewarded in the just and eternal future, their misery transcended, all tears wiped from their eyes. (It's puzzling that so many people who believe in heaven and hell should find pacifism unattractive; the political critique of pacifism, the one directed against it as a way of governing this world, shouldn't matter very much to them.)
I myself do not believe in worlds to come, so whatever pacifism I honor or act for has to be a pacifism that works, or that if improved might work, in the world we live in. I want a pacifist movement that wants to win, and which therefore needs to think through how it would govern if it did win. Gandhi wanted that too: "it is blasphemy," he wrote, "to say that non-violence can only be practiced by individuals and never by nations which are composed of individuals."
Jean Giono, one of the few first-rate pacifist novelists, concludes one of his essays by imagining a pacifist soldier in front of a firing squad: "He has only seconds to live. He is alone. But he is in opposition." A noble pose; but what's missing is the sense that the pacifist could be other than alone, part of a movement, a community, a government. That is what Orwell means by "irresponsible."
II. Rules of Argument
In disputes about pacifism both sides argue badly. If our arguments were sounder and more generous, who knows what the results might be?
One common pacifist error is refusing to answer pertinent questions. There's a reason for that refusal: pacifists tend to be asked for their views only when an urgent claim is being made for going to war. That's not fair. But neither is the refusal to answer; pacifists need to be able to answer the questions asked of them at such moments, on the edge of a cliff, and ought not to avoid those questions by saying that the right time to ask them was earlier. Any time is the right time to be asking questions of a philosophy that seeks to be a guide to right conduct and right governance.
A second pacifist error is more substantive. Being aware of what war is, concretely and without euphemism: that, especially in this age in which people in power glorify "smart bombs," refuse to do body counts of civilian dead, allow euphemisms like "collateral damage" to veil the fact of slaughtered children, can contribute to a pacifist position. It's important in making a decision to go to war that one know, as citizen or soldier or senator, what war is going to be like, and if it's going to be a cause of suffering to the innocent, then that's a reason to seek an alternative to it.
By itself, though, the argument that war is hell is not sufficient. Remarque's great novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, dramatizes that argument vividly and abundantly, shows us that officers are brutal, that young men die, that military propaganda is false. But these points don't amount to a case for pacifism--which is, I think, what Remarque meant by saying that his novel wasn't actually a political book. It's possible to know all the truths that his novel teaches and still support a particular war, still argue that its good cause justified the suffering it inflicted.
I love the passage in Camus' Les Justes where Dora speaks to Yanek about the Grand Duke he has pledged to assassinate: "A man is a man. The Grand Duke may have compassionate eyes. You may see him scratch his ear, give a joyous smile. Perhaps he'll have cut himself shaving. And if he looks at you at that moment...." I love the fact that Yanek holds back on his first attempt to kill the Duke because next to the Duke there are children. I love Wilfred Owen's celebrated lines:
|If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, --
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
to children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
But Yanek assassinates the Duke the second time, regardless of ear-scratchings or happy smiles or shaving cuts. Owen was a soldier, not a conscientious objector. Even if it's not sweet, after all, not decorous in any aesthetic sense to die for one's country, it can still be just or necessary.
Of the bad arguments used against pacifism, two stand out. One of them, resting on a false assumption about how much pacifists are willing to sacrifice, is relied on in the Epilogue to Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars. Walzer is looking there at what he calls "nonviolent defense," presented as the "only alternative" to war, the only way out to those "trapped within [secular] history." A courageous way to end a book that has spent so much time inside that history, attempted so carefully to figure out rules for regulating war in the world we live in, and for the most part an exemplary critique of one aspect of pacifism by an eminent scholar of justice.
But at one point Walzer goes wrong; he's talking about Gene Sharp's work, his investigations of the possibilities for nonviolent civilian defense against an occupying army, and he characterizes Sharp's fundamental position as the belief "that [men and women] can defend their country in some other way, without killing and being killed" (emphasis added). "Without killing," yes, that's the whole point. But no serious advocate of nonviolent resistance imagines that such resistance could take place without some resisters' getting killed. Sharp himself writes, "nonviolent action is not a safe means of struggle; there is no such thing. People are liable to be hurt and to suffer in various ways, including, economic loss, physical injury, imprisonment, and even death." When in 1942 Gandhi imagined Indian nonviolent resistance to a Japanese invasion, he imagined people dying in it--perhaps several million people.
Serious pacifists have to face the fact that they might get killed. Effective pacifism is possible only if pacifists accept that fact. But critics of pacifism have to consider its resources as including the capacity for self-sacrifice.
The second bad argument about pacifism begins with an accident, namely, that "pacifism" sounds like "passive." When people imagine pacifist alternatives to militarist actions, they often imagine not acting at all. Certainly that's what the noted ethicist Peter Singer is doing here:
Suppose we have an opportunity to assassinate a tyrant who is systematically murdering his opponents and anyone else he dislikes. We know that if the tyrant dies he will be replaced by a popular opposition leader, now in exile, who will restore the rule of law. If we say that violence is always wrong, and refuse to carry out the assassination, mustn't we bear some responsibility for the tyrant's future murders?
Leaving aside the impossible neatness of the hypothesized case, I'd say that the answer to Singer's question is yes, we must "bear some responsibility"--but only if the only alternative to carrying out the assassination is refusing to carry it out and doing nothing else. In fact, there is a broad range of strong pacifist actions, many of them with some history of success against tyranny: labor strikes, hunger strikes, work slow-downs, boycotts, non-cooperation of all sorts with government commands, demonstrations and protests, symbolic public acts of all sorts, ostracism of persons, blockages of buildings, civil disobedience both public and clandestine. (A long list, but tiny in comparison with Sharp's three-volume catalogue.)
There's too much history here for the possibility of strong, uncompromising pacifist action to be denied, for pacifism to be regarded as restricted to expressions of unconditional love. The subtitle of Erik Erikson's book about Gandhi gets it right: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence. Critics of pacifism should not presume that being opposed to military action means being opposed to action in general.
III. Self-defense and Intervention
That pacifists haven't solved the problems they need to solve isn't surprising. Pacifism as a political philosophy is a recent phenomenon, and political pacifists have had relatively little opportunity to work out practices, to research and narrate their own history, to test out ideas in real situations, to apply the wealth of a state to finding a pacifist mode of governing a state. Theorists of warfare, on the other hand, and theorists of statecraft and diplomacy and security and international relations who regard military violence as a permissible strategy, have had colleges for study, ample resources for developing their ideas, ample opportunities to test those ideas in practice. Little wonder if they can define their program more vividly, more meticulously, more rigorously than pacifists can. Little wonder, either, if they can imagine their utopias more precisely. The best-known image of a pacifist utopia is the prophet Isaiah's, a world where the wolf will lie down with the lamb. Fine; but what are the wolf and lamb going to do there?
For pacifists like me, opposed to all war but not all uses of violence, the policing of a pacifist state would be much like the policing of a non-pacifist state. (In the atmosphere of such a state, some things would change " the relation between retributive and restorative justice, the relation between police and citizens, the prestige and use of weapons " but much would look familiar.) That leaves two hard, essential problems: how a pacifist state could defend itself, and whether and how it could conduct humanitarian intervention.
Pacifist national defense is defense against occupation, not against invasion. It can only begin when occupation begins. It works not at a distance but in proximity, against opponents nearby and in power. It has been most systematically studied and imagined by Gene Sharp, the indispensable theorist and taxonomist of nonviolent action, whose account of what he calls "civilian-based defense" is exact, worldly, and unsentimental, several volumes including strategies and tactics for persistent, diversely articulated, carefully coordinated resistance. Such defense is not as Sharp depicts it a Gandhian program; it has no spiritual dimension to it, no transforming love. But it is based on a fundamental Gandhian insight, namely, that governing cannot take place without the cooperation of the governed, and that sustained, ingenious, across-the-board withdrawal of cooperation makes governing impossible.
Whether Sharp's ideas could work isn't clear. No state has made such defense its policy. Doing so would require military discipline without military means, and military discipline from everyone and not just from soldiers. It would be a vast undertaking, and it would deny to its practitioners some of what people find attractive about waging war: justified slaughter itself, venting hatred, avenging fallen comrades.
But civilian-based defense doesn't have to be perfect; it just has to be better than what we have. That's George F. Kennan's point in an 1986 review of Sharp's Making Europe Unconquerable: "however one assesses the possibilities of civilian-based defense, the nature of the available alternatives is such that it would not take much to be preferable to them." Kennan's own assessment, that of a diplomat and statesman rather than that of a pacifist, is appropriately conjectural: "It might just be that in a world where the devices of long-range military destruction have proliferated beyond all reason, the greatest security any country can hope to have, imperfect as it is, will be found to lie primarily in its confidence in itself."
"It might just be." That's a start.
Can pacifism do anything at a distance? Can it intervene?
There are two ways of responding. The first is that no, it can't, but also that it shouldn't, because the idea of intervention is utopian, a fantasy of power, the result of too intense an attachment to an imagined goal. I think of this approach as a Buddhist one, in accord with what the Indian writer Pankaj Mishra aptly describes as the Buddha's striving "to redirect individuals from the pursuit of political utopias to attentiveness and acts of compassion in everyday life." Most humanitarian interventions are defended in utopian terms, as benevolent and systemic transformations of entire societies. The Buddha's compassion would lead us towards other aspirations. A pacifist proceeding along Buddhist lines might admit the impossibility of pacifist intervention, then critique the aspirations underlying the idea of such intervention, then turn to "attentiveness and acts of compassion in everyday life"--meaning, among other things, the life lived within one's own view and neighborhood.
That might be the wisest answer to the question. But it's not mine, or at any rate won't become mine until pacifist intervention is actually tried out and found wanting. It's too much at odds with my attachment--I use the word deliberately--to an idea about how we should act when moved by compassion for suffering, namely, to end that suffering, to help the oppressed, wherever they are, insofar as our power permits us. Nor does it acknowledge what look like the successes of intervention, however imperfect. The Allied interventions in World War II, to take the case that every pacifist has to confront, helped thwart tyranny and genocide, helped transform sick and malevolent states.
This question of intervention is especially pressing for American pacifists because it's the one we actually deal with. We don't live in a dictatorship, we're not being invaded, there's no draft. We are citizens of a militarily unchallenged democracy with a professional army, and the questions we confront have to do with situations we are not part of; most American nonviolence work is done on behalf of people elsewhere.
It is also pressing because it asks us what we can do to act on our beliefs, what strenuous actions and courageous sacrifices we can offer. No pacifist or nonviolent dissenter under Hitler would have found that question difficult to answer. German Jehovah's Witnesses refused as pacifists to do military service and were executed. German Gentile women whose Jewish husbands were being held for deportation on the Rosenstrasse, in Berlin, demonstrated outside the holding center till their husbands were freed; all survived. The citizens of Chambon, in Occupied France, refused to cooperate with Nazis hunting Jews, risked their lives by sheltering and aiding Jewish fugitives; most survived, some were killed. Nonviolent resistance in such situations took extraordinary courage. But it didn't, I think, take ingenuity to figure out what there was to do. When evil is near, when evil is in a position of power over you, identifying modes of resistance is straightforward. "Just do your work," as Paul Goodman wrote, "and you'll get in trouble enough."
It's different when the evil is elsewhere, far away, not in direct contact with you. What should American pacifists have been doing in relation to the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, on behalf of the people oppressed by that tyranny? Kathy Kelly and Voices in the Wilderness delivered supplies to Iraqi citizens during the UN sanctions period. They took risks to do that, exposed themselves to American criminal prosecution. I admire them, because they figured out a right action they could take against the sanctions and because they took it. But neither they nor any other pacifist organization figured out a right action to take against the Iraqi tyranny itself. When Orwell saw a Fascist threat in Spain, he went to Spain to fight against it. What's the pacifist equivalent of that action? More rigorously: what's the pacifist equivalent of that action that's more effective than that action?
One answer is what Gandhi called a shanti sena, a "peace army." He never got a chance to develop one; he was assassinated the night before he was to leave for a meeting to discuss the subject. Thomas Weber's painstaking scholarly work on the subject makes clear that no one else has either, not into something that could be a workable model. Perhaps the idea is inherently flawed. Perhaps the idea is good but strategy and tactics have been flawed. In India, as Weber points out, two different conceptions of the shanti sena were at odds, each advanced by one of Gandhi's chief followers: Vinoba Bhave's, oriented towards peacebuilding and constructive program, and J. P. Narayan's, oriented towards "the needs of the hour," i.e., intervention in crisis. Nor has any shanti sena, any nonviolent army of any kind, in India or anywhere else, been large, abundantly funded, associated with a global or national organization of high prestige. The attempts I have read of have been on a small scale, informal, underfunded, often ill-conceived or badly directed or both.
The modest successes in this line have been in the practice of what's called "protective accompaniment," as done by such groups as Witnesses for Peace, Peace Brigades International, and the International Solidarity Movement. There are some encouraging stories here. Ernesto Cardenal, Minister of Defense in Sandinista Nicaragua, was once asked whether Witness for Peace groups had helped against Contra attacks. "We need more of these groups and need them quickly," he said. "Wherever they have been there has been no violence!" Lives and enterprises have been successfully protected, and activists usefully brought to critical areas from great distances.
Unresolved, not hopeless, not clearly promising. Neither those who support the idea, nor those who find it ludicrous, have enough data to reach a conclusion. This is especially true given the scanty funding such organizations have, the scanty training they're able to offer. As Weber notes, even Peace Brigades International, maybe the most successful among these groups, can only offer a five-day preparatory training. The Peace Corps, by contrast, offers as much as three months, plus local contacts, lines of communication, and a budget. The armed forces offer much more.
Weber suggests that the institution to look to here is the United Nations, as a possible host and sponsor of a nonviolent peacekeeping force. Given the increasing prestige of violence in the world, and the increasingly controversial status of the United Nations, it's hard to see that happening any time soon, though it's not impossible. Or maybe even that solution is too utopian, and the modest successes of protective accompaniment are for the most part the right size of goal to aim for, protection of those who are threatened rather than something vaster and less likely to go astray, the way most utopian enterprises do.
The other mode of pacifist intervention doesn't allow one to sign up for heroic action, but it has at least one major success to its credit. After the Kosovo War, the US provided some $26 million to a Serbian group called Otpor ("Resistance"), which with the help of that aid deposed the late Slobodan Milosevic in an election without loss of life on either side. Otpor's actions were careful, imaginative, and tenacious; the money was well spent, the effect considerable.
Peter Ackermann and Jack Duvall, the makers of Bringing Down A Dictator, the fine film documenting Otpor's work, argued in 2002 that a similar strategy could work in Iraq. They noted how many Iraqis detested Saddam Hussein. They reported the claim of a nonviolent Iraqi dissident, that those Iraqis represented "an enormous potential resource in ungluing critical levers of [Hussein's] control." They made a crucial point about nonviolent action, namely, that it "is not about being nice to your oppressor, much less having to rely on his niceness. It's about dissolving the foundations of his power and forcing him out." They concluded that such action was possible in Iraq, and they called for American support of any Iraqis who might undertake it.
We cannot know whether they were right. But they might have been, and certainly pacifist intervention by means of nonviolent support for nonviolent dissidents is worth exploring further.
The gatherings of the nonviolent left that I've attended are usually austere. No alcohol, vegetarian (often vegan) food, herbal tea, flannel shirts rather than business suits, some people who for reasons of principle don't use email or computers, people who've built their own houses and darn their own socks, relatively few doctors and lawyers and psychiatrists and CEOs and university professors, an abundance of gardeners, carpenters, farmers, teachers, community organizers, librarians, home health aides. Not much talk about commercial television programs or Hollywood movies, lots of talk about progressive documentaries. "Renounce and enjoy," said Gandhi; but when I leave such gatherings I want an ice cream cone, a hot turkey sandwich, some solitary time over a cappuccino in a coffeehouse. When I get home I turn on my computer, catch up on email, buy a new hat or book, drive out to the cineplex and see a thriller " more often than not a hriller that represents violence as sleek, efficient, and just.
But I know even as I enjoy these self-indulgences that the relation between renunciation and pacifism isn't addressed by them. If I believed that my having the cappuccino was helping maintain the war system, I'd refrain. The problem is, how can I, how can anyone, see what the connections are?
Sometimes that's easy, and then such choices can be made precisely and easily. I've taken part in boycotts of non-union grapes and products made by Nestlé's. I'm opposed to Israel's occupation of the West Bank, so I won't knowingly buy products made by Israeli settlers in that territory. But connecting particular purchases to the war system in general is harder. Maybe the laborers who cultivate the coffee from which the coffee is made are exploited, are part of the system of exploitation that requires wars to defend and develop itself. Maybe even the existence of coffeehouses where cappuccino is sold at high prices, while outside them more than thirty million Americans are living in poverty, is part of that system. Maybe " to get to what's most unsettling here, and what unsettles my students most when this question comes up in classes " the connection with the war system is simply the fact that I can afford the cappuccino so easily, have so much disposable income. Maybe in a world less needful of war, where everyone had necessities, no one would have luxuries. If I knew that was the case, I'd make the bargain and give up the cappuccino, the car I drive to the coffeehouse, the free time, the notebooks I buy to record my impressions in, the fountain pens I record them with. But I'd have to know.
The classic formulation here is still the one made by the Quaker activist John Woolman, in the 18th century:
|Oh! that we who declare against wars, and Acknowledge our trust to be in God only, may walk in the Light, and therein examine our Foundation & motives in holding great Estates: May we look upon our Treasures, and the furniture of our houses, and the Garments in which we array ourselves, and try whether the seeds of war have any nourishment in these our possessions, or not.|
The power of the passage has to do with its uncertainty, with the fact that Woolman formulates his point as a question. He's not telling us in advance that every "great Estate" has the seeds of war in it; he's just insisting that we find out whether it does or not, and he's right. Maybe it's impossible to figure out the chain of causation between each of our expenditures and the waging of war. But it's possible to trace the connections in some cases, and in such cases we should as pacifists sever the connections we find as quickly and sharply as we can.
I started thinking of myself as a pacifist when I started doing war tax resistance, in 1987--when, that is, I began to scrutinize one expenditure in particular, namely, the money I was spending on the American military. There's much to say against doing that sort of resistance; the IRS often collects not only the refused taxes but also interest and penalties, the resistance becomes routinized, one gets regarded as an eccentric or an extremist or a traitor. But each year since I began it's seemed better to resist than to pay voluntarily, and each year it gets more puzzling to me that so many pacifists freely pay taxes to the American government and its gigantic armies. Surely a pacifist doesn't have to be a war tax resister. But a pacifist does have to give such resistance serious consideration, find some authentic answer to the question of why, if one is opposed to war across the board, one would go on voluntarily paying for it.
Some people believe, wrote William James, that war "is a sort of sacrament ... an absolute good ... human nature at its highest dynamic ... the essential form of the State, and the only function in which peoples can employ all their powers at once and convergently." People who hold these beliefs aren't open to pacifism.
Other people, maybe more people, reject pacifism more conditionally; they'd be pacifists if they thought pacifism could work, if there were pacifist modes of policing, national self-defense, humanitarian intervention. They know that war is hell, and they'd support a credible alternative to it.
Right now, there isn't such an alternative, no set of ideas tested in practice and found sufficient. To be a pacifist now is to be an experimentalist, someone trying to invent something. But that's not a hopeless position; those trying to construct a usable pacifism have a body of ideas, some clearly defined questions to deal with, a history that includes much failure but some success. Nor does a usable pacifism have to be perfect; it only has to be, in King's phrase, "the lesser evil in the circumstances," and the evils of war and the war system in our present circumstances are enormous.