Pacifism and Quakerism.

For a Latvian translation of this article click here.

For a Danish translation of this article click here

Quakers are beginning to rethink their views on Pacifism.  A WEB site on the topic is being maintained by Chuck Fager at:

After unspeakable violence, pacifism is a way to healing 

by  Thomas H. Jeavons   -  published by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept 25 (or thereabouts), 2001.

I have had numerous phone calls and conversations with reporters, and people from all walks of life in the last 10 days who ask me how Quakers and others can maintain the tradition of pacifism in the face of the vicious and evil terrorist acts of Sept. 11.

 "Yes," these people say, "we know Jesus said to 'love your enemies.' But confronted by an enemy who holds no regard for human life, who will use any means to make his point, and who seems to be driven by rigid ideology, how can we think a response with anything other than force will be effective?"

How have I responded? At every opportunity I have said that I have never seen a time at which Jesus' teachings about peacemaking and reconciliation make more practical sense than they do now. The moral insight of Jesus' teachings and the practical wisdom needed to make the world better now, instead of worse, line up squarely in this context. This is true for at least three reasons.

 First, no amount of force will intimidate an enemy who has no regard for human life, including his own. One of the reasons our security measures have not worked very well against these terrorists is that most of those measures assume the perpetrators of a crime want to survive it. Yet these perpetrators don't care.

Killing some of these people (and we will never get them all) with military action will only create more of them. Why? Because it only makes martyrs for the cause - and martyrdom is something to which many of these people aspire. Which leads to a second key point.

 We may describe the acts of Sept. 11 as "senseless" or "crazy acts of violence," but they made sense in the worldview of those who perpetrated them. They made sense to them because these people see the United States - and the economic and cultural powers of the West - as forces of violence, oppression and injustice. We see ourselves as offering ways out of poverty and alternatives to traditionally oppressive views in some cultures by many of our economic and cultural engagements with the wider world. They see us as "the great Satan" destroying their culture, disrespectful of their religion and willing to do whatever is necessary to sustain our opulent, materialistic lifestyle by exploiting them.

So what will we do? If we go bombing villages in Afghanistan, or assassinating people in foreign countries, we will look like the Great Satan. Terrorists use the myths about our evil intent to justify their actions and recruit young people to their cause. We can act in ways that reinforce the myth or in ways that show the myth to be false. If we take actions that result in the death of innocent civilians, we do the former. And we make ourselves look like the terrorists whose tactics we decry. If we try to bring the terrorists to justice through the legitimate channels of international law and diplomacy, we begin to show we do respect other nations, religions and cultures, and we undercut the terrorists' rationale for their actions.

 Finally, the record of history shows us that, without fail, violence begets violence. What has been happening for the last year in the Mideast makes that clear again, as do many other conflicts playing out across the world. To break the cycle of this madness requires some people with the moral courage and practical wisdom to stand up and say, "No more." Mahatma Gandhi told us, "There is no way to peace; peace is the way."

 The United States can be a great nation now by recognizing that the ideals upheld in its religious and moral heritage can make good policy. We can seek the prosecution of the terrorists through appropriate international channels and institutions. In seeking justice, we can choose actions that show we do respect the sovereignty, cultures and values of other peoples and nations. And most important, we can commit ourselves as a nation to helping resolve conflicts around the world that feed the conditions that breed terrorism. If we want a better world, where what happened on Sept. 11 will not happen again, peacemaking has never made more sense than it does now.

Thomas H. Jeavons is general secretary of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.

Letter to the Editor by Ted Goertzel, an abridged version of which was published by the Inquirer:

Dear editor,

As General Secretary of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Thomas Jeavons (op-ed September 25) may be taken to speak for Quakers as a group.  But not all of us share his views.  I, for one, cannot agree with his statement that, "the record of history shows us that, without fail, violence begets violence."  History is not that simple.  The tremendous (and sometimes excessive) violence used against Germany and Japan in World War II, for example, begat decades of peaceful, friendly relationships with those two nations.  Many Quakers fought in that war, and are still members in good standing.  If Jeavons believes they were wrong, he needs to state his case.  Similarly, if he believes that the African National Congress was wrong to resist apartheid violently, after Gandhi's nonviolent resistance failed, he needs to state his case.

Jeavons urges the United States to pursue legal means against Osama Bin Laden, yet our efforts to do so after the embassy bombings in Africa have proved useless.  There is no mechanism to enforce these legal means, nor could they be enforced nonviolently against the Taliban.  Nor is there any reason to believe that nonviolent persuasion could dissuade terrorists intent on committing mass suicide with a plane.  In the World Trade Center bombings, our security measures failed because airline personnel were disarmed and trained to negotiate nonviolently with hijackers.  Armed pilots or sky marshals might have stopped them, saving many more lives than they would have taken.

The Quaker poet and economist Kenneth Boulding wrote:  "Know this, though love is weak and hate is strong, Yet hate is short, and love is very long."  Quakerism is based on faith that in the long term love will somehow win over hatred.  There may be a role for a small sect that keeps that hope alive even when it seems illogical.  But if Quakers want to offer policy advice to society at large, we must deal with harsh realities that Jeavons ignores.


Ted Goertzel


An email letter from Chuck Fager:

Dear Friends,

        In the current wartime environment, and especially in light of the
perceived threats of terrorism against "civilians," many Friends in the US and
elsewhere are thinking and rethinking the meaning of the Friends Peace
Testimony.  Some of the questions being asked are:

        How "pacifist" were early Friends, really?
        What are the limits, if any, to the pacifism of the famous 1661
        Is there a valid distinction between "police actions" and military
force, from the Quaker perspective?  If so, how is the distinction determined?
        What is the proper place for punishment and revenge in situations such
as we now face?
         Does pacifism have any meaning in the face of violence against the
innocent and defenseless?

    Already, one Friend with a high public profile, Scott Simon of National
Public Radio, has gone on record as abandoning his understanding of pacifism
in the face of  recent violence. Others may feel similarly, but many Friends
still are resolved to hold to a strong pacifist commitment.

        To assist in further exploration of these and related issues, I have
set up The Quaker Peace Page, a webpage, at:


       Here you will find excerpts from various Quaker statements on peace and
pacifism, old and new, plus links to numerous related articles (including
Scott Simon's statement), all also on the web. I expect to add to the page as
additional resources become available.

        I hope Friends and others will find this page and its links of use in
sorting out these difficult issues for themselves.


Statement by Scott Simon of NPR:Scott Simon, Host of All Things

I happen to be a Quaker; this is known, I have written about this, especially in my memoir, HOME AND AWAY, which, if you would please permit a small parochial note here, is now available in paperback. I covered conflicts in Central America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and Africa. None of them shook my belief that pacifism offers the world a way to foment change without the violence that has pained and poisoned our history.  Gandhi and Nehru's non-violent revolution gave India a skilled and sturdy democracy, rather than another violent religious tyranny. Nelson Mandela's willingness to employ deliberate and peaceful protest against the brutalities of apartheid made today's South Africa an inspiration to the world of the power of reconciliation and hope. Martin Luther King's campaign to bring down American segregation; Corazon Aquino's People Power revolution in the Philippines_pacifism has had its heroes, its martyrs, its losses, and its victories.

My pacifism was not absolute. About half the draft age Quakers and Mennonites in North America enlisted during World War II, on the idea that whatever solutions non-violence had to offer the world, it was without a response to Adolph Hitler. I hope I would have been among those who enlisted.

And then, in the 1990's, I covered the Balkans. And I had to confront, in flesh and blood, the real life flaw_I am inclined to say literally fatal flaw_of pacifism: all the best people could be killed by all the worst ones. Bosnia, we might remind ourselves, had the ambition of being the Costa Rica of the Balkans, an unarmed democracy that would shine out to the world. Its surrounding adversaries were not impressed or deterred by this aspiration.

Slobodan Milosovic will now stand trial before the world_but only after a quarter of a million people in Bosnia and Kosovo have been killed. Forgive me if I do not count his delivery for trial as a victory for international law; and therefore a model to now be emulated. In fact, I am appalled by the fact that much of the evidence presented against him at trial will almost undoubtedly be derived from U.S. intelligence information. That evidence will be used to try to convict Slobodan Milosovic after he has committed murder _ because America lacked the will to use its military might to prevent those killings. I doubt that future despots will be much deterred by this example.

So I speak as a Quaker of not particularly good standing. I am still willing to give first consideration to peaceful alternatives. But I am not willing to lose lives for the sake of ideological consistency. As Mahatma Gandhi himself once said_and, like Lincoln, the Mahatma is wonderful for providing quotations that permit you to prove almost any point you choose_"I would rather be inconsistent than wrong."

It seems to me that in confronting the forces that attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the United States has no sane alternative but to wage war; and wage it with unflinching resolution.

Notice I don't say reprisal or revenge. What I mean is self-defense_protecting the United States from further attack by destroying those who would launch them.

There is a certain quarter of opinion in the United States_we certainly hear from them at NPR_who, perhaps still in shock, seem to believe that the attacks against New York and Washington were natural disasters: horrible, spontaneous whirlwinds that struck once, and will not reoccur.

This is wrong. It is even inexcusably foolish. The United States has been targeted for destruction. We know now that more hijackings were likely planned for September 11th. Other agents were at least exploring the possibilities of other kinds of attacks, including sending crop-dusters over cities with poisonous chemicals. If you dismissed these kinds of scenarios as Hollywood folderol before, it is just not informed to do so now. There is an ongoing violent campaign aimed at bringing down the United States. How many more skyscrapers and national monuments_and the people in them_how many more citizens are we willing to lose?

There are some quarters of world opinion who believe that simply delivering those who plotted the attack to international justice should suffice. But this is not the nature of the danger we confront_literally, physically, in this very city_which is present, persistent and current. Simply arresting those who executed the attacks in New York and Washington will not deter other assaults that we must assume are proceeding right now.

There are some quarters of opinion who say, just this bluntly, that Americans somehow invited this attack down upon ourselves_that this attack was some kind of recompense for holding slaves a century and a half ago, for extinguishing native tribes from America, for interning Japanese-Americans during a world war sixty years ago, for overthrowing Salvador Allende in Chile, or for standing by Israel, however the Mossad behaves.

None of those individual assertions are untrue. All of them irrelevant.

The people who make these arguments usually consider themselves at the polar opposite of the Reverend Jerry Falwell and the Reverend Pat Robertson. But are they? They say that those who died in New York and Washington have only their country to blame for their deaths. By ignoring the extensive advancement America has made towards becoming a just society, they make it seem as if sins that are centuries and decades old can never be overcome by progress.

Some very fine minds have become so skilled at playing this parlor game of moral relativism that they make little in American life seem worthwhile. They insist, in so many ways, that the United States cannot criticize the Taliban for enslaving women in the 21st century because some of New York police practiced racial profiling; that the United States does not have the moral standing to oppose terrorism because we once supported the Shah of Iran.

This kind of rhetorical exchange can go on endlessly_and it shouldn't. Sharp and powerful minds should be applied to something more productive right now.

How would those who now urge reconciliation accomplish that? Reconcile ourselves to what? Should we surrender Manhattan Island? Iowa, Utah, or Hollywood? Should we impose a unitary religious state on these shores, throw American women out of school and work, and rob all other religious groups of any rights so that we will have the kind of society that our attackers will accept? Should we renounce our pledge to make a home for those we turned away from our shores during the Holocaust and abandon Israel?

To reconcile ourselves in any way with the blind souls who flew against New York and Washington_and who have other targets within their sights now_is to hand our own lives over into wickedness.

I'm glad to see reporting now that asks, "Why do they hate us?" We need to hear the complaints of those who experience U.S. foreign policy, sometimes at the blunt end. But I would not want our increasing erudition to distract us from the answer that applies to those who are now physically attacking the United States: they hate us because they are psychotics. They should be taken no more seriously as political theorists than Charles Manson or Timothy McVeigh.

There are also a number of Americans_and we hear from them_who suggest that this war should not be fought because a number of Americans who are Muslims have been the objects of threats and harassment. Those attacks against Muslims are reprehensible. Every American of every stripe has the obligation to disown and prevent them.

I have been impressed by President Bush's determination to make the rights of Muslim Americans_and American respect for Muslim nations_an essential part of U.S. policy. This is vastly different from the actions that were inflicted against Japanese-Americans during World War II. The difference between the damage that good liberals of their time, Earl Warren, Franklin Roosevelt, and Hugo Black, imposed on an ethnic minority in 1941, and what conservatives of this time, George W. Bush, Rudolph Giuliani, and John Ashcroft, have specifically avoided doing, radiantly represents America's ability to improve itself.

Over the past ten years, every time the United States has committed itself to a military deployment_explicitly in the Gulf War, then in Somalia, and over the skies of Bosnia and Kosovo_it has been in the defense of Muslim peoples. At the same time, tens of thousands of Muslim students and other immigrants have been accepted into the United States. American Muslims now number close to six million.

We still suffer the stain of racial and ethnic bigotry. But this largely peaceful incorporation of Islam into American life should be a source of pride that is not belittled by the actions of a few cranks and bigots. Surely we have the means to defeat them, too.

I can conjure a score of reasons why this war should not be fought. The terrorists who struck are ruthless, and undaunted even by their own deaths. The war will kill some_perhaps many_of our own best people; the first attack already has_the firefighters and police who perished in the World Trade Center. The war will be lengthy and costly, and it may be impossible to tell when it is done. There will be no unequivocal surrender. And just when we may begin to feel a sense of safety returning_another strike may occur. The war may restrict some of our traditional liberties to travel, unfettered, across our own nation.

And yet: to back away from this war would be to accept all of that as permanent. To live the rest of our lives, not just a few years, with deaths delivered by people dying by terrorist bombs, chemical attacks, and the successive devices of sharp and ruthless minds, to live out our futures with our liberties shrinking as our losses and fears expand.

I do not accept that this war must cost us our best qualities. American men and women often wreaked terrible punishments on their adversaries in Germany and Japan, from the fire bombing of Dresden to the incineration of Hiroshima_and by the way, that kind of retaliatory brutality is in no way justifiable or necessary in the conflict at hand now. Those men and women returned to their families and proceeded to pay their own tax dollars into those programs that rebuilt the nations they fought so fiercely, and fermented the civil rights movement at home.

Yes, there was the blight of McCarthyite witch hunts, the prolonged and pernicious mistake of the war in Vietnam, and CIA incursions into Nicaragua, Iran, and God-knows where else.

But do we genuinely believe that we would live in a better world today if the West had used its own flaws and sins as a moral license to avoid fighting world fascism? Would Martin Luther King have succeeded in changing our world so palpably if his opponent had been Adolph Hitler instead of an overstuffed Bull Connor, opposed by the U.S. Federal government?

None of us are immaculate and innocent past the age of six. But we cannot avoid making judgements_sometimes harsh ones_for the rest of our lives. One of those judgements is upon us now.

I think that peace activists can sometimes commit the same error in judgment as generals: they prepare to fight the last war, not the next one. The conflict before us now does not involve American power intruding in places where it has interests, but American power intervening to save lives where only American power can be effective.

We are living in a time when we must remind ourselves of the imperfections of analogies. But let me press ahead with one that has recently been on my mind.

In 1933, the Oxford Student Union conducted a famous debate over whether it was moral for Britons to fight for king and country. The leading objective minds of that university reviewed the many ways in which British colonialism exploited and oppressed the world. They cited the ways in which vengeful demands made of Germany in the wake of the end of World War I had helped encourage the kind of nationalism that may have kindled the rise of fascism. They saw no moral difference between western colonialism and world fascism. The Oxford Union ended that debate with this famous proclamation: "Resolved, that we will in no circumstances fight for king and country."

Von Ribbentrop sent back the good news to Germany's new chancellor, Adolph Hitler: the West will not fight for its own survival. Its finest minds will justify a silent surrender.

The most intelligent young people of their time could not tell the difference between the deficiencies of their own nation, in which liberty and democracy occupied cornerstones, and dictatorship founded on racism, tyranny, and fear.

But Mahatma Gandhi knew the difference. He spent World War II in a prison in Poona and sat on his hands and spun cloth, rather than to raise a hand in revolt against England when it was most vulnerable. He knew that, in the end, a world which was spun by German and Japanese Fascism offered no hope to the oppressed of this planet. And in fact, at the close of World War II, Britain divested itself of empire: exhausted by its own defense, to be sure, but also ennobled by defending its own best ideals.

Have thoughtful, moral Americans in the 21st Century become so exquisitely sensitive to the sins and shortcomings of the United States, so comfortable with the lack of resolution that moral relativism promotes, that we do not see the blessing that it has been put into our hands to protect_an incomparably diverse and democratic nation?

When George Orwell returned to England after fighting against Fascism in the Spanish civil war, he felt uneasy over finding his country so comfortable_so close to Fascism. His country, he said, with its fat Sunday newspapers and thick orange jam.

"_All sleeping the deep, deep sleep," he wrote, "from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs."