I am a pacifist. I have been most of my life, but I have to say that these past few years have nearly killed me by breaking my heart. This last week’s news and visuals were too much to watch at times, because human suffering, especially if we could have stopped it, is horrible to watch. In the case of Afghanistan, I believe we will find more to explain why it fell faster than anyone could have imagined it. To take over an entire country in 11 days is the pace of simply walking across that country and that shouldn’t be possible.
But that’s not the point of this piece. I finally had an answer to the question of why good things can fall prey to violence – and why Martin Luther King, Jr and Gandhi before him were right about love through non-violent means winning in the end. The answer came this morning on NPR with a discussion of the fall of Viet Nam in the 1970’s. After our army’s attempt at “nation building” in that country, the slaughter of innocents began fully. Now, in 2021, our new brightest ally is … Viet Nam. Love wins for the same reason hate never does – memory.
Once we have been to a country and attempted to bring Western Freedoms to other countries, to the extent that we have been kind and loving and living without repression happens, people’s hearts are gladdened. They remember what it tasted like. It’s hard to identify a group of people who feed and clothe and house and listen to you and give you justice as “terrorists” or “oppressors”. When they are gone, it’s harder to remember them that way, because of experience. This is what the Marshall Plan taught us after we destroyed Germany and Japan. It seems the same in Viet Nam.
“They will know we are Christians by our love” is a hymn because it speaks truth. “They will know we are Christians because we say so” and “They’ll know we are Christians by our hate” are not hymns because no one would believe that – and if they did, it would only be time-limited, at best, until reality set in. This goes for any country, and group of people, any military, any system. People do not forget freedom and hope and any experience of justice. Once a dream becomes real, it becomes real in people’s heads. That memory lives on, unless it is entirely snuffed out, but even that is impossible, it seems.
Two of the things we learned in this past year are about the combination of the Tulsa Race Massacre and the origins of Juneteenth, a celebration of the journey to freedom, kept by Opal Lee, who survived her family’s house being burned by the KKK in 1939. After the destruction of Tulsa, in 1921, something must have survived because 18 years later, she wouldn’t let hate get in the way, and it took until she was 100-plus years old because her memory refused to let it. Does this mean that her one memory was worth all of the people who died at the hands of racists? No, it does not. But, as the old camp song says, “It only takes a spark/to get a fire burning”.
The memory of that burnt house survived all those years, as did the Massacre. What she did with it in the name of love will live on. People remember love when they have experienced it. If people in Viet Nam became our allies, they didn’t do it because we brought Napalm to them. It must be something else. I suspect it is kindness from soldiers who – despite the mission – didn’t want to kill anyone. Those men brought a realization of what kindness can do. Those men fathered children with the women there and went back to find them and their children and give them a better life without the war machine.
[Stop! Do I hear myself? Am I claiming pacifism prevails because war is a good thing?! This is the voice screaming in my political mind, but somehow, I think I believe it.] It’s not the war that made peace possible. It’s the love within the ridiculousness of the conflict and despite people’s worst intentions, it’s the humanity that never dies when people connect as humans that continues. By the same token that Tulsa’s Race Massacre wasn’t the cause of Juneteenth, war isn’t the cause of love for each other. Love, and that seeing of humanity (I would say bestowed by God) in The Other, is stronger than hate because it continues on as a marker to the path where others have been, and future generations can go again.
All of the women and men and children who have lived in Afghanistan will probably feel angry and betrayed at the US pullout – and they have a right to be. In those that survive, that anger will turn to loss when they grieve what they knew. It won’t be us that are doing the killing, maiming, corrupting, and torture that the Taliban is apparently capable of. To the extent that our people, or our mercenaries (“contractors”) did that killing, maiming, corrupting, and/or torture, we deserve what we get in the future.
But creating a climate of freedom for women to be educated, for children to grow up safely, for people to have stable food supplies is the closest thing to justice we know. Justice and acceptance/ lack of oppression is the working model of what Jesus called us to do. It is Agape. It is love. And it is seen in peace.
Does this seem like a sustainable model? Lose thousands or millions to violence and gain 1 long-term life of love? No, frankly, it doesn’t. But I swear to you, I believe it’s true. Life finds a way, healing happens. Healing is a horribly difficult path, but I see it in traumatized clients every single day. Recovery is hard progress. Forgiveness is like pushing a rock uphill. We do these things anyway because something within us calls to want better in life. That something is memory, enervated by the Spirit to become hope. It is the steadfast resolve to not let hate or evil win because we’ve seen the right thing prevail sometime, somewhere.
So, in short, love wins because it survives. People run out of the anger that caused lashing out. When they run out of anger, they see with their rational minds choices that they could have made instead. Pacifists try to help society skip the step of violence and get to actual realm-building. It sucks to be us, but we will win in the end. Even when chaos and anger and mistrust and lies swirl about us, the truth of love and peace remains grounded in the core of our being, the reality of the Spirit of God within us. Because God will survive, love and peace will survive, and hate will lose in the long run. If we pacifists only run one or two legs of the race, the race goes on until love wins.
Resisting with Peace,