Odd question: I served four years in the US Army Judge Advocate General Corp. during the Viet Nam War era. How could I be a pacifist? I am a decorated war-time era veteran. Moreover, the Army did not draft me. I was an ROTC graduate who received one of the first-ever US Army ROTC Scholarships.
As I try to figure out how to process the violence in Israel and Gaza this past week, the question comes to mind. As the world tries to figure out how to resolve an intractable and infinitely complex problem, I seek to understand my posture on violence and war.
I am Jewish. I have traveled to Israel many times. Some very close friends and relatives live there. Recently it was my privilege to spend some time engaged with Palestinians and Arab Israelis to hear their perspectives. Our granddaughter spent four months in Israel in 2019 and had her 16th birthday there. Grandma (Susan) and I were able to visit have dinner on the Birthday night.
We visited places in the West Bank, including the border with Gaza. We met and spent time with a wide variety of people with different histories, ethnicities, and backgrounds during this visit. We heard arguments from all sides about rights and ownership and governance and on and on and on.
As I struggle with this dilemma, and as I read all the claims of injustice and insult, I think I have become a pacifist. I just do not know what that means.
I do wonder how Muslims, Jews, or Christians can so readily engage in violence. Yes, of course, I know evil exists in the world. As I said, I am Jewish. I know deeply about the Holocaust. Human beings can engage in genocide, bake people, poison people, shoot hundreds of thousands.
I'm not capable of that, nor would I sit back and allow it to happen. Perpetrators would need to be stopped, with whatever means necessary. Does that mean I'm not a pacifist?
I swim now, though, in the pool of language and visions of divine protection known as "love."
The Actual Dance is a play about ultimate love. My concept of "ultimate love" is built around the revelation of divine connection with other people.
There is a vital theory that all human existence is based on divine grace in all religious faiths. The theories are a variation of the idea that God creates humanity in its image. We all thus part of the Divine. In the Jewish faith, "divinity" is articulated as a love relationship with the Divine, or God's love for humanity.
Of course, holy books are filled with stories of war, indeed "Holy Wars." Sadly, many of us choose to emulate the stories of destruction and death more than those of love and charity. "Love thy neighbor as you love yourself." Some argue this idea is the single universal theme in every religious creed. Secular humanists, and I know a few, seem okay with that ideal or basic principle as well.
I do not want to treat this lightly. I wonder as we witness violence in the world that we can be called to our better selves. That even in the process of taking "sides," we grieve for every life lost. Jewish tradition teaches that each human life is an entire world, and with each death, worlds are destroyed.
Let's stop destroying worlds.
Yes, I think I am a pacifist.