The misery of pacifism Ruthless Criticism
Translated from GegenStandpunkt 1/2-1996

The misery of pacifism

The consistent career from war opponents to conscientious militarists

When politicians nowadays vow to bring peace to a people or region, it is certain that bombs are falling. There is no Western war that is not called a peace process, and words other than “peacekeeping” or “peacemaking” are simply no longer allowed for the use of military force. To the extent that capitalist nations launch and foster war as a means of their day-to-day politics, it disappears from the language. There’s a reason for that.

On the one hand, this deliberate confusion of language naturally reflects the desire to linguistically embellish the process of military strikes in the Middle East or in the Balkans, if necessary, with the prefix “peace.” This makes it easier for any good patriot to watch his nation’s military away games with sympathy and makes criticism futile from the outset. Who would object to making peace? On the other hand, this linguistic paradox reveals the high level of entitlement of capitalist states, which gives less than good testimony to peace, contrary to its reputation: a situation on the globe in which they do not use superior force to anchor the validity of their interests over others simply does not deserve the name peace. In such cases, peace is therefore considered endangered or non-existent, and must consequently first be produced, if necessary, with war. Only then will there be peace again, because and as long as the interests of the stronger override those of the weaker without hindrance. No wonder that in this imperialist logic all kinds of violent operations by the major powers are described as peace actions: when they go off, it is then a question of peace-keeping, -securing, -creating or -enforcing operations. Conversely, only the violence that is overpowered with such acts of peace is considered war and denounced as unlawful because invaded with peace-making violence.

Pacifists once knew the difference between war and peace. With their names, they had even made a clear commitment: for peace, against war. Not only is the rejection of the military as an instrument of politics remarkable. Conversely, it also corresponds to a very far-reaching pledge: with the honorary title of peace, the pacifist gives his unreserved approval to a policy that renounces war. This has not been without consequences.

As far as the rejection is concerned, pacifists are, strangely enough, the last to object to the wars waged today by NATO and supported by the Bundeswehr. They certainly do not take offense at the hypocritical logic of welcoming every Western military operation as a genuine contribution to peace. On the contrary, with an eye to the Balkans and its “raped women” and “innocent victims,” their spokesmen are the loudest to call for military action, of course in the name of peace and humanity. At public meetings, pacifism gives itself up and discovers war as a means of responsible humanism: anyone who does not advocate NATO intervention against the Bosnian Serbs is guilty for the deaths of “innocent people.” The last critics of this new “warmongering” out of pacifist sentiments are well on their way to reaching the other camp shortly.

All hell breaks loose in the Balkans: what is to be done?

This change of heart was triggered by a question that avowed pacifists have put to themselves or have been asked in light of the Balkan war: What can we do in light of the carnage in the former Yugoslavia?

If one puts aside the intent of prominent questioners who do not wait for an answer from their audience but rather a clear plea for military strikes by NATO and the Bundeswehr, if one doen’t let oneself get in the same boat as the nation’s military commanders by saying “we,” if one takes this question literally, as unfortunately nobody does, it is quite possible to give an unbiased answer. In Tito’s estate, hostile nationalities are massacring each other. The various peoples in the former Yugoslavia are indifferent to the question of what to expect from their old and new rulers and how well or badly they will live under them. They demand as their right that their own government rules them. In order to assert their right and to make room for the new state, they give their lives to the fight against the foreign nationals who do not belong to it. This nationalistic delusion drives the peoples to become enemies. What is therefore out of the question is the distinction between good nationalists, because they are fighting for the borders granted to them by the major powers, and bad nationalists, because they are going beyond what has been granted to them and therefore must be combatted. Similarly prohibited is taking sides with a nationalism simply because it is suppressed and preaching friendship between people; because one addresses people in the very attitude from which they derive their hostility and calls on them, as exclusionary nationalists, to moderate their excluding rather than to attack the reason for the hostilities. Of course, this would call far more into question than the current conflict between Muslims, Croats, and Serbs. Because what is true for the ethnic groups in the Balkans also applies to the peoples of the civilized supervisory powers: when people see their noblest characteristic in their affiliation with a nation’s people, be it Croatian or German, a pogrom is not far off.

Observations like these are not made in this country. Conclusions that could be drawn about the connection between patriotism and manslaughter do not even have a theoretical chance here. To those who “have watched long enough,” something like that is considered “unrealistic,” because it is out of touch with the reality, which keeps any questions in check other than the relevant and only responsible ones – and because pacifists are themselves nationalists who have forbidden themselves the “-ism,” therefore have a lot of empathy for foreign nationalists who in their struggle for their “national identity” are just not as refined as them.

The seemingly well-intentioned start to the question of what “we” might do in the face of war atrocities harbors a not insignificant semantic shift, because of which all the previously presented answers miss the point of the question. Through the personal pronoun, the private subject makes himself at one with the state. The state has the power and influence that the private subject lacks and would gladly like to presume for himself in order to settle the affairs “on our doorstep” according to his moral ideas. These people do not even ask themselves whether the Bundeswehr or the Foreign Office were founded almost fifty years ago to provide first aid for “human tragedies” at the request of pacifist-minded humanists in 1996. They assume it simply because they keep an eye on the state’s instruments of violence. Admittedly, bringing them into use also entails a need to reorient. Not for the military, but for the pacifists. Until yesterday, they were the ones who considered military field operations to be the opposite of humanism because of their unmistakable violence against human beings. The fact that they so quickly and easily shelve their value of non-violence shows how little it is worth.

The short path from peace lover to “war monger”

Amid a lot of public fanfare, supporters of the pacifist idea are working out a contradiction that is causing them a lot of trouble: Anyone who still adheres to the position of non-violence is guilty of accepting violence – namely, that of the Serbs against Muslims and Croats in their protected zones. [1] Of course, the intention is clear: the Green foreign minister-to-be is pleading for military strikes against the Serbs. He himself probably won’t derive his party-political career aims from pangs of conscience and moral contradictions any more than his parliamentary colleagues. The contradiction that he and his followers want to overcome has a calculating nature: How can the Green Party enhance its political viability by saying yes to the use of German force in the outside world without forfeiting the vote-winning distinction of being “ethical”? For this need to be attractive to voters but not yet given due consderation, the loudly lamented suffering in the Balkans came just in time.

The debate, however, has an impact far beyond the circle of celebrities. Peaceniks see themselves summoned to a test of their convictions, which they put up with or carry out themselves. So how much truth is there in the argument that non-violent people are guilty of acquiescing to violence?

The value of “non-violence”: worthless!

As a private citizen, the choice, which is allegedly made incorrectly by the addressee, is not his to make. As is well known, the private individual is constrained to powerlessness by a state monopoly on violence with a tolerance guideline. And someone can only be charged with guilt, in the legal as well as moral sense, if he has the choice – quite apart from the fact that condemning people based on a mere comparison with laws or guidelines has nothing to do with a reasonable judgment of their actions. The fact that the choice between “non-violence or violence” is nevertheless argued as if it were available to the private person is due to him being put intellectually in the position of a commander or statesman or at least as their influential and competent adviser. People who once flatly rejected the military profession of killing slip willingly into the role of a general who decides over life and death. And here the good pacifist is supposed to despair over a contradiction that he gets into because of his values: Anyone who is in favor of non-violence and therefore fails to intervene militarily is acquiescing to violence – that of others. However, the conclusion that this aims for does not at all follow, that the peacenik would have to intervene to prevent this contradiction in his values. Because violence would be there yet again, namely his own. So it would not be prevented. But if both alternatives, standing idly by or attacking boldly, involve violence, then a decision for one or the other is impossible within the moral logic.

The appeal to the universally shared abhorrence of violence proves that the pacifists are just as right as their opponents. The morals of the one are in no way inferior to those of the other. The utmost value provides no basis for a decision at all. The decision as to what one advocates is then, however, not moral in nature, but stems, freely according to Kant, from pre-moral determinations. “Nationalism without morality is empty; morality without nationalism is blind.”

This is admitted in the follow-ups with which pacifists bully themselves or let themselves be bullied on countless talk shows: Isn’t just watching worse because you accept greater violence than you would use yourself? Since the Iraq war, moralists have accepted the interesting argument that the victims of war justify entering a war and its brutalization: Didn’t the quick decision to build an atomic bomb with 200,000 dead save an estimated one million casualties that would have been incurred in vicious combat? However, the “greater” violence with its impressive number of one million victims is irrealis, while the lesser violence has the flaw of being a sure thing. What weighs more: the actual affliction of lesser casualties or the merely possible avoidance of greater casualties? These are the types of questions that philosophically and morally educated individuals comfortably weigh for consideration, instead of rejecting them. Here too it’s just a case of a decision-making emergency.

Yet the will to make a decision brings one about. Joschka Fischer cut the Gordian knot for his pacifist listeners with the following sentence:

“What will become of our principle of non-violence if it bows to inhumane violence?”

Here the man gets to the point. Anyone who distinguishes between “violence” on one side and “inhumane violence” on the other abandons the criterion with which the decision is supposed to be made: non-violence good, violence evil. Both parties, the Serbs and NATO, admit to using violence, but only one side is accused of being “inhumane.” This label does not derive from the mere circumstance of the use of force. It owes itself entirely to a previously settled partisanship that comes about beyond any moral considerations. And lo and behold: The “good guys” are “us,” Germany and its NATO allies. The “bad guys” – the conclusion is now quite easy – are the objects of hostility, i.e. the Serbs. The reformed pacifist did not derive his partisanship from his morals, but decided it in advance. Not in his capacity as a moralist, but as a nationalist. That he ends up with his partisanship for Germany and its Wehrmacht is not surprising, because he assumes it. From now on, the Bundeswehr and war are included in the arsenal of practicing humanists.

The last critics of war: exhaust all other means of extortion first!

Revealing objections have been raised to this. Some recommend an economic boycott against the parties involved, one that really deserves its name and would make the squabblers compliant. Others say that if Germany exerts its political influence on Croatia and turns off the gas tap to the Serbs in time, no soldiers would have to be sent. So these good people want to achieve in a different way the same effect as the war-hawks do through war. Germany has the means to do this. It only has to use the successes of its imperialism economically and diplomatically as a weapon and cut off dependent nations and peoples from goods and funds in order to get them in line. And no one finds it objectionable that the peaceful alternative to war mongering consists in extortion, which refers to and is based on the superior power of one’s own nation and is supposed to be equal in effect to the result of a war! [2] “It’s possible!” shout the authors of this argument to their incredulously astonished audience, as if any objection other than a lack of prospective success against this plea were inconceivable anyway. Didn’t one complain yesterday as a “leftist” that the “structural violence” of the West manages to hang millions of people in the third world out to dry? There are lessons to be learned from this impressive record of victims. Not what goals are worth so many corpses to the West. But a different one: how magnificent and powerful are the instruments with which it pressures the globe under its supervision. The antiwar pacifist wants to see them put to use.

This also makes it clear where this pacifism draws its roots from: it longs to return to the conditions in which Germany was able to pursue a security policy without ever having to enter wars (which were forbidden to it as a loser of the world war and as a frontline state on the system’s border). Therefore, it was limited to its economic means in exerting influence within the capitalistically ordered world, since due questions of violence were settled by the USA for the benefit of all NATO states. At the same time, fans of the circumstances in which Germany got by without war know that this ideal no longer fits: those who demand that a peaceful embargo policy do what can only be ensured by war do not attack war, but only the hasty decision to make war. And with the standard applied to the success of the peaceful alternative, it is clear that even the last holdouts of the pacifist idea know a reason that makes the tougher approach of the military irrefutable for them: If all the extortion proves ineffective, then, yes, there’s no other choice but war. [3]

The discarded ideal (war is not a means of politics!) becomes seen as a luxury of yesteryear. Those were the days when one had not yet gotten involved in politics, when one was morally distanced from it. Freeloading on conditions in which Germany could pursue security policies without going to war. This ideal now no longer fits: how much did it before? It neither effected politics nor criticized it. Thus it also complimented the circumstances in which Germany got by without war.

The nationalist premises of morality

The debate is as dishonest as its resolution. On the question of violence, the pacifist wants to decide his partisanship, but he can’t. Because in wars both parties to the conflict use military force. The certainty with which the troubled conscience nevertheless commits itself comes from a prior political decision. As a good German, he naturally confuses Germany with a first-aid kit and considers Serbia to be the “aggressor.” There is much to suggest that the good Serb sees the matter exactly the other way around.

So the worldview of reformed pacifists merges seamlessly into that of the chancellor’s office and the Hardthöhe – and yet remains fundamentally different from it. The decision to be a political camp in the Balkan war, which can’t be justified out of morality, is to be carried out completely with morality. And this has consequences. The relevant purposes of the nation, which in the Balkans too revolves around the expansion of its political and economic power vis-à-vis competing supervisory powers, are simply not interested in this view of things. Not for the sake of real national purposes, but for the sake of ethics, the case is now being made for Germany and its military involvement. “Peace,” “human life,” “international law” – these are the titles[4] with which the pacifist-turned-warmonger dispatches the Bundeswehr to the former Yugoslavia. Thus the pacifist joins the national consensus. What nationalists declare to be the nation’s right to control Germany’s southeastern European backyard, the moralist formulates as the duty to provide humanitarian aid with weapons.

It doesn’t bother anyone that such a noble principle as “human life” could never be the guiding principle of a military operation. In war, people face each other as armed soldiers of a belligerent party that tries to overcome its opponent by force of arms. This costs human lives rather than protects them. Or do those of the enemy not count? The reality of war, then, shames the moral title by which it is supposed to be accepted. That’s why it is constructed in such a way that nationalist partisanship nevertheless succeeds solely with morally high-sounding reasons. Human lives are not equal to human lives. In the Balkans, instead, one sees “perpetrators” and “victims,” “villains” whom one wants to target and “innocents” whom one wants to help. As if this difference exists at all in a situation in which the hostile military powers in the former Yugoslavia are mobilizing their people and using them against those of their respective opponents. Perpetrators and victims can be found on one and the same side. Soldiers who shoot are also shot, and the course of the war, which today brings the Serbs to the front and tomorrow the Croats, could soon turn yesterday’s perpetrators into victims. And “innocence” in the face of a war between peoples filled with hate is only a synonym for the fact that many a Croatian or Muslim nationalist who would gladly like to demonstrate it to the Serbs is too old, too weak, or too feminine, and is therefore prevented from participating in the nationalist bloodshed.

Thus the pacifist has gotten rid of his aversion to war and violence. He is now also for Germany in all its military splendor and glory – not because of Germany, but out of moral conviction. And this consists in three fundamental mistakes which he shares with all ordinary nationalists. First, he imagines that the state acts on behalf of its citizens and, second, always for ethical ends which no human being can refuse to endorse. Third, he points to the instruments of force that the state fortunately has at its disposal to enforce “our good order.” What upset him yesterday – weapons that yesterday still indicated to him reprehensible intentions on the part of the “rulers” – he now gratefully welcomes as the available means. The only difference he ever cultivated from the ordinary citizen, his moral objection to the state’s means of war, has been erased. That of the ideal of peace, however, is the consequence of pacifism[5]: Morality is not created to determine reality, but to accept it. So with the new Germany and its “increase in responsibilities” its morality changes, too.

The concept of pacifism and its dismal conjunctures

The discovery that marks the starting point of pacifism is not difficult. States sometimes wage war. No one even has to insist that plowshares be reforged into swords. That goes without saying. Capitalist nations have a job-creating arms industry and a standing army because in peacetime they prepare for emergencies. They know why. No government has to put up with the accusation of being a warmonger. What statesman does not prefer to assert his national interests without the ultimate resistance of the aggrieved parties? Economic blackmail and diplomatic threats do their work. But if there is no other way, then war is the ultima ratio of the national reason.

The pacifist discovers the fact of war, the question of the reason for war is irrelevant to him. He condemns war, but not the politics that create the reasons for war and sometimes resorts to this ultimate consequence in order to implement its projects. Yet the political machinations in the period between wars could certainly tell him something about the reasons for them. National investment locations compete for money and business. No one knows better than they that the victor’s successes necessarily lead to defeats for the loser nations. Whoever promotes German business by “showing the Japanese” is thus announcing that every black-red-gold sales success is and should be at the expense of the “gooks.” Those who want a strong Deutschmark also want the weak currencies against which the German mark is strong. Every economic success gives rise to political clout, which in turn is able to set the course in one’s own favor against weaker countries in order to increase business success. No wonder that even the European partners of the anchor currency have loudly warned against a new pan-Germanism in the face of reunification. They were unable to prevent what they would have only been too happy to thwart: With the annexation of the former East Germany, German imperialism has gained new resources in terms of people and space. Since then, Germany has let its partners feel this as its “increased responsibility.”

Here, too, politics has its instruments: capital, balance of trade, currency, diplomatic blackmail – and, of course, war in the last instance. The pacifist views this arsenal in a very strange way. In war he sees a means that he does not judge, but evaluates: he rejects it as “inhumane.” All the other levers used by politics, all the other paths taken by states, are of no interest to him in terms of goals and achievements. The pacifist appreciates them in a reverse conclusion that is as abstract as it is negative: They are not war, therefore good. Peace is not a real complement to a political means called war. Peace is a compliment to politics par excellence – because and as long as it refrains from war.

The conscientious objector

In this respect, it is not surprising that the pacifist, faced with war, follows a question that doesn’t lead to politics, but is aimed first and foremost at himself: What is my position on violence? This lens is not interested in a judgment about politics, but in an attitude of the subject who witnesses a politics about which there is actually nothing bad to report. While others do their military service, he refuses with the argument: “I can’t pick up a gun.” This is the elementary form of pacifism.

First, this objection lives entirely on a moral attitude that is imposed on citizens in a constitutional state: The monopoly on the use of force expressly requires that its subordinates forego any use of force. Violations are punished. But what the bourgeois state forbids the good man domestically, it commands as soon as he finds himself in a uniform and has to compete against a foreign people. New clothes, different customs. On express orders from above, he must now prove himself in a job that in peacetime carries a heavy prison sentence: The use of firearms with the intent to kill. Pacifist-minded people have their own difficulties with this contradiction: They side with the commandment to non-violence and tolerance, which in fact applies domestically, and extend it to a sphere that is expressly exempt from it by the will of the state, the military. The reservation that the pacifist makes against certain military customs of civilized democracies thus lives to a large extent on the good opinion about their inner nature. He regards the matters of non-violence and tolerance to be such ground-breaking achievements of civilization that he can only thank the constitutional state for them. The fact that this commandment to the ordinary consumers is only the flip side of the fact that the governing administrators of the state’s monopoly on force use it to push through their plans without any objection from below does not bother him, even if the victims of good governance are obvious.

Therefore, second, it is not at all surprising that pacifists present their reservation not as an objection to politics and its militarism, but as a judgment about themselves. Whoever insists that he can’t pick up a rifle does not want to interfere with politics, but claims that he personally is an exception to the duty to serve in arms, which he recognizes as generally valid.

The state tolerates pacifism in this form and only in this form. As a rejection of the reasons for militarism, the state, and its purposes, it would not deserve recognition, nor as a withdrawal from required services to politics and the Wehrmacht. Therefore, everyone may formulate any agony of conscience in a request for refusal. However, the extent to which the state respects the decision of conscience, how fiercely it grills the applicants, depends on its current recruiting needs. The fact that the hearing procedure has been suspended for some time is therefore just as unsurprising as the fact that its reintroduction is once again the subject of political debate in view of increasing applications for conscientious objection status. And to make it clear that it does not recognize civilian service as an alternative peace service equivalent to military service, the state imposes a substitute service on recognized conscientious objectors that lasts longer than military service as a deterrent. This procedure has a twofold effect: first, the number of soldiers in the barracks is proper; second, the constitutional state can be credited for the approved exceptional cases which it doesn’t need, as proof of active charity and tolerance.

The inquisition which traditionally tackles those next in line in hearings proves that the state is not even willing to recognize mental withdrawal from its service. Anyone who attempts to criticize the Bundeswehr and the politicians who exercise supreme authority of command fails the conscience test. The state is not amused. It denies any recognition to such an attitude. It is suspected of undermining military morale and is treated accordingly, both inside and outside the barracks. The constitutional state battles a particularly dangerous species of draft dodgers in the form of total objectors who see civilian service as still (substitute) military service and refuse it for this reason. It comes at them with criminal law, which overrides the legal principle of “double jeopardy” for total objection and, after a sentence has been served, punishes the continuation of total objection as a new offense in order to enforce respect for the state’s right to use its male youth for its violence against the outside world.

By accepting this state right which is required in principle and by being compelled to declare his refusal as an actually groundless exception, the examinee has to show that he is a loyal oddball to be taken under supervision as a precautionary measure and sorted into the appropriate files. In return, in the majority of cases, such people actually prove that the state has not miscalculated their state of mind. Nobody wants to be accused of “shirking.” They proclaim their civilian service to be the better peace service and want it appreciated as their own willingness to do “social services” which they perform not only as a forced substitute for military service, so that everyone can see that conscientious objectors do not refuse any service – just that one, if they are allowed.

As this private attitude, pacifism is as tolerated as it is inconsequential. It upsets nothing in national life; everything goes on as usual. And since pacifism finds the blackmail relationship between states quite successful as long as the weak bow to the superior – i.e., peace prevails – it tends to lead a shadowy existence in peacetime. There is no war at the moment, and that’s the only thing he would have to criticize. He has his heyday, if at all, shortly before and after a war. When the nation has once again managed to aggravate the situation with its worldwide economic and political claims to such an extent that there are massive objections from other states, then a decision is due which, depending on the caliber of the opponent, can be of existential importance for the nation: War or peace? What is to be done if the peoples of the Balkans simply do not respect the demands for order from the prominent Western supervisory powers, including Germany? Is it acceptable for them to reject the peace that the great powers of this world want to export to the Balkans as the territorial division that suits them, and to fight for people and space with their own military might? These are questions that challenge even the pacifist. It is true that his private ego has chosen abstinence in matters of violence. But as a loyal citizen who has nothing to reproach his state and politics with because he considers them a good thing, he also has a reason to change roles: not as a private citizen who dislikes violence, but as a German who loves his state, he willingly accepts the worries and hardships that Germany has with those who do not want to listen to it. Can it be acceptable for a good German who thinks highly of his nation and its commitment to peace and order in the world to let others thwart these good intentions? Clearly, no. His private attitude of refraining from violence is untenable as a guiding principle of the nation: the good cause would be crushed by its enemies and they would fight back. From the fact of war he derives the need for it – against those who wage it with dishonest intentions. Thus the nationalist criticizes the pacifist as his alter ego, the moral individual, as if Kant had been the godfather with his categorical imperative, according to which only those actions of the individual may be called morally worthy that can at the same time be general, i.e. those of the nation. Unarmed, at any rate, it is toothless – and thus the good that it imposes on others.

Peace movements – and what once moved them

The fact that a good ten years ago pracifists once led a genuine peace movement that protested rearmament is not a refutation but a confirmation of what has been said. In view of the “danger of world war,” many did not want to content themselves with their private aversion to violence. As concerned citizens, they became intellectually involved in the East-West conflict. In those days they also did not reject but endorsed the national hostility with which one associates today against the “Serbian aggressor.” That Germany and its allies stood for freedom and democracy, i.e. for good, was just as common among them as the agitation against the “unjust regime” behind the “Iron Curtain.” They were shocked by only one thing: The same people who for 40 years had taught them about the “senselessness of war” because of a nuclear stalemate were preparing to militarily decide the system conflict with their Pershing missiles and SDI initiative. “This can’t go well!” – that’s how trite the objection was to the project, seeing Pershing missiles as “magnets” that would necessarily draw a Soviet counterattack that would destroy Germany in a “Euroshima.” This criticism was not aimed at the preparation for war, but at the feared effect of national ruin. That price seemed decidedly too high to the lovers of a peaceful Federal Republic, that the overcoming of evil would bring about the downfall of good.

The nation’s declaration of enmity was thus approved, but not its execution. Sensing this dichotomy, the political opponents of pacifism made every effort to exploit it in order to discredit any criticism of the military buildup. People who invoked the Sermon on the Mount in opposition to Pershing missiles had to be told by then-Chancellor Schmidt that they represented at best an “ethical outlook” instead of professing the far superior “ethic of responsibility” of the Chancellor’s office, which wanted to impress the Soviet Union not with a willingness to disarm but with additional nuclear missiles. “Thou shalt not kill!” – that’s the appropriate commandment for private sentiments. For the nation and its armed forces, such a thing is out of the question. Whoever condemned the entire Eastern bloc as an “unjust regime” and thus attacked it as a member of the world of states unworthy of life naturally exposed his own people to a military counter-threat, which he tried to override with increasing armaments. For morally educated people who play the organ and read Kant at night, it was a very easy exercise to turn cause and effect upside down. Anti-Soviet imperialism was distorted into a particularly noble form of ethics that demonstrated responsibility toward the the human lives of one’s own people, even though it had put Germany in danger in the first place – not for the first time – with its aggressive “rearmament.” This idea was aimed at pacifist morality and its receptivity to the value of “life”: Either it admits that “protecting the nation” is the highest value and pleads for rearmament, or it must take its ethical inferiority to heart as the moral attitude of the mere individual and shut up – practically anyway, but also theoretically.

Then-CDU Secretary General Geißler took advantage of this opportunity offered by the great ethicist Helmut Schmidt in his own way. If pacifism was to be destroyed, then it must be destroyed properly. It is not only irresponsible when it comes to the highest values such as war and peace. It is worse. Seen in the light, it is responsible for war and its inhuman consequences – precisely because it does not want to wage it. Those who are against war promote it! A trained Jesuit and Christian Democratic Party leader can easily prove this absurdity by borrowing from history. Humanity would have been spared immense suffering and the Second World War if the pacifists of that time had not, with their unworldly criticism, delayed the inevitable use of weapons against Hitler for so long. Instead of nipping evil in the bud with a massive blitzkrieg at an early stage, the good guys of this world then had to wage a lengthy and sacrificial war against a strengthened Nazi Germany later on. – This is how the enemies of pacifism once argued. Today, in view of the Balkans war, pacifism turns this ill will against itself in order to resign.

It is remarkable how a CDU Secretary General, who knows better, confuses morality and reality, because he counts on such things catching on with pacifists.

First of all, he takes it for granted that German soldiers went along with Hitler’s war and did their duty for the fatherland (which, in hindsight, was wrongly led). That they would have had to refuse to serve in order to make Hitler’s war impossible doesn’t occur to a German politician who wants to use his people and therefore relies on their unquestioning obedience, even a generation after Hitler’s death. Instead of this idea, which is impossible for a politician, he prefers to express the idea, which is also rather strange for a German politician, that the enemies of the time should have crushed Germany in good time. Only because he, as a post-war politician, knows about the total defeat of Hitler’s Germany and its “penance” as a losing nation, is it easy for him, in order to prove the pacifists wrong, to plead retrospectively for an earlier attack by the later victors; after all, as their victory teaches us, Hitler’s war was a wrong path that hurt Germany.

Beyond that, everything about this story is just a lie. First of all, his own moral verve. His type accuses Hitler of abusing a deceived people in a senseless war. That is consistent because the man has nothing against the use of a people and the victims involved as long as its sense is proved by the success of the nation. But Hitler lost the war, which is why it is accused of being senseless. Also slick are the lies that the CDU man has learned from history when he is out to get the pacifists. Which Allied power ever made its entry into war dependent on opinion polls among opponents of war? And as far as averting “human suffering” goes, such a thing can’t be the goal of war, which slaughters the “victims” it allegedly sets out to liberate as soldiers of the enemy power. Anyway, which nation ultimately pursues the goal of sparing people from suffering? The only ones who are capable of bringing misery to humanity on a large scale are, after all, the nations themselves. The perpetrators are recruited exclusively from among the much praised emergency helpers. Not because nations would represent the antithesis of the inhuman against humanism, but because their purposes can’t be realized without the omelette inevitably producing broken eggs. All this is known by a CDU man who, out of national responsibility, has cultivated good relations with all kinds of butchers like Pinochet. But he relies precisely on replacing the real intentions of the nation with the highest moral motives such as “human life” in order to finish off pacifism with its own contradiction: He who wants good must eliminate evil – or he is evil himself.

How conditional the pacifists’ objection to the use of military force is can also be seen in the historical precursors of the rearmament protests. After wars, or more precisely: after lost wars, pacifism is on the rise. “War no more!” is the hangover of nationalists who just a moment ago had a rifle in their hands for the good cause of the nation and now have to observe how the outcome of the war has made the nation a victim of foreign powers instead of helping the good to prevail. This feeds the suspicion that military force is not an appropriate means of guiding the country’s destiny. This is especially the case when the new rulers spread the word with calculating intent because they had to comply with the humility demanded by the victorious powers. A political grandee from Bavaria even wanted to lose his arm during public appearances if a German man ever picked up a rifle again. How the story continued is well known. After an eventful career that took him to the top of the Ministry of Defense and to the supervisory board of one of Germany’s largest weapons companies, the grandee jumped into the pit with his extremities intact.

With the death of the system’s powerful opponent, the situation has fundamentally changed. The “increased responsibility” that Germany claims to assume all over the world has been freed for the time being from the risk of a global world war with an uncertain outcome. However, there is resistance from nations that do not want to submit to Germany’s claim to leadership, currently in the Balkans. This situation challenges not only the nation, but also the pacifists: In droves they change camps and demand war! Pro bono, contra malum – if there is no other way, then by force. That is consistent. Their idea already contains the necessity of its patriotic correction.

[1] “Can pacifists, can precisely a position of non-violence simply accept the victory of brutal, naked violence in Bosnia? ... Can we place principles higher than human lives, and what becomes of our principle of non-violence when it bows to inhuman violence?” (Joschka Fischer, Frankfurter Rundschau 2.8.1995.)

[2] “Antimilitarism is not toothless, pacifism does not mean forbearance... The globalization of the world economy since the end of World War II and the related mutual economic interdependence of states have created new instruments of coercion that could surpass the military ones in political efficiency. We know from the many negative experiences of the North-South conflict about the tremendous structural violence that monetary and trade policy can unleash today. Instead of traditional military policy, we want the use of the historically new means of structural violence against aggressors.” (L. Vollmer, K. Müller, A. Beer et al. in an appeal in: junge Welt 6.11.1995)

[3] “We will not let the military debate be forced on us by the big players as long as they do not discuss why their embargoes remain so ineffective.” (Ludger Vollmer in a ZDF report from the Green Party’s strategy congress in Bremen, December 1995.)

[4] Yesterday, by the way, pacifists pleaded against militarism with exactly the same titles.

[5] The now converted pacifists are propagandists of a war against the Serbian “enemies of humanity” with the very best conscience and therefore feel that any relativization of their image of the enemy affects their most sacred values. If they – the former pacifists converted into war hawks – have decided to wage a holy war against a “new Serbian fascism,” then they have done so as the personified good conscience of the nation for the highest moral reasons and are therefore having a fall out with their comrade Peter Handke from the poets’ guild for taking a trip through Serbian enemy territory and discovering nothing of the image of the enemy that German intellectuals are currently making obligatory for their peers.