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Viewpoint: Idealism and Pacifism

On January 18, 1991, I was sitting in the faculty lounge grading papers with a colleague when it was announced on the radio that Saddam Hussein had launched Scud missiles against Tel Aviv and Haifa. My acquaintance, whom I knew as a faithful Quaker, pumped his fist and said, “Yes.” Just last week, an acquaintance, also a Friend and an avowed pacifist, said to me that he could justify Hamas’s use of rockets in this circumstance given the cruelty of the Israelis. One can understand these responses in a number of ways, and I know both of these🔒

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Ralph Lelii lives in Elkins Park, Pa.


Posted in: Friends and Other Faiths: Friends and Other Faiths, Viewpoint

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One Response to Viewpoint: Idealism and Pacifism

  1. Paul and Fran Sheldon May 24, 2015 at 9:32 pm #

    Please disregard my former submission if possible — this one has a slight editorial change.

    After many years as a Quaker “against war” (and who isn’t?), I now publicly identify as a Quaker pacifist. I am convinced that war will never bring a lasting peace. For me, to be a pacifist is not a fixed state where one resides. It is a continuous process, often a struggle. Most Quakers are not pacifists, and most pacifists are not Quakers.

    Although the concept is ancient, the word pacifist is a relatively new term, hardly a century old, and its meaning has changed over the years. It is now generally considered absolutist, in line with the declaration of the Quaker Peace Testimony of 1660. The word pacifist derives its roots from pax and ficare – “peace” and “to make” – a peacemaker, even as Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers.” This active sense of peacemaking is reflected in the 1660 Declaration that we will not fight “with outward weapons,” a phrase that is sometimes misunderstood by readers. As a peace activist and pacifist, I am the opposite of a passivist (these two similar‐sounding words are often confused, unfortunately). I have heard much about so‐called “just” wars, both from an academic perspective associated with my position at a Catholic University, and in a more applied setting at a conference entitled “The Ethics of War” held at West Point recently. To my hearing, the just‐war academics too frequently reflect the general societal norm by their refining the definitions so as to justify our current pattern of war making. The more I learn about war, the more I become convinced that no war can be just. The best thing we can do to memorialize those who have died in wars is to work against the causes of war, so that others will not suffer and die as they did.

    Paul Sheldon, Lansdowne Friends Meeting

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