Skip to comments.George Orwell Exposed Pacifists' Political Motives
Posted on 10/26/2002 11:12:04 AM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
It is not an easy process when democracies debate going to war. Nor should it be. At the least though, discussion should be rationale and informed. And yet once again the world is witness to the spectacle of anti-war activists, intellectuals and celebrities as they agitate against President George Bush Jr. for his declared preparedness to use unilateral force in the likely event UN arms inspections in Iraq are, once again, unsuccessful. Recent anti-war manifestos issued by Hollywood actors, 12,000 American professors and prominent Canadians including such luminaries as Margaret Atwood recall the righteous protests of wars past.
A year ago it was opposition to U.S. support for the Northern Alliance against the Taliban in Afghanistan. At the start of the Kosovo conflict in 1999 a group of Toronto law professors at York University found their anti-war voice and attracted considerable media attention in Canada. Similar demonstrations were manifested in the lead-up to the Gulf War. And of course there was the mother of all anti-war movements during the Vietnam War.
There are two characteristics common to all of these protests. One is a single-minded attention to conflicts involving the U.S. The other is a lack of personal, on-the-ground experience of the issues and the brutal nature of conflict and oppression.
George Orwell knew war. He was not only a novelist and political theorist who first embraced and then rejected pacifism and socialism. He lived a life of action rich in worldly experience; colonial policeman in Burma, labourer, waiter, and volunteer soldier with the anti-fascist Republicans in the Spanish Civil War where he was wounded by a shot through the throat. During World War II he directed his attention to the critics of the Allies' prosecution of the war against the Axis forces. We can only speculate what Orwell would have thought of the current outcry against Bush's Iraq policy. But perhaps his writings on pacifists - today's anti-war activists - can provide some useful insights.
Pacifists, he said, had no understanding of what they preached against, "To abjure violence it is necessary to have no experience of it." In his experience, they acted primarily in support of their own domestic political motives and propounded a moral relativism that echoes what we are hearing today. Prime Minister Blair is assailed as misguided and President Bush - not Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden - is declared the greatest threat to world peace, and - in the Canadian manifesto - a "thug" to boot.
It has been heard before. "Pacifist propaganda," Orwell wrote in the 1940s, "usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writings of the younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States. Moreover they do not as a rule condemn violence as such, but only violence used in defense of the western countries."
Anti-war movements have always had an impact far beyond internal debate in the West. In one-party states that denied freedom of speech such as the Soviet Union, Milosevic's Yugoslavia, Taliban Afghanistan and Saddam's Iraq of today, peace activists' very public words and actions have been critically helpful to dictators' diplomatic efforts to stymie or blunt international interventions. It is a consequence the anti-war movement dissociates itself from with a willful blindness.
Most significantly, there was the paralytic silence regarding atrocities in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos in the years following the communist victories of 1975. More civilians were killed by their communist liberators than died in the decades of war in Indochina the Vietnamese communists now candidly admit they instigated to achieve power. According to Hanoi's leading general, Vo Nguyen Giap, the impact of the western media's reporting of the anti-war movement during the long war was critical to North Vietnam's ultimate success. Giap candidly described them as his most effective guerrilla force.
George Orwell attributed pacifists' contrarian arguments as a manifestation of their separation from the roots of the common culture of their country and in particular the resolve of their own governments, and the people, to resist aggression. "The average intellectual of the [pacifist] Left believed," he wrote, "that the war was lost in 1940, that the Germans were bound to overrun Egypt in 1942, that the Japanese would never be driven out of the lands they had conquered, and that the Anglo-American bombing offensive was making no impression on Germany. He could believe these things because his hatred of the British ruling class forbade him to admit that British plans could succeed. There is no limit to the follies that can be swallowed if one is under the influence of feelings of this kind."
Ordinary people who face the realities of daily life under dictatorship have, of course, their own unique perspective on the question of the use of force. During a tea break in Taliban-ruled pre-September 11 Afghanistan, an international aid worker asked his Afghan colleagues how long they thought the hated Taliban would remain in power. "Until the U.S. comes and drives them out" was the immediate reply. Everyone laughed at the inconceivable notion. But these Afghan relief workers had an acute appreciation of their situation. Only an exercise of violent force greater than the Taliban's could be of any help to them, their families and their country.
Living safe, comfortable lives in the West, the anti-war movement decries as senseless, immoral and impractical any suggestion of the use of force against Iraq. No doubt Saddam Hussein is counting on their success. One wonders though if they fear the risks war poses for Iraqi civilians as much as they may fear another military success for George Bush.
Orwell clearly had neither patience for such follies, nor any doubts of the need for democracies to be prepared to use force in their defense, pre-emptive or not. "Civilization," he said, "rests ultimately on coercion. What holds society together is not the policeman but the goodwill of common men, and yet that goodwill is powerless unless the policeman is there to back it up. . . . Since pacifists have more freedom of action in countries where traces of democracy survive, pacifism can act more effectively against democracy than for it."
This was plainly evident in an incident on the remote Philippine island of Basilan. Upon the completion of a six month U.S. military advisory mission in July, a contingent of Manila activists arrived to mount a demonstration during the troops' media-covered departure. To their surprise and consternation, the activists' buses were met by local Basilan residents who greeted them with a hail of rocks and invective. The counter-demonstrators later explained to journalists that they liked the American soldiers and they were grateful for the logistic and advisory support which had helped the Philippine army establish a measure of peace and security not known for many years. These simple people were not going to allow their more worldly countrymen from the metropolis of Manila to undermine any future need of U.S. assistance.
As the debate over Iraq approaches resolution, the voices of these ordinary people will not be heard as loudly as those of activists, academics and celebrities in distant cities and countries. Yet in facing oppression and the risk of terror in their daily lives, they have a far better understanding of the real world we live in. Even in a utopia of peace and understanding, force - and the threat of force - is the reality underpinning civilization. No doubt liberated Afghans, ordinary Iraqis, starving North Koreans, and the people of New York City and Bali appreciate this more than most. George Orwell certainly did and of pacifist ideals he was quite clear. "One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool."
I opposed the war on Serbia, but I never would have argued that Clinton, as President of teh United States, had no right to do what he did.
This article isn't really about Kosovo. The War on Terror and the Axis of Evil are the issues at hand.
PS: No, I am not a pacifist but the retort to rightwing.wacko was too good to not type it!
In many ways the 60's was a despicable generation. Lastly Borks book points out that there were and are simply some who cannot or will not accept the freedoms which this great country affords them (and us) and are therefore rowdy children.
Same thing happens in the 1950's movie "The Thing".
Consequently, instead of eliminating the weapons category, as Reagan wanted, we ended up with American and Russian missiles in Europe. Only years later were these missiles finally removed as part of a larger deal.
The pacifists seems to have no understanding of bargaining from a position of strength or worse yet they do and don't care.