William M. Timpson, Ph.D. has been on the faculty at Colorado State University in its School of Education for many years. What follows is adapted from Timpson’s 2009 book, 147 Tips for Teaching Peace and Reconciliation, co-authored with an international group of peace scholars that included Ed Brantmeier, Nat Kees, Tom Cavanagh, Claire McGlynn and Elavie Ndura (Madison, WI: Atwood).
After the attacks of September 11th in the U.S. and the drumbeat for revenge from the White House, in particular, sounded ever louder, there was an emotional push to do something, for throwing the full force of American military might against the “evil doers” wherever they hid. Eventually George W. Bush would build a case for the preemptive invasion of Iraq, a sovereign nation, as the best way to keep Americans and American interests safe.
During all this, I remained deeply troubled by all this and began to join with Quakers/Friends for their Sunday meetings. I also joined in the many protests that were organized locally.
As I tried to sort out what I would teach in my classes—just what does an educator say—I found myself drawn to these Quakers and other faith communities who were committed pacifists—they were crystal clear that violence of any sort was not an option. While I tried the services offered by Mennonites in town, I was really drawn to the essential silence of the Quakers/Friends meetings where I could find the space to meditate on the meaning of peace in the midst of outrage and the build up to war.
When I later worked on writing a book on all this, Teaching and Learning Peace (2002), I found myself repeatedly returning to the question of nonviolence in Europe during the 1930’s, the rise of Hitler and the brutality of the Nazi ascension to power. I asked myself: Could I be a pacifist in the face of that kind of threat? My dad had volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and 1938 and then later with Patton’s U.S. Third Army as his contribution to rid the world of fascism. The Nazi military along with their Italian and Japanese allies committed numerous preemptive attacks that took a heavy toll on civilian populations, in particular. The German military use of the “blitzkrieg” (lightning war) is a prime example.
Yet, while preemptive attacks got the Germans and their allies early victories, they also created their own defeat. The brutality of their aggression and ambitions, motivations and actions quickly turned the entire world against them. Certainly World War Two fit my notion of a ‘just war.’ In the summer of 2002 I even took myself on a trail of the Holocaust, exploring the Nazi occupations of Lithuania and Poland including the death camp at Auschwitz and the slaughter of Jews in Budapest. Picasso’s Guernica memorializes the tragedy of fascist carpet bombing in Spain.
Revisiting all the arguments for the U.S. involvement in World War Two, I listened to the responses I then got from my Quaker colleagues and these really pushed my thinking. I had to ask myself: What would have happened, if the allies had committed to whole range of nonviolent interventions long before the U.S. entry in the war after the attacks on Pearl Harbour. Could an economic embargo on Germany and its Fascist leaders made a difference? Cutting off their international credit? Divesting? We conducted war crimes trials at the end of World War Two, should we do the same now and rethink the Iraq War? Should we try to determine where the mistakes were made and by whom so that we can respond differently in the future?
Years after World War Two we saw the results when the world united to isolate the South African government and its brutally racist policies of apartheid. No one advocated a military style invasion. Several international businesses pulled their operations out. College campuses in the U.S. rang with student voices calling for divestiture of funds from companies doing business with South Africa. Sporting teams from South Africa were barred from participating in international events. No armed invasion was needed; in fact, just the opposite happened. In the face of international pressures, South Africa moved toward the inclusion of the Black majority in democratic elections and the ending of apartheid.
I ask you to think this through on your own. Find a pacifist faith community where you live and attend one of their services or meetings. Read the arguments for nonviolence in the writings and speeches of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Join with others to examine the role of pacifism today and consider what they can teach us.