Letters Debating pacifism, retribution and justice

Posted: October 07, 2001

On the night of Sept. 11 while watching the news coverage of the terrorist attacks, I said to a family member, "This is a time that tests Quaker beliefs." And it did. I, too, felt the urge to lash out at the horrible individuals who committed this awful act. But as the days have passed, I have found my Quaker beliefs standing strong. My faith tells me that there is "that of God" in each and every one of us, and for that reason I am against war and military action.

But aside from my faith, common sense tells me that military action will not resolve this conflict. Perhaps this is where pacifism is most misunderstood. Pacifism does not mean that we stand by and do nothing. It means that we must be resourceful and clever. We must use financial, diplomatic, security and intelligence channels to eliminate this threat. Using brute force and military action will only result in the loss of many more innocent lives.

Calling pacifists evil and pro-terrorist (Commentary, Oct. 2) only exacerbates an already difficult situation. We must always seek peace as our ultimate goal. I will light a single candle of peace rather than curse the darkness of violence, death and terror.

Laura J. Jordan



A message to all pacifists: Military response to the terrorist attacks is not about vengeance, it is about national security. There is only one way to prevent terrorism. We must make terroristic acts wholly unprofitable to the terrorists and their sponsors. The recent attacks on our cities and our liberties might have been prevented had we provided a stern military response to the terroristic assaults of years past.

We cannot respond by building higher walls around our nation, and we cannot continue to curtail our civil liberties. Likewise, we cannot respond by negotiating with terrorists and governments who do not value human life and liberty. If our retribution is issued in terms of diplomats and courtrooms, then we will be doomed to suffer this tragedy again.

Each morning, as I pray for our leaders, I also pray that God may prevail on the hearts and minds of our enemies. I pray for the hapless young minds that are brainwashed and molded by Osama bin Laden. But until those prayers are answered, may God speed our military response to convey our message: Terrorism will not succeed against the free nations of the world.

David E. Broscius



Michael Kelly uses the word pacifist to represent everything he dislikes about anyone to the left of Michael Kelly (Commentary, Oct. 2). His rage-driven theory is that you're either for total, massive war or you're a brainless pacifist waiting to be conquered. It isn't possible that you might want surgical attacks, gradual diplomacy to gather a coalition, stepped-up intelligence to smoke out the perpetrators, serious support for the resistance against the Taliban, or any of a multitude of options short of annihilation of Afghanistan. Kelly doesn't see the vast differences between this and World War II.

The trouble for people like Kelly is that this is, like Vietnam, a battle for hearts and minds, as well as a hunt for the guilty. We should wipe out Osama bin Laden and other terrorists (as we should have after their previous crimes), and then we should take a long look at the reasons they are able to get as much support as they have: poverty; hopelessness; desperation and isolation.

Neil Greenberg

Melrose Park


Paul Kvinta's effort to promote a pacifist response to the events of Sept. 11 (Commentary, Oct. 2) evokes the fear of a "wide-ranging military action" to scare people into thinking that any response will only beget more terrorist attacks. Sure, going after Osama bin Laden will provide justification for al-Qaeda to recruit more young men, but a failure to respond will leave bin Laden free to strengthen his organization and wreak even more terror. The proper response will leave al-Qaeda weakened to the point where new recruits will be able to do little more than raise their fists and march in protest in their hidden training camps.

The question is not whether to respond, but how to respond. I find the actions of President Bush to be remarkable for being able to isolate bin Laden from the rest of the world, and put the Afghan government squarely on the hot seat.

Arthur Zadrozny

West Chester


Nonviolent solutions are ideal. But I, like Michael Kelly, regard the word pacifist as an epithet (Commentary, Oct. 2). Like any absolutist philosophy, pacifism tries to bend real-world experiences to serve its vacuous view of history.

Nonviolence is a very powerful tool of social change, but we should not delude ourselves into thinking it is the only path to peace.

In reality, history without violence would be history without progress. This is an uncomfortable thought, but true: War works. It works when all other approaches fail. It works to end dictatorships, to repel invaders, to protect the innocent and secure the peace. Without war, there is no freedom.

John Rogers

Bryn Mawr


There's a vital distinction between "passivists" and nonviolent activists. The activists (groups like the War Resisters League and Women's International League for Peace and Freedom) seek to expose and eradicate, or at least mitigate, the causes of war. We do this because we have a humanitarian respect for life, in our own country as well as in others, and we believe a just peace is in the best interest of everyone.

As the War Resisters League asserts, "War is a crime against humanity." Just and equitable economic and social policies are the best ways to protect one's country and prevent war and terrorism, whether in Israel, the United States or any other country.

"Bringing criminals to justice" through national or international courts is necessary, but it's different from vigilante "justice" and bombing whole nations. However, once a nation is committed to an all-out war that destroys people and property on all sides, rather than condemn (as we were accused of doing in the Vietnam War) those who fight, we seek to prevent or mitigate wholesale destruction, and to change the destructive policies that contribute to it.

Ann Morrissett Davidon

Saying that Jesus was a pacifist is repugnant (Commentary, Oct. 2). Jesus was sent into the world and died on the cross to convert the world to God, to bring forgiveness of sin. However, he did preach about the sin of omission as the rich man who omitted taking care of the poor man, who was in agony on earth. The rich man ended up in hell. If we do not act by destroying terrorism and the countries that harbor them, then can we say we have committed a sin of omission? Our job is to destroy terrorism to such an extent there is no one left to carry on. Choosing good over evil will always make enemies, but it doesn't mean we can't fight against evil.

T. McGarvey


I am very proud of the military restraint that our government has demonstrated. As difficult as it may be for people who want instant revenge, this never-before-seen restraint on the part of the United States shows the world that we really do have integrity. We don't have to be the bully who punches back by reflex because he is bigger and stronger and just plain can.

Sophia Demas

I cannot understand anyone denouncing a military response to eradicate the evil people who murdered more than 6,000 people on Sept. 11. Osama bin Laden and his cohorts rejoiced in the death and destruction they wreaked. Does anyone doubt that they will not attempt further destruction on as massive a scale as their money and intrigues can bring about? I abhor the miseries of war, but this war was thrust upon us. As Winston Churchill said, "One ought never to turn one's back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger." The "greatest generation" didn't shirk its commitment to defending the freedoms of our country 60 years ago. (My father earned the Purple Heart in helping to rid the world of fascism.) I have faith in our President, and I believe our country will ultimately triumph in this war against terrorism.

Rosemary McKinley



The two opposing commentaries by Michael Kelly and Paul Kvinta (Inquirer, Oct. 2) reminded me that feelings and actions can be two distinctly different things. Since Sept. 11, I have felt, within myself, the whole truth of both opposite points of view, simultaneous and unrelenting. I do respond with feeling to what I have learned, but how to act is not so clear. I am sure, however, that military and diplomatic action should be taken only by those who have understood and felt both points of view as if they were one.

Michael G. Moore


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