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Pacifism, which literally refers to making peace (from pace and facere) is often mistakenly understood as passivity.


a dialogue                                                       Joan Baez

Fred OK. So you're a pacifist. Say, you're driving a truck. You're on a narrow road with a sheer cliff on your side. There's a little girl sitting in the middle of the road. You're going too fast to stop. What would you do?

Joan I don't know. What would you do?

Fred I'm asking you. You're the pacifist.

Joan Yes, I know. All right, am I in control of the truck?

Fred Yes

Joan How about if I honk my horn so she can get out of the way?

Fred She's too young to walk. And the horn doesn't work.

Joan I swerve around to the left of her since she's not going anywhere.

Fred No, there's been a landslide.

Joan Oh. Well then, I would try to drive the truck over the cliff and save the little girl.


Fred Well, say there's someone else in the truck with you. Then what?

Joan What's my decision have to do with my being a pacifist?

Fred There's two of you in the truck and only one little girl.

Joan Why are you so anxious to kill off all the pacifists?

Fred I'm not. I just want to know what you'd do if...

Joan If I was in a truck with a friend driving very fast on a one-lane road approaching a dangerous impasse where a ten-month old girl is sitting in the middle of the road with a landslide on one side of her and a sheer drop-off on the other.

Fred That's right

Joan I would probably slam on the brakes, thus sending my friend through the windscreen, skid into the landslide, run over the little girl, sail off the cliff and plunge to my own death.

Fred You haven't answered my question. You're just trying to get out of it...

Joan – No one knows what they'll do in a moment of crisis and hypothetical questions get hypothetical answers. You've made it impossible for me to come out of the situation without having killed one or more people. Then you say, 'Pacifism is a nice idea, but it won't work'. But that's not what bothers me. I'm thinking about how we put people through a training process so they'll find out the really good, efficient ways of killing. Nothing incidental like trucks and landslides. Just the opposite, really. You know, how to growl and yell, kill and crawl and jump out of airplanes. Real organised stuff.

Fred That's something entirely different.

Joan Sure. And don't you see its much harder to look at, because its real, and it's going on right now? Look. A general sticks a pin into a map. A week later a bunch of young boys are sweating it out in a jungle somewhere, shooting each other's arms and legs off, crying, praying and losing control of their bowels. Doesn't it seem stupid to you?

Fred Well, you're talking about war.

Joan Yes, I know. Doesn't it seem stupid?

Fred – It's human nature to kill. Something you can't change.

Joan – Is it? If it's natural to kill, why do men have to go into training to learn how? There's violence in human nature, but there's also decency, love, kindness. Man organises, buys, sells, pushes violence. The nonviolenter wants to organise the opposite side. That's all nonviolence is – organised love.

Fred You're crazy

Joan – No doubt. Would you care to tell me the rest of the world is sane. Tell me that violence has been a great success for the past five thousand years, that the world is in fine shape, that wars have brought peace, understanding, democracy, and freedom to humankind and that killing each other has created an atmosphere of trust and hope.

Fred I still don't get the point of nonviolence.

Joan The point of nonviolence is to build a floor, a strong new floor, beneath which we can no longer sink. A platform which stands a few feet above napalm, torture, exploitation, poison gas, nuclear bombs, the works. Give man a decent place to stand. He's been wallowing around in human blood and vomit and burnt flesh, screaming how it's going to bring peace to the world. He sticks his head out of the hole for a minute and sees a bunch of people gathering together and trying to build a structure above ground in the fresh air. 'Nice idea, but not very practical', he shouts and slides back into the hole. It was the same kind of thing when man found out the world was round. He fought for years to have it remain flat, with every proof on hand that it was not flat at all.

Fred How are you going to build this practical structure?

Joan From the ground up. By studying, experimenting with every possible alternative to violence on every level. By learning how to say no to the nation-state, 'NO' to war taxes, 'NO' to military conscription, 'NO' to killing in general, 'YES' to co-operation, by starting new institutions which are based on the assumption that murder in any form is ruled out, by making and keeping in touch with nonviolent contacts all over the world, by engaging ourselves at every possible chance in dialogue with people, groups, to try to change the consensus that it's OK to kill.

Fred It sounds real nice, but I just don't think it can work

Joan You are probably right. We probably don't have enough time. So far, we've been a glorious flop. The only thing that's been a worse flop than the organisation of nonviolence has been the organisation of violence.


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