Is Pacifism Enough?

Eighteen months after Hitler’s rise to power, Eberhard Arnold warned of the threat of a second major war – and foresaw that the international peace movement, which he had championed, would be powerless to stop it. His reflections remain unsettlingly relevant today.

Does pacifism suffice? I don’t think it is enough.When over a thousand people have been killed unjustly, without trial, under Hitler’s new government, isn’t that already war? When hundreds of thousands of people in concentration camps are robbed of their freedom and stripped of all dignity, isn’t that war? When in China and Russia millions starve to death while in other countries millions of tons of wheat are stockpiled, isn’t that war? When thousands of women prostitute their bodies and ruin their lives for the sake of money, isn’t that war? When millions of babies are murdered by abortion each year, isn’t that war? When people are forced to work like slaves because they cannot otherwise feed their children, isn’t that war? When the wealthy live in villas surrounded by parks while other families don’t even have a single room to themselves, isn’t that war? When some people build up enormous bank accounts while others earn scarcely enough for basic necessities, isn’t that war? When reckless drivers kill tens of thousands of people each year, isn’t that war?

We do not advocate a pacifism that believes it can prevent future war. This claim is not valid; there is war right up to the present day. We do not represent a pacifism that believes in the elimination of war through the restraining influence of certain superior nations. We do not agree with a pacifism that ignores the root causes of war – private property and capitalism – and tries to bring about peace in the midst of social injustice. We have no faith in the pacifism held by businessmen who beat down their competitors, nor do we believe in a pacifism whose amiable representatives cannot live in peace with their own spouses.

Since there are so many kinds of pacifism we cannot believe in, we would rather not use the word pacifism at all. But we are friends of peace, and we want to help bring about peace. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers!”

If we really want peace, we must represent it in all areas of life. We cannot injure love in any way or for any reason. So we cannot kill anyone; we cannot harm anyone economically; we cannot take part in a system that establishes lower standards of living for manual workers than for academics. We must spurn anything that breeds hatred or oppression.

In other words, we must live like Jesus. He helped everyone in body and soul. Our whole life must be dedicated to love.

Translated by Gladys Mason. Read the original talks by Eberhard Arnold in our digital archive: August 9 and 17, 1934.

Article edited for length and clarity.