Despite the wide-spread epidemic of atomic jitters, it seems that relatively little is being written about pacifism and world peace. For example, the International Index from 1955 to 1959 lists no articles under these titles. This year has produced interesting ones, particularly in The Christian Century, such as John Gwomley’s “End Conscription in 1959” (Jan. 7, 1959). A significant historical study of pacifism appeared, January, 1956, in The Mennonite Quarterly: “The Pacifism of the Sixteenth Century Anabaptists” by Harold S. Bender. We will direct our comments here to two recent utterances: a television address by Marc Boegner and a periodical article by Edwin T. Dahlberg in Current Religious Thought (First quarter, 1958).

Nuclear weapons have made previous concepts of the fighting of wars obsolete. Have they made war itself obsolete? Or, to put the question another way: Granted that modern weapons have made old-fashioned warfare obsolete; have they also made the very possibility of war unthinkable? Marc Boegner, president of the French Protestant Federation, seems to think so (Paris, RNS). At least, he calls for a new “theology of war.” Furthermore, he asks us to revise an old notion that a defensive war may be more Christian than an offensive war could be.

Before we face his thinking, let us say in passing that we never have accepted the preference for the defensive war over against the offensive war. We suppose that defensive war is often thought to be more Christian, or less unchristian, than offensive war because of its apparent necessity. But that may make it less Christian. Can we not hear Christ saying: “If you defend yourself what do you more than others? Do not even the Pharisees the same?” On the other hand, an offensive war, if fought for the welfare of another nation rather than one’s own national interests, would seem to have more chances of being altruistic and Christian. To place the matter on an individualistic basis for purposes of better perspective: If I resist a goon to protect myself would that be as Christian as resisting the same goon to protect someone else? But let us return to President Boegner. His reason for questioning the validity of the distinction between offensive and defensive war is that in modern combat even a defensive war would threaten innocent women and children as much as an offensive war. This fact certainly cannot be denied. However, we wonder if the conclusion follows that defensive war may not be legitimate because it endangers women and children so greatly. We doubt it. After all, the men who fight are not presumed to be more guilty than their wives who do not; nor the wives more innocent than their soldier-husbands. When a nation fights, the nation fights—all of its subjects do. But some fight by taking up arms; others by remaining home and watching over the family. It is a written or unwritten rule of war that such shall be the custom of nations and each nation rightly tries to respect the women and children as sacrosanct. But we repeat, this is a matter of custom and propriety, not of fundamental ethics.

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If women are no more guilty or innocent than their men, then their protection is a desirable convenience not a necessary duty of warring nations. If war as such is legitimate—and the church catholic has never declared it otherwise—then a greater exposure of women to the perils of it does not make it otherwise. The exposure of women would not make war suddenly immoral if it were not so independently of that fact. It would make war all the more dreadful in its inevitable consequences. That much may and must be said—but more than that hardly can be morally maintained. Of course, nothing said above is to be construed as opposing the abolition, by international agreement, of nuclear warfare. We are merely facing grim facts supposing such agreement is not attained.

The dreadfulness of modern war has led others to some understandable but dubious conclusions. It no doubt had something to do with the now famous Cleveland conference’s endorsement of the recognition of Communist China. It has led thoughtful Edwin T. Dahlberg to make an impassioned appeal for “massive reconciliation” rather than “massive retaliation.” Impassioned and well meaning as such appeals may be and much as can be said for some aspects of them, we feel they are not only wrong in theory but very dangerous in application in our world situation.

Let us consider the appeal for “massive reconciliation.” Surely there can be nothing wrong with a desire for understanding Russia in an effort to prevent war and promote peace. And a desire to avoid “massive retaliation” is nothing less than a desire to avoid the extinction of the race, and what man wishes to quarrel with a plan for survival? Yes, who wishes to quarrel with a plan for survival—unless the cost is greater than survival is worth? What does it profit a world if it gains the world and loses its own soul? If Christianity be true and God be a fact, then obedience to His truth at the cost of extinction is a cheap price to pay. Miles Standish once said that war is a terrible thing but in the cause that is right, sweet is the smell of powder. Has that truth changed because we must now say, sweet is the smell of atomic dust? Was the principle true when only some men fought and suffered and false now when all of us are exposed to the same peril? Hardly.

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If the above reasoning has any validity, then consider the peril in advocating massive reconciliation rather than massive retaliation. Please note that we do not oppose reconciliation except as a substitute for military retaliation. Who will doubt that if the Western Allies once lose the power of “massive retaliation” that the only “massive reconciliation” will be to Communistic ideas at the point of an ICBM? We do not question the patriotism of Dr. Dahlberg and many who think as he does. There is no reason to suppose that because their program differs from ours that their devotion is less than ours. A man’s thoughts may not be sound whose heart is utterly loyal. This must never be forgotten unless we become infected with that disease of summoning all before a Congressional committee who do not see eye-to-eye with us. Still, notwithstanding, nevertheless, and however—the doctrine of massive reconciliation as a Pentagon formula meant to replace massive retaliation must make the halls of the Kremlin ring with joyous anticipation. How the godless must fervently pray for the adoption of such “Christian” strategy. And how alarmed must Christians be to see their religion used as an instrument of military subversion. Shades of Friedrich Nietzsche! Is Christianity the religion of the weak which begets only effeminacy? Or is it not rather a religion which makes a nation strong so that it may resist the oppressor and defend the defenseless?

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