When did you become a pacifist?

I have been asked a few times what happened last year that made me decide to become a pacifist.  What a strange question.

Well, I do recall that about 1974, aged 9, I suggested to my little friends my brilliant idea for global world peace: that we should nuke any country that attacks another one.  If everyone agreed with this plan, nobody would start a new war.  That is, if some country invades or attacks another, everyone else nukes the first country off the face of the planet.  Completely and utterly.

It seemed like a good plan at the time… to me.  I can’t remember if it was Saul or Neil who said “But what if we want to start a war?” which rather put a spanner in the works of my plan to start a global juvenile peace movement mobilisation.  I assumed that the rule should apply to us, too.  Also, Jason objected to the killing of all the innocent civilians, but I suspect that was because he was thinking of a few countries that we needed to give a good warring to.

In college, about 1983, aged 18, the Social Sciences lecturer (I think his name was Plank – at least, that’s how we referred to him) gave us a hypothetical question: the government has declared war on some country, what are you going to do?  I said “Protest”.  Over the next few lectures he added to the scenario until, after about three weeks, we got to the point that conscription had been brought in and the Military Police were coming to collect me at mid-day.  (By this point everyone else had attended the sign-up offices as their registered letter had told them to.)  I said I’d be a conscientious objector; he said the government had made that illegal.  “Fine, I’ll go to prison.”  He said that wasn’t an option: ‘conshies’ were being put in uniform and sent to the front.  “I’m still not going.  I won’t wear the uniform.  I won’t pick up the gun.”  So he said I’d be shot as a coward.

“In that case, I still won’t fight.  I won’t kill people on behalf of a government that says they will kill me if I don’t do it.  That kind of government is not worth fighting for.

A society that kills its own people for refusing to kill other people they have never met, is exactly the kind of society we should be fighting against.

He went ballistic with me, calling me a coward and a bad citizen and that I was letting down all my peers and how I was an example of why social science teaching was essential – presumably to indoctrinate young people into cheerfully killing strangers to order.

(The expression “I voz only following orders” was still common parlance despite the Nuremberg War Crime Trials having finished 34 years earlier, and I have never quite understood the difference between shooting a civilian and shooting a conscripted civilian in an scratchy uniform.  If “I was only following orders” was not a valid defence then, why should it be now?  Since I cannot differentiate between a civilian and a conscript, I can shoot neither.)

When I was nine years old, I thought it was OK to kill innocent civilians for living under a bad government.  Then I grew up and realised it is the bad governments we should fight, not the poor souls that have to live under them.

So it’s not so much ‘when’ I became a pacifist as having changed my views on ‘how’ I should be a pacifist.

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