Friday, 27 May 2011

The man who persuaded me that pacifism wasn't always right

Today I rejoice that  Ratko Mladic may soon face justice. His crimes in Sebronicia persuaded me that there were times when military force was necessary. My pacifism died with those he massacred.

A couple of years ago The Independent produced a damming report on the war crimes of the Serbian forces. I posted this in July 2009 and it provoked an interesting discussion:

'There aren't many people who can explain how and when they ceased to be a pacifist. I am one such person.

Today's moving and painful article in The Independent on Sunday reminded me of the course of events that changed my philosophy and even to a small extent how I expressed my faith.

I had been elected to the European Parliament in 1994. One issue I could not miss was that of the terrible things that had happened in Bosnia. I have mentioned before a terrible moment when I met the full force of the evil at work in Bosnia:

"I remember a Muslim woman from Tuzla, a Muslim community in the former Yugoslavia, visiting me in my office in Brussels way back in 1995. She told me something of the breakdown of civil society. For some reason I had to leave my office to meet a visiting delegation. When I returned I suggested we (myself and my research assistant, a young woman) prayed for her and her family.

When we finished praying her face was awash with tears. "No Christian has ever prayed for me", she sobbed.

Afterwards my research assistant explained that while I was out of the room the woman mentioned that she had been seriously sexually assaulted by Serbian soldiers who she knew to be Christians because they were wearing crucifixes"

"No Christian has ever prayed for me"

A few weeks later the town of Sebrenica was surrounded by the Serbs. There was a tiny force of ill equipped and out numbered Dutch soldiers, supposedly part of a European peace mission.

The Dutch did not have the stomach for a fight. Neither did the rest of Europe. I well remember the impassioned speech by a young Green MEP Alexander Langer. He pleaded with the Parliament to do something, anything to help the people of Sebrenica. He pointed to the sheer evil that was about to unfold. Some of us, breaking party lines, supported his motion calling for military intervention. It was probably the first time in my life I had supported the use of violence.

For Alexander, who had become the voice of Sebrenica, the stress was too much. The weekend after his resolution was defeated, he hung himself. A good man who still had much to give.

A few days later we saw the men and women of Sebrenica being seperated. The men were taken to their deaths, the women became homeless widows.

That is why I am no longer a pacifist, much as I respected good men like Donald Soper, I realised that there were times when the military option was the only option available.

Please read the Independent article. This happened about 600 miles from where I am sitting now. The problem is that I and thousands of others did just that, we sat.'


Ric said...

The civil war in Bosnia, and even more the one in Rwanda around the same time, should have shown the world that the United Nations had become morally bankrupt. The UN could have and should have authorised NATO to intervene in both conflicts with as much force as was necessary to disarm the troops slaughtering peaceful civilians. Instead it froze, fatally paralysed.

PamBG said...

Yes, there are times when the military option is the only one available.

And then I can say: "I'm sure that God will understand that we did our level best to make the best of a set of bad options."

The "best of a bad set of choices" approach is far different than the stance taken by a number of my countrymen when they proclaim that the US is on the side of Good and that therefore any measures the US takes cannot be considered wrong in the eyes of God. You can substitute any and all countries for "the US" in that paragraph.

We should be saying "God have mercy on us for having only had bad choices and doing what we thought would harm the least number." Not "God blesses our country whatever we do because, by definition, our policies can never be wrong."

Robert said...

I found myself in a similar position - though I don't believe offensive war is ever justified - over the war in Sierra Leone. Having my girls caught up in a coup carried which was pltted by someone I knew, while he was living in Ladywood, didn't exactly help!

Methodist Preacher said...

Robert, we need to speak about your neighbourhood war criminal. Let us see if we can sort something out next time we meet. These people must not escape justice.

Robert said...

He didn't escape. He was shot by his own lieutenants, on orders from Charles Taylor, whose trial at the Hague finished recently.