No Peace Through Pacifism

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (left) and German Chancellor Adolf Hitler leave their meeting at Bad Godesberg, September 23rd, 1938.

By Aaron Neil

Following the horrific bombing in Manchester, little time was wasted before the standard response to terrorism set in. Hashtags, platitudes, a rendition of Bob Marley’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” and other useless rebuttals to what is perhaps the greatest evil of our time. This behavior was strikingly akin to the Facebook profile filters, #PrayforParis hashtags, and use of John Lennon’s “Imagine” following the attacks in the City of Lights.

Of course, a grieving period is of some necessity after a nation is forced to cope with the loss of community members, as well as an attack on its very way of life. However, after the grief subsides, complacency quickly rushes in to take its place. This condition was embodied by London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s apathetic statement that terrorist attacks are “part and parcel of living in a big city.” Just like the traffic, you learn live with it.

This is not the first time the West has been lulled into passivity. In the years leading up to World War II, Britain remained impervious to the looming Nazi threat. As Adolf Hitler built up arms, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain refused to respond with force. In their Churchill biography, Jonathan Sandys and Wallace Henley wrote, “As Hitler accelerated German rearmament in 1936—at a point when he could have been stopped—the British government, with heavy public support, was reducing its own military capabilities.”

Where did this “heavy public support” come from?

In Thomas Sowell’s book A Quest for Cosmic Justice, he documented the growth of a pacifist movement that advocated for a complete disarmament policy in Britain, even as the country faced the growing threat of German militancy.

This movement was well represented by the intellectual and political class of the time. In 1936, Bertrand Russell claimed that “disarmament and complete pacifism is indisputably the wisest policy” and even advocated for “the gradual disbanding of the British army, navy and air force.” Clement Attlee echoed Russell’s position, stating, “We on our side are for total disarmament because we are realists.” Chamberlin himself denounced efforts to arm Britain as a “senseless competition of rearmament which continually cancels out the efforts that each nation makes to secure an advantage over the others.”

Chamberlain and pacifist, anti-war ideology debilitated Britain and left the Allied side ill-prepared for the imminent conflict. As a result, Nazi forces had a strategic advantage over the Allied forces at the outbreak of the war.

Sowell concluded that “The British, American, and other Allied soldiers who paid with their lives in the early years of the war for the quantitatively inadequate and qualitatively obsolete military equipment…was the legacy of interwar pacifism.”

Churchill himself famously suggested to Franklin D. Roosevelt that the Second World War should henceforth be known as “The Unnecessary War.” “There never was a war more easy to stop than that which has just wrecked what was left of the world from the previous struggle” Churchill woefully remarked. If Britain had acted sooner, Churchill believed, Hitler could have been stopped.

But not only did interwar pacifists foolishly advocate for the disarmament of Britain, they also vastly underestimated Hitler’s evil, irrational ambitions.

Chamberlain misunderstood Hitler’s character and attempted to negotiate with him, unaware of the futility. These negotiations reached their climax in 1938, when Chamberlain signed the Munich Pact, essentially ceding parts of Czechoslovakia to Germany. The Munich Pact sacrificed the autonomy of Czechoslovakia on the altar of short-term peace, and also handed over sixty-six percent of Czechoslovakia’s coal, seventy percent of its iron and steel, and seventy percent of its electrical power, undoubtedly aiding the Nazi war machine.

Chamberlain thought giving Hitler the Sudetenland would satisfy his ambition, when in reality, his ambition was insatiable. These negotiations failed not from tactical error, but because the British Prime Minister mistook Hitler for a rational man, and not for the barbarous ideologue that he most certainly was.

Our current leaders are making a similar error with respect to ISIS, generously attributing their evil motives to mere environmental conditions.

In a recent commencement address given at Harvard University, Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made this statement: “Just infusing more weapons into the Gulf States is not going to solve the problem (of extremism) … (the solution) is to provide these booming youth populations with a quality education, with skills for the modern world, with jobs that will actually allow them to build a life.”

Similarly, British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn attributed the motives of terrorists being driven by Britain’s foreign policy: “We will also change what we do abroad. Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home.”

Kerry and Corbyn both see terrorists as rational actors, merely expressing dissatisfaction with their political or economic environment. However, these terrorists do not blow themselves to bits because they want a steady paycheck. And how would that explain the radicalization of university students, among others, from even affluent families? They do not gun down innocent civilians to change Britain’s foreign policy practices. How would this account for terrorists that come from countries not in conflict with British or U.S. forces?

On the contrary, the actions of these terrorists are driven by an evil and corrupted worldview, and no amount of reason can change the simple reality that they are unreasonable and must be defeated. Terrorists do not want peace, they want more violence. This makes them resistant to reason and inherently impossible to negotiate with.

Similar to Hitler and his adherents, The Islamic State has grandiose ambitions of a new world, brought into being through terror and totalitarianism. In The Atlantic, Graeme Wood wrote the following about ISIS inspired terrorists: “We can gather that their state (the Islamic State) rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.”

In an essay entitled “Expansion and Peace,” early 20th century U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt wrote that, “In the long run civilized man finds he can keep the peace only by subduing his barbarian neighbor; for the barbarian will yield only to force.” Barbarians who possess a hunger for genocide cannot be negotiated with. Force alone can stop an organization which desperately seeks to usher in the end to the civilized world.

Thankfully, the 32nd U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, took the advice of his predecessor and distant relative. He, along with Winston Churchill, saw the Nazi regime as barbarous and did everything within their power to subdue the Axis threat. These great leaders knew that when faced with evil, peace cannot be maintained through pacifism and appeasement.   

The fundamental misattribution of terrorists’ motives renders us blind to the evils of Islamic extremism. Terrorists crave genocide. No amount of John Lennon songs, however pleasant they may be, or hashtags, or platitudes can alter this grim reality. Until we wake up to the reality of the Islamist philosophy, and accept that the only viable solution is force, the West will remain complacent, and the terror shall continue.