Wednesday, 13 June 2012
Do we polarize militarism and pacifism?
by Marlene Epp
I'm looking forward to touring 1812 CO (conscientious objector) sites with Jonathan Seiling and the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario on June 16.
I've just finished reading a novel titled The Absolutist by Irish writer John Boyne which has caused me to think about the gray areas between militarism and pacifism. The novel is about young -- far too young -- men who are soldiers on the European battlefront of the First World War. As the plot unfolds, what gradually emerges is the different motives that drew these young men to join up and also their varying responses to the horrors of hand-to-hand combat that characterized that war.
The centre of the story is the 'coming out' of a soldier as a conscientious objector and the questioning of others about the ethics of war. And also the 'coming out' of another soldier as gay and the uncertainty about the sexual orientation of another. Both of these identity issues reveal that pacifism and sexuality are most often situated on a continuum and only a few experience these as black and white issues.
I wonder if peace church Mennonites, myself included, are often too quick to polarize militarism and pacifism. Were there soldiers fighting in the war of 1812 who felt burdened to speak against the war? And were there Mennonites who questioned the CO position during that conflict?