Biographies & Memoirs

18. On Military Service

I STAND FIRMLY by the principle that a real solution of the problem of pacifism can be achieved only by the organization of a supranational court of arbitration, which, differing from the present League of Nations in Geneva, would have at its disposal the means of enforcing its decisions. In short, an international court of justice with a permanent military establishment, or better, police force. An excellent expression of this conviction of mine is contained in Lord Davies’ book, Force (London, Ernst Benn, Ltd., 1934), the reading of which I strongly recommend to everyone who is seriously concerned with this fundamental problem of mankind.

Taking as starting point this fundamental conviction, I stand for every measure which appears to me capable of bringing mankind nearer to this goal. Up to a few years ago, the refusal to bear arms by courageous and self-sacrificing persons was such a measure; it is no longer—especially in Europe—a means to be recommended. When the great Powers had nearly equally democratic governments, and when none of these Powers founded its future plans on military aggression, the refusal to do military service on the part of a fairly large number of citizens might have induced the governments of these Powers to look favorably on international legal arbitration. Moreover, such refusals were apt to educate public opinion to real pacifism. The public came to consider as oppression any pressure brought by the State upon its citizens to force them to fulfill their military obligations, besides considering such pressure unethical from the moral standpoint. Under these circumstances, such refusals worked for the highest good.

Today, however, we are brought face to face with the fact that powerful States make independent opinions in politics impossible for their citizens, and lead their own people into error through the systematic diffusion of false information. At the same time, these States become a menace to the rest of the world by creating military organizations which encompass their entire population. This false information is spread by a muzzled press, a centralized radio service, and school education ruled by an aggressive foreign policy. In States of that description, refusal to perform military service means martyrdom and death for those courageous enough to object. In those States in which citizens still cling to some of their political rights, refusal to do military service means weakening the power of resistance of the remaining sane portions of the civilized world.

Because of this, no reasonable human being would today favor the refusal to do military service, at least not in Europe, which is at present particularly beset with dangers.

I do not believe that under present circumstances passive resistance is an effective method, even if carried out in the most heroic manner. Other times, other means, even if the final aim remains the same.

The confirmed pacifist must therefore at present seek a plan of action different from that of former, more peaceful times. He must try to work for this aim: That those States which favor peaceful progress may come as close together as possible in order to diminish the likelihood that the warlike programs of political adventurers whose States are founded on violence and brigandage will be realized. I have in mind, in the first place, well-considered and permanent concerted action on the part of the United States and the British Empire, together with France and Russia when possible.

Perhaps the present danger will facilitate this rapprochement and thus bring about pacifistic solution of international problems. This would be the hopeful side to the present dark situation; here consistent action can contribute much toward influencing public opinion in the right direction.

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