We asked David Schroeder
to answer some questions about pacifism and conscientious objection.
He is a Mennonite and served as a conscientious objector during
the Second World War. He agreed to address some challenging questions
about his beliefs.
did you become a pacifist?
have always been a pacifist. I do not remember a time when I thought
that war was right. I thought rather that only non-Christians thought
war to be an appropriate response to conflict. But I found out later
that some Christians also hold that at least some wars are justified.
The call to register for the draft in the early Forties solidified
my convictions against war. It clarified for me the fact that I
am a pacifist because I follow Christ. Jesus taught, lived and died
as one who did not resist evil with violence and as one who was
willing even to suffer death rather than to betray his relationship
is the difference between being a pacifist and a coward?
suppose there are pacifists who could be cowards and there may be
soldier who are cowards. But that is not the issue for either group.
It may actually take less courage to enlist in the army than to
refuse to do so, especially when the pressure is on for people to
enlist. It takes even more courage to resist the draft when the
government of the land is actively recruiting and drafting people
who would not enlist out of their own accord, and threatens imprisonment
for persons who resist the draft. It takes courage to resist such
fear of imprisonment and death.
Nazis would have won the war if everyone else had been a pacifist.
everyone were a pacifist there would be no war. Furthermore, it
would be unrealistic to think that Christian pacifists would be
only in one nation and not in the other. If Christians all over
the world would take a position of refusing to use violence in solving
problems, it would make a huge difference in international relations.
In the long run, there is a better chance that the spiral of violence
could be broken by refusing to meet violence with violence.
all Christians pacifists? Why would Christians go to war if Jesus
taught us to love our enemies?
was disappointed to learn that not all Christians were pacifists.
They all know that Jesus taught us to love our enemies, but they
find ways to nullify this teaching. Some believe that non-violence
applies to their personal lives only and that the state has the
right to defend itself through violent means, or war. Such a dual
ethic does not seem right. Some Christians hold the pacifist position
to be unrealistic. But this means that in their judgment the state
is the highest good and must of necessity be preserved. Anything
that does not meet this requirement is judged to be unrealistic.
Other Christians hold that a distinction needs to be made between
just and unjust wars and that Christians should participate in fighting
just wars. But this distinction has lost its credibility and the
criteria for a just war have never been met even though many nations
have felt their war to be justified.
all Mennonites conscientious objectors during the Second World War?
of course not. Many young Mennonite boys enlisted. Some were not
yet ready or prepared to take a stand at age eighteen. They had
not come to a strong enough conviction on the matter to resist the
draft. Others were enticed by the propaganda that promised them
glory and honour and a vocation or trade at the end of their term
of service. They were lured into service in the army. But others,
who enlisted, have become even stronger in their pacifism after
the experience they had in the army.
a list of people from southern Manitoba who joined the military.
The list has many Mennonite
some obituaries of Mennonites
who died as soldiers.
about the human and financial
cost of the Second World War.]
war isn't the answer, what can we do to fight injustice and oppression?
me put it this way, we can act justly and seek justice for others.
The more we refuse to oppress people ourselves and stand up for
the oppressed people of the world, the less need there would be
for war. It is especially important to address the way richer nations
exploit poorer nations economically and socially. It is important
also to unmask the real reasons for war. So often wars are fought
not to remove injustice and oppression but to make it possible for
such injustices to continue. It is a real service to the nation
to be critical of all unjust policies and action of the nation.
would a pacifist do if someone attacked his or her family?
knows? Pacifists are human and have all the human inclinations of
self-defense. It is, therefore, all the more important that they
practice in all conflict situations to learn to choose the non-violent
options open to them. Failure in some instance not to do so, however,
does not nullify the pacifist position. Failure to do what is right
does not make the wrong right! That seems to be the implication
of the question.
can you live in Canada and then not fight to defend it? What does
it mean to be a good Canadian citizen? Why do you not obey the government?
doing what is right I am defending Canada. By giving my
life to justice and peace I am supporting what is basic to the welfare
of the nation. War is not necessarily good for the country as is
assumed in the question. What is right and just exalts a nation
and therefore to live by a higher standard is to be a good citizen.
Ultimate loyalty belongs to Christ for the Christian, not to the
state. Therefore if the state asks a kind of allegiance that the
Christian cannot give, the Christian will refuse to obey the state.
your taxes going to support the military? Isn't that like praying
for peace and paying for war?
are not against the government of the nation. They are not against
taxes as such. They believe in supporting the legitimate programs
of the government. They do not want to support war and other programs
that are counterproductive to the nation. They would very much like
to contribute the amount contributed to the military to a special
peace fund that would be used for international aid and other causes
that would contribute towards peace and good will. The government
on its part, however, does not want to specify which taxes support
war and which do not because this would make it too easy for many
people to object to war taxes. War taxes remain hidden as much as
possible. We would like to have the government honour its citizens
by allowing those who are pacifists to contribute their taxes to
a pool of taxes that are used for humanitarian causes within the
country and beyond.
it ever right to go to war?
you take the position that war itself is wrong, it is not possible
to justify any war.
is too idealistic and it would never work on a large scale.
statement assumes that we have to achieve a certain end and pacifism
does not guarantee a certain end. But that is not the point. War
too does not guarantee a certain outcome. It only professes to do
so. It is our calling to do what is right and to stand up for what
is right. The outcome we leave to God. We know that God can use
our feeble efforts to achieve certain ends but that God will do
so at any given time, we do not know. Our task is to attend to the
means and not to guarantee ends.
did pacifists think that Adolf Hitler, the dictator of Germany,
would be stopped or defeated?
in East Germany resisted communist directives in many and subtle
ways. When the collapse of the Soviet regime came the banner in
the victory parade in East Germany read: "Wir danken dir Kirche!"
or "We thank you, Church!" The silent but persistent resistance
of the church was recognized and honoured by the population. If
more people would have spoken with their lives and if the church
had not been in complicity with Hitler, the program against the
Jews might not have happened the way it did. Hitler could have been
defeated in his program if the people had not played his game.
should we care about conscientious objectors when soldiers sacrificed
so much more?
do not think we are asking for people to care for conscientious
objectors per se. We are asking for the cause, which they represent
in the nation, to be honoured, respected and seen as a vital part
of what it means to be Canadian. We care about everyone. We respect
freedom of conscience.