I have proudly worn a broken gun on my coat for decades, as a sign of my pacifism. Now people ask me: “Marjo, how do you explain the fact that as a pacifist you are writing about a pilot from WWII?” For me the two can be reconciled, but it has not been easy to get to this stage.
Being a child of the Cold War, my elders tried to install in me a fear for ‘anything red that comes from the East’. Instead I chose ‘love & peace’ and ‘ban the bomb’, movements that sprang up at the same time as that supposed malice from the East. You could say this juxtaposition of my youth helped me greatly to determine on what side of the argument I wanted to be, and chose to be for the rest of my life. Contrary to my elders I did not want to live with a sense of dread that it would all end in a big mushroom cloud. The idea of love & peace – with its ideals of community spirit, flirted rather heavily with socialism and therefore with that antagonist of the Cold War: the Soviet Union. That the real power of that socialist experiment lay in the Kremlin and not with the people in the fields and factories was something I became painfully aware of later.
Strangely enough all this lust for love & peace coincided more or less with a period in my life in which I rather indiscriminately raved about movements that professed to strive for freedom, independence or equality: from the Rote Armee Fraktion in Germany to the ANC in South Africa, and from the Tupamaros in South America to the IRA in Northern Ireland. These days, being an advocate of the ANC is a fashionable thing and an honourable accolade, but when I was a young woman the ANC – who was fighting Apartheid – was still considered to be a dangerous terrorist organisation. Later I realized I had over-romanticised much of it and ‘for the greater good of it all’ had simply closed my eyes to many of these movement’s excesses.
I still think it’s a good thing that young people show idealism, because it can alert us to things in the world that are not as they should be, or maybe are not what we perceive them to be. Looking back on my youth I can see it was very easy to be an idealist, and it was a great luxury to be a revolutionary from the comforts of my prosperous post-war home in The Netherlands. What would have happened though if I had been called on to follow my ideas through? It’s a question I’ve asked myself many times over the last three years while researching my young pilot from WWII. Did those young men from often very comfortably-off backgrounds join the war only from a sense of adventure, or also from a deep-rooted belief that something was dangerously amiss in the world and it was up to them to correct it?
My pacifism developed because I truly believe that we, as mankind, must ask ourselves if violence and aggression is still the answer to our problems. By now we should be able to take the next step in civilisation. As always it starts small, at home. You treat others with respect. And if you have a dispute with your neighbour, you do not club him on the head right away. You sit him down with a cup of coffee and talk. Isn’t that then what neighbouring states should do? The answer seems simple: in a civilized world they would.
Lately my pacifism sits uneasy with me, because now and then something so evil rises from the mud that you have to oppose it with all the means you have. The latest evil in my eyes is organisations like Boko Haram and Islamic State with their oppressive, cruel and inhuman tactics who terrorize whole regions of our world community. And the sad fact is that I can’t see Boko Haram or Islamic State sit down with a cup of coffee and talk things over. So there’s a real problem here. Maybe it is the same as in the run-up to the Second World War when the world said to the Nazis: enough is enough! And when they did not listen, some countries had the courage to oppose the evil even further by sending in troops, or bombers like that Wellington with my young pilot in it.
This is how I can reconcile the two. Some evils are so bad they have to be stopped. Most pacifists will say that if you can understand why an armed response is sometimes necessary you are not a true pacifist. Maybe so but there are many shades of grey, so maybe there are also different shades of pacifism. Like everything else in life nothing is static; everything evolves constantly, even a person’s sense of pacifism.