To fight or to take a pacifist line is one of the deepest and starkest choices of personal conscience. Is pacifism a cause worth fighting for? What a paradox! I write as one who has a fairly volatile temperament at times, and one who is not a naturally pacific person. I admire Vera Brittain enormously, and the Quakers too. And I am deeply impressed by the realisation that we are all human beings, given life by God. What right have others to take that life away? What cause can possibly justify it?
Being a mother has also affected my views. Having grown my children in the womb, and having nurtured them in the years that have followed, I feel a deep fellowship with all women who have done the same, and can imagine the anguish that every parent must feel when their precious child is maimed or killed.
The common humanity of humankind should be an overarching bond that prevents war. After any natural or man-made disaster, we see this in action. Offers of money and help pour in, as we rush to succour our fellow human beings in distress. We just need to be reminded of our common humanity. Often.
A friend of mine sums up the arguments for and against pacifism as follows:
"The fence on which I seem to sit is this:
1. That I am dedicated to the proposition that love will ultimately (but not consistently or progressively) triumph over hate.
2. That by the same token peace will triumph over war - but not consistently or progressively.
3. That there are some things one must do, not believing in their success, but because doing them is essential to one's integrity (actually I'd say 'for the sake of my soul')
4. I know quite well that my blood can be fired by the beat of a drum or the skirl of pipes - just as I can be moved by 'Last night I had the strangest dream'. I am not one of the world's instinctive herbivores."
It is the responsibility of the living to make meaningful the sacrifices of the dead. It is the job of anyone who is horrified by the futility and slaughter of war to attempt to influence their government and fellow citizens to work towards a more peaceful, happier world, in which war would no longer be necessary. And I know that faith groups the world over are trying to do this - we just all need to work together, and to keep at it, until humankind finally realises that peace is so much better than war, for everyone.
Most wars are allegedly fought to bring peace - a most ingenious paradox! We should remember the dead, and honour their sacrifice, but also pledge ourselves to make our world a better place - to end all wars, to relieve world debt, to feed the hungry, to find a cure for AIDS, to stop destroying our environment. It is still a beautiful planet, or it could be, if we could only learn to live together in peace.