Tuesday, January 12, 2016

What if Christians refused to fight Hitler?

Inevitably, someone raises the question about World War II: What if Christians had refused to fight against Hitler? My answer is a counter-question: What if the Christians in Germany had emphatically refused to fight for Hitler, refused to carry out the murders in concentration camps? The long history of Christian “just wars” has wrought suffering past all telling, and there is no end in sight. 
i) Although his counter-question raises a legitimate issue that's worth addressing in its own right, a counter-question is not an answer to the question. Rather, it's an attempt to deflect the question, evade the question. 
Sure, Travis is entitled to counter our question with a question of his own. That's fair game. But you can't just shift the onus onto nonpacifists, as though your own position has no moral or intellectual burden to discharge. 
ii) What does he mean by saying German Christians carried out the murders in the concentrate camps? Is he suggesting that all or most prison guards were devout Christians? 
Keep in mind that Christian prison guards would sometimes be in a position to mitigate evil. Be merciful to the inmates. 
iii) There are degrees of complicity. For instance, if drafted, a German Christian might belong to the Wehrmacht, yet he might do the very least that's required of him. He can shoot, but intentionally miss. Indeed, that's parallel to pacifism, which says, "I didn't shoot him–you did!"
It's my impression that many if not most soldiers aren't fighting for the glory of the cause. Rather, they do what's necessary to stay alive. 
In fact, towards the end, Hitler's own generals turned against him. It finally dawned on them that Hitler was prepared to destroy Germany to destroy the Jews. That was his priority, but it wasn't theirs. Of course, by then it was too little too late. 
Likewise, where does a pacifist draw the line? Will you make bombs, but refuse to drop bombs? Will you make bombers, but refuse to fly bombers? Will you refuse to make spare parts for tanks? Will you refuse to be a mechanic? Will you refuse to work at a gas station or power plant that indirectly supplies the Wehrmacht? Will you refuse to work on a farm that provides food for German citizens–including soldiers and Nazi officials? Pacifism has its own ineluctable compromises. By your own actions, you still decide who will live and who will die. 
How does a pacifist consistently say we can't simultaneously love our enemies and kill them, yet we can simultaneously love our neighbors but let them be killed (by someone else)?  
iv) Travis erects a false dichotomy. What if, instead of not "fighting for Hitler," German Christians fought against Hitler? The war would have ended much sooner. Indeed, that might have checked his rise to power before the war got underway. Or consider the scenario of German Christians fighting against Hitler allied with non-Germans fighting against Hitler. The moral and logical alternative to fighting for Hitler isn't refusing to fight, but to fight against Hitler. 

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