The American Civil War and pacifism

Before 2011 draws to an end, we want to acknowledge that 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the U.S. Civil War. Following the election of Abraham Lincoln, 11 slave states seceded from the United States in 1861.Soldiers of Peace book by Thomas F. Curran

Most people educated in the U.S. have heard of General Robert E. Lee and General William Tecumseh Sherman and of Sherman’s destructive march through Georgia.

Moreover, most Americans have some notion of how deadly the Civil War was, even if they don’t have the facts and figures.

According to John Huddleston*, 620,000 soldiers died during this conflict—more Americans than in all the other wars combined, up through Vietnam. Huddleston estimates that 10% of all Northern males aged 20-45 and 40% of all Southern white males aged 18-40 died. By one estimate**, there were a total of 1,030,000 casualties–3% of the population.

On the other hand, it is likely that few Americans know that the conscription law for the Union allowed conscientious objectors to buy their way out of fighting. This law followed in the tradition of General George Washington, who excused young men from the Revolutionary War draft if they had a conscientious objection to war.

Moreover, few Americans have heard of the Universal Peace Union (UPU). Led by Alfred H. Love, the UPU was devoted to the idea of nonresistance, the belief that evil must not be met with violence, no matter how noble the cause.*** To learn more about the UPU and the early pacifist movement in the U.S., read the review of Curran’s book by Jeffrey McClurken.

* Huddleston, John.  Killing ground: Photographs of the Civil War and the changing American landscape. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

** Nofi, Al (2001-06-13). “Statistics on the war’s costs”. Louisiana State University. Archived from the original on 2007-07-11.

***Curran, Thomas F. Soldiers of peace: Civil War pacifism and the postwar radical peace movement. New York: Fordham University Press, 2003.

Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology

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3 Responses to The American Civil War and pacifism

  1. Gold Dust Twin says:

    I had never heard of the Universal Peace Union, but recognizing its goals as similar to Mohandas Gandhi’s, I looked him up online. A few quotations: I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
    • An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
    • Whenever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love.
    • It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.

  2. T. Paine says:

    It is great that General Washington accepted conscientious objection as a legitimate reason for not going to war, but his alternative, letting young people buy their way out of service, was certainly corruptible and reminds me of the Vietnam War, where wealthy families could get deferments for their young men by paying for college or graduate school. In both cases, it is the wealthier individuals who get to avoid military service and the poorer individuals who end up going–regardless of what their moral principles regarding war might be.

  3. Mil says:

    In a personable and warm tone, Dr.Borris, in her article, introduces herself as a peace practitioner, educator, and trainer. She has not only first hand experience, but a deep, profound understanding of the issues of “diplomacy, peacebuilding, conflict resolution, and reconciliation.”

    Dr. Borris tells a story of Irene Laure, a woman who, despite being “wounded by the atrocities of violence and [Second World] war,” was able to find courage within her heart to forgive the Germans. This action, the struggle of one human to overcome the pain and forgive, became an example to the people attending a 1947 conference in Caux, Switzerland. This story is then contrasted with two extremes of forgiveness – the absolute rejection of it through the story of a Kosovar translator who murdered a Serbian surgeon, and the acceptance and spirituality of forgiveness through the story of Croatian mother. All of these opposing stories illustrate the “opposing forces in human social relationships.”

    Transitioning into developing a political framework which incorporates forgiveness, Dr. Borris warns that it would not be easy, since it will have to incorporate all aspects of our public lives. A big change will have to take place in order to go from the current “culture of attack, blame and scapegoating” to the one which will not only make a place for “empathy, commitment and a willingness to forgive,” but will make these values a priority.

    The framework which Dr. Borris describes reminds me of the Semai discussed in Bruce D. Bonta’s paper “Conflict Resolutions Among Peaceful Societies: The Culture of Peace.” This group of people who live in the mountains of Malay Peninsula have developed an incredibly peaceful social system, in the center of which lies a tradition of becharaas’, a peaceful conflict-resolution in which the entire community participates.

    Borris ends her remarks by discussing the power of forgiveness, the change it can bring. However, to achieve this change, people must “undergo nothing less than a transformation of consciousness if we want to survive.” Making a shift from egocentric thinking into altruistic action requires understanding of the perspective of the other half. This understanding, this acceptance is the only way peace could be achieved.

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