Paul’s Perambulations

October 29, 2017

West Point Ethics of War and Peace conference

Filed under: Education,Peace,Politics — admin @ 5:55 pm

Plenary session

This weekend I attended a three-day conference entitled Ethics of War and Peace, held at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. I’m feeling both exhausted and energized/empowered to have once again been the sole pacifist at this annual conference co-sponsored by Villanova University. I did a great deal of preparation for the conference and appreciate that I had opportunity to present my reflections and be heard both at plenary and breakout sessions. Most attendees were academic philosophers specializing in just war theory, plus cadets and Villanova students who were philosophy majors. There were about 75 of us in all. I wore my “Support our troops: Bring them home now” and Peace/Cross buttons the entire time — quite visible.

The conference assumed militarism to be necessary, while my focus is on nonviolent activism to avoid war and non-participation in war. I used opportunities in the Q&A that followed plenary speakers to inform the Villanova students and cadets about nonviolent peace activism. For example I explained that the word pacifism comes from Pax Ficare (to make peace) and has no relation to the word passive (whose root is to suffer or allow), and that Jesus exhibited the former in his life and the latter in the passion of Christ at his death. There’s a lot of “For God and Country” at West Point, so it’s good that they hear this Christian message (as well as seeing my button that linked a cross with a peace sign). The conference was at a quite high academic level (I learned some helpful things), and the students were an unusual group coming from ethics courses and included the 14 cadet philosophy majors at West Point.  At the conference reception/dinner at the West Point Club, I made a point of sitting with these cadets. The goal of any conference should be to experience diversity, not to be talking in an echo chamber.  A Senior cadet I sat next to at dinner  is writing his senior paper on Kant and asked my opinion of Kant’s work. I replied that Kant’s categorical imperative offered a good reason to be a pacifist, while also noting that it was my experience that philosophical reasoning often did not accord with actual behavior, and that I had many other reasons for being a pacifist (which we discussed).  The discipline of politeness and respect at the Academy is admirable – my views were always respectfully received. I enjoy walking the stacks of a library and perusing the books – a great pleasure of a library. As at my visit to West Point two years ago, I left some FCNL “War is Not the Answer” buttons behind a few books, for intellectual stimulation of some future reader

I mentioned in a final plenary session, somewhat jokingly, that it was reassuring that I passed the security check so that I could attend this conference (West Point is a military base). I said it was reassuring because I may still have warrants out for praying in the driveway of the world’s largest nuclear contractor or for not paying some of my taxes but instead sending that money to disabled American veterans (DAV charity). I hope that I didn’t say so much as to lose my listeners, but I think/hope that by then most people recognized the nature of my peaceful calling. I truly appreciate that they put up with me and that you don’t get shot in this country for saying such things – but that’s all the more reason to feel responsible to speak up and express your values. I used to speak primarily to Quakers, but now I think it’s particularly valuable to speak in places where my message is new and invites questioning and reflection. In the past I probably had too much fear to do this. Now my only fear is that I will present the message poorly because I am not as mentally alert as when I was younger. I am grateful that my role as a respected faculty member at Villanova (now retired) enables me to enter these environments and I hope to keep at it for as long as I am able.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress