January 19, 2006

Pacifists and Swordplay

Mitch and Rachelle Senti just started a coffeehouse here in Bellingham a couple of months ago. We've gotten to know them about as well as anyone since moving here; Nikki and Rachelle get along very well and I get along with Mitch splendidly. It helps that he enjoys swordfighting. This coffeehouse is sort of a Christian mission --- a fair bit of the funds for it were put up by churches in the area. The idea is to create a comfortable place for conversations to take place between Christians and non-Christians, with an eye to building relationships and leading people to Christ. It's a great idea, and the coffee is good.

As I was running errands downtown this morning, I noticed that tonight was going to be a "discussion night," the topic being "Pres. Bush and torture." Naturally, my interest was piqued. Besides, this past Sunday, Mitch suggested that I bring my swords with me to the coffeehouse and we could fight in the alley beside it. Armed with those two motivations, after eating dinner tonight, I went down to the coffeehouse a little after 7, bought a cup of a coffee, and prepared to enter the discussion.

The discussion was good. Liberal voices outnumbered conservatives, but that was to be expected and nobody was cruel. We started off discussing whether torture was appropriate in any circumstances, and what exactly constitutes "torture." The discussion sidetracked to the issue of what constitutes "terrorism" and if war is ever justified. It's not as much of a rabbit trail as it might first appear --- the essential question in torture is what interrogation techniques are ok, and our discussion of what constitutes "terrorism" revolved around the question of what tactics in war were ok.

The most disturbing thing was that at least half of the people there considered war and terrorism synonymous. To them, there was no essential moral difference between a person blowing himself up in a marketplace and a person dropping a bomb on a barracks. This disturbs me.

Most people there seemed to consider "terrorism" an empty word that is used to describe the enemy. "Terrorists" is what the big army calls the little army, essentially. There's some truth to this. As War Historian (thanks to Wilson for drawing my attention to this fascinating blog) discusses here (part 1 of 6), one of the reasons we've drawn up "rules of war" in the modern era was to "justify a sense that the enemy is demonic and restraint would be folly."

I don't think, however, that terrorism is an empty word. The best definition I've managed to come up with so far would be something like this: "Terrorism is the deliberate murder or torture of innocent civilians to further a political goal." Exactly what constitutes "innocent" and "civilians" and "torture" can be kind of sticky if you want to be a lawyer, but for a clumsy definition, I think it serves. I think there's a genuine difference between a soldier and a terrorist. I think there is a difference between bombing a barracks and bombing a marketplace (on purpose). By the way, after Wilson drew my attention to it, I think that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki probably qualifies as terrorism.

After the discussion (it lasted until well past 10), I brought out my swords and tempted various people into fighting with me. Sword fighting (at least with the boffer sticks I've made) seems to appeal to everyone ... even pacifists :). It was fun. No injuries tonight.

Posted by Leatherwood on January 19, 2006 at 03:19 AM