One of the difficulties with maintaining a commitment to the Peace Testimony is the elevation of W.W. II to the status of a ‘Good War’.  The idea is that W.W. II is an exception; other wars may be awful, unnecessary, or even evil, but W.W. II is considered to be an example of a necessary and even a virtuous war.  The impact of this view is that the same kind of logic is carried over to contemporary conflicts so that the U.S. attack on Iraq under Bush II was done for righteous and ‘moral’ reasons.  Similarly, Obama’s attack on Libya was done for ‘moral’ reasons.  The line of argument is that we are always just about to enter into another situation similar to W.W. II, and we cannot sit on the sidelines.  We must ‘do something’.

Unfortunately, many Quakers have accepted this kind of analysis.  This has been going on for a long time: there are even examples, significant ones, of Quakers who supported the U.S. entering W.W. I.  In hindsight this can only be seen as excruciatingly embarrassing.  Just as embarrassing are those Quakers who have supported Obama’s military aggressions. 

What if W.W. II was not a ‘Good War’?  What if W.W. II is not an example of a ‘necessary war’?  Recently I have seen two online posts raising this kind of question.  The first was posted at ‘Thinking Pacifism’ and announces a new book by Ted Grimsrud, a Mennonite author and scholar.  The book focuses on W.W. II, both its conduct and its legacy.  You can find his announcement here:

 The second post is a recent thought piece published in The Guardian which you can find here:

Both of these posts raise questions and make observations that, I feel, are significant, particularly for those of us who regard the Peace Testimony as central to Quaker Faith and Practice.  Perhaps you will also find them insightful.


Best wishes,



Views: 677

Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 17, 2014 at 10:45am

Philip K Dick wrote a rather strange novel [with the help of the I Ching] in which the Japanese and the Nazis had won WW II. Toward the end of it, one of the American characters concludes, "We really won the war."

You can make a very good case for saying "The Nazis won" in our own world. We took up their means (including the systematic use of propaganda as a weapon, bombing civilian populations, and now torture) to defeat these two embodiments of fascism... Do I need to finish that sentence?

Comment by Laura Scattergood on 12th mo. 17, 2014 at 1:31pm

Oh Man.   I don't know what to do.  Except try to live in the virtue that takes away the need for war. At this moment.  At this moment when all seems hopeless.

Comment by John Potter on 12th mo. 18, 2014 at 10:54pm

First, there is no such thing as a "good" war.  I say that as a Christian, a pastor, a soldier, and a veteran.  Wars are meant to break things and kill people.  Not much good there.  Good things can happen during war like life saving surgeries, feeding the hungry, clothing orphans, or freeing hostages, but the reasons for war are normally political necessity not altruism.  We entered WWII because of a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, not to liberate concentration camp prisoners.

Second, there is a better way to ask the question.  Can war be just?  Is there such a thing as a just war?  Just war theology has been around since the days of St. Augustine and his approach is widely accepted.  Perhaps his just war factors need more attention today.

I believe that Christians must not love violence.  They must promote peace whenever possible and be slow to resort to the use of war.  It is a horrible, destructive, and deadly alternative that should only be used when no other means are available.  But Christians cannot advocate sitting on the sidelines of life when conflict is called for.  There are times and situations when evil can no longer remain unchecked.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 12th mo. 19, 2014 at 11:32am

For Quakers particularly ... can and will (literally "can" and "will") a people or person, in a conscious fully illuminated by and a conscience guided and informed by the immanent presence of Christ, bring about the expiration (by his or her own hands) of another with outward weapons while in the living Name? In the inward living Presence of Christ is the destruction of another who shares the living Presence, even though not awakened, a justified and righteous act in the Name. Can or will a person or people, speak the inward living Name (in inward identity with Presence) without denying the very Life the act of killing another?

Comment by Jim Wilson on 12th mo. 19, 2014 at 1:26pm

Good Morning:

John: thanks for taking the time to comment.  I appreciate the nuanced, and thoughtful, offering of your perspective.  From my experience, I believe that it is the view that most Quakers (at least in the U.S.) hold today.

I have a different perspective.  My view is that the Quaker understanding of war, the Quaker critique of war, was not based on the just war theory.  The just war theory leads to a weighing of pros and cons; but I do not find that kind of weighing of factors in the statements early Quakers (and some Quakers down to the present day) made about war.  Nor do I find that kind of reasoning in the Disciplines of an earlier Quaker time that I have read.

In "Traditional Quaker Christianity", released this year, several chapters are devoted to the Peace Witness.  On Page 173 it reads, "Christ Jesus has commanded us not to fight and kill.  Of all the reasons for supporting the Peace Testimony, that is its single firm foundation."  And that is my feeling about the Quaker Peace Witness; that it is a consequence of the Quaker understanding of what Christ commands us to do.

I realize that other thoughtful Quakers, and other Christians, do not share this understanding.  They have a different interpretation, often one that is similar to the one you posted.  I get that.  On the other hand, I believe that the Quaker presence in the world has as part of its purpose the function of holding the Peace Testimony, of Witnessing to that Testimony, in a world where such a view is considered utterly impractical. 

I think it would be good to have a discussion about the differences between Quaker Peace Testimony and the Just War Theory; but I'm not sure the internet is a good location.  Perhaps there are other venues for such an exchange.

Keith: Eloquently spoken.  Thanks.

Laura: I empathize with the sense of hopelessness you expressed.  We want to see results in the world, but the world seems to enjoy war, encourage war, valorize war, and celebrate war.  Nevertheless, I do not consider a commitment to Peace Witness to be hopelss; as long as it is rooted in love it is rooted in the Divine.  As John said, 'God is love'.  And I take comfort in that.

Best wishes,


Comment by Laura Scattergood on 12th mo. 19, 2014 at 5:01pm

Hey, Jim thanks, usually I maintain an optimistic view that humanity will eventually wake up, but that optimism falters now and then.   And honestly, as sugary and silly as this sounds, the work right in our  own neighborhoods is a mighty work.   Our little group of houses are situated on a dead-end private road and the things that come up, such as whose dog is knocking over the garbage cans, this is a chance to be Quakerly and bring balance.  To be supportive and work for a solution.  Sort of silly, but then again,  neighborhood fights have been known in some places to eventually result in  violence.   And then, once I was on a train where a fellow associated with Nation of Islam managed to rile a few people up, as the  night wore on and the debates in the social car heated up.  and again, it was a chance to be Quakerly, and I managed  to say a few words to calm things down.  So, that's what I do as I go about my life.  Mainly, manage my own temper and then try to be an example and find a peaceful solution.   So, huge philosophical questions overwhelm me, "is war ever the only choice decent people have to protect the innocent, etc..   .    . But in daily life, I can think of a solution to solve dogs-knocking-over-garbage-cans and neighborhood tempers aflame.   .   I wish I could intelligently answer the bigger questions. 

Comment by Michael Snow on 12th mo. 22, 2014 at 11:31am

"...we cannot sit on the sidelines.  We must ‘do something’."....comments: "Christians cannot advocate sitting on the sidelines ..."

Since when is waging spiritual warfare in prayer and service, "sitting on the sidelines"?  But this is a persistent excuse for picking up the sword. I address it in chapter four of my book, Christian Pacifism

As Charles Spurgeon said, " if a nation is driven to fight in its own defence, Christianity stands by to weep and to intervene as soon as possible..."

One big problem with talking about WWII as a necessary war, it that it did not begin THERE. It began with The War to End All Wars which prepared the seedbed in which a Hitler could thrive. A line was crossed and we reap what we sow.  I make notes on this in my book on the Christmas truce of 1914.

Comment by Laura Scattergood on 12th mo. 23, 2014 at 5:27pm

This may not be an exactly relevant article, but it might have some connection.  Apparently there are some Anabaptists who feel they ought to have done something different than what they did do during these terrible times, and they are now speaking about it.   As Friends, we know,  we, (not me, I wasn't even born) but let us say people of the Quaker tradition, did try a number of different things.    .  Anyway,  take what you will from this article.

Comment by Laura Scattergood on 12th mo. 24, 2014 at 10:59am

Someone who didn't "just sit on the sidelines" in the face of evil is Chelsea Manning, then Bradley Manning.    Regarding whether as a Quaker I turn to Augustine and the likes for my counsel? Not so much.    Here's what she went to prison for telling us about:   (and I say no better time to think about this then the season the world calls "Christmas.")

Comment by James C Schultz on 12th mo. 24, 2014 at 11:09am

I think war has to be looked at in the same way as anything that misses the mark (sin).  Sin is sin but true love trumps sin in my book.  What is true love in a particular situation is another question.  If you have exhausted everything you can do to act rightly, I don't think you have any choice but to lay down your life for your brethren.  Jesus died for us while we were sinners, how can we do less for each other?  Each individual has to answer this question for themselves.  Living as part of a country puts us in the role of the Salt or even Watchman but sacrifices still have to be made.  When I was a young Catholic Husband my then wife wanted to use birth control pills.  As a good Catholic this was against my beliefs.  However, we were apparently a very fertile couple and we had two children and a miscarriage within two years and I wasn't the one weighed down with the physical part of this enterprise so I relented.  Years later on an extended retreat while being prayed for I felt a heavy covering leave me starting at my feet and continuing upwards until I actually felt lighter.  Simultaneously I knew that what had left was guilt that I had been living with for that earlier decision and that love trumped law. 


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