PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus

What If the Hyjacked Airplane Was Filled With Pacifists by peaceprobe
September 8, 2006, 12:17 pm
Filed under: Nonviolence, Nonviolent defence

The following represents one kind of question that peace people discussed in the wake of 9/11. This is part of an exchange of emails I had over the last eight months. I hope the questions here stimulate others to share their learning from experimentation. We are not the first generation of people seeking nonviolent answers to difficult problems.

Seeing your article in the winter issue of On Earth Peace prompts me to reach out with the deep questioning that’s arisen within my soul as a result of 9/11, with the hope of seeking resolution and discernment that I haven’t been able to reach on my own. (The article sounded a note of hope for the long term and encouraged all of us to stay on track. ed.)

No, it’s not what you might think a 9/11 reaction might be. I was saddened not only by the event but by those responses that were not sadness but anger, posturing and violence.

But that plane that went down in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, closer to the Brethren home places from which my farmer forebears left for Iowa in the mid-1800s than I’ve ever been…

If the reports and piecing together are correct, a group of passengers attacked the hijackers and attempted to take the plane back. That that plane crashed into a field instead of into some target with thousands more people to injure and kill was one of the miracles of that day.

Since facing the CO question during the Vietnam War, I took solace in Joan Baez’s book Daybreak, that hypothetical situations were just that. I believed in pacifism and nonviolence unconditionally, and hid behind the seeming logic (and no small amount of cleverness) Baez displayed in responding to the hypothetical questions a draft board might (and many did) ask.

But that plane over Pennsylvania doesn’t seem hypothetical, even with our lack of surety of what happened in its last minutes.

The hijackers (and the suicide bombers we’ve also seen since) do not seem the kind of folk who respond to Ghandian approaches.

A plane of pacificists might well have let that plane reach its target, as three other planes already had. And that would have been a tragedy.

My lifetime of beliefs were deeply shaken in that realization.

If you have any wisdom that might help me discern truths I can’t myself see, I’d sure appreciate hearing from you.
In Peace,
Ron Lichty

Ron, For me, Ron restraining crazy people is not beyond the pale of pacifism. Because of this when I was with CPT I worked overtime to try to incorporate non lethal ways to restrain people like the hijackers on the plane to which you refer. Long into the future the human family will continue to be troubled by elements that lash out. Our response as Christian pacifists is to find ways to respond without killing. Being pacifist is not something beside or outside the world. It is living with the threat of violence and sometimes offering the ultimate sacrifice. Soldiers are called to be available for such sacrifice. The ethic of love and enemy loving seeks a higher road but it will require enormous research, testing and experimentation. Your questions are a gift for all of us along the way. Thanks Gene

Gene, I don’t think I thanked you for your response. I’ve read it a number of times in the last six months. It helps. Ron

Ron, My misspelled words not withstanding I guess it was an honest answer to your questions and still is. Upon reflection there are other items that I might have added. In our peacemaker training several years ago we began to discuss how one nonviolently disarms a violent offender. This does not mean that an airplane loaded with pacifists would be able to deal with air hijackers any more than armed representatives from the Department of Homeland Security but I think its entirely appropriate to ask the question of how and I believe there is a body of thinking and experience around nonviolent intervention that might contribute to the answer so that people can be restrained in a nonlethal manner. Even though there may be instances when people can’t be restrained I think that pacifists have a legitimate and important witness over time, to life and spirit. Finally the commitment to non killing has never carried with it the implication that pacifists may not die in the conduct of mission of their lives. Much work remains to be done on
this. Gene


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