Since I was born I could not name one decade free of war. In the seventies Pol Pot was in full swing in Cambodia plus the Cold War was responsible for a mass mistrust in case the cold became hot. In the eighties Jews and Palestinians could not take a day-off trying to take their heads off each other, and the Irish Republican Army was busy blowing up England here and there, on the ground or in the air. In the nineties there was Kosovo and the two Gulf Wars. In the new millennium rebels keep on killing each other all over Africa, 9/11 revenge took place (and still is), Qadaffis, Husseins, Assads are being chased and deposed and the fear of a nuclear war is more imminent than ever, with Iran and North Korea playing hide-and-seek. These conflicts are just a few to name, when it seems that the world will never reach peace because it cannot learn from the past, because nobody is willing to give in and because there is profit in war, as Brecht’s Mother Courage illustrates. Financial gain and pride (what includes ethnic background, religious beliefs and the simple yet complex exercise of power, outsmarting someone) is what wars are made of.
Having said that, what’s in it for me, a pacifist? I could name spiritual progress, good night sleeps with clear conscience, conflict-free existence and yes, stagnation. Fact is that nobody reaches anything in life without a fight, a battle, a war. It is in the human nature to seek for war because we just cannot be without it. It is boring. I must point out that war here is meant in several ways and not uniquely in the battlefield.
In one of Paul Green’s plays, Johnny Johnson realized that he would lose the love of his life if he kept on promoting his pacifist ideals in times when truly manhood was proven through courage to take on enemies (a neighbour stealing your flowers, a man flirting with your girl, bullies tormenting your children, some other country using your assets without permission, a priest/monk/imam/cult-prophet insisting his faith upon you, and so on). There was no palpable gain for Johnny if he stayed, so he decided to give it a shot and join the war just to prove his point and get the girl at the end. What happens is that none of it happens. He loses the girl to his best friend who made money indirectly from war and he ends up holding, as a fellow patient, pacifist-natured speeches in a home for crazy people because of the laugh-gas stunt he caused among high war officials when he tried to persuade them (before the gas) to stop the war. Who would want to stop the war? Only crazy people!
Once out there some soldiers, who once were so honourable and unafraid, were not willing to die for honour anymore in the ugliness of reality and of greed. Unspectacular soldiers just wanted to survive and lead a boring and eventless life, unlike the generals who were seeking glory and power.
Johnny ends up poor yet free, knowing that war is just the direction that water flows, that trying to swim against the current will only be waste of time, breath and strength. He acknowledges that he had lost, but he had also won because his soul was never sold.
After all of what had happened to Johnny Johnson, what was in it for such a pacifist? Clear conscience, just clear conscience.