What's wrong with being a pacifist

The Left and the Kobane Case : Has Pacifism Failed?

She scribbled her request with felt-tip pens on pink cardboard. Big letters, hastily thrown, in three colors. “SOLIDARITY with the resistance in Kobane!” Is written there and below: “Stop US bombing!” Christine Buchholz holds her message of peace in front of her chest, has herself photographed and spreads this via Facebook and Twitter. She looks a bit like a hostage.

The reaction is malice and bewilderment. She is asked whether she has not noticed the “contradiction in terms”. That the Americans help, but that they find it worse than that nothing is done for Kobane.

Buchholz, a member of the Bundestag and peace policy spokeswoman for the left, only wanted to save her view of the world. Good and bad are neatly separated and they are on the right side, on the side of the war victims. It was a human gesture, the rest broke. It looks as if the Left Party can no longer make it clear what it is about. And the vast majority of Germans still don't want a war. So what's wrong with being a pacifist?

100 years after the outbreak of World War I, the question sounds neurotic. As if the path from the national enthusiasm for war of August 1914 to the 1941 Russian campaign, the Salt II resolutions in 1982 and the Kosovo war in 1999 had not been instructive enough for this country to know the answer. So far, the left has been particularly proud of its own. "Never again war", was it in the words of Karl Liebknecht.

But the conflicts of 2014 can no longer be explained with Verdun. In the ranks of the left, therefore, they are increasingly moving away from categorical pacifism. Group leader Gregor Gysi had said at the beginning of September that one had to support the Kurds threatened by the "Islamic State". Literally he said: "Since Germany is an important supplier of arms, in this exceptional case an arms export could be permitted there if other countries are not able to do so immediately." What is nothing more than to say: We have it, let's leave them Poor share in our wealth, our abundance of weapons. "In this emergency situation it is necessary to prevent major disaster."

Maybe it was just clueless at the moment, maybe it was a test. With the worsening situation in Kobane, part of the left is now at least going so far as to call for UN military operations. Group deputy Dietmar Bartsch told his colleagues how nobody knows how to fight IS effectively. But: "We also have to promote that there is action."

That is a turning point. UN operations are demonized in the party program. The course is corrected against the vehement resistance of Oskar Lafontaine and other parts of the party, who see it as a “betrayal” of the principles of peace policy. The left has "the better answer", wrote the former party leader in the Tagesspiegel, by sending doctors and nurses, food and medicine to war zones.

Why is the party getting into an argument about how to maintain its pacifism? The reformers are accused of only wanting to steer towards a red-red-green government alliance. But what does Kobane, a small Kurdish town on the border with Turkey with around 50,000 inhabitants have that Timbuktu did not have? Or misrata? Or Srebrenica?

The dispute is fought over the last possible way to deny war as a political necessity. Should the left give up its stoic-anti-militarist stance, it would be that of pacifism in this country. Then it no longer exists as a spiritual movement - apart from individual voices like Antje Vollmer ("No, there is no lack of evidence for the political quality of pacifism, there is a lack of politicians who draw conclusions for today from the heyday of non-violent conflict resolution"). Above all, he would have lost his institutional ties to bodies that are empowered to send soldiers and military equipment. What influence would he have then?

Now the effect of pacifism on political decisions has always been less than the cultural echo. Bertha von Suttner, who saw the threat of industrial war looming at the end of the 19th century, was a figure of mockery of her time. As a Bohemian aristocratic daughter, she had seen her mother squander her family fortune at the gaming table, worked as an office worker for dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel, and in 1883, more or less out of boredom, turned to her life's topic. With a view to the militarization of the European great powers, she wrote: "Fighting the elements, which are often hostile to us, fighting diseases and misery also demands its heroes."

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