The Times reports today:
THE Christian group whose activists were freed in a British-led raid in Baghdad yesterday did not thank their rescuers but instead called on them to withdraw from Iraq.
Like everyone else, I'm delighted at the rescue of the three campaigners, and saddened by the earlier murder of one of them. I held off writing about this story earlier today, because it seemed to me inconceivable that those who had been saved from torture and barbaric murder could have had literally no word of thanks for those who had risked their own lives to save them.
It turns out that the omission eventually occurred to the rescued and their comrades, judging by an addition to the organisation's web site this afternoon:
We have been so overwhelmed and overjoyed to have Jim, Harmeet and Norman freed, that we have not adequately thanked the people involved with freeing them, nor remembered those still in captivity. So we offer these paragraphs as the first of several addenda: We are grateful to the soldiers who risked their lives to free Jim, Norman and Harmeet. As peacemakers who hold firm to our commitment to nonviolence, we are also deeply grateful that they fired no shots to free our colleagues. We are thankful to all the people who gave of themselves sacrificially to free Jim, Norman, Harmeet and Tom over the last four months, and those supporters who prayed and wept for our brothers in captivity, for their loved ones and for us, their co-workers.
Well, yes. But the fact that gratitude is late and grudging is not in itself a reason to begrudge it. What seems to me more interesting than the etiquette is the insight afforded into modern pacifism. The organised religious pacifist movement in its modern form dates from the First World War. Its most prominent component, the umbrella group the Fellowship of Reconciliation, interpreted pacifism as a personal rejection of violence rather than a sectarian political campaign. Its most prominent figures were its longstanding Executive Secretary, Albert Hassler, and the US Socialist Party leader and Presidential candidate Norman Thomas. Both men argued for policies that were thoroughly misguided (Thomas, with grievous misjudgement joined Charles Lindbergh's isolationist America First Committee, a body I referred to here), yet were opponents of totalitarianism. They did not confuse pacifism with a campaign against the liberal democracies.
Something went badly wrong with the pacifist movement in the 1930s on this side of the Atlantic, when it was infected by a stance of neutrality towards despotism. As the great Protestant social thinker Reinhold Niebuhr, once a member of the FoR, observed (in Christianity and Power Politics, 1952; see also his essay "Why the Christian Church is not Pacifist" in The Essential Reinhold Niebuhr, 1987): "Pacifism either tempts us to make no judgements at all, or to give an undue preference to tyranny."
The same happened in the US after Thomas's death in 1968. During the 1970s, pacifism as advocated by such bodies as the FoR and the American Friends' Service Committee became subsumed in 'peace and justice' campaigns that were distinguished by calls for unilateral nuclear disarmament by the West, and unwillingness to denounce Third World tyrannies. Such campaigning has a recent counterpart in the decision of CND to invite the Iranian Ambassador to its annual conference.
I cannot but think that the moral compromises (I use the weakest and most generous term I can find) involved in this type of politicised pacifism have their counterpart in the response of the Christian Peacemakers to the rescue of their comrades. Servicemen took personal risks to free the pacifist captives; tardiness in expressing thanks has the mark of the dogmatist. That is a politer term than bigot, but in this case the difference is a matter only of degree.
UPDATE: Former CND Chairman Bruce Kent is a man of ineffable silliness. I've just seen his comment on this affair for BBC Online: "Of course I would like to thank the Foreign Office and, if it was the military that helped free him, then them too."
If it was the military? If it was the military? Perhaps he really believes it was the power of intercessionary prayer.