My college alma mater is Swarthmore College. Swarthmore (or “Swat,” as it is known to its students), is a small, liberal-arts college located just outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. No, it is not a women’s college in upstate New York – you’re thinking of Skidmore College, and Skidmore has been co-ed since 1971. Swarthmore has been co-ed since its founding by Hicksite Quakers in 1864.
Interestingly, there is another Quaker-founded school not too far from Swarthmore. Haverford College, founded about 30 years before Swarthmore, fell on the Orthodox side of the Hicksite-Orthodox schism. The Quakers are more properly known as the “Society of Friends,” and when a certain anti-drunk-driving campaign started in the 1980s, it gave rise to the derivative slogan, “Friends don’t let Friends go to Haverford.”
Truthfully, though, this divide is no longer closely felt at the colleges; they (and Bryn Mawr college) work closely together in the “tri-college community,” and most of their students are not Quakers in the first place.
This does not mean that there is no Quaker influence on campus. The most direct influence is that, where many colleges have a “War Studies” program, Swarthmore instead has a “Peace Studies” program. While an individual’s beliefs can (and are permitted to) vary, Quakers are, as an institution, pacifists.
The following story demonstrates this position. I can find no attribution to this story, nor can attest to its truthfulness. It was related to me in class by the professor (J. William Frost), and goes something like this:
During the war, there was a Quaker in our school. He was a devout pacifist, and kept getting harassed by the other students about it. He also was on the school’s wrestling team. While he and some harassing students were passing through the gym, he decided to make a point. He picked up the loudest of the hecklers in a wrestling hold and threw him onto a nearby wrestling mat. He then stood over the dazed student – who had suddenly found himself looking up at the ceiling – and asked, “Now you you believe that violence doesn’t change people minds?”
“Heck, no!” came the reply.
“My point exactly,” said the wrestler as he walked away.
I find pacifism to be an admirable stance. It is, however, one that I do not totally share. I tend more toward the “Just War” theory – “Just” as in “Justice,” not as in “Only” – which outlines when it is appropriate to go to war (jus ad bellum) and what appropriate conduct is in war (jus in bello). War does not change people’s minds – the wrestler above proved that. But it can be used to change people’s actions; certainly the implication of the story above is that the hecklers gave the wrestler at least a little reprieve. Diplomacy must never be forsaken; sometimes, though, the military must be used so that diplomacy can be heard.
In my “War and Peace” class in college (no, not about the book; this was part of the Religion department and the Peace Studies program), my final paper was about Just War theory as it applied to Star Wars. I never got a grade on the paper; the professor wrote comments, but I think he was a bit thrown by my subject. One comment on the paper indicated that he had been expecting a paper on the Regan-era space defense program, and what he got was an analysis of Just War in the movie instead. This was inspired by a snippet of dialogue from the movie Clerks, where two of the characters are discussing the propriety of the Rebels blowing up the second Death Star, which was under active construction and had – the characters presume – innocent contractors aboard. My paper addressed that question: was the second Death Star an appropriate target under the “Just War” theories of how to conduct warfare?
I am neither reliably a hawk nor a dove. But I do want to make sure that any military action is taken as a last resort. When the United States invaded Afghanistan after the 11 September attacks, it seemed to me that that was an appropriate course of action. A few years later, when Iraq was invaded, I thought that more effort needed to be put into confirming intelligence reports before any military action should be taken.
This brings us to today. Violence, it seems, is becoming more and more the answer. Mr. Trump has launched an airstrike at a base in Syria. Like seemingly most things that Mr. Trump does, there are numerous legal questions surrounding this action. Do current Congressional authorizations of the use of force cover this? Does international law permit this? It would be hard to make a case under Just War theory for such an action (not impossible, but hard). I can say that I am not in favor of military action in Syria at this time; there are many issues at play, and it is important that all diplomatic avenues must be exhausted before military ones are tried.
Even as I sit here writing this, news is beginning to spread of the United State’s use of a massive bomb in Afghanistan. It is unclear if anyone was killed – the objective was to remove infrastructure used by ISIS – but use of such massive bombs are rare; this is the first use of this on a battlefield.
But this does not end with Mr. Trump. We have seen violence in police actions before, but the video of the violent removal of a passenger from an airplane reminds us just how far police feel they have the right to go when taking action. It doesn’t matter that the person on the airplane was a doctor or that he had had prior run-ins with police. People are deserving of respect without having to know their life’s history first.