The Humanitarian Conundrum: Reconciling Peace and Justice

For a while now, I have struggled with what I have recently decided to refer to as the Humanitarian Conundrum. This conundrum involves the attempt to reconcile my distaste for violence of any kind with my belief not only in the need for justice but also the existence of a moral obligation to our fellow humans. What I have, as a humanitarian, is a desire for peace in conjunction with the unfortunate understanding that peace cannot always be brought about peacefully.

Though I would not necessarily call myself a strict pacifist, I definitely have pacifistic tendencies. As a result, it is difficult for me to come to grips with the idea that my call for civilian protection often means the use of violence in order to fulfill the task of protecting. As a long time supporter of the Responsibility to Protect, I am very aware that while prevention is the ideal it is often not the reality. Historically speaking, the international community has been slow to react to humanitarian atrocities; even slower if not perhaps often incapable of preventing potential atrocities. As a result, the last resort of military intervention can become the only viable option for protecting civilians from  harm.

I have found that while on the surface these concepts of peace and justice seem compatible, in practice they quickly become dichotomous. For while it is possible to seek justice through non-violence, the reality is that justice often comes in the form of military action. I remain today unable to fully explain my distaste for US military action in general, yet my support for our intervention in Libya. Not to mention my strong belief that we ought to have intervened on the behalf of the Darfuri people long ago. There is a definite disparity there, for which I continue to seek clarity. Ultimately, for me, it comes down to a gut feeling that inaction in the face of crimes against humanity is morally unacceptable.

Nicholas Kristof said it beautifully in his recent article, Hugs From Libya: "I've seen war up close, I detest it. But there are things I've seen that are even worse -- such as the systematic slaughter of civilians as the world turns a blind eye." 

Leave it to Kristof to so simply express my exact sentiments. Yet, there remains a need for further explication of this stance as we begin to discuss particular instances such as Libya. The question remains of how we reconcile the violent reality of civilian protection with a general belief in peaceful, non-violent action. Truthfully, I believe this is a question for which we may never find a fulfilling answer. It will instead serve as an important dialogue to be had amongst pacificists and non-pacificsts alike.

I will leave you with some semblance of an answer as to how I reconcile my uneasiness with the violence of military action with my belief in the moral imperative of protecting civilians My answer for you today is simply this: I seek peace because it sits right with my soul. I seek justice because otherwise my soul could not be at peace with me. 

With that said, today you will find me in front of the White House bringing attention to the violence in Abyei and calling for action. While I remain uncomfortable with the idea of using violence to stop violence, I cannot morally justify inaction in the face of genocide.