Some time ago, a friend of mine in the UK, who is a Christian pacifist, sent me this quote from an unlikely source:
Of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war: neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
I had just thinking about this sort of topic on the way in to work. How much are peoples responsible when it comes to war or violence? Goering is, of course, wrong, and he knew it. The common people often do want particular wars, all the more so in democracies, which generally don't go to war unless a majority support it. This tends to happen when a country is actually attacked, or one of its allies is attacked. Who told America it was being attacked? Bush? No, it was CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, every radio station in the country. America knew it had been attacked before a single government official said so.
But even populations led by tyrants can unleash agressive tendencies not directly manipulated by their leader. Germany is a real case in point, which is why so many historians talk about the strange "mass psychosis" suffered by the German people in choosing Hitler to be their leader and then supporting him for so long.
But if we recognise that peoples whose leaders are tyrants or despots may have a degree of innocence, then we are left in a very odd position. We can legitimately go to war with other democracies because their peoples have voted for the war, but we are in a
trickier ethical position with tyrants, because the people may not want to support them. But democracies generally have no reason to go to war with other democracies, yet they have plenty of reason to go to war with tyrants. This is why rules of war become so important, but when the other side refuses to play by them what do you do?
The other question is how far does the responsibility lie on the people of the tyrant's land to get rid of the tyrant? History is full
of examples of oppressed peoples rising up and freeing themselves. But sometimes the people don't mind the tyrant, often for religious reasons, and then you have to ask how far they share the guilt for the deeds performed by the tyrant. I say this particularly because I have a picture in an old newspaper open in front of me of a seething crowd of young women in Indonesia, heads covered, but an unmistakable hatred burning in their eyes, chanting what are presumably anti-American slogans, because several of them have tied hand-written bandanas around their headscarves, bearing the slogan "Go to Hell USA," which presumably means rather more to them than it does to the secular west. If Indonesian terorists launched attacks on Australia (not beyond the realm of possibility), would we be right in saying that these young women are innocent? I don't think so. Remember also all the many, many children involved in riots in Palestine. Is every one of their mothers simply brow-beaten by the father (or Yasser Arafat, by Goering's logic) into allowing them out, or are they also glad that their children are risking death by throwing rocks at the Israelis, and encouraging it? An innocent act? How can we describe as innocent a culture that will gladly, with the approval of the mother,
thrust an automatic rifle into the arms of a child and order him to go out and commit what, by any measure, must be described as hate crimes?
I don't have the answers to these questions, but I think they have to be asked.