Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

On John Lennon’s Birthday, a Few Words About War

Why “pacifists” aren’t “fascifists”


John Lennon was born October 9, 1940. He would have been 82 today.

In 1972, South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond sent a letter to the office of Attorney General John Mitchell, suggesting Lennon be deported. Thurmond believed Lennon’s antiwar and anti-Nixon views would spread in rock concerts and festivals, and cited a “confidential source” in saying, “if Lennon’s visa is terminated it would be a strategy counter-measure.” Mitchell’s deputy sent a letter to the Immigration Commissioner asking if there was “any basis” to deport Lennon. A court battle ended with a Judge named Irving Kaufman striking down his deportation, writing:

Lennon’s four-year battle to remain in our country is a testimony to his faith in this American dream.

Though I’m more a fan of Strawberry Fields than kumbaya anthems like “Imagine” and “Give Peace a Chance,” I figured someone ought to say a word or two in defense of nonviolence on John Lennon’s birthday.

Targeted by the hated Richard Nixon administration in 1972, Lennon today would be denounced across the spectrum, thanks to a new, relentless public relations campaign equating peace advocacy with fascism, Putinism, Trumpism, even terrorism. The term fascifist, lifted from the WWII era and an old essay by George Orwell, has been revived and is suddenly very visible on social media. The pertinent passage from Orwell’s 1942 “Pacifism and the War” reads:

Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other… The idea that you can somehow remain aloof from and superior to the struggle, while living on food which British sailors have to risk their lives to bring you, is a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security.

Writer James Kirchick recently made the same point in The Atlantic.How the Anti-war Camp Went Intellectually Bankrupt” reads like an epitaph for antiwar thinking. Citing the same Orwell essay, Kirchick denounces the “motley collection of voices” pushing restraint after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:

Ranging from anti-imperialists on the left to isolationists on the right and more respectable “realists” in between, these critics are not pacifists in the strict sense of the term. Few if any oppose the use of force as a matter of principle. But nor are they neutral. It is not sufficient, they say, for the West to cut off its supply of defensive weaponry to Ukraine. It must also atone for “provoking” Russia to attack its smaller, peaceful, democratic neighbor, and work at finding a resolution that satisfies what Moscow calls its “legitimate security interests.” In this, today’s anti-war caucus is objectively pro-fascist.

To these people humanity is perennially stuck in 1938, after Hitler annexed the Sudetenland. At that crucial moment, much celebrated in American and British film and literature, there was a split in the West. On one side sat the Churchills of the world, brave sages who saw what was coming and scrambled to act appropriately. On the other side sat the pacifists. They weren’t merely mistaken about the future. That would be too kind an assessment. Whether consciously or unconsciously, they were villains, rooting for fascist victory.


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