What Would You Do If?
By Joan Baez
Fred: OK. So you're a pacifist. What would you do if someone were, say, attacking your grandmother?
Joan: Attacking my poor old grandmother?
Fred: Yeah, you're in a room with your grandmother and there's a guy about to attack her and you're standing there. What would you do?
Joan: I'd yell, "Three cheers for Grandma!" and leave the room."
Fred: No, seriously. Say he had a gun and he was about to shoot her. Would you shoot him first?
Joan: Do I have a gun?
Joan: No. I'm a pacifist, I don't have a gun.
Fred: Well, I say you do.
Joan: All right. Am I a good shot?
Joan: I'd shoot the gun out of his hand.
Fred: No, then you're not a good shot.
Joan: I'd be afraid to shoot. Might kill Grandma.
Fred: Come on, OK, look. We'll take another example. Say, you're driving a truck. You're on a narrow road with a sheer cliff on your side. There's a little girl sitting in the middle of the road. You're going too fast to stop. What would you do?
Joan: I don't know. What would you do?
Fred: I'm asking you. You're the pacifist.
Joan: Yes, I know. All right, am I in control of the truck?
Joan: How about if I honk my horn so she can get out of the way?
Fred: She's too young to walk. And the horn doesn't work.
Joan: I swerve around to the left of her since she's not going anywhere.
Fred: No, there's been a landslide.
Joan: Oh. Well then, I would try to drive the truck over the cliff and save the little girl.
Fred: Well, say there's someone else in the truck with you. Then what?
Joan: What's my decision have to do with my being a pacifist?
Fred: There's two of you in the truck and only one little girl.
Joan: Someone once said if you have a choice between a real evil and a hypothetical evil, always take the real one.
Joan:: I said, why are you so anxious to kill off all the pacifists?
Fred: I'm not. I just want to know what you'd do if...
Joan: If I was in a truck with a friend driving very fast on a one-lane road approaching a dangerous impasse where a ten-month old girl is sitting in the middle of the road with a landslide on one side of her and a sheer drop-off on the other.
Fred: That's right.
Joan: I would probably slam on the brakes, thus sending my friend through the windscreen, skid into the landslide, run over the little girl, sail off the cliff and plunge to my own death. No doubt Grandma's house would be at the bottom of the ravine and the truck would crash through her roof and blow up in her living room where she was finally being attacked for the first, and last, time.
Fred: You haven't answered my question. You're just trying to get out of it...
Joan: - I'm really trying to say a couple of things. One is that no one knows what they'll do in a moment of crisis and hypothetical questions get hypothetical answers. I'm also hinting that you've made it impossible for me to come out of the situation without having killed one or more people. Then you say, 'Pacifism is a nice idea, but it won't work'. But that's not what bothers me.
Fred: What bothers you?
Joan: Well, you might not like it because it's not hypothetical.
It's real. And it makes the assault on Grandma look like a garden party.
Fred: What's that?
Joan: I'm thinking about how we put people through a training process so they'll find out the really good, efficient ways of killing. Nothing incidental like trucks and landslides. Just the opposite, really. You know, how to growl and yell, kill and crawl and jump out of airplanes. Real organized stuff. After all, you have to be able to run a bayonet through Grandma's middle.
Fred: That's something entirely different.
Joan: Sure. And don't you see it's much harder to look at, because its real, and it's going on right now? Look. A general sticks a pin into a map. A week later a bunch of young boys are sweating it out in a jungle somewhere, shooting each other's arms and legs off, crying, praying and losing control of their bowels. Doesn't it seem stupid to you?
Fred: Well, you're talking about war.
Joan: Yes, I know. Doesn't it seem stupid to you?
Fred: What do you do instead, then? Turn the other cheek, I suppose.
Joan: No. Love thine enemy but confront his evil. Love thine enemy. Thou shalt not kill.
Fred: Yeah, and look what happened to him.
Joan: He grew up.
Fred: They hung him on a cross is what happened to him. I don't want to get hung on a cross.
Joan: You won't.
Joan: I said you don't get to choose how you're going to die. Or when. You can only decide how you are going to live. Now.
Fred: Well, I'm not going to go letting everybody step all over me, that's for sure.
Joan: Jesus said, "Resist not evil. But overcome evil with good.”
This reading is from The Class of Nonviolence, prepared by Colman McCarthy of the Center for Teaching Peace, 4501 Van Ness Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20016 202/537-1372