Pacifism is called harder that military alternative

Your contrast between “pacifism” and “action” betrays a basic misunderstanding of pacifism. Serious pacifists from Gandhi through Martin Luther King (and including Oscar Arias) have always emphasized that pacifism is not passive. Rather, it is active — and in fact typically requires more work than militarism. In renouncing violence, pacifist relinquish a powerful arrow in the quiver that others use, but there are other arrows, and serious pacifists use them.

In the case of the controversy over the Isla Calero, Costa Rica has been anything but passive. It immediately deployed a main pacifist weapon, namely appealing for popular sympathy by positioning itself as the victim. Clearly this strategy has been quite successful, for it has put you, most other North Americans, and much of the global press squarely on Costa Rica’s side. This siding with Costa Rica has been so pronounced that some in the press have even “reported” factual inaccuracies that favor Costa Rica while words like “bully” and “invasion” are regularly applied to Nicaragua.

And not to leave the public relations gambit to portraying itself as the peace-loving victim, Costa Rica immediately seized upon the strategy of adding the complaint that Nicaragua is causing environmental damage to the contested swampland. Quite apart from the fact that anything anyone does to a neglected swamp will obviously alter “the delicate wetland ecosystem,” it is not even clear that Nicaragua is guilty of this — or at least any guiltier than Costa Rica.

Some noted environmentalist assert that Costa Rica has done far more environmental damage to the area! However, by coming out of the gate fast with the cry of environmentalism Costa Rica has seemingly also won the initial sympathy of environmentalists.

Meanwhile, Costa Rica has hardly been passive in other ways.

Chinchilla declared Nicaragua an “enemy” (pretty strong stuff), has more “police” stationed on the border than Nicaragua has soldiers, and has run to both the Organization of American States and the world court asking for support. This is not a weak response. In fact, it is likely a stronger response in terms of achieving a long-term victory than pulling the trigger would have been.

It’s just wrongheaded to characterize Costa Rica’s pacifism as inactive. It is quite the opposite, and frankly more likely to be effective than a military response would be.

Now, your editorial does raise some “what if” scenarios, as in, “What if Nicaragua took Guanacaste by force and turned it into a concentration camp?” My rejoinder is to say, “Let’s worry about this IF it happens.” You could theoretically reach a point where a pacifist response appears inadequate to a threat, and, if such a point is reached, it might be fair to criticize Costa Rica’s pacifism.

Odds are that such a fanciful scenario would result in U.N. troops defending Costa Rica, and if this happened you could fault Costa Rica for not shouldering its fair share of responsibility in contributing troops to U.N. military missions, but again this criticism is grossly premature.

Let’s wait until there is a reason to call Costa Rica’s pacifism irresponsible before we do. So far it has managed quite well without a military and in fact has never needed to call another military to its aid.

Ken Morris
San Pedro

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