The Sled of Pragmatism on The Slope of Evil

“But Churchill was a pragmatist …” The words were the prelude to the images and explanations of one of the horrors of WWII, this one perpetrated by the Allies … the folks I like to think of as “the good guys.”

I just finished watching a documentary simply titled World War II.  Over a span of several weeks, the 12-hour piece left me exhausted physically, mentally and spiritually. A war which spanned the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa and North America and soldiers from Australia …  The Atlantic, the Pacific, the Mediterranean. The conflict engulfed the planet such that one is amazed there was anything left when it was over.

But that line describing Prime Minister Winston Churchill as a “pragmatist” – that’s the one that left me reeling.

Any time you ask the question: What is the practical application of thus-and-such, you are a pragmatist. People who dwell in the realm of theory are often backed up against the wall of pragmatism by legislators, funders and many a “man / woman on the street”.

In many circumstance to be pragmatic is to be reasonable. Something like: How many trips do I want to make to the store? Doesn’t it make sense to consider the costs, monetary and environmental as well as your time, and consolidate many trips into one? But what if the issue is more like this: How many enemy lives are worth an American / British / German / Austrian / Russian (pick your country) life? This was the question that hovered over heads of state and generals as war was waged. We might ask: What is my freedom to own a gun worth compared to the potential accidental loss of innocent life … like my child, for example, or one of their friends?

What exactly is the line of distinction separating these realities:

  • 6 million Jews were exterminated because they were believed to be the “enemy of the state”.
  • Dresden, Germany was carpet bombed, though it was a city of no military significance, this in response to the bombing of London.
  • Hiroshima and Nagasaki had atomic bombs dropped on them as a result of and in response to the loss of Allied lives in the battles on Okinawa, Iwo Jima and the Chinese mainland.

Hitler, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt all shared one conviction: Break the spirit of a people and you will break the back of their army. It was a pragmatic approach, one that made an assumption, proven time and time again to be wrong.

When nations are ruled by egomaniacal tyrants, even the “good guys” are brought low. And pragmatism serves only to push us further and further down the slope of evil.

Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.

  • Tom Astle

    What do you think were the Allies supposed to do, Mark?

    Truman was left with very few options regarding Japan. After basically months of firebombing Tokyo etc, Japan still refused to come to the table to end the war.

    I think history had shown up to that point that if the Axis was allowed to do whatever they wanted without a clear response, they would continue to up the ante in their quest of world domination. Think of Hitler and the Anschlusz, Poland, France; Japan and Manchuria.

    We sometimes assume that the people on the other sides of these equations are going to behave in a logical and/or moralistic manner “if we just give them the chance.” While I would really hope to think that pans out sometimes, there are really are some other times where it will not.