I was waiting at the bus stop for a friend of mine when a couple of local boys I recognized but didn't know came up to me. One of them got up close to my face and said, "You beat up ma wee brother." I protested that I didn't even know he had a brother. (I should take this opportunity to point out that I have never in my life beaten up a soul.) "Ye did, ye beat up ma wee brother!" It was pointless to argue. For all I know this guy didn't have a brother. It was a fabricated reason, an excuse to start in on me, why I don't know – wrong place at the wrong time, wrong trousers, wrong haircut, looking stupit. I don't know if convincing themselves that I had somehow wronged them made it easier or more fun or what. Anyway, after a bit of back and forth on the issue of whether I had or had not beat up this guy's wee brother that may or may not exist, he stuck the head on me. I've never been very physical, or much of a fighter. Well me and my brother used to knock lumps out of each other but family's different. Basically I just leaned over and protected my face with my arms as the punches and kicks came. Eventually a neighbor came running out of the supermarket nearby and yelled at them until they ran off laughing. I was more embarrassed than sore. Every time something like this has happened (did you think this was going to be an isolated incident?) I end up kicking myself for not fighting back, because it's almost never as painful as you think it's going to be. I just never had a stomach for violence.
It seems like pacifism would be a natural fit for someone who can't stand violence. As a teenager I got in an argument with someone over them putting 'The Only Good Fascist Is A Dead Fascist' on a flyer. My politics were still developing (still are!) but I was definitely, by that point, a committed anti-fascist. I just couldn't put myself behind the trigger.
It's romantic to think of all the artists and poets and leftists who rushed to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War, to imagine that we might have fought alongside them. Or to answer the call to fight Hitler in the Great War - A noble cause, but could I have answered?
I experienced the dubious thrill of potential mob violence chasing Nazis through the streets of Glasgow when the BNP would try to march. It never came to much because the Fash were always so pathetically outnumbered that they had to have heavy Police protection. So we just screamed at each other across a human barricade of boys in blue. What would I have done if the cops hadn't been there to protect us all from what might happen? In that type of pressure-cooker situation, who knows?
I don't think I really am a pacifist when it comes down to it. It's hard to reconcile though. I think war is wrong. I will not take up arms against another living creature. But I do think it's sometimes necessary for a group to use violence in one form or another to resist violence that's perpetrated against it. Can you feel that way, but refuse to fight? Is it right to let those with the capability for violence handle the dirty work? How is that different from the hawks in the White House sending working class kids off to Iraq to advance their NeoConservative agenda?