He was a young teen and had been a patient of mine for at least a year. He had a long history of aggression, both verbal and physical. He expressed a lot of aggressive fantasies. But he was also a very smart and sensitive boy. At times, when he spoke it sounded like beautiful poetry.

He was hurting and vulnerable, a time that could produce a lot of aggressive posturing or that could produce some real talk about the real things that were bothering him. On this day, he told me proudly about his plan to end the Iraq War. His knowledge of military strategy was impressive, I must admit.

His aggressive fantasies, however, only fed his black and white thinking as well as his use of real aggression. I was not trying to encourage this. Seeing that I was not responding he said, “Dr. MacKenzie, isn’t that a great idea?” I responded with a couple of statements like, “You’ve given this a lot of thought” and perhaps even an interpretation, “Sometimes when we feel out of control of our lives, we like to feel very very powerful.”

He was a very persistent kid, though, and he was really proud of the elaborate combination of air, land, and sea forces that would win us the war. “Come on, you’re not answering the question. What do you really think?”

I knew that this boy respected me and considered me an important person in his life. He had very little peace in his life. We’d had many many conversations in the past like this one. I wanted to try a different response but I knew it was risky. I replied, “I am a pacifist.”

I’ll never forget the look on his face of incredible disappointment. I explained to him that I thought that finding peaceful solutions to world problems should be a goal of our country, that I knew it was unrealistic to expect to avoid all war, but that I was concerned that aggression was used so readily. There were additional reasons that had nothing to do with my self-disclosure, but he stopped seeing me within a month or two.

Pacifism is not a dirty concept but as a word it is treated as such. Pacifism is not “passivism”. Peace making is an incredibly active process requiring lots of planning, reflecting, listening, understanding, persistence and just plain work. It is also not being a door mat. Pacifism is about relationships, respect, and getting along. It is about justice and equality.

I know there are some people who believe in pacifism as an absolute. I don’t. I believe that it is a relative concept and further, that it is relatively neglected.

I think most people would agree that military force should not be the first line solution to a problem. War is often an act of domination. But it is often an act of desperation, if you really think about it. But it is often treated as a ready solution. And probably part of the reason for this is that we have a military at the ready all of the time. We have a war machine. Where is our peace machine? We don’t have one that is nearly the size, scope, and organization as our military.

Today, we commemorate D-Day, when Allied forces stormed the beach at Normandy, contributing to the end of WWII. So many sacrifices were made by so many people because the world had turned completely upside down.

How better to honor those losses by working harder not to repeat them?