A Lutheran pastor and theologian during WWII, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was martyred for his faith by the Nazis on April 09, 1945.V-Day for the Allies over Germany was May 08, 1945. Bonhoeffer didn't live to see his earthly freedom, but instead joined His Saviour and Lord in eternal freedom mere weeks before the war in Europe was over. In his last words to fellow prisoners, Bonhoeffer claims "this is not the end — but for me it is just the beginning."
As one of the founders of the Confessing Church (a movement to stand against state-controlled German church), Bonhoeffer warned Germans of being lured into a cult of the Fuhrer. The Nazis were so troubled by this one man's influence and teaching that they cut him of mid-sentence during a radio broadcast. The Confessing Church openly declared that Jesus Christ, not the Fuhrer, was the head of the church. Knowing the militant and violent consequences of such stands, this was a bold and holy statement to make.
In a classic swap of double agency, Bonhoeffer (a pacifist) began to work with the German Resistance using a position in the Abwher to move information to/from key agents. His agreement with the assassination of Hitler was a blow to many who found solace in his stand of non-violence, but Bonhoeffer was quick to declare that he would not justify his actions. He declared that he would take this guilt upon himself, and throw all of his humanity upon that very grace of God of which he had held to so dearly.
April 06, 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested. After 18 months in Tegel prison where sympathetic guards moved letters, information and teaching from the prisoner to his contacts in the outside world, he was shuffled about after his connection to the failed attempted at the Fuhrer's assassination was confirmed. He was finally jailed at Flossenburg concentration camp. There he was hanged 3 weeks before the Soviet invasion of Berlin.
When the lure of war or oppression calls people to such nationalism that we abandon our Christ, our Love, our Leader, and our Lord, we need to step back and remain unafraid to pursue peace. Pursuing peace, non-violence, is not a passive stance. In fact, it takes a courage of an altogether different sort for people to stand non-violently against the violence the would swallow the world.
And yes… even pacifists sometimes see no other way out than to destroy the root of that violence. In Bonhoeffer's case, the root was Hitler and it needed to be done away with. Yet he could not justify this violent act other than it had to be done.
Lest we regret our own violence towards threats we perceive as evil, when evil rises, we must grasp the many ways to stand against it before choosing to bear arms. Peace will not be cultivated at point of gun. But for peace to stand, it must be active and alive. Passivity will result in silent agreement with violence, and people will die.
I will leave you with Martin Niemoller's famous words:
“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”