The Mennonite’s have a long tradition of non-violence and pacifism. Like the other historic peace churches (Quakers, Church of the Brethren), Mennonites have, from their origins, taken the position that Jesus was himself was an avowed pacifist and therefore his followers must live his example.
As we might expect, there are varying viewpoints within the ‘peace churches’ as to how the principle of non-violence should be applied in practice. David Neufield, in his excellent 2002 documentary, ‘The Pacifist Who Went To War‘ tells the story of two Mennonite brothers from Manitoba in Canada, who were forced to make a decision in 1939, as Canada joined World War II. With the weight of 400 years of pacifist tradition resting heavily on their shoulders, the question they could not avoid, ‘should they now go to war’?, resonated throughout their community. Ted followed the traditionalist line and became a conscientious objector, while his brother John served in the military. Fifty years after the event, the town of Winkler controversially dedicated its first war memorial, prompting a wider debate in the Mennonite community as to their current stance on war; it is against this backdrop that John begins to share his war experiences with Ted.
Neufield’s film explores the issues surrounding non-violence and pacifism in times of war and national crisis in a sensitive and thoughtful manner. By interviewing two brothers who took very divergent paths, Neufield highlights the wide-ranging, and deeply personal consequences that flow from taking a principled stand in the face of war and violence.
You can watch the film for free on the National Film Board of Canada’s website here:
You can also watch a clip (courtesy of youtube) below: