he episode begins like any other episode thus far in the series. Separatist forces are winning on a particular war front and the Jedi (namely Anakin and Ahsoka) arrive just in time to help turn the tide. Except this time, in Season 1, Episode 14, “Defenders of the Peace,” reactions are different. This time, the Jedi run into the Lurmen and Asoka is baffled by their beliefs.
The Lurmen are a neutral race and fervent believers in pacifism.
The separatists land, lay claim to the planet, and extend their “protection” (easily understood as oppression) to the villagers. The Lurmen don’t necessarily want this, but they don’t resist.
“We will offer no resistance.” – Tee Watt Kaa (village elder)
As I watched the episode, I could not help but consider my own background. I went to a Mennonite high school and eventually graduated from a Mennonite university. The beliefs of the Anabaptist movement run deep in my veins. I see similarities between the historical Mennonites and the Lurmen.
Given that my last Mennonite history course is more than a decade past, I opted to recruit Conrad Stoesz to watch and discuss this episode with. He is an archivist at the Mennonite Brethren Archives in Winnipeg, MB, and an expert on Mennonite history.
I hoped that he would see some link between Mennonite history within this episode, and I was not disappointed.
Kyle: Did the episode in any way have some relation to Mennonites, or am I way off?
Conrad: No you’re not way off. The struggles between values and practicality. The leader that wanted to stay true to the things that have been done, the way they have been taught and the younger ones not seeing a practical alternative.
K: Was there anything that you found lacking?
C: The episode portrays only two options. The fight or the flight. The good or the bad. Yet we know in life there is a grey area. There can be a third option that takes creativity to find.
K: So if you were the leader of the Lurmen. What could be a creative alternative?’
C: Let me answer that with a story. There’s a woman named Elizabeth Buhler. She lived in Winkler, MB, for many years until she was 106 years old or something. She died a couple of years ago.
C: She tells the story of when she was in Russia and bandits broke into her home. They rounded up the family and held them at gunpoint while the house was being looted. She had no idea what to do.
She saw the guitar next to them so she picked it up and just started playing something. Quietly at first. Eventually a little louder, a little louder, a little louder. She started playing some religious songs.
The leader of this group finally just said to the other bandits, “Stop! Stop what you’re doing! We shouldn’t be here. We should be ashamed of ourselves. Put everything back.” And they did and they left.
There was some kind of inspirational third option that appeared. So part of our task is to be open to inspiration and not just think it’s a fight or flight issue.
K: Then what about Ahsoka and Captain Rex? They commented on the Lurmen saying they don’t have any pride or any courage. Is that something that Mennonites experienced in their history with their pacifist beliefs?
C: Oh sure! In the second World War they were called shirkers and yellow-bellies and what-not for refusing to join the military. And some of them maybe were cowards but then there were also people in the military who were also cowards and did not stand up to public pressure and say, “No.” It goes both ways.
If we are following a non-violent leader and he is asking us to do the same, what does that mean for us? Is efficacy important or is faithfulness more important?
And for those who are choosing the conscientious objector’s stance, they may not use these exact words, but the idea of being faithful is what’s most important.
K: If the Jedi hadn’t come to defend them, the Lurmen would be dead. How did the Mennonites even survive? How do pacifists survive in this violent world?
C: There are still good people no matter where you go. On all sides of the conflict there are good people still.
During the Russian revolution there was a lot of anarchy. People would be subject to raids and a lot of atrocities that happened. So there were these self-defense units setup. They were trained by German military. They tried to provide some kind of harm-defense because they couldn’t stand anymore their houses being looted, their wives and mothers being shot and raped, and all that. Some church leaders were dead-set against that while others said it was your own personal decision to make.
At first these self-defense units were successful in warding off bandits. But later on the bandits figured out the tactics of these self-defense units and started to specifically target them.
The last part of this episode the old leader ends with, “Yes but at what cost?” In the end some Mennonite communities suffered even more because of their resistance.
K: One thing I saw is that the young people were very quick to help the injured Jedi, but the old, the faithful, were the ones who wanted the Jedi to get out. “We don’t want your war here.” Did that happen to in Mennonite history? Where being faithful was at the cost of helping someone else?
C: I could see how that could be a risk. I know in the War of 1812 some of the Mennonites in Ontario they helped both sides. Which meant trouble from both sides.
K: But do you ever refuse help?
C: Every situation is so different that you can really only hope to make the best decision at the time.
K: One line that the leader said was, “I would rather die than have to kill people.” Is that true of Mennonite pacifism?
C: Yes, I think so. Though now I’m thinking of is it wrong to kill a robot or what were they called?
C: Yeah, droids. I’d have to think about that. That’s a tough one.
Conrad Stoesz is an archivist with the Mennonite Brethren archives in Winnipeg, MB. You can learn more about the Mennonite Brethren history by visiting their website cmbs.mennonitebrethren.ca. ♦