What Is Pacifism?
Pacifism is opposition to war, militarism, or violence. The word pacifism was coined by the French peace campaigner Émile Arnaud (1864–1921) and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress in Glasgow in 1901. A related term is ahimsa (to do no harm), which is a core philosophy in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. While modern connotations are recent, having been explicated since the 19th century, ancient references abound.
In modern times, interest was revived by Leo Tolstoy in his late works, particularly in The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948) propounded the practice of steadfast nonviolent opposition which he called “satyagraha”, instrumental in its role in the Indian Independence Movement. Its effectiveness served as inspiration to Martin Luther King Jr., James Lawson, James Bevel, Thich Nhat Hanh and many others in the civil rights movement.
Pacifism covers a spectrum of views, including the belief that international disputes can and should be peacefully resolved, calls for the abolition of the institutions of the military and war, opposition to any organization of society through governmental force (anarchist or libertarian pacifism), rejection of the use of physical violence to obtain political, economic or social goals, the obliteration of force, and opposition to violence under any circumstance, even defence of self and others. Historians of pacifism Peter Brock and Thomas Paul Socknat define pacifism “in the sense generally accepted in English-speaking areas” as “an unconditional rejection of all forms of warfare”. Philosopher Jenny Teichman defines the main form of pacifism as “anti-warism”, the rejection of all forms of warfare. Teichman’s beliefs have been summarized by Brian Orend as “… A pacifist rejects war and believes there are no moral grounds which can justify resorting to war. War, for the pacifist, is always wrong.” In a sense the philosophy is based on the idea that the ends do not justify the means.
Some pacifists follow principles of nonviolence, believing that nonviolent action is morally superior and/or most effective. Some however, support physical violence for emergency defence of self or others. Others support destruction of property in such emergencies or for conducting symbolic acts of resistance like pouring red paint to represent blood on the outside of military recruiting offices or entering air force bases and hammering on military aircraft.
Not all nonviolent resistance (sometimes also called civil resistance) is based on a fundamental rejection of all violence in all circumstances. Many leaders and participants in such movements, while recognizing the importance of using non-violent methods in particular circumstances, have not been absolute pacifists. Sometimes, as with the civil rights movement’s march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, they have called for armed protection. The interconnections between civil resistance and factors of force are numerous and complex.
An absolute pacifist is generally described by the British Broadcasting Corporation as one who believes that human life is so valuable, that a human should never be killed and war should never be conducted, even in self-defense. The principle is described as difficult to abide by consistently, due to violence not being available as a tool to aid a person who is being harmed or killed. It is further claimed that such a pacifist could logically argue that violence leads to more undesirable results than non-violence.
Police actions and national liberation
Although all pacifists are opposed to war between nation states, there have been occasions where pacifists have supported military conflict in the case of civil war or revolution. For instance, during the American Civil War, both the American Peace Society and some former members of the Non-Resistance Society supported the Union’s military campaign, arguing they were carrying out a “police action” against the Confederacy, whose act of Secession they regarded as criminal. Following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, French pacifist René Gérin (1892–1957) urged support for the Spanish Republic. Gérin argued that the Spanish Nationalists were “comparable to an individual enemy” and the Republic’s war effort was equivalent to the action of a domestic police force suppressing crime.
In the 1960s, some pacifists associated with the New Left supported wars of national liberation and supported groups such as the Viet Cong and the Algerian FLN, arguing peaceful attempts to liberate such nations were no longer viable, and war was thus the only option.
Early traditions of pacifism
Advocacy of pacifism can be found far back in history and literature.
During the Warring States period, the pacifist Mohist School opposed aggressive war between the feudal states. They took this belief into action by using their famed defensive strategies to defend smaller states from invasion from larger states, hoping to dissuade feudal lords from costly warfare. The Seven Military Classics of ancient China view warfare negatively, and as a last resort. For example, the Three Strategies of Huang Shigong says: “As for the military, it is not an auspicious instrument; it is the way of heaven to despise it”, and the Wei Liaozi writes: “As for the military, it is an inauspicious instrument; as for conflict and contention, it runs counter to virtue”.
The Taoist scripture “Classic of Great Peace (Taiping jing)” foretells “the coming Age of Great Peace (taiping).” The Taiping Jing advocates “a world full of peace”.
The Lemba religion of southern French Congo, along with its symbolic herb, is named for pacifism : “lemba, lemba” (peace, peace), describes the action of the plant lemba-lemba (Brillantaisia patula T. Anders). Likewise in Cabinda, “Lemba is the spirit of peace, as its name indicates.”
The Moriori, of the Chatham Islands, practiced pacifism by order of their ancestor Nunuku-whenua. This enabled the Moriori to preserve what limited resources they had in their harsh climate, avoiding waste through warfare. In turn, this led to their almost complete annihilation in 1835 by invading Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama Māori from the Taranaki region of the North Island of New Zealand. The invading Māori killed, enslaved and cannibalised the Moriori. A Moriori survivor recalled : “[The Maori] commenced to kill us like sheep … [We] were terrified, fled to the bush, concealed ourselves in holes underground, and in any place to escape our enemies. It was of no avail; we were discovered and killed – men, women and children indiscriminately.”
In Ancient Greece, pacifism seems not to have existed except as a broad moral guideline against violence between individuals. No philosophical program of rejecting violence between states, or rejecting all forms of violence, seems to have existed. Aristophanes, in his play Lysistrata, creates the scenario of an Athenian woman’s anti-war sex strike during the Peloponnesian War of 431–404 BC, and the play has gained an international reputation for its anti-war message. Nevertheless, it is both fictional and comical, and though it offers a pragmatic opposition to the destructiveness of war, its message seems to stem from frustration with the existing conflict (then in its twentieth year) rather than from a philosophical position against violence or war. Equally fictional is the nonviolent protest of Hegetorides of Thasos. Euripides also expressed strong anti-war ideas in his work, especially The Trojan Women.
Several Roman writers rejected the militarism of Roman society and gave voice to anti-war sentiments,including Propertius, Tibullus and Ovid.The Stoic Seneca the Younger criticised warfare in his book Naturales quaestiones (circa 65 AD).
Maximilian of Tebessa was a Christian conscientious objector. He was killed for refusing to be conscripted.
See also: Christian pacifism
Throughout history many have understood Jesus of Nazareth to have been a pacifist, drawing on his Sermon on the Mount. In the sermon Jesus stated that one should “not resist an evildoer” and promoted his turn the other cheek philosophy. “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well … Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” The New Testament story is of Jesus, besides preaching these words, surrendering himself freely to an enemy intent on having him killed and proscribing his followers from defending him.
There are those, however, who deny that Jesus was a pacifist and state that Jesus never said not to fight, citing examples from the New Testament. One such instance portrays an angry Jesus driving dishonest market traders from the temple. A frequently quoted passage is Luke 22:36: “He said to them, ‘But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.'” Pacifists have typically explained that verse as Jesus fulfilling prophecy, since in the next verse, Jesus continues to say: “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” Others have interpreted the non-pacifist statements in the New Testament to be related to self-defense or to be metaphorical and state that on no occasion did Jesus shed blood or urge others to shed blood.
Beginning in the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation gave rise to a variety of new Christian sects, including the historic peace churches. Foremost among them were the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Amish, Mennonites, and Church of the Brethren. The humanist writer Desiderius Erasmus was one of the most outspoken pacifists of the Renaissance, arguing strongly against warfare in his essays The Praise of Folly (1509) and The Complaint of Peace (1517).
The Quakers were prominent advocates of pacifism, who as early as 1660 had repudiated violence in all forms and adhered to a strictly pacifist interpretation of Christianity. They stated their beliefs in a declaration to King Charles II:
“We utterly deny all outward wars and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretense whatever; this is our testimony to the whole world. The Spirit of Christ … which leads us into all truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.
Throughout the many 18th century wars in which Britain participated, the Quakers maintained a principled commitment not to serve in the army and militia or even to pay the alternative £10 fine.
The English Quaker William Penn, who founded the Province of Pennsylvania, employed an anti-militarist public policy. Unlike residents of many of the colonies, Quakers chose to trade peacefully with the Indians, including for land. The colonial province was, for the 75 years from 1681 to 1756, essentially unarmed and experienced little or no warfare in that period.
From the 16th to the 18th centuries, a number of thinkers devised plans for an international organisation that would promote peace, and reduce or even eliminate the occurrence of war. These included the French politician Duc de Sully, the philosophers Émeric Crucéand the Abbe de Saint-Pierre, and the English Quakers William Penn and John Bellers.
Pacifist ideals emerged from two strands of thought that coalesced at the end of the 18th century. One, rooted in the secular Enlightenment, promoted peace as the rational antidote to the world’s ills, while the other was a part of the evangelical religious revival that had played an important part in the campaign for the abolition of slavery. Representatives of the former included Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in Extrait du Projet de Paix Perpetuelle de Monsieur l’Abbe Saint-Pierre (1756), Immanuel Kant, in his Thoughts on Perpetual Peace, and Jeremy Bentham who proposed the formation of a peace association in 1789. Representative of the latter, was William Wilberforce who thought that strict limits should be imposed on British involvement in the French Revolutionary War based on Christian ideals of peace and brotherhood. Bohemian Bernard Bolzano (1781–1848) taught about the social waste of militarism and the needlessness of war. He urged a total reform of the educational, social, and economic systems that would direct the nation’s interests toward peace rather than toward armed conflict between nations.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, pacifism was not entirely frowned upon throughout Europe. It was considered a political stance against costly capitalist-imperialist wars, a notion particularly popular in the British Liberal Party of the twentieth century. However, during the eras of World War One and especially World War Two, public opinion on the ideology split. Those against the second World War, some argued, were not fighting against unnecessary wars of imperialism but instead acquiescing to the fascist evils of Germany, Italy and Japan.
During the period of the Napoleonic Wars, although no formal peace movement was established until the end of hostilities, a significant peace movement animated by universalist ideals did emerge, due to the perception of Britain fighting in a reactionary role and the increasingly visible impact of the war on the welfare of the nation in the form of higher taxation levels and high casualty rates. Sixteen peace petitions to Parliament were signed by members of the public, anti-war and anti-Pitt demonstrations convened and peace literature was widely published and disseminated.
The first peace movements appeared in 1815–16. In the United States the first such movement was the New York Peace Society, founded in 1815 by the theologian David Low Dodge, and the Massachusetts Peace Society. It became an active organization, holding regular weekly meetings, and producing literature which was spread as far as Gibraltar and Malta, describing the horrors of war and advocating pacificism on Christian grounds. The London Peace Society (also known as the Society for the Promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace) was formed in 1816 to promote permanent and universal peace by the philanthropist William Allen. In the 1840s, British women formed “Olive Leaf Circles”, groups of around 15 to 20 women, to discuss and promote pacifist ideas.
The peace movement began to grow in influence by the mid-nineteenth century. The London Peace Society, under the initiative of American consul to Birmingham Elihu Burritt and the reverend Henry Richard, convened the first International Peace Congress in London in 1843. The congress decided on two aims: the ideal of peaceable arbitration in the affairs of nations and the creation of an international institution to achieve that. Richard became the secretary of the Peace Society in 1850 on a full-time basis, a position which he would keep for the next 40 years, earning himself a reputation as the ‘Apostle of Peace’. He helped secure one of the earliest victories for the peace movement by securing a commitment from the Great Powers in the Treaty of Paris (1856) at the end of the Crimean War, in favour of arbitration. On the European continent, wracked by social upheaval, the first peace congress was held in Brussels in 1848 followed by Paris a year later.
After experiencing a recession in support due to the resurgence of militarism during the American Civil War and Crimean War, the movement began to spread across Europe and began to infiltrate the new working class socialist movements. In 1870, Randal Cremer formed the Workman’s Peace Association in London. Cremer, alongside the French economist Frédéric Passy was also the founding father of the first international organisation for the arbitration of conflicts in 1889, the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The National Peace Council was founded in after the 17th Universal Peace Congress in London (July August 1908).
An important thinker who contributed to pacifist ideology was Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. In one of his latter works, The Kingdom of God is Within You, Tolstoy provides a detailed history, account and defense of pacifism. Tolstoy’s work inspired a movement named after him advocating pacifism to arise in Russia and elsewhere. The book was a major early influence on Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948), and the two engaged in regular correspondence while Gandhi was active in South Africa.
Bertha von Suttner, the first woman to be a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, became a leading figure in the peace movement with the publication of her novel, Die Waffen nieder! (“Lay Down Your Arms!”) in 1889 and founded an Austrian pacifist organization in 1891.
In New Zealand, during the latter half of the 19th century British colonists used many tactics to confiscate land from the indigenous Māori, including warfare. In the 1870s and 1880s, Parihaka, then reputed to be the largest Māori village in New Zealand, became the centre of a major campaign of non-violent resistance to European occupation of confiscated land in the area. One Māori leader, Te Whiti-o-Rongomai, inspired warriors to stand up for their rights without using weapons, which had led to defeat in the past. In 1881 he convinced 2000 Maori to welcome battle-hardened British soldiers into their village and even offered food and drink. He allowed himself and his people to be arrested without resistance for opposing land confiscation. He is remembered as a great leader because the “passive resistance” his practice prevented British massacres and even protected far more land than violent resistance.
Mohandas K. Gandhi was a major political and spiritual leader of India, instrumental in the Indian independence movement. The Nobel prize winning great poet Rabindranath Tagore, who was also an Indian, gave him the honorific “Mahatma”, usually translated “Great Soul.” He was the pioneer of a brand of nonviolence (or ahimsa) which he called satyagraha—translated literally as “truth force”. This was the resistance of tyranny through civil disobedience that was not only nonviolent but also sought to change the heart of the opponent. He contrasted this with duragraha, “resistant force,” which sought only to change behaviour with stubborn protest.
During his 30 years of work (1917–1947) for the independence of his country from the British Raj, Gandhi led dozens of nonviolent campaigns, spent over seven years in prison, and fasted nearly to the death on several occasions to obtain British compliance with a demand or to stop inter-communal violence. His efforts helped lead India to independence in 1947, and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom worldwide.
World War I
Peace movements became active in the Western world after 1900, often focusing on Treaties that would settle disputes through arbitration, and efforts to support the Hague conventions.
The sudden outbreak of the First World War in July 1914 dismayed the peace movement. Socialist parties in every industrial nation had committed themselves to antiwar policies, but when the war came, all of them, except in Russia and the United States, supported their own government. There were highly publicized dissidents, some of whom went to jail for opposing the draft laws, like Eugene Debs in the U.S. In Britain, the prominent activist Stephen Henry Hobhouse went to prison for refusing military service, citing his convictions as an “International Socialist and a Christian” Many socialist groups and movements were antimilitarist, arguing that war by its nature was a type of governmental coercion of the working class for the benefit of capitalist elites. The French socialist pacifist leader Jean Jaurès was assassinated by a nationalist fanatic on July 31, 1914. The national parties in the Second International increasingly supported their respective nations in war and the International was dissolved in 1916.
In 1915 the League of Nations Society was formed by British liberal leaders to promote a strong international organisation that could enforce the peaceful resolution of conflict. Later that year the League to Enforce Peace was established in America to promote similar goals. Hamilton Holt published an editorial in his New York City weekly magazine the Independent called “The Way to Disarm: A Practical Proposal” on September 28, 1914. It called for an international organization to agree upon the arbitration of disputes and to guarantee the territorial integrity of its members by maintaining military forces sufficient to defeat those of any non-member. The ensuing debate among prominent internationalists modified Holt’s plan to align it more closely with proposals offered in Great Britain by Viscount James Bryce, a former ambassador from the UK to the U.S. These and other initiatives were pivotal in the change in attitudes that gave birth to the League of Nations after the war.
Some of the many groups that protested against the war, as well as the traditional peace churches, were the Woman’s Peace Party (which was organized in 1915 and led by noted reformer Jane Addams), the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace (ICWPP) (also organized in 1915), the American Union Against Militarism, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the American Friends Service Committee. Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, was another fierce advocate of pacifism, the only person to vote no to America’s entrance into both World Wars.
Between the two World Wars
After the immense loss of nearly ten million men to trench warfare, a sweeping change of attitude toward militarism crashed over Europe, particularly in nations like Great Britain where many of its citizens questioned why it was involved in the war. After World War One’s official end in 1918, peace movements across the continent and the United States renewed, gradually gaining popularity among young Europeans who grew up in the shadow of Europe’s trauma over the Great War. Organisations formed in this period included the War Resisters’ International the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the No More War Movement and the Peace Pledge Union (PPU). The League of Nations also convened several disarmament conferences in the inter-war period such as the Geneva Conference, though the support pacifistic policy and idealism received varied across European nations. These organizations and movements attracted tens of thousands of Europeans, spanning most professions including “scientists, artists, musicians, politicians, clerks, students, activists and thinkers.”
Pacifism and revulsion with war were very popular sentiments in 1920s Britain. A stream of novels and poems on the theme of the futility of war and the slaughter of the youth by old fools were published, including, Death of a Heroby Richard Aldington, Erich Remarque’s translated All Quiet on the Western Front and Beverley Nichols’s expose Cry Havoc. A debate at the University of Oxford in 1933 on the motion ‘one must fight for King and country’ captured the changed mood when the motion was resoundingly defeated. Dick Sheppard established the Peace Pledge Union in 1934 totally renouncing war and aggression. The idea of collective security was also popular; instead of outright pacifism the public generally exhibited a determination to stand up to aggression, but preferably with the use of economic sanctions and multilateral negotiations. Many members of the Peace Pledge Union later joined the Bruderhof during its period of residence in the Cotswolds. There, English, Jews and Germans lived side by side despite local persecution.
The British Labour Party had a strong pacifist wing in the early 1930s and between 1931 and 1935 was led by George Lansbury, a Christian pacifist who later chaired the No More War Movement and was president of the PPU. The 1933 annual conference resolved unanimously to “pledge itself to take no part in war”. “Labour’s official position, however, although based on the aspiration towards a world socialist commonwealth and the outlawing of war, did not imply a renunciation of force under all circumstances, but rather support for the ill-defined concept of ‘collective security’ under the League of Nations. At the same time, on the party’s left, Stafford Cripps’s small but vocal Socialist League opposed the official policy, on the non-pacifist ground that the League of Nations was ‘nothing but the tool of the satiated imperialist powers’.” Lansbury was eventually persuaded to resign as Labour leader by the non-pacifist wing of the party and was replaced by Clement Attlee. As the threat from Nazi Germany increased in the 1930s, the Labour Party abandoned its pacifist position and supported re-armament, largely due to the efforts of Ernest Bevin and Hugh Dalton who by 1937 had also persuaded the party to oppose Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement.
The League of Nations attempted to play its role of ensuring world peace in the 1920s and 30s, although with the increasingly revisionist and aggressive behaviour of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan, it ultimately failed to maintain such a world order. Economic sanctions were used against states that committed aggression, such as Italy when it invaded Abyssinia, but there was no will on the part of the principal League powers, Britain and France, to subordinate their interests to a multilateral process or to disarm at all themselves.
The Spanish Civil War proved a major test for international pacifism, and the work of pacifist organisations (such as War Resisters’ International and the Fellowship of Reconciliation) and individuals (such as José Brocca and Amparo Poch) in that arena has until recently been ignored or forgotten by historians, overshadowed by the memory of the International Brigades and other militaristic interventions. Shortly after the war ended, Simone Weil, despite having volunteered for service on the republican side, went on to publish The Iliad or the Poem of Force, a work that has been described as a pacifist manifesto. In response to the threat of fascism, some pacifist thinkers, such as Richard B. Gregg, devised plans for a campaign of nonviolent resistance in the event of a fascist invasion or takeover.
As the prospect of a second major war began to seem increasingly inevitable, much of France adopted pacifist views, though some historians argue that France felt more war anxiety than a moral objection to a second war. Neighbors with Germany, Hitler’s spreading influence and territory posed an enormous threat to French livelihood. The French countryside had been devastated during World War One and the entire nation was reluctant to subject their territory to the same treatment. Though all countries in the First World War had suffered great losses, France was one of the most devastated and did not want a second war.
As Germany dealt with the burdens of the Treaty of Versailles, a conflict arose in the 1930s between German Christianity and German nationalism. Many Germans found the terms of the Treaty of Versailles debilitating and humiliating. German nationalism offered a way to regain the country’s pride. German Christianity warned against the risks of getting into a war similar to the one Germany lost in 1918. As the German Depression worsened and fascism began to rise in Germany, a greater tide of Germans began to sway toward to nationalistic side of Hitler who would come to crush pacifism.
World War II
With the start of World War II, pacifist and anti-war sentiment declined in nations affected by war. Even the communist-controlled American Peace Mobilization reversed its anti-war activism once Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, mainstream isolationist groups like the America First Committee, declined, but many smaller religious and socialist groups continued their opposition to war.
Bertrand Russell argued that the necessity of defeating Adolf Hitler and the Nazis was a unique circumstance where war was not the worst of the possible evils; he called his position relative pacifism. Shortly before the outbreak of war, British writers such as E. M. Forster, Leonard Woolf, David Garnett and Storm Jameson all rejected their earlier pacifism and endorsed military action against Nazism. Similarly Albert Einstein wrote: “I loathe all armies and any kind of violence; yet I’m firmly convinced that at present these hateful weapons offer the only effective protection.” The British pacifists Reginald Sorensen and C. J. Cadoux, while bitterly disappointed by the outbreak of war, nevertheless urged their fellow pacifists “not to obstruct the war effort”.
Pacifists across Great Britain further struggled to uphold their anti-military values during the Blitz, a coordinated, long-term attack by German aircraft on Great Britain. As the country was ravaged nightly by German bombs, pacifists had to seriously weigh the importance of their political and moral values against the desire to protect the home front of their country.
Some scholars theorize that pacifism was the cause of France’s rapid fall to the Germans after it was invaded by the Nazis in June 1940, resulting in a takeover of the government by the German military. Whether or not pacifism weakened French defenses against the Germans, there was no hope of sustaining a real pacifist movement after Paris fell to the Nazis. Just as peaceful Germans succumbed to violent nationalism, the pacifist French were muzzled by the totality of German control over nearly all of France.
The French pacifists André and Magda Trocmé helped conceal hundreds of Jews fleeing the Nazis in the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. After the war, the Trocmés were declared Righteous Among the Nations.
Pacifists under the Third Reich were dealt with harshly, reducing the movement into almost nonexistence; those who continued to advocate for the end of the war and violence were often sent to labor camps; German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, and Olaf Kullmann, a Norwegian pacifist active during the Nazi occupation, were both imprisoned in concentration camps and died as a result of their mistreatment there. Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter was executed in 1943 for refusing to serve in the Wehrmacht.
German nationalism consumed even the most peaceful of Christians, either convincing them that the Nazis and Hitler were acting in the good faith of Germany or sufficiently suppressed by the fascist Nazi regime of the 1930s and 1940s that they were content to act as bystanders to the violence occurring around them. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an anti-Nazi German pastor who later died in 1945 in the Flossenbürg concentration camp, once wrote in a letter to his grandmother: “The issue really is: Germanism or Christianity.”
After the end of the war, it was discovered that “The Black Book” or Sonderfahndungsliste G.B. list of Britons to be arrested in the event of a Nazi invasion of the UK included three active pacifists; Vera Brittain, Sybil Thorndike and Aldous Huxley (who had left the country).
There were conscientious objectors and war tax resisters in both World War I and World War II. The United States government allowed sincere objectors to serve in noncombatant military roles. However, those draft resisters who refused any cooperation with the war effort often spent much of each war in federal prisons. During World War II, pacifist leaders like Dorothy Day and Ammon Hennacy of the Catholic Worker Movement urged young Americans not to enlist in military service.
During the World Wars, young men conscripted into the military but who refused to take up arms were called conscientious objectors. Though these men had to either answer their conscription or face prison time, their status as conscientious objectors permitted them to refuse taking part in battle using weapons and the military was forced to find a different use for them. Often, these men were assigned various tasks around the battlement including medical duties, though some were assigned various civilian jobs including farming, forestry, hospital work, and mining. Conscientious objectors were viewed by their fellow soldiers, the combatants of the war, as cowards and liars, claiming that any moral objection was most likely just a man’s fear of being in the line of fire. In Great Britain during World War Two, the majority of the public did not approve of moral objection by soldiers but supported their right to abstain from direct combat. On the more extreme sides of public opinion were those who fully supported the objectors and those who believed they should be executed as traitors. The objectors of World War Two in particular were scorned as fascist sympathizers and traitors to their countries, though many of the men abstaining from taking up arms cited the influence of growing up in the shadow of World War One and their shellshocked fathers as major reasons for refusing to partake in the violence.
Later twentieth century
Martin Luther King Jr (1929–68), a Baptist minister, led the civil rights movement, which successfully used Gandhian nonviolent resistance to repeal laws enforcing racial segregation and work for integration of schools, businesses and government. In 1957, his wife Coretta Scott King, Albert Schweitzer, Benjamin Spock, and others formed the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (now Peace Action) to resist the nuclear arms race. In 1958 British activists formed the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament with Bertrand Russell as its president.
In 1960, Thich Nhat Hanh came to the US to study comparative religion at Princeton University and subsequently was appointed lecturer in Buddhism at Columbia University. Thich Nhat Hanh had written a letter to Martin Luther King in 1965 entitled “Searching for the Enemy of Man” and during his 1966 stay in the US met with King and urged him to publicly denounce the Vietnam War. King gave his famous speech at the Riverside Church in New York City in 1967, his first to publicly question the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Other examples from this period include the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines led by Cory Aquino, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests which included the broadly publicized “Tank Man” incident.
On December 1, 1948, President José Figueres Ferrer of Costa Rica abolished the Costa Rican military. In 1949, the abolition of the military was introduced in Article 12 of the Costa Rican constitution. The budget previously dedicated to the military is now dedicated to providing health care services and education.
Anti-War Literature of the 20th Century
- Edmund Blunden’s Undertones of War (1928).
- Robert Graves’s Goodbye to All That (1929).
- Erich Marie Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1929).
- Beverley Nichols’s Cry Havoc! (1933).
- A.A. Milne’s Peace with Honour (1934).
- Aldous Huxley’s Ends and Means (1937).
See also: Religion and peacebuilding
Main article: Buddhism and violence
Buddhism is generally seen as among the least violent religious traditions, and Ahimsa (do no harm), is a primary virtue in Buddhism.
Aung San Suu Kyi is a Buddhist nonviolent pro-democracy activist and leader of the National League for Democracy in Myanmar (Burma), who became State Counsellor (similar to prime minister) of Myanmar in April 2016. A devout Buddhist, Suu Kyi won the Rafto Prizeand the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and in 1991 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her peaceful and non-violent struggle under a repressive military dictatorship. One of her best known speeches is the “Freedom From Fear” speech, which begins, “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”
Main article: Christian pacifism
Peace churches are Christian denominations explicitly advocating pacifism. The term “historic peace churches” refers specifically to three church traditions: the Church of the Brethren, the Mennonites (and some other Anabaptists, such as Amish Hutterites, and the Bruderhof), and the Quakers (Religious Society of Friends). The historic peace churches have, from their origins as far back as the 16th century, always taken the position that Jesus was himself a pacifist who explicitly taught and practiced pacifism, and that his followers must do likewise. Pacifist churches vary on whether physical force can ever be justified in self-defense or protecting others, as many adhere strictly to nonresistance when confronted by violence. But all agree that violence on behalf of a country or a government is prohibited for Christians.
Jay Beaman’s thesis states that 13 of 21, or 62% of American Pentecostal groups formed by 1917 show evidence of being pacifist sometime in their history. Furthermore, Jay Beaman has shown in his thesis that there has been a shift away from pacifism in the American Pentecostal churches to more a style of military support and chaplaincy. The major organisation for Pentecostal Christians who believe in pacifism is the PCPF, the Pentecostal Charismatic Peace Fellowship.
The United Pentecostal Church, the largest Apostolic/Oneness denomination, takes an official stand of conscientious objection: its Articles of Faith read, “We are constrained to declare against participating in combatant service in war, armed insurrection … aiding or abetting in or the actual destruction of human life. We believe that we can be consistent in serving our Government in certain noncombatant capacities, but not in the bearing of arms.”
Other Christian denominations
The Peace Pledge Union was a pacifist organisation from which the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship (APF) later emerged within the Anglican Church. The APF succeeded in gaining ratification of the pacifist position at two successive Lambeth Conferences, but many Anglicans would not regard themselves as pacifists. South African Bishop Desmond Tutu is the most prominent Anglican pacifist. Rowan Williams led an almost united Anglican Church in Britain in opposition to the 2003 Iraq War. In Australia Peter Carnley similarly led a front of bishops opposed to the Government of Australia’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq.
The Catholic Worker Movement is concerned with both social justice and pacifist issues, and voiced consistent opposition to the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Many of its early members were imprisoned for their opposition to conscription. Within the Roman Catholic Church, the Pax Christi organisation is the premiere pacifist lobby group. It holds positions similar to APF, and the two organisations are known to work together on ecumenical projects. Within Roman Catholicism there has been a discernible move towards a more pacifist position through the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Popes Benedict XV, John XXIII and John Paul II were all vocal in their opposition to specific wars. By taking the name Benedict XVI, some suspected that Joseph Ratzinger would continue the strong emphasis upon nonviolent conflict resolution of his predecessor. However, the Roman Catholic Church officially maintains the legitimacy of Just War, which is rejected by some pacifists.
In the twentieth century there was a notable trend among prominent Roman Catholics towards pacifism. Individuals such as Dorothy Day and Henri Nouwen stand out among them. The monk and mystic Thomas Merton was noted for his commitment to pacifism during the Vietnam War era. Murdered Salvadoran Bishop Óscar Romero was notable for using non-violent resistance tactics and wrote meditative sermons focusing on the power of prayer and peace. School of the Americas Watch was founded by Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois in 1990 and uses strictly pacifist principles to protest the training of Latin American military officers by United States Army officers at the School of the Americas in the state of Georgia.
The Greek Orthodox Church also tends towards pacifism, though it has accepted defensive warfare through most of its history. However, more recently it took a strong stance towards the war in Lebanon and its large community there refused to take up arms during its civil wars. It also supports dialogue with Islam. In 1998 the Third Pre-conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference drew up a text on “the contribution of the Orthodox Church to the achievement of peace” emphasizing respect for the human person and the inseparability of peace from justice. The text states in part: “Orthodoxy condemns war in general, for she regards it as a consequence of the evil and sin in the world.”
The Southern Baptist Convention has stated in the Baptist Faith and Message, “It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.”
The United Methodist Church explicitly supports conscientious objection by its members “as an ethically valid position” while simultaneously allowing for differences of opinion and belief for those who do not object to military service.
Members of the Rastafari Movement’s Mansion Nyabinghi are specifically noted for having a large population of Pacifist members, though not all of them are.
Main article: Ahimsa
Non violence, or ahimsa, is a central part of Hinduism and is one of the fundamental Yamas – self restraints needed to live a proper life. The concept of ahimsa grew gradually within Hinduism, one of the signs being the discouragement of ritual animal sacrifice. Most Hindus today have a vegetarian diet. There are debates on how far the principle of ahimsa applies and if there is such a thing as a “just war”.
Non-violence, Compassion for all life, human and non-human, is central to Jainism. Human life is valued as a unique, rare opportunity to reach enlightenment. Killing any person, no matter what crime he may have committed, is considered unimaginably terrible. It is a religion that requires monks, from all its sects and traditions, to be vegetarian. Some Indian regions, such as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh have been strongly influenced by Jains and often the majority of the local Hindus of every denomination are also vegetarian.
The attitude of Jews toward pacifism, as with most other aspects of religion, is heavily influenced by the Holocaust which was a program of Nazi Germany to murder every man, woman and child who was Jewish as well as people of other religions who had a Jewish grandparent. As a result, some six million people were exterminated by various means because the Nazis considered them Jews and therefore unworthy of life. In hindsight, there were opportunities for a number of years to defeat Nazi Germany before it could build a military force strong enough to capture and kill most of the Jews of Europe. Forces which deterred the democracies from acting to stop Hitler early on and at a much, much lower cost in human life were pacifism, appeasement, and isolationism. People who offered no resistance to the Nazis enabled them to carry out their oppression and aggression, costing tens of millions of lives in World War II. Had pacifism gained more support, the Allies might have lost the war and virtually all Jews would have been killed.
The Jewish Peace Fellowship is a New-York based nonprofit, nondenominational organization set up to provide a Jewish voice in the peace movement. The organization was founded in 1941 in order to support Jewish conscientious objectors who sought exemption from combatant military service. It is affiliated to the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. The small Neturei Karta group of anti-Zionist, ultra-orthodox Jews, supposedly take a pacifist line, saying that “Jews are not allowed to dominate, kill, harm or demean another people and are not allowed to have anything to do with the Zionist enterprise, their political meddling and their wars.”. However, the Neturei Karta group do support groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas that are violent towards Israel. The Hebrew Bible is full of examples when Jews were told to go and war against enemy lands or within the Israelite community as well as instances where God, as destroyer and protector, goes to war for non-participant Jews. The Holocaust Remembrance Day (called Yom Hashoah in Hebrew) is a day a remembrance for many Jews as they honor those who fought to end the Hitler government which starved, shot, gassed and burned over six million Jews to death. It is observed on the day corresponding to the 27th day of the month of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar.
Non-violence is an important doctrine within Raëlism. The founder of this religion Rael has said “The one holding the weapon is as responsible as the one giving the orders“. Other Rael statements include “even if the Elohim asked them to kill someone they should refuse“.
Government and political movements
While many governments have tolerated pacifist views and even accommodated pacifists’ refusal to fight in wars, others at times have outlawed pacifist and anti-war activity. In 1918, The United States Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1918. During the periods between World Wars I and World War II, pacifist literature and public advocacy was banned in Italy under Benito Mussolini, Germany after the rise of Adolf Hitler, Spain under Francisco Franco, and the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. In these nations, pacifism was denounced as cowardice; indeed, Mussolini referred to pacifist writings as the “propaganda of cowardice”.
Today, the United States requires that all young men register for selective service but does not allow them to be classified as conscientious objectors unless they are drafted in some future reinstatement of the draft, allowing them to be discharged or transferred to noncombatant status. Some European governments like Switzerland, Greece, Norway and Germany offer civilian service. However, even during periods of peace, many pacifists still refuse to register for or report for military duty, risking criminal charges.
Anti-war and “pacifist” political parties seeking to win elections may moderate their demands, calling for de-escalation or major arms reduction rather than the outright disarmament which is advocated by many pacifists. Green parties list “non-violence” and “decentralization” towards anarchist co-operatives or minimalist village government as two of their ten key values. However, in power, Greens often compromise. The German Greens in the cabinet of Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder supported an intervention by German troops in Afghanistan in 2001 if that they hosted the peace conference in Berlin. However, during the 2002 election Greens forced Schröder to swear that no German troops would invade Iraq.
The controversial democratic peace theory holds that liberal democracies have never (or rarely) made war on one another and that lesser conflicts and internal violence are rare between and within democracies. It also argues that the growth in the number of democratic states will, in the not so distant future, end warfare.
Some pacifists and multilateralists are in favor of international criminal law as means to prevent and control international aggression. The International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over war crimes, but the crime of aggression has yet to be clearly defined in international law.
The Italian Constitution enforces a mild pacifist character on the Italian Republic, as Article 11 states that “Italy repudiates war as an instrument offending the liberty of the peoples and as a means for settling international disputes …” Similarly, Articles 24, 25 and 26 of the German Constitution (1949), Alinea 15 of the French Constitution (1946), Article 20 of the Danish Constitution (1953), Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution (1947) and several other mostly European constitutions correspond to the United Nations Charter by rejecting the institution of war in favour of collective security and peaceful cooperation.
Pacifism and abstention from political activity
However, some pacifists, such as the Christian anarchist Leo Tolstoy and autarchist Robert LeFevre, consider the state a form of warfare. In addition, for doctrinal reason that a manmade government is inferior to divine governance and law, many pacifist-identified religions/religious sects also refrain from political activity altogether, including the Anabaptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mandaeans. This means that such groups refuse to participate in government office or serve under an oath to a government.
Anarcho-pacifism (also pacifist anarchism or anarchist pacifism) is a form of anarchism which completely rejects the use of violence in any form for any purpose. The main precedent was Henry David Thoreau who through his work Civil Disobedience influenced the advocacy of both Leo Tolstoy and Mohandas Gandhi for nonviolent resistance. As a global movement, Anarchist pacifism emerged shortly before World War II in the Netherlands, Great Britain and the United States and was a strong presence in the subsequent campaigns for nuclear disarmament.
Violence has always been controversial in anarchism. While many anarchists during the 19th century embraced propaganda of the deed, Leo Tolstoy and other anarcho-pacifists directly opposed violence as a means for change. He argued that anarchism must by nature be nonviolent since it is, by definition, opposition to coercion and force and since the state is inherently violent, meaningful pacifism must likewise be anarchistic. His philosophy was cited as a major inspiration by Mohandas Gandhi, an Indian independence leader and pacifist who self-identified as an anarchist. Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis was also instrumental in establishing the pacifist trend within the anarchist movement. In France anti-militarism appeared strongly in individualist anarchist circles as Émile Armand founded “Ligue Antimilitariste” in 1902 with Albert Libertad and George Mathias Paraf-Javal.
Opposition to military taxation
Many pacifists who would be conscientious objectors to military service are also opposed to paying taxes to fund the military. In the United States, The National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund works to pass a national law to allow conscientious objectors to redirect their tax money to be used only for non-military purposes.
One common argument against pacifism is the possibility of using violence to prevent further acts of violence (and reduce the “net-sum” of violence). This argument hinges on consequentialism: an otherwise morally objectionable action can be justified if it results in a positive outcome. For example, either violent rebellion, or foreign nations sending in troops to end a dictator’s violent oppression may save millions of lives, even if many thousands died in the war. Those pacifists who base their beliefs on deontological grounds would oppose such violent action. Others would oppose organized military responses but support individual and small group self-defense against specific attacks if initiated by the dictator’s forces. Pacifists may argue that military action could be justified should it subsequently advance the general cause of peace.
Still more pacifists would argue that a nonviolent reaction may not save lives immediately but would in the long run. The acceptance of violence for any reason makes it easier to use in other situations. Learning and committing to pacifism helps to send a message that violence is, in fact, not the most effective way. It can also help people to think more creatively and find more effective ways to stop violence without more violence.
In light of the common criticism of pacifism as not offering a clear alternative policy, one approach to finding “more effective ways” has been the attempt to develop the idea of “defence by civil resistance”, also called “social defence”. This idea, which is not necessarily dependent on acceptance of pacifist beliefs, is based on relying on nonviolent resistance against possible threats, whether external (such as invasion) or internal (such as coup d’état).
There have been some works on this topic, including by Adam Roberts and Gene Sharp. However, no country has adopted this approach as the sole basis of its defence. (For further information and sources see social defence.)
Japanese, Italian and Nazi aggression that precipitated World War II often is cited as an argument against pacifism. If these forces had not been challenged and defeated militarily, the argument goes, many more people would have died under their oppressive rule. Adolf Hitler told the British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax in 1937 that the British should “shoot Gandhi, and if this doesn’t suffice to reduce them to submission, shoot a dozen leading members of the Congress, and if that doesn’t suffice shoot 200, and so on, as you make it clear that you mean business.”
Adolf Hitler noted in his Second Book: “… Later, the attempt to adapt the living space to increased population turned into unmotivated wars of conquest, which in their very lack of motivation contained the germ of the subsequent reaction. Pacifism is the answer to it. Pacifism has existed in the world ever since there have been wars whose meaning no longer lay in the conquest of territory for a Folk’s sustenance. Since then it has been war’s eternal companion. It will again disappear as soon as war ceases to be an instrument of booty hungry or power hungry individuals or nations, and as soon as it again becomes the ultimate weapon with which a Folk fights for its daily bread.”
Hermann Göring described, during an interview at the Nuremberg Trials, how denouncing and outlawing pacifism was an important part of the Nazis’ seizure of power: “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
Some commentators on the most nonviolent forms of pacifism, including Jan Narveson, argue that such pacifism is a self-contradictory doctrine. Narveson claims that everyone has rights and corresponding responsibilities not to violate others’ rights. Since pacifists give up their ability to protect themselves from violation of their right not to be harmed, then other people thus have no corresponding responsibility, thus creating a paradox of rights. Narveson said that “the prevention of infractions of that right is precisely what one has a right to when one has a right at all”. Narveson then discusses how rational persuasion is a good but often inadequate method of discouraging an aggressor. He considers that everyone has the right to use any means necessary to prevent deprivation of their civil liberties and force could be necessary.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia