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Pacifism is the belief that violence is not the way to resolve differences. They believe that war can be avoided and that there are better and longer lasting solutions to disputes.
There are, however, various categories of ‘pacifist’. A ‘total pacifist’ is someone who completely avoids violence and believes it can never be justified, not even in self-defence or to protect others – this they see as the only morally correct view of war. A relative pacifist is someone who may use violence in certain situations but who supports disarmament. They are discriminating about WW1 but agree that WW2 had to be fought. Nuclear pacifists believe that conventional weapons are acceptable as a last resort if war is inevitable, as it is, but nuclear weapons should never be used. A nuclear deterrence pacifist, on the other hand, believes that one can only achieve peace through a position of strength and nuclear deterrence provides this peace.
Many Christians are pacifists and many pacifists are Christian. They believe that, as stated in Mathew 5, “happy are those who work for peace; God will call them His children”. They claim that Christ’s teachings are very clear on the matter. “Do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you”, “love your enemies”.
Non violence and pacifism must not be confused with cowardice and inaction. Many of history’s greatest heroes have been pacifists, eg Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, Gandhi. These people refused to resort to violence even when their lives were in great danger, and their reputation and influence are long lasting, as they did use other methods of trying to right wrongs. Martin Luther King and Gandhi deliberately broke laws that were about dividing people according to their race. These actions are ‘non-violent direct action’ meaning to act against something you believe to be wrong, but without resorting to violence. These are peaceful demonstrations such as labour strikes.
Most pacifists are committed to finding new and imaginative methods of conflict resolution. “The Quakers”, for example, are a Christian group who are famous for their pacifist stance. This is not a doctrinal tradition and there is no rule to say that Quakers must not fight under any circumstances, they have chosen to follow this path, as they have done for over 300 years. Quakers believe there is something of God in all people. They believe that more can be accomplished by appealing to this capacity for love and goodness than can be hoped for by threatening punishment or retaliation. Instead of harming and killing, they us “spiritual weapons” – love, truth, imagination and laughter – weapons that heal, not destroy.
Far from ignoring the problems associated with and cause by war, they actively work to solve these problems in creative and effective ways. They often review and debate the issues involved in current development and are responsible for bringing many hidden issues to the public eye, and their work is effective.
There are a number of other benefits the non-violence and pacifist policy has. They believe that wars only lead to suffering, injury, death, and destruction so pacifism offers an escape from the vicious spiral of violence, as violence always leads to more violence. They think wars use up valuable resources that could be used to save lives, not take them. Theoretically, agreements that are reached through negotiation are thought to last longer. The majority of the time, war does not solve anything, as the people who really suffer are the poor ordinary individuals, not the politicians and leaders who decided to go to war. There is also a confusing aspect in all of this, as Jesus states quite clearly in Matthew 5 that we should love our enemies and there seems to be many examples of God against war and violence. Yet, throughout the Old Testament, there are numerous examples supporting acts of extreme violence and destruction, seeming contradictory.
The pacifism view does have a number of weaknesses. People believe that if we do not fight for what is right, we run the risk of being bullied. As stated by Rev George Herbert, “he that makes a good war makes a good peace”, showing that war can sometimes bring peace. Passive resistance does not work in the face of true evil, as who knows what genocide would have happened had no one stood up to and fought Hitler’s forces. Theoretically perhaps, pacifism would stop a lot of suffering, but it is thought to be impractical in the real world where violence is a fact of life. Also, one has to think would it be morally right to stand by and watch while our families or the weak suffer?
In conclusion, I think that although pacifism seems a good strategy to adopt as to cease suffering in the world, it is not very practical in today’s society.
I do, however, believe pacifists are very courageous sticking to their principles, despite all action taken against them or criticism. As quoted, “it takes a braver man to walk away than to seek revenge”. I do think some negotiation could be considered, as extreme pacifism may be difficult to support, there should be more thought put into going to war and maybe with a few tips off pacifists, many lives and resources could be saved. In the words of John F Kennedy, “mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind”.