The general definition of pacifism is the objection to violence, war or militarism.
Pacifists believe that starting a war or the mere participation in it, by a state, country or individual, is unacceptable under any circumstances. It also calls for the termination of all war and military institutions. Rejecting the use of physical violence as a means to obtain economic or political goals.
Peter Brock and Thomas Paul (historians of pacifism) define it as “unconditional rejection of all forms of warfare”.
The word itself is derived from the word “pacific” which means “peacemaking”. Maybe the earliest example of the word is used in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). There Jesus explains that the “peacemakers” are blessed.
There are different forms of pacifism.
- Absolute (maximal) pacifism – the universal rejection of war or violence
- Contingent pacifism – principal rejection of a particular war
- Selective pacifism – only opposing wars with mass-destruction (chemical, biological or nuclear weapons), claiming that these kind of wars are “unwinnable”
Famous pacifists in history are:
- Dalai Lama (14th, current) – perhaps the most famous pacifist is the head monk of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. His mission in life is protecting the basic rights and freedom of Tibetans. In 1989 he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
- Albert Einstein – he is most famous for his work in physics, but he was also a militant pacifist. He declared he was willing to fight for peace if it would end wars.
- Vera Brittain – the writer of the famous book “Testament of Youth”. She wrote the traumatic and anti-war memoir after losing her fiance, brother and two close friends in WWI.
- Sophie Scholl – she and her brother were members of the Anti-Hitler movement in Nazi Germany, the “White Rose”. They promoted passive Nazi resistance using leaflets and propaganda.
- Mahatma Gandhi – was an Indian political leader and pacifist, whose goal was India’s independence from Britain, using self-discipline, non-violence and peaceful disobedience.
- Other famous pacifists are: George Bernard Shaw, Martin Luther King Jr., Leo Tolstoy, John Lennon, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Linus Pauling, Helen Keller, Anne Frank, Joan Baez, Bob Marley, Anna Politkovskaya.
Examples of organizations:
- Anglican Pacifist Fellowship (1937-) Have over a thousand members in forty countries, who pledged to “renounce war and all preparation to wage war, and to work for the construction of Christian peace in the world…”
- Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (1948- 2011) – US nonprofit dedicated to helping people resist or avoid military recruitment or seek discharge after voluntary enlistment.
- Christian Peacemaker Teams – International organization which helps peace workers in conflict areas around the globe.
- International Fellowship of Reconciliation (1914-) – The organization has 72 branches, affiliates and groups in 48 countries on all continents.
- Peace Brigades International (1981-) – It promotes human rights and sends volunteers to conflict areas, who protect and accompany peacemakers and groups threatened by political violence.
- War Resisters’ International (1921-) Founded in London with affiliates in over 30 countries.
- Greenpeace (1971-) – their goal is to “ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity”.
- There are also “nuclear pacifist” organizations – CND and Pugwash.