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Theory in Depth
Theory in Action
Analysis and Critical Response
Topics for Further Study
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Although the goal of almost every political system or theory is peace, many thinkers and politicians regard pacifism as an unrealistic strategy for achieving that end. International peace, they argue, can only be attained by a combination of hard–headed diplomacy and military preparedness. Domestic peace, they claim, will only be achieved with a strong police force and a tough court system. Pacifism, say many thinkers, belongs not in the domain of politics but in the realm of religious ideology. At best, pacifists are seen as hopeless idealists or as otherworldly dreamers. Thus, pacifism is recognized in standard political philosophy by its rejection.

Very often, pacifism is equated with passiveness, even though there is no linguistic link between the two words. Therefore, the application of pacifism, or anything approaching pacifism, is regarded as disastrous. Mention the word "pacifism" and Neville Chamberlain's (1869–1940) failed effort to appease Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) at Munich is recalled and condemned as an example of what happens when real world leaders move too far in the direction of pacifism. Ironically, even some pacifists agree that pacifism has little practical value. They present the concept as a religious principle or a political ideal to be followed regardless of practical consequences.

who controls government? Officials supported by the people

how is government put into power? Peaceful removal of unjust regime

what roles do the people have? Protest peacefully unjust laws or actions

who controls production of goods? The people

who controls distribution of goods? The people

major figures Mohandas Gandhi; Martin Luther King Jr.

historical example U.S. civil rights movement in 1960s

Many modern–day pacifists see the world quite differently. They insist that peace, stability, and justice can only be attained by linking means and ends. Thus, the way to achieve peace is to do peace. Pacifism holds that war and violence are circuitous paths to peace at best and dead ends at worst. Today, after a century that witnessed trench warfare, the atomic bomb, the Holocaust, and genocide, there is a renewed willingness to consider the merits of pacifism as a practical political theory with applications for the real world. Pacifism, its supporters content, can combine both peace and power. Pacifists note that some of the great political gains of the twentieth century resulted from nonviolence. The independence of India, the civil rights victories in America, and the liberation of Eastern Europe from the Soviet Union came through nonviolent means. The leaders of those movements used nonviolent techniques to exert great pressure on unjust political and social systems. For those leaders and their followers, nonviolence was a strategy for bringing about change that in former times would have been sought through violent revolution.


700–600 B.C.:      Isaiah begins to envision a kingdom based not on military might but on peace and humility.

c. 563–483 B.C.:      Siddhartha, who became known as the Buddha, is said to have discovered the path to Truth.

c. 30 A.D.:      Jesus of Nazareth is executed by the Romans.

395:      Augustine is made Bishop of Hippo.

1647:      George Fox begins the Society of Friends or Quakers.

1828:      Leo Tolstoy develops a strong pacifistic critique of the evils of oppressive power and violence.

1948:      Mohandas Gandhi is assassinated.

1950s:      Martin Luther King, Jr. uses the principles of pacifism to gain civil rights for African Americans.

1960s:      Gene Sharp develops the model of Civilian Based Defense.

1968:      Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated.

1994:      Aung San Su Kyi is placed under house arrest for using nonviolent Buddhist principles to challenge the non–democratic government of Burma.

1994:      The new South African constitution contains provisions for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

While at the international level, most people still consider force to be the most reliable means of protecting national interests and preserving the peace, pacifist theorists have started to offer credible alternatives. Nuclear pacifism, international law, and civilian–based defense are three ideas that reject conventional strategies for maintaining order at the global level. Nonviolent methods of national defense, say pacifists, save lives, are more democratic, cost less, may work better, and are environmentally friendly. When looking at ways of keeping order within a nation, pacifists suggest new and nonviolent ways of dealing with criminals, handling ethnic disputes, and managing community conflict. Not only do pacifists recommend their nonviolent strategies as cheaper and less painful, they also argue that nonviolence can be more effective.


Pacifism as a theory began with religious rather than with explicitly political thinkers. In India, Jainism (sixth century B.C.) and Buddhism (third century B.C.) stressed strict self–mortification and purification that rejected the passions that led one away from God, Truth, or Enlightenment. Of all the human passions, violence was regarded as the most dangerous. The eighth–century B.C. prophets of Ancient Israel and, later, Jesus in the first century, proclaimed a pacifism rooted in the idea that all people are children of one God, in the concept of divine mercy, and in the belief that love could transform enemies. Later, in the seventh century, the prophet Mohammed (570–632) preached a religion that prohibited violence and exploitation within the community of faith (Islam) and against taking innocent lives in any situation.

Although the first Christians were probably non–violent, by 180 A.D. a few Christians served in the Roman army. With the conversion of Emperor Constantine I (288–337) to Christianity in 312 A.D., pacifism declined in importance. In fact, once Christians were in the majority and Christianity became the official state religion, Christians came to believe that they had a duty to defend both the faith and the empire with force. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354–430), advocated the use of force against the heretical Donatists. On a philosophical level, in his book The City of God, Augustine argued that inner motives were more important than external behavior. In his view, Christians could wield the sword so long as their hearts were fixed on God's Kingdom rather than on self–promotion and self–protection.

Pacifism in the Medieval World

In the medieval world, the ideal of pacifism was all but abandoned by Christians and Muslims. Inquisitions, crusades, and jihads were sanctioned as examples of obedience to God. The brave knight or the warrior–martyr were honored as God's most obedient servants. Pacifism continued to exist as an ideal, but only in marginalized form. Monks, holy men, and priests might be expected to live a life of pacifism, but anyone holding a position of responsibility within the state was expected to exercise force against heretics, ordinary criminals, and external enemies. When, in the late Middle Ages and early part of the Reformation, radical Christians such as the Waldensians or Anabaptists called on Christians to reject any type of violence, they were hunted down, tortured, and executed. Their pacifism was regarded as a grave danger to a society that did not distinguish between loyalty to the church and obedience to the state. In the seventeenth century, when followers of George Fox (1624–1691), founder of the Society of Friends, called on the faithful to reject the use of violence, they were reviled and persecuted.

The early modern era continued to reject the concept of pacifism. In the turbulent years marked by religious wars and succession struggles, pacifism seemed wildly irrelevant, even dangerous and immoral. As authoritarian rulers in Europe brought order and built nations, military might was regarded as a fundamental element of every successful state. When authoritarianism gave way to democracy at the end of the 1700s, violent revolution was seen as the liberating tool of the masses.

Events in the world of politics were paralleled by developments in the intellectual world. Generally, pacifistic ideas were not considered seriously by political thinkers. They regarded pacifism as an unrealistic concept that had little application in the real world. The best way to prevent violence, they argued, was to exercise violence against those who posed a threat. Nevertheless, even within the ancient world, there were some restrictions on violence. Babylonian, Hebraic, and Roman law outlined guidelines that required fair treatment of lawbreakers and placed limits on the conduct of warfare. Concepts such as "an eye for an eye" prevented violence from spinning into an escalating cycle of vengeance and retaliation. Much of this thinking about limits was codified in the "Just War Theory" supported by the Church. Underpinning these laws and guidelines was the common sense concept of fairness and the realization that violence must be monopolized by the state if it was to be contained within manageable proportions. In practice, that meant that revenge and unlimited retaliation were controlled by placing them in the hands of recognized governments exercising force in a dispassionate and predictable manner. In practice, that also meant that revolution against a government, however unjust, was generally not sanctioned.

Pacifism into the Twentieth Century

With the Enlightenment and the subsequent emergence of nineteenth–century liberalism, political idealists began contemplating a world in which human beings would rise above the barbaric and outmoded practices of warfare. The future, they believed, belonged to wise pacifists. Heartened by the great progress they observed in the scientific and technical worlds, these thinkers assumed that improvements in the political and moral realms were equally possible. In their view, advancements in the area of international law and international organizations would replace the need to resolve conflicts with violence. In spite of powerful contrary evidence such as the American Civil War, colonialism, and World War I, this hope was sustained. Optimism about the ability to end war and resolve conflict peacefully reached a high point in the 1920s. Treaties to limit or ban the use of weapons and the founding of the League of Nations suggested that humans could exchange the brutality of armed combat for the civilized procedures of the courtroom and international government. The dream of a world federation uniting all nations and people of the world did not seem like an unrealistic vision. Nevertheless, the prospects that pacifism would become an acceptable political ideology vanished as liberalism crumbled under the onslaught of twentieth–century human tragedy.

The 1920s ended with a debilitating global recession that called into question the ability of humans to manage the economy. Furthermore, racism and imperialism, previously regarded as positive or, at least, acceptable values, began to be regarded as evil and dysfunctional. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's (1883–1945) invasion of Ethiopia, Japan's advances into Manchuria and southeast Asia, Hitler's incursion into Poland, the Holocaust, the Allied forces' carpet bombing of German cities, and the American use of the atomic bomb all shattered the last vestiges of liberal pacifism. On the other side of the ideological

spectrum, evidence from the Soviet Union suggested that a communist revolution to create a worker's utopia had degenerated into a police state. Clearly, education, idealism, discussion, and goodwill would not be enough to solve the deep–seated social, economic, and political problems of the world. In the darkest days of World War II, some began to doubt that the humane ideals of liberalism and democracy were robust enough to counter the militaristic machinations of nazism, fascism, and bolshevism.

By the mid–1930s, leading Western pacifists were abandoning their earlier optimism. The American Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971), formerly a prominent pacifist, denounced political pacifism as dangerous and religious pacifism as morally irresponsible and spiritually self–righteous. The superlative evils of totalitarianism could only be countered with the lesser evil of force being exercised by nations and individuals who reluctantly but courageously recognized their obligation to challenge tyranny.

Nevertheless, by the time the twentieth century drew to a close, it was evident that pacifism had made great progress. In Asia, Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948) had employed nonviolence to gain independence for India in 1947. Then, in the 1950s and 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968), used nonviolent methods to make significant inroads into racial segregation in the United States. In part, King succeeded because "White America" feared King's more radical counterparts such as militant black leader Malcolm X (1925–1965). However, it is clear that King's nonviolence, which he credited to Gandhi and to Jesus, was the key factor in transforming race relations in America. By 1960, most of the African continent had broken loose from European colonialism. The leading figure in this movement, Kwame Nkrumah (1909–1972) of Ghana, was a firm believer in Gandhi's technique of nonviolence. Motivated by practical political considerations, Nkrumah recognized that nonviolent protest was more effective against the colonial masters than violent confrontation. While violent protests would be put down quickly, nonviolent action would be much more difficult to deal with because of political and moral constraints on the British.

The Vietnam War

Nonviolent protest was also used in Europe and North America to challenge and change the prevailing political agenda. In the United States, nonviolent activists forced the Lyndon Johnson (1908–1973) and Richard Nixon (1913–1994) administrations to end the Vietnam War. The activists regarded the war as an extension of French colonial activities in Southeast Asia. While some protesters such as Daniel (1921– ) and Philip (1923– ) Berrigan, both Catholic priests, were motivated by religious conviction, others such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) operated on the basis of moral or political belief. Nonviolent protests included refusing to register for the draft, holding sit–ins and teach–ins on university campuses, fleeing the country to take refuge in Canada, withholding taxes designated for military operations, breaking into draft board offices, and entering military sites to attack weapons of mass destruction in a symbolic fashion. The Berrigan brothers were at the forefront of those resorting to dramatic acts of prophetic protest and civil disobedience against a political system they considered anti–human. In Vietnam itself, devout Buddhist pacifists such as Thich Nhat Hanh worked to alleviate the suffering of victims on both sides of the conflict. Many Buddhists were killed by both the communists and anti–communists who wanted people to take sides instead of identifying with the displaced and dying of both political camps.

Following the Vietnam War, pacifist activists continued their protests while shifting their focus. Now, they challenged the enormous build–up of nuclear weapons in the world. Groups such as Green-peace called attention to environmental degradation, which they labeled "ecocide." Pacifists criticized the way powerful northern hemisphere nations oppressed people of the third world. Pacifists also opposed the use of the death penalty in countries such as the United States. Often they challenged laws and customs limiting the rights and privileges of minorities, women, and homosexuals. Paradoxically, these same activists generally did not oppose abortion, saying that support for the rights of women to control their own bodies took precedence over the very weak rights of the unborn. Ironically, the strongest opponents of abortion were often vigorous supporters of a strong national defense and of the death penalty.

The Counterculture

While a number of pacifists were committed to a counterculture vision and to counterculture protests, others operated within mainstream religious or political institutions. In Europe, the Green Party, with a pacifistic agenda that included a call for social justice, the rejection of nuclear weapons, and respect for the environment, was able to gain enough support to become a serious opposition group. In the United States, churches and civic groups were successful in getting some courts to incorporate alternative approaches to civil and criminal justice and in pressing Congress and the Executive to give more attention to the environment, human rights, third world development, and nuclear issues. In response to pacifistic concerns, both the State Department and the Defense Department attempted to explain military operations such as the invasions of Granada, Panama, and Kuwait in "Just War" terms. In Japan, strong pacifist sentiments limited the size, scope, and strategies of the Japanese military and resisted deploying or storing nuclear weapons on Japanese soil.

Pacifism and the Fall of Communism

In the 1980s, the political and military hold of the Soviet Union crumbled. Many military strategists insist that the Soviet Union fell because it was unable to withstand the relentless military competition from the West. But, other analysts credit the peaceful protests of the Eastern Europeans for the demise of the Soviet Empire. Starting with Polish labor leader Lech Walensa's (1943– ) nonviolent Solidarity Movement, Eastern Europeans threw off Soviet rule. While the Soviets would have responded with crushing force to any violent uprising, they were less certain about how to deal with peaceful citizen protests. In the end, the Soviet Empire was defeated, not by the heavy long–range missiles of the United States, but by the millions of ordinary citizens who engaged in nonviolent protest against their Communist governments. Even in China, where an authoritarian remained in power at the end of the twentieth century, the greatest challenge to the regime came from a peaceful protest at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Symbolic and nonviolent challenges such as the Goddess of Democracy erected by students and the actions of a single unarmed man who managed to stop a tank riveted the attention of the world and forced the central government to reevaluate its policies. The nonviolent strategies of the Tiananmen protesters probably were more effective against the authoritarian regime than any armed confrontation would have been. In Myanmar (formerly Burma), political leader Aung San Suu Kyi (1945– ) resorted to nonviolent hunger strikes to challenge the authoritarian government that ruled her nation. Although still not successful at the end of the twentieth century, she won a Nobel Prize for her nonviolent strategy. Another Nobel Peace Prize went to South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1931– ) for his efforts to bring about a peaceful end to the Apartheid regime. Drawing on his African heritage and his Christian principles, Tutu had consistently advocated confession, forgiveness, restitution, and reconciliation as the best way to deal with injustice.

As the twentieth century drew to a close, the value of nonviolence as a political strategy was recognized by a number of governments that incorporated certain



Deuteronomy 20:5–8: When you go to war…the officers shall say to the army: "Has anyone built a new house and not dedicated it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else may dedicate it. Has anyone planted a vineyard and not begun to enjoy it? Let him go home, or else he may die in battle and someone else enjoy it. Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home or he may die in battle and someone else marry her. Then the officers shall add, "Is any man afraid or faint–hearted? Let him go home.

The principles of Deuteronomy are that the enjoyment of life takes precedence over the pursuit of war, that people should not be compelled to fight, and that the tactics of war must be limited.

nonviolent strategies into their national policy. Several Scandinavian countries developed plans to use nonviolence as a method to deter and resist invasion. And, in the United States, Congress funded the U.S. Institute of Peace, whose mission was to study and promote non–lethal methods of conflict resolution. In part, the motivation for establishing the Institute was to assuage critics of traditional hard–line diplomatic and military strategies and, in part, the motivation was a revival of the old tradition of progressive liberalism. However, the main motivation was the desire to find cheaper, more durable, and less destructive methods of dealing with conflict. To achieve that end, the Institute was willing to consider strategies advocated by pacifists.


Pacifists who rely on religious teachings for support must deal with the obvious contradictions contained in their religious traditions. Christians, Muslims, and Jews must come to terms with the fact that the Old Testament and the Qur'an sanction holy war and jihad, thus validating violence as a cultic activity and religious obligation. Hindus must acknowledge that the Ghagavad Gita regards war as a duty. Jainists and Buddhists must deal with the fact that their pacifism is intertwined with a strong rejection of worldly passions and desires in a way that is sometimes offensive to modern people. Furhter, proponents of African Traditional Religion recognize that their gods often are mobilized to support battles against enemies.

The Old Testament

The Old Testament, a foundational document for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, sometimes supports the concept of using violence so long as it is contained within the structures of the state. But, pacifists remind modern readers that the early Hebrews and their neighbors practiced a tribal religion in which the gods fought for their people. The total destruction of enemy tribes was the norm and at the end of every skirmish, no matter how minor, boasting warriors claimed to have annihilated hundreds and thousands of their opponents. Later, Hebrew monotheism challenged that xenophobic tribal view. Stories of battles, handed down through oral tradition, were reshaped to downplay the role of human warriors. Thus, the Exodus is said to have occurred without even one Hebrew killing an Egyptian. In fact, the human hero of the battle was Moses whose primary activity was to hold up his staff while the divine hero, God, destroyed the Egyptian army. Years later, the hero Gideon defeated the Midianite army after sending the vast majority of his warriors home. According to the Book of Judges, the explanation for Gideon's bizarre strategy was to prevent Israel from claiming victory instead of recognizing the power of God. At the watershed battle of Jericho, the Hebrews limited their activity to rituals such as blowing trumpets and shouting as they marched around the heavily fortified city. When walls of that previously invincible city fell, human warriors could take no credit. In his final speech, Israel's greatest warrior of all, Joshua, retold the story of the conquest of the land. Joshua reminded the people that God, not they themselves, had won the battles.

As Hebrew law and theology were codified in writing sometime after the tenth century B.C., the militaristic tenor of earlier thought was challenged even more. Deuteronomy, Israel's law book, outlined rules for the conduct of war and explained the provisions for excusing men from military service. Anyone who had been engaged to be married, built a house, or planted a vineyard was exempt. Deuteronomy even released men who feared going into battle. Furthermore, the book required that combatants not destroy fruit trees even if such destruction would lead to victory.

Israel's prophets and writers of the Psalms (songs), developed a strong theology of nonviolence and a vision of God's faithful kingdom. In fallen temporal society, the worship of idols, the use of magic and sorcerers, the exploitation of the poor, a reliance on foreign military alliances, and the use of horses and chariots were all condemned as undermining faith in a single–minded and singular God. In the eighth century B.C., the prophet Hosea explicitly linked militarism and injustice when he said, "You have plowed iniquity, you have reaped injustice, you have eaten the fruit of lies because you trusted in your chariots" (Hosea 10:13). When envisioning God's triumphal final kingdom, a symbolic way of explaining the goal of creation, the prophets presented a portrait of peace and justice; the seventh–century prophet Isaiah described an idyllic time when even predation in the animal kingdom would cease (Isaiah 65). More concretely, in the sixth century B.C., the preacher Zechariah described the Messiah, God's anointed servant/king, as victorious in humility and peace.

The Teachings of Jesus

The life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth (c. 4 B.C.–c. 29 A.D.) were strongly supportive of pacifism. Jesus specifically called on his followers to show love to their enemies, to turn the other cheek when attacked, and to practice mercy and forgiveness. Jesus supported his teachings by grounding them in the very nature of God. Thus, he linked nonviolent love to the most fundamental reality of the universe. Christian pacifists such as John Howard Yoder (no relation to the author of this essay) note that Jesus' message was all the more remarkable because he lived in an occupied country that had a long history of violent political confrontation. When Jesus proclaimed himself God's Messiah (anointed king) he was identifying himself with the temporal liberation of the nation of Israel. The clarity of that message was obvious to his Jewish contemporaries. His disciples looked forward to a political victory. Almost to the end of Jesus' life, James and John expected to sit on thrones when he achieved victory. And at least one, and perhaps as many as four, of his twelve disciples belonged to a radical and violent revolutionary group called the Zealots. While the actions of several disciples are all we have to suggest that they were adherents of that group, the name of one, Simon the Zealot, established the point beyond doubt. Jesus' messianic claim was obvious to the Romans who executed him for sedition. On his cross, they placed the inscription "King of the Jews."

While conventional wisdom and theology expected a warrior messiah, Jesus reinterpreted that vision.

The Kingdom he promoted would be based on principles of compassion, generosity, and forgiveness. Thus, he would rule over a community held together by love and humility rather than violence and power. In perhaps the most dramatic demonstration of this vision, he made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding on a lowly donkey, an animal of the common people and a beast of toil, not on a horse, a symbol of military might and royal prestige. In modern times, his action would be equivalent to participating in a state parade riding in a used car instead of standing in an attack tank or an armored limousine.

Pacifism and Muslim Thought

Muslim thought, although less explicitly peaceful than Christian doctrine, can be used to support some elements of a pacifistic philosophy. Muslim theology begins with the unequivocal affirmation in the one God, Allah, who created an orderly universe. The duty of both humans and nature is to surrender or submit (Islam) to Allah. As God's agents on earth, humans have an obligation to live in obedience. God, who is merciful, gives humans the capacity to follow his will and create a just and orderly society. While not condemning state force, the Qur'an denounces tribalism and economic exploitation. Since there is only one God who created all people, there can be only one human race. In the faithful Islamic community, all stand before God in equality. All who submit to God are brothers and sisters. In the Mosque, when men and women are at prayer, there is no distinction based on wealth, race, class, or family standing. All pray directly to God. No one needs an intercessor whose special knowledge, authority, or stature sets him or her apart and above.

Pacifism in Asia

In Asia, Jain Dharma, an Indian religion generally known as Jainism, has been one of the most important sources of pacifism. Jainism attributes its origins to a series of heroic victors (Jinas). The last and greatest of these heroes, Var–dhamana, supposedly lived in the sixth or fifth century B.C. Renouncing great wealth for self–mortification, he is said to have died of starvation after fasting in order to free himself from this life. Jains hold that karma, the accumulated good and evil humans have done, binds people to an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Through complete asceticism, best exemplified in ahimsa or complete nonviolence, the soul is released and self is extinguished. The strictest adherents of Jainism go to great lengths to take no life, even the lowest forms. They wear veils to avoid inhaling and killing insects, and they eat only foods such as milk, fruit, and nuts that can be consumed without destroying the life of the donor organism. Jains avoid violence in any form because violence is the most powerful way to accumulate negative karma and be attached more firmly to this life. In fact, negative karma may do more than require that one remains trapped in the cycle of life, death, and rebirth; it may lead the self into an even lower stage in the following life.

Hinduism contains many concepts similar to those in Jainism. Also originating in India, but somewhat later, many of its concepts are contained in the Bhagavad Gita. Through pure thoughts and actions, Hindus seek to be released from the cycle of existence. Renouncing all selfish desires, Hindus avoid both pleasure and pain, sensations that bind one to self and to this world. Although neither Jainism nor Hinduism insist that their followers practice pacifism at a governmental level, both religions had an important influence on the thinking of Mohandas Gandhi, the most famous pacifist of the twentieth century.


Lala 'Aziza

The Islamic commitment to peace was exemplified by Lala 'Aziza, "Our Lady of Goodness," a devout Moroccan Muslim who lived in the mid–1300s. A teacher and doer of good works, she was highly renowned as a peacemaker. Not only did she mediate conflicts between opposing tribal groups, she challenged a powerful governor/general who was determined to conquer her region. Walking out alone to meet the warring general, she risked her life to speak of God's demands for justice and to explain the sin of hurting God's creation. Convinced by Lala 'Aziza's religious arguments, the general retreated, leaving her town untouched and untaxed. After her death, 'Aziza's tomb became famous as a place of refuge and reconciliation. Since then, no bloodshed or any type of violence has been permitted at the site and the attendants offer protection to anyone seeking refuge from attack or capture.

Buddhism Buddhism is another powerful Asian voice that has sometimes been used in support of pacifism. According to tradition, Buddhism began with Siddhartha (c. 563–483 B.C.), a wealthy young man born into a family of warriors in northeast India. After having married and fathered a son, Siddhathra renounced the comforts of his home to search for the peace of Nirvana, an escape from the pain of repeated existence. He was disappointed to find that extreme asceticism including self–punishment did not help him achieve his goal. Instead, he discovered that quiet contemplation involving concentration and focused meditation enabled him to grasp the truth. Thus, he became the Enlightened One or the Buddha. For the remainder of his life, he taught his followers the Four Noble Truths that lead to truth or enlightenment. Rather than being a negative religion or philosophy that renounces this life, Buddhism is a positive thought system promising that human beings can attain both moral understanding and moral improvement. The first of the Four Noble Truths recognizes the universal reality of suffering. At a social level, this can be interpreted as a call on people to empathize with the pain and deprivation of the less fortunate. The second Noble Truth identifies craving, lust, and desire as the cause of suffering. This teaches people that selfishness and ambition lie at the root of evil and misfortune. The third Noble Truth states that suffering and pain can be ended, but only if people turn away from efforts to dominate, accumulate, and seek only their own pleasure. Finally, the fourth Noble Truth outlines the concrete steps one must take to achieve enlightenment. Among these steps are admonitions against ill–will, cruelty, harsh language, lying, sexual exploitation, theft, or killing. Although most often applied at an individual level, many Buddhists have used these admonitions to provide guidance for political leaders. In modern times, individuals such as the Dalai Lama (the title of the leader of Tibetan Buddhism) and Thich Nhat Hanh (1926– ) have relied on Buddhist thought to construct a pacifist philosophy for political conduct. What is consistent in the ideas of all Buddhists is the strong emphasis on inner qualities and a correct moral attitude, and there is less attention to political strategies or techniques. A good and wise leader will do the good. A leader lacking deep inner moral grounding, no matter how skilled and shrewd that person may be, cannot be trusted to govern peacefully.

While religion has provided the foundation for many pacifists, logic and reason have been the guides for other advocates of nonviolence. The Greek and Roman Stoics developed theories calling for extreme self–control that enabled people to rise above human passion and pain. Keenly aware of the multi–ethnic nature of human society, the Stoics called for a community that accepted all people, no matter what their origin, as having equal worth and dignity. Such values contributed to the development of pacifist theories and practices based on the inherent rationality and equal value of all human beings.

Best known as a Christian thinker, Augustine Bishop of Hippo (354–430) mainly drew on classical logic and on Roman legal concepts to develop his theories regarding peace. As a Neo–Platonist, Augustine believed the universe was constructed in a manner so that every element seeks rest in its natural place. Augustine held that peace, in a static, orderly form, was an intrinsic quality of all existence. Even robbers and warriors, he wrote, long for peace. Turning to the world of politics, Augustine promoted the Just War Theory, a concept outlined earlier by the Roman Stoic Cicero (106–43 B.C.).

Just War Theory

Although not a doctrine of pacifism, the Just War Theory does place important limits on the conduct of war. As developed later by the Catholic Church and accepted by Protestant thinkers, the doctrine requires that combatants act only under the authority of a legitimate rule (Just Authority). Thus, rebellion or revolutionary violence is prohibited. The Just War Theory also insists that warfare is never legitimate unless there is an actual, not just a potential, threat (Just

Cause). Furthermore, the theory holds that the belligerents must not expand their goals once war begins (for example, not shift the intent from defense to conquest) and that the central aim of any war should be a peaceful resolution and a restoration of harmonious relations (Just Intention). These three principles (just authority, just cause, and just intention) are generally classified under the category of jus ad bellum, or law before war. Warfare, once it begins, must adhere to rules know as jus in bello, or law during war. These guidelines, also known as Just Means, are intended to protect non–combatants and their property, to prohibit inhumane methods of combat, and to outlaw a disproportionate

response to an injury. Along with the Peace of God, a medieval injunction similar to Just Means, and the Truce of God, a medieval regulation restricting the days when war could be conducted, the Just War Theory attempted to sharply limit the conduct of war. While all of these ideas were associated with the Church, they were in fact based on principles of reason and logic first proposed by the Romans.


From the Middle Ages until modern times, pacifism has been relegated to more marginal religious movements and utopian thinkers. Authorities both in the dominant Catholic and Protestant Churches and in the emerging nation states all assumed that the use of force and violence were essential for the maintenance of social order. Reformers such as Martin Luther (1748–1826) and John Calvin (1509–1564) held that since God had created human society and the state, God expected Christians to participate in the military. In France and England, Catholic and Anglican thinkers supported similar ideas. Only groups such as the Anabaptists and the Society of Friends called on individuals and governments to renounce the use of force. In contrast to Catholic and mainline Protestant thinkers, they saw the fourth–century conversion of Constantine and the establishment of Christianity as the official state religion as the fall of the faith. In the view of pacifists such as the Anabaptists, there was no way to reconcile New Testament teachings with the sword of the political kingdom. The Anabaptists insisted that fidelity to the peaceful example of Jesus was the central tenet of Christianity. Thus, people and individuals using violence stood outside God's will. Even the use of force against invading armies or against heretics, regarded at that time as traitors to the state, was not legitimate. The Society of Friends, or Quakers, who focused on the idea that God indwells all human beings, regarded war and violence as a violation of the high value of people regardless of race, nationality, gender, or station in life. In colonial America, William Penn (1644–1718) attempted to implement Quaker ideals in his newly founded Pennsylvania.

Secular proposals for national or world systems based on the principles of pacifism emerged during the Enlightenment. One of the most persuasive and carefully developed was contained in the writings of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804). In his book Perpetual Peace, published in 1795, Kant argued that no state had a right to invade or acquire another state. Unlike property that could be exchanged in the market, a state is a society of free human beings that no one has a right to rule or dispose. Kant held that standing armies would eventually be abolished. Linking militarism with authoritarianism, Kant said that a free and democratic society would not consent to war that was costly both in its implementation and aftermath. What free people, he asked, would willingly accept losing their lives and property for the sake of fighting? Although Kant recognized that pacifism was not likely to be accepted soon, he believed that the unifying power of global commerce guaranteed the eventual establishment of perpetual peace.

Henry David Thoreau

The American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) based his argument for pacifism on his devotion to radical democracy and on his faith in the innate ability of all humans to know the truth. Thoreau stands as a champion of the idea that the claims of the state can never take precedence over the moral authority of individual conscience. The state, therefore, had no right to use force to compel or control. In his essay "Civil Disobedience" Thoreau argued that states tend to be oppressive and parasitic. War, in his time the American invasion of Mexico, and official support for slavery proved to Thoreau that the government was unable to act in a virtuous manner. As a result, Thoreau insisted that people cannot turn over their moral responsibility to others. According to Thoreau, the individual must always follow his or her conscience, even if that means disobeying the law. Not only should moral persons refuse to participate in military action, they should even withhold financial support for governments engaged in an aggressive war. Thoreau himself spent a brief time in jail for refusing to pay his war tax. Responding to charges that disobedience to the state recklessly undermined social stability, Thoreau said that nonviolent protest causes no harm to others since there is no bloodshed. Nor is there any real danger to the state, which will easily continue its business even if thousands refuse to pay their war taxes as a matter of conscience. When told to voice his protest through the ballot box rather than through illegal acts, Thoreau replied that going through the proper channels took too long. We need to vote with our entire lives, he said, not just with a strip of paper. Thoreau's actions and writings were influential for later pacifists such as Tolstoy and Gandhi who used peaceful civil disobedience against an immoral or unjust state.

Leo Tolstoy

While Thoreau joined pacifism with democracy, Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910) combined pacifism with anarchy. Born into a wealthy family, Tolstoy entered the military and served in the Crimean War. Deeply disillusioned with war, he left the army to begin a career in writing. An intense Christian, he pondered the tension between the demands of the Gospel and the reality of an oppressive hierarchical order kept in place by the Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church. Several times he wrote letters to the Czar asking him to forgive assassins and to lessen state repression. Increasingly, Tolstoy regarded any form of organized power, whether church, state, or economic, as contradictory to peace and the well–being of the people. Eventually, Tolstoy became an absolute pacifist.

Although he claimed to base his pacifism on his complete obedience to God, Tolstoy had much in common Thoreau. Like Thoreau, he believed each individual possessed a deep intuitive awareness of the truth. This awareness was contained in traditions handed down from generation to generation, in human reason, and in the deepest emotions of the heart. These tell us that all violence, whether the brutal violence of war or the everyday institutional violence of the state, is wrong. Violence, in Tolstoy's view, was closely linked to greed and self–interest. He believed every human being was tempted by those instincts that were most deeply and dangerously embedded in large–scale institutions such as government and the state church.


Mohandas Gandhi

A mediocre student and a poor public speaker, Mohandas Gandhi was unable to find a job in India after completing a law degree in England. Reluctantly, he moved to South Africa where he found work with an Indian law firm serving Asian clients. In South Africa, where he lived from 1891 to 1914, Gandhi developed his views and strategies about nonviolent social and political change. In South Africa he became a gifted political activist.

Soon after his arrival in South Africa, Gandhi was thrown off of a train because he refused to sit anywhere but in first class. As a result of this event, Gandhi determined that he would never again accept injustice and that he would always defend his dignity. During his long stay in Africa, he organized the Asian community to resist government attempts to deprive Asians of the vote, to force them to carry a passbook, and to delegitimize traditional Indian marriages. Although not always successful in his efforts, Gandhi gained a wide reputation as a political activist, and he perfected the theories that enabled him to win freedom for India. Gandhi returned to India in 1914, but he did not become actively involved in politics until 1919 when he led a protest against the Rowlatt Bills, which permitted imprisonment without trial. From that time until India became a state in 1947, Gandhi led the struggle for Indian independence by using nonviolent techniques such as protest marches, hunger strikes, and boycotts.

In the end, Gandhi's ideals and strategies succeeded. Not only was he able to mobilize millions to his cause, he was able to pressure or persuade the British to grant independence to India. In the months following independence, Gandhi turned his attention to healing the rift between the Muslim and Hindu communities of the Asian sub–continent. He was bitterly disappointed that independence for India resulted in the formation of two separate and antagonistic states, India and Pakistan. On January 30, 1948, he was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic opposed to Gandhi's work for reconciliation.

Tolstoy rejected any appeal to pragmatism. Saying that human beings cannot see the larger design of history, he admonished people never to suspend God's law of nonviolence, even to protect the innocent. Tolstoy criticized people who relied on wildly hypothetical and unlikely scenarios in order to justify more mundane state or personal violence. He challenged the common argument that violence was necessary to defend the weakest members of society. Tolstoy responded to the age–old question about what to do if a criminal threatened to kill or molest an innocent child and if the only way to stop the criminal seemed to be deadly force. Tolstoy argued that there are always other options to lethal force. One might plead with the assailant. One might place oneself between the criminal and the victim. Or, one might pray for divine intervention. In any case, Tolstoy said that the situation was so exceptional that it could not be generalized to defend the use of state violence. It was hypocritical, he said, to use the example of an innocent child to justify protecting national borders, killing smugglers, and using violence against someone stealing fruit.

In the end, Tolstoy's pacifism was based on his understanding of human worth and weakness. While reason and emotions can serve as a guide for behavior, Tolstoy rejected their use to justify the exercise of force against other human beings. Even if logic suggests that violence is necessary, Tolstoy asserted that human limitations prevent people from understanding the larger picture that only God can know. Comparing people to bricklayers who have been given their specific task but not the larger blueprint, Tolstoy said humans can never presume to be knowledgeable or moral enough to play the role of God and take the life of another human being. Looking beyond Tolstoy's theistic language, we are left with his central argument that no human being stands large enough to deprive another of their life or liberty.


In the twentieth century, Tolstoy's most influential admirer was Mohandas K. Gandhi. Drawing on Jainism, Hinduism, and lessons from Christianity, Gandhi used these religious and philosophical concepts to build powerful political movements. Faced with the challenges of racism, colonialism, class conflict, economic exploitation, and violence, he used pacifism as the basis for victories against the segregationist policies of South Africa and the imperial rule of Great Britain. With Gandhi, for the first time in history, pacifism moved from the periphery of political thought, where it often had been regarded as a curiosity or as an unrealistic ideal, to the center stage of political action.

Gandhi's central concepts The two main elements underlying Gandhi's theory and practice were concepts he developed and tested in South Africa. The first, ahimsa, is the doctrine of complete nonviolence he learned from his Hindu–Jainist mother. Gandhi believed that while violence (himsa) protects the external, ahimsa protects the soul, the eternal, and the values that last. In Gandhi's view, ahimsa can be observed in the evolution of the human species. Looking at history, he saw humans progressing from cannibalism to hunting, thus from eating other humans to eating animals. Then people turned to settled farming and the consumption of grains and vegetables. Eventually they began living in towns and cities. At each stage, Gandhi noted, himsa decreased and ahimsa increased. This progression, he argued, was the only alternative to the extinction of all but a ferocious few. Gandhi observed that the greatest thinkers and prophets throughout history taught ahimsa. None, he said, advocated himsa. Harmony, truth, brotherhood, and justice are all expressions of ahimsa and are attributes that distinguish humans from animals. While ahimsa is an intrinsic part of human nature, Gandhi did not believe it was easily exercised. Just as people must train for war, they must also train for nonviolence. Such training must cultivate the capacity for sacrifice and the ability to overcome fear. Gandhi held that the act of confronting an opponent with ahimsa—especially when this confrontation led to suffering on the part of the person practicing ahimsa—would transform the opponent. Ahimsa, he said, has the ability to change an enemy's heart and open an inner understanding. Only then can an adversary begin to change his or her mind. While ahimsa required great inner courage, it did not rely on physical strength and could be exercised even by children, women, and the elderly. Now, change could be in the hands of ordinary people, not just highly armed and destructive soldiers.

Gandhi's second central concept was satyagraha (soul force or firmness in truth). Although influenced by the concept of suffering love as exemplified by Jesus and taught by Tolstoy, Gandhi mainly drew on Hindu concepts of self–purification in developing this idea, which he first articulated while in South Africa. He believed that by holding fast to the truth, one would be able to convert an adversary. Yet, for Gandhi, satyagraha was primarily a spiritual exercise, not a political strategy. An integral element of satyagraha was extreme self–restraint. For Gandhi personally, this meant denouncing sex, luxury, rich foods, fine clothes, and comfortable beds so that he could devote all of his energies to a single task. Satyagraha, however, was not a passive or negative concept. The high degree of self–restraint allowed the practitioner of satyagraha never to waver from the truth. Thus, Gandhi refused to cooperate with unjust laws, officials, or governments because cooperation would have meant giving in to evil. When his own followers became unruly and rioted, Gandhi withdrew support for their cause and fasted until the people turned away from their violence.

Like Thoreau and Tolstoy, Gandhi believed in the innate goodness of all human beings. He was confident that truth would prevail in the end. By adhering faithfully to the truth and always rejecting violence, he thought he could touch the goodness in his adversaries. He believed that once the truth was known, the perpetrators of injustice would be sorry for their conduct. Consistent with this perspective, Gandhi always refused to take advantage of an opponent's weakness. When the British were preoccupied with the Boer War and involved in World War I, Gandhi suspended his efforts to exert pressure. In fact, he mobilized an ambulance corps to assist his oppressor. He hoped those efforts would lead the British to respond with equal magnanimity and kindness.

Gandhi's pacifism In spite of his reputation as a man of peace, Gandhi was not a complete pacifist. True, Gandhi held that war always was inconsistent with ahimsa and that war was an unmitigated evil. Furthermore, as a man who refused to prosecute an opponent in court, he said that he would not participate in war. Yet, Gandhi recognized that life brings conflicting duties. He said that an individual who benefits from government must at times extend assistance in defending that government from military attack. He stated that anyone who did not believe in ahimsa or merely wanted to avoid combat out of fear should be obligated to participate in military service. But, while Gandhi held open the possibility of defending a nation with force, he was consistent in his conviction that internal social and political change should only be pursued though pacifistic means.

Gandhi's nonviolent positive direct action represented a major step forward in the theory and practice of pacifism. No longer was nonviolence seen as a passive concept emphasizing withdrawal or non– participation. No longer was nonviolence a mere theological, philosophical, social, or political critique. With Gandhi, nonviolence became a powerful strategy to transform individuals, communities, societies, nations, and even imperial systems. The ideas and tactics of Mohandas Gandhi, a man who became known as Mohatama (Great Soul), have been used to bring civil rights to people of color in America, freedom for colonized and oppressed people in Africa, political rights for Eastern Europeans formerly controlled by Communist systems, and relief for citizens of the Philippines and Indonesia where dictatorship previously had

reigned. In each case, the transformation took place with minimal loss of human life, damage to property, or disruption of the fundamental social fabric. Even in places such as Tiananmen Square in China where nonviolent protests did not succeed, the subsequent government response was less destructive than if the protesters had engaged in an armed uprising. Finally, at the end of the twentieth century, as theorists such as Gene Sharp began to consider nonviolent alternatives to military systems, they turned to Gandhi's example.

Martin Luther King Jr. In the United States, Martin Luther King Jr. combined the teachings of Gandhi with those of the Old Testament prophets and Jesus to articulate a pacifist theory of political and social change. Thrust into the civil rights struggle in Montgomery, Alabama, King preached nonviolence as a means of obtaining equal rights for African Americans. Toward the end of his life, a life cut short by an assassin's bullet, he turned his attention to economic injustices and to the evils of the Vietnam War.

The son of an eloquent Atlanta preacher, King excelled in school and went on to pursue a Ph.D. in theology at Boston University. In Boston, he met and married Coretta Scott, who introduced him to the writings of Mohandas Gandhi. Also in Boston, he embraced a more liberal, socially active understanding of the Gospel. From that foundation, he developed a philosophy

that called for radical social change but that renounced all use of violence.

In reading the Bible, King saw God as a redeemer of the poor and oppressed. Christians, he concluded, had an obligation to follow the example of the Good Samaritan who risked his life and offered his wealth in behalf of an enemy in distress. Christians also were called to follow the example of Jesus, who showed love and compassion for enemies. Martin Luther King Jr. believed in the redemptive power of suffering. Referring to the mistreatment of the African–American people, King compared their travails to the agony of Christ. African–Americans, he said, understood suffering in a way that more privileged Americans did not. Their history of suffering gave them a moral stamina and credibility that would enable them to triumph in the end. Like Gandhi, King believed that suffering had a powerful impact on an adversary who could be transformed by seeing the example of someone accepting suffering and turning the other cheek. Both Gandhi and King shared an optimism about the possibility that evil men and women could change their attitudes and ways when confronted with the truth, especially when the truth is presented by someone willing to accept pain without retaliating.

In spite of his emphasis on suffering, King always displayed an aggressiveness, shrewdness, and political savvy that distinguished him from many of his more cautious African–American colleagues. Black people, he said, must be both tender hearted and tough minded. They must be as peaceful as doves, but as shrewd as foxes. Other African–American leaders such as Booker T. Washington (1856–1915) had attempted to make economic and social progress through strategies of respectful deference, cautious appeals, and hard work intended to prove the worth of black people. King called on his followers to confront racial discrimination by refusing to participate in unjust systems. If segregationist America forced blacks to sit at the back of the buses and to give up their seats for whites, then King called on black people not to ride the buses at all. If public facilities such as restaurants refused to allow blacks equal access to service, King helped organize sit–ins that served as a nonviolent demand for equal treatment. If blacks faced rejection or discrimination at the polls, King promoted voting rights campaigns to educate and register them. Police, politicians, business owners, ordinary citizens, and even church leaders in the American South responded with anger and violence. King spent time in jail, received many threatening letters and telephone calls, was under frequent police surveillance, had his house bombed, and lived under constant fear of assassination. He was even criticized by many liberal Americans who viewed King's methods as dangerously confrontational. Some of these people said that King should be held responsible whenever conservative whites in the segregated South responded to his movement with violence.

Although King promoted a confrontive form of advocacy, along with the Southern Christian Leadership Council and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he always insisted that people should respond to violence with nonviolence. Rigorous preparation sessions in which trainers hurled insults and spat in the faces of volunteers helped prepare the marchers, protesters, and demonstrators for what they faced as they sought to bring change to America.

King's views on Vietnam In the mid–1960s, King increasingly turned his attention to issues of poverty, both black and white, and to what he considered to be the injustices of the Vietnam War. He said the rights to vote or to have equal access to public transportation should not be claimed as victories so long as people are "smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society." The Vietnam War, he asserted, inflicted double pain on people of color. First, the war itself was racist because a predominantly white and wealthy nation attempted to suppress a poor Asian nation. Second, the American government drafted a disproportionate number of its own poor and black people to fight and die on the front lines of the war. King's shift in focus from his previous emphasis on civil rights deeply angered President Lyndon Johnson, who felt he had done more for black people than any other president since Abraham Lincoln. In Johnson's view, King was an ungrateful menace to the American national interest.

Martin Luther King Jr's critique of the Vietnam War continued a long tradition of religious and political opposition to military preparation and military action. Much of the opposition, whether religious or secular, was articulated in a negative manner. Pacifist opponents to the military pointed out the immorality, flaws, and dangers of the military without suggesting any alternative system for national defense. In the mid–1900s, the American Protestant pacifist A.J. Muste, a prominent member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), linked totalitarianism and depersonalization to militarism and war. Muste argued that conscription represented a form of conformity or paralysis that takes away the ability of citizens to choose for themselves, resist evil, or maintain their self–respect. Because conscription is an indispensable tool of governments preparing for war, Muste called on pacifists to refuse any form of the draft, even when the government allowed pacifists to engage in alternative service activities such as hospital or overseas development work. Muste argued that resistance to conscription would be the first step toward a more peaceful and brotherly world. His vision for a peaceful world was based on the hope that ordinary citizens would refuse to give their minds and bodies to the service of war. Eventually, that refusal would force policy makers to find alternative means to achieve their goals. Underlying Muste's thought, and the thought of most mid–twentieth century pacifists, was the idea that militaristic political leaders or ideologies were the root cause of war. War would cease if only moral people could be persuaded to resist the efforts of those leaders to mobilize the resources of their nations for combat.

Pacifism and the Nuclear Buildup

In the 1970s and 1980s, the attention of anti–war activists was focused on the massive buildup of nuclear weapons in the United States and the Soviet Union. Strategic thinking in both countries was based on the concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD), a theory codified in the SALT I and SALT II treaties (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties). Employing a triad of delivery systems—airplanes, submarines, and land–based missiles—the United States and the Soviet Union had the capacity to annihilate their counterparts with less than thirty minutes warning. Both had the ability to continue the attacks for days and even months through the use of nuclear–powered submarines that could lurk under the ocean for long periods of time before surfacing to launch missiles with nuclear warheads. SALT I and SALT II placed limits on the number of delivery systems but did not actually reduce the numbers of weapons. Furthermore, the treaties banned the use of any form of anti–ballistic missiles (ABMs) that might have defended against incoming missiles. Since the technology for ABMs was not close to being developed, and likely could not be developed (certainly not to the point of being effective against massive numbers of incoming missiles), the ban on AMBs was simply a ratification of reality. However, it underscored the point that peace was being maintained by the mutual realization that any first strike would inevitably lead to massive retaliation resulting in the total destruction of cities, infrastructure, and industry. By the 1980s, scientists began to realize that even a "moderate" number of nuclear launches would stir up so much dust and debris that the world's temperature would drop below the levels needed to sustain plant and animal life. Thus, even an unanswered attack would destroy both the intended target and the attacker.

Some critics of prevailing nuclear doctrine drew on the concepts of the Just War Theory. Prominent among these were Catholic thinkers whose views were expressed in Pope John XXIII's 1963 encyclical letter Pacem in terris (Peace on Earth). In 1983, The Pastoral of the U.S. Bishops on War and Peace provided an even more pointed criticism of national defense systems relying on nuclear weapons. Secular opponents of nuclear weapons also appealed to the Just War Theory. They held that the disproportional and indiscriminate nature of nuclear weapons made nuclear war incompatible with the Just War concept. Anti–nuclear critics relied on other theories as well.

Betty Reardon

Betty Reardon, feminist, futurist, and advocate of a world governance system based on the use of law rather than threat, outlined her anti–nuclear views in her 1985 book Sexism and the War System. Reardon linked the existing military system with authoritarian patriarchy. She argued that a very small number of elite men, mainly from western industrialized nations, saw coercive force as the most efficient way to maintain control over the world's people and resources. Employing hard, emotionless logic, they concluded that using the threat of nuclear weapons was the most effective way to achieve their goals in the northern hemisphere. In the poor countries of the southern hemisphere, the western elite ruled through local allies—dictators, generals, and large landowners—who were rewarded for their support of the hierarchical world system. Reardon observed that the heavily militarized world system diverted trillions of dollars from more productive enterprises. In Reardon's view, the growing global poverty that affected women and children especially was a direct result of excessive military expenditures.

Reardon held that warfare and militarization were based on "negative masculine values," and she saw a connection between the opposition to nuclear weapons and the feminist movement. She contrasted the destructive intentions of war with the constructive inclinations of the environmental movement, campaigns for social justice, and calls for economic equity. She believed that while men often saw power, bravery, and force as the way to maintain social order, women tended to focus on more nurturing, affirming, and cooperative values and actions. She suggested that the existing emphasis on military might strengthen non–democratic and non–participatory forms of government.

Reardon also argued that real change would not take place through a strict logical analysis of military systems. Change would come only when people adopted a new inner attitude toward life that incorporated both male and female modes of thinking. Instead of concentrating on the "rational" promotion of self–interest and rights (values of separation), women think of connections and relationships (values of community). According to a feminist perspective, training for citizenship and political leadership should teach people to nurture and sustain life, not just to exert power and use force. By placing more emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation, again traditionally more feminine inclinations, Reardon said human society would become more tolerant and less aggressive.

Although Betty Reardon's pacifism was notable for its feminist content, her thought has much in common with most thinkers who developed anti–militarist and anti–nuclear theories. All of those people saw themselves as protesting scientific and technical systems that had the power to cause death on a hitherto unimaginable scale. All of these people challenged doctrines that nuclear strategists saw as unassailably logical. And, all of these people rejected the notion that planning for death was a safe or moral way to preserve life.

Aung San Suu Kyi

In the Far East, Buddhist philosophy has provided the underlying inspiration for important pacifist thinkers and activists. In Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) Aung San Suu Kyi, a long–time advocate of democracy and human rights, drew on the moral imperatives of her Buddhist faith as she confronted an authoritarian government. For Suu Kyi, Buddhism imparted an uncompromising sense of duty and a certain vision of right and wrong. Those gave her a moral confidence that sustained her through hunger strikes, house arrest, imprisonment, and civil disobedience campaigns. At every step of the way, she emphasized the importance of always relying on nonviolence. Furthermore, she believed that political leaders could act with integrity and nonviolence. She said that Buddhism calls on leaders to strive for a very high level of moral enlightenment or perfection. In her view, the problem with modern politics has little to do with a lack of managerial competency on the part of government officials. Rather, bad government is caused by the unwillingness of leaders to cultivate good moral character.

According to Suu Kyi, Buddhism's political vision posits an original state of purity and perfection from which people fell. The role of political leaders is to restore peace and justice. The dhamma (life task) of a ruler is to be true to virtue, justice, and the law. Among the Ten Duties of a political leader are liberality, morality, self–sacrifice, kindness, non–anger, nonviolence, forbearance, and non–opposition to the will of the people. Morality is further defined as avoiding not just theft, adultery, falsehood, and indulgence, but also avoiding the destruction of life. Forbearance is the quality that enables rulers to stand above the personal feelings of enmity and ill–will that lead to anger and violence. A forbearing leader will conquer ill–will with loving kindness and will respond to wickedness with virtue. For Suu Kyi, Buddhism requires that each human being be treated as a person of infinite worth. Like Buddha, every person has the potential to realize the truth. Because of this potential, rulers have a duty to treat every human being as someone of value and also to seek the truth that will enable them (the rulers) to govern in a nonviolent manner.

The Dalai Lama

Another prominent Asian leader incorporating the principles of Buddhism and pacifism into a political philosophy is the Dalai Lama XIV, Tenzin Gyatso (1935–), the leader of the Tibetan people. When China invaded Tibet, the Dalai Lama attempted to negotiate with the Chinese government. When it became clear that China would not relinquish control over Tibet, he escaped to India where he established a Tibetan government in exile. Throughout his life, the Dalai Lama has insisted that Tibet be free and that freedom should be won through nonviolence. In accordance with his Buddhist vision, he has outlined the way a government should be managed. The most important concern of any government, he said, must be mercy. Not only should a government attend to the happiness of every citizen, it should instill in citizens a sense of responsibility for every living thing, including animals and plants.

Truth, genuine democracy, and nonviolence must be used as guidelines for governance. The Dalai Lama also insists that government must protect the freedom of religion. No government, group, or individual can use violence to impose religious conformity, and traditional customs must be protected. Thus, minority and indigenous cultures should never be suppressed either through direct violence or more subtle forms of coercion or persuasion. Consistent with his other views, the Dalai Lama says nonviolence must respect the right of free speech and expression. The Dalai Lama has proposed making Tibet a sanctuary of human and environmental peace in the heart of Asia. For this vision and for his nonviolent struggle for Tibet's liberation, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

Pacifism in Africa

One should not imagine that America, Europe, and Asia are the only continents where pacifistic ideas and practices have emerged. In Africa, many myths, legends, and proverbs admonish people and leaders to live peacefully. One remarkable example is a legend from the Kingdom of Buganda, a region located in modern–day Uganda. In the 1870s, Uganda was ruled by a despotic monarch who controlled his people through a highly structured administration and through violence. Reputedly, he would test out a new gun by going into the main thoroughfare and shooting an innocent passerby. The king's power was supported by Buganda's national story, the tale of Kintu, a mythological first king, first farmer, first father, and first human being. According to the narrative, Kintu was a stern ruler who punished subordinates for any form of disobedience. In fact, the official Kintu story attributed the end of paradise to disobedience. Angered at human disobedience, Kintu departed, taking with him the bounty of his original kingdom. According to tradition, Buganda's first kings were Kintu's legitimate heirs. Supposedly, these men devoted a great deal of time trying to find their departed father. Their hope was to restore the glories of his Garden of Eden–like kingdom. Accounts of their lives described them as quick to use harsh violence to maintain their power and control their kingdom. Thus, the national story affirmed the importance of violence as an integral element in any strong political system.

Rewriting the myth In the 1870s, an individual or group of individuals rewrote the national myth to condemn violence and to portray Kintu, the father of the country, as a man who loved peace and abhorred violence. The new story stressed that Kintu had a great aversion to any bloodshed, not just of humans but also of animals. Specifically, Kintu was described as being strongly opposed to capital punishment. In the new version of the story, paradise ended not because of disobedience to Kintu, but because his sons became exceedingly violent. This suggested that violence lies at the heart of human suffering. As the story went on to describe the lives of the Ganda kings, it focused on one king who was said to have found Kintu. While out hunting, the king came across a magnificent court–like setting. There, at the center and dressed in white, was a very peaceful Kintu. Tragically, the king was never able to converse with Kintu because, in a fit of rage, the king killed a disobedient subordinate. Instantly, Kintu vanished and no one in Buganda has ever encountered him again.

Of course the point of the revised story was that the fall of the Ganda kingdom, and of humankind in general, was linked to violence. Furthermore, the inability of people to recapture the bounty and glory of that mythological past was presented as a direct consequence of violence, especially the violence of political leaders. Because it was told during the reign of one of Buganda's most brutal monarchs, it is clear that the revised tale was presented as a pointed critique of violence.


No state in history has adopted pacifism as its governing philosophy. Even most pacifists do not expect that the theory ever will be fully implemented. Nevertheless, a number of governments have adapted components of pacifist theory or have borrowed ideas advanced by pacifists. Pacifistic concepts have also been applied, sometimes without a great deal of conscious attention to theory, by people resisting oppressive governments. While much of traditional pacifist thought has been relatively theoretical and has been offered more as a critique or a vision than as a serious plan for real world politics, in the later half of the twentieth century, a number of people have developed proposals for how nations might defend themselves through nonviolence. On the domestic level, pacifism sometimes has influenced the way the judicial system operates, and pacifist principles have been used to deal with community and regional disputes. Pacifists have also offered suggestions about how diplomatic practices might be improved through the use nonviolent principles.

Gene Sharp and Nonviolence

Political theorist Gene Sharp has advanced a theory of how modern nation–states might use nonviolence as an effective method of national defense. Sharp has developed a strategy of civilian–based defense (CBD) that he believes is more effective, more efficient, and more democratic than current defense plans. According to Sharp, conventional defense systems are marred by a number of fundamental problems and contradictions. First, they are enormously expensive, costing the world trillions of dollars annually. Second, Sharp points out that they are generally incompatible with democracy. The hierarchical, secretive, and authoritarian nature of modern military systems comes into conflict with a democracy that values equality, openness, and citizen participation. In many countries of the world, military dictators are the greatest enemies of democracy. Third, modern military systems do not actually protect their people. Whenever such systems actually have been used, the result for people and property has been enormous devastation. Now that a number of nations rely on nuclear weapons for their defense, the use of such weapons would not result in protection but instead result in annihilation. Fourth, defense systems based on the military are so inherently destabilizing that they lead to insecurity rather than security. Because modern weapons can easily be used for offense, an opponent has no way of knowing if a weapon such as a missile is defensive or offensive. As a result, that opponent may order a preemptive attack to avoid being the target of a first strike. Sharp says weapons that invite attack are as much a danger to their owners as they are to their intended targets. As a result of these basic flaws, Sharp argues that nations must develop alternative defense strategies.

Sharp accepts the proposition that any effective defense system depends on the ability and willingness to exercise power. He also agrees that defensive power must be able to combat a military invasion. But, Sharp believes that effective combat can rely on the shrewd use of completely nonviolent forms of power. Sharp's nonviolence does not require a religious or ethical commitment to pacifism. In fact, he rejects the idea that his theories are pacifistic. Nevertheless, because he advocates a nonviolent form of defense, his proposals commonly are cited by pacifists. Sharp's ideas are based on the notion that through the nonviolent power of protest, non–cooperation, and intervention, well–trained civilians can repulse an invasion or resist a tyrant.

Sharp believes that through disciplined and carefully designed programs of nonviolence, nations can defend themselves by relying on civilians rather than on military personnel. He notes that even without planning or a coherent strategy, Eastern European nations threw off the Soviet Empire. Presumably, with more planning and training, countries could be even more successful. In part, citizen–based confrontation works because it disorients an oppressor. When faced with violent resistance, a tyrant or invader actually gains strength and resolve. But, when faced with carefully orchestrated noncompliance on the part of unarmed civilians, the tyrant or invader is unsure of how to respond. While ordinary soldiers react with bravery or ferocity when attacked by opposing armies, they may loose their will to fight when they are directed to attack nonviolent protesters.

Steps for nonviolent defense Sharp says that for nonviolent defense to be truly effective, strategists must put as much effort into its planning and training as they would into conventional military preparation. Effective CBD, he says, involves three distinct steps that require increasingly more discipline, preparation, and commitment. The first step, protest, is the most simple and can involve masses of people. Through marches, picketing, vigils, handing out protest literature, humorous pranks directed against officials, renouncing any honors bestowed by an opponent, holding public protest meetings, or emigrating, people express their disapproval of an illegitimate government. This may undermine the confidence of a tyrannical regime and encourage other citizens to identify with the protesters.

Sharp's second step is nonviolent non–cooperation, which makes it difficult for an oppressor to carry on the day–to–day activities of governing. CBD activists may engage in strikes or boycotts, they may refuse to come to work, they may work slowly and inefficiently, they may resist paying taxes, or they may stop buying products associated with an oppressive regime.

The third step, nonviolent intervention, is designed to throw sand in the machinery of government and of the economy. For example, an invading army may find that road signs have been changed, that the trains or planes "inadvertently" have been rerouted, and that massive numbers of disabled automobiles have formed tangled traffic jams blocking critical bottlenecks. The activities linked to step three require more planning, courage, and discipline.

Sharp acknowledges that CBD activists may face reprisals involving torture and death, but he notes that conventional soldiers always risk danger. Like ordinary soldiers, combatants using CBD should be prepared to pay a high price for their efforts. In fact, Sharp asserts that CBD has more in common with traditional military struggle than with pacifistic concepts such as conciliation and agitation. Unlike Gandhi or King, Sharp has little interest in touching the conscience or changing the heart of his opponent.

The future of CBD Although CBD has not been adopted completely by any government, its supporters recommend it as a viable real–world policy. They suggest that CBD is still in its infancy and will evolve into a much more attractive alternative. In time, nations might incorporate CBD as one part of their defense policy and, even further into the future, they might rely on it entirely. The countries most likely to turn to CBD would be smaller nations with little prospect of withstanding powerful adversaries through the use of conventional methods. CBD provides them with a means of resistance that would be equally effective and far less destructive to their homelands. Several Scandinavian countries have given serious consideration to incorporating elements of Sharp's thinking into their defense strategies. Although not claiming to follow the guidelines of CBD, teams of Christian peacemakers have applied similar principles in the Middle East and Latin America. Recruited as a kind of army of peace, men and women have volunteered to stand between warring parties in places like Israel, Palestine, and El Salvador. Willing to accept the same risk as armed combatants, their goal is to stand in visible protest to the violence that is destroying homes and lives.

War and Healing

Around the world, political, social, and ethnic conflict has weakened or destroyed communities and nations. In response to the deep pain resulting from injustices that often rise to the level of war crimes or crimes against humanity, pacifists have offered solutions they believe will aid in stopping the cycle of revenge and retaliation that often accompanies such conflict. Pacifists also hope nonviolent efforts at reconciliation will begin to heal the debilitating psychological wounds that trouble former child soldiers, victims of brutality, and even participants in politically motivated criminal behavior. While these healers would not necessarily claim to be pacifists in every part of their life, they employ theories and techniques that are pacifistic by their nature. Many of these concepts and methods have been developed by pacifists such as Mennonites, Quakers, or other religiously motivated individuals. Often attached to churches, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), or the United Nations, pacifist peacemakers respond to the social and psychological residues of past hurt. They focus on uncovering the truth, they encourage perpetrators of crimes to acknowledge their activities, they urge the victims to express their deep pain, and they seek to help all parties move beyond the past. Frequently, the language of these peacemakers includes religious terms such as shalom, justice, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. In spite of their close links to religion, the goal of these peacemakers is to restore society so that normal politics and government can resume.

In Cambodia, peacemaking teams attempted to help citizens deal with the horrors of the Pol Pot (1925–1998) era. In Central and South America, they assisted victims who had experienced the torture, unlawful imprisonment, loss of family and property, and terror designed to silence and intimidate political enemies. Peacemakers have also worked with the soldiers and officials responsible for those acts of violence. At times, such people are encouraged to confess their actions. At times, peacemakers help everyone recognize that the men and women who inflicted violence were themselves victims and pawns of larger forces. In the Balkans, where ethnic conflict reached the level of war crimes, peacemakers have attempted to mend the torn fabric of society. In Northern Ireland and Palestine, peacemaking teams have tried to reconcile bitterly divided communities.

Nonviolent Efforts in Africa

Some of the best–known efforts at reconciliation and peacemaking have taken place in Africa. In Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, and Mozambique, peacemakers have attempted to rehabilitate former child soldiers. In Sudan, Kenya, and Somalia, they have worked both with high–level political leaders and warring ethnic communities. And in Rwanda, where the 1994 genocide killed nearly one million people, peacemakers have tried to deal with the intense and explosive pain resulting from the fact that most of the killings were carried out by former friends or neighbors who used clubs and machetes.

The TRC In South Africa, peacemaking and reconciliation were incorporated into the 1994 national constitution. At the urging of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the men and women who wrote the constitution included a provision that created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The task of the Commission was to help the nation deal with the violence and injustice of the apartheid era. During the apartheid years, both the security forces of the White South African government and the militant activists of the resistance movements committed acts of torture and terror. Fearful that a never–ending round of reprisals would cripple the new nonracial government and deeply polarize South African society, the nation's leaders decided to establish the TRC. For a number of years in the 1990s, TRC members traveled around the county listening to stories of injustice and loss. The TRC also heard the confessions of perpetrators of injustice and loss. While a compensation commission determined a monetary payment that served as restitution, the real goal of the TRC was simply to allow both sides to tell their stories. For those who had suffered, just being able to describe what had happened and perhaps to learn the truth about lost loved ones was far more important than the meager cash compensation. For those who had committed atrocities, the liberating act of confession was more important than the amnesty they received from prosecution and future punishment.

The TRC represented a radical departure from conventional views about justice that are based on the principle of retribution. While some criticized the TRC for allowing the guilty to escape with seemingly little cost, others predicted that telling the truth would lead to private acts of revenge. In the end, neither of those fears proved true. The individual acts of contrition and truth–telling led to genuine experiences of forgiveness. Former enemies were able to accept the past and move forward to a more hopeful future. Indeed, the national mythology became a mythology of reconciliation. Instead of telling stories of bravery in combat, people recounted tales of meeting former enemies, sharing meals, and becoming friends. To a large extent, the model established by President Nelson Mandela (1918– ) encouraged such developments. For example, Mandela invited all former residents, both guards and inmates, of Robben Island to a gathering at the Executive Mansion in Cape Town. Mandela's strong commitment to champion forgiveness rather than revenge did much to heal the deep wounds caused by years of violence.

VORP in the U.S. and Canada

Another example of pacifistic principles being used at the domestic political level are the Victim Offender Reconciliation Programs (VORP) that have emerged in the United States and Canada. While traditional criminal justice is based on the concept of inflicting pain on the criminal, VORP is designed to rehabilitate by appealing to the criminal's conscience and by restoring relationships. Traditional criminal justice operates in an atmosphere of antagonism and separation. Victims and perpetrators do not interact except through the highly structured and ritualized court system where communication is monopolized by disinterested professionals. In general, the offended party is the government whose laws have been broken rather than the victim whose person or property has been violated. Consistent with that principle, the penalties (jail time or fines) are paid to the state and not to the one who has suffered loss. Too often, the results are bitterness and anger for both the victim and the criminal, prison (which can further brutalize the criminal), and a very high rate of recidivism (relapse into criminal behavior). Furthermore, the victim may not receive any compensation and has no guarantee that he or she will ever hear the perpetrator explain his or her actions.

VORP, most frequently used for juveniles or first–time offenders with the greatest chance for rehabilitation, is based on a much different approach. Working closely with the regular court structure, the VORP coordinator contacts both the criminal and the victim to see if they would be open to participating in the program. Then the coordinator talks to both parties to learn their stories and arrange for a joint meeting. In that meeting, as the victim tells the story of what happened, the criminal is obligated to put a human face on the target of the crime. Now, the abstract "rich person" becomes a real individual who struggles to pay a mortgage, buy clothes for his or her children, and make ends meet with a payroll. The "distant person" becomes a human being who suffered deep trauma from the robbery, vandalism, or physical attack. The victim can also gain a new perspective. Now, instead of faceless thug, he or she confronts a person who is beginning to accept responsibility and express remorse.

Benefits of VORP At the joint meeting, the parties agree on a method of compensation that takes the victim's loss into account. Rather than a fine to the court, the criminal agrees to restore the victim's property, pay for any bodily injuries, or engage in some type of work that would be satisfying to the victim. The goal of this strategy is not to let criminals off the hook with an easy remedy, but to engage them in some kind of constructive response that enables them to understand the consequences of their activities and to feel that they have done something positive to repair the damage. The VORP coordinator monitors not just the meetings, but the process of restitution. While not always successful, VORP has been shown to work significantly better than jail sentences. And in cases where the victims and offenders will continue to live in the same community, there is a sense of security for the victim that does not exist when a still resentful criminal is released from prison or has paid a fine.

VORP originally began as a response to nonviolent crimes, but some of its principles have been applied to very serious felonies such as murder and rape. In such cases there is no effort to avoid the normal court system or reduce a prison sentence. Rather, there is an attempt to work with criminals while they are in jail. In jail, they are placed in direct contact with victims, although perhaps not their own, who describe the loss, pain, and humiliation they suffered. Often, for the very first time, a criminal begins to realize that victims were not faceless non–entities. Perhaps for the first time, the criminal can begin to feel remorse and desire change. Because virtually all criminals are eventually sent back into society, this process is a very important step towards making that reentry successful.


One of the most challenging problems for pacifists is the question raised by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971), a theologian, political thinker, and a former pacifist. A liberal social progressive, Niebuhr once served as president of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, America's most prominent pacifist organization. During the 1920s, he believed peace was reasonable and that people were perfectible. He thought that with more education and enlightenment, people would improve to the point where war and injustice would become obsolete. But, with the Great Depression and the rise of totalitarian systems in both Germany and Russia, he reassessed his earlier position. Rejecting liberal optimism, Niebuhr argued that sin, not a lack of education or a fair legal system, was the major reason why evil persisted.

In Niebuhr's view, sin was the unwillingness of human beings to accept their own nature. On the one hand, people were driven by deep–seated natural emotions such as the desire for power or for survival. People were also entrenched in economic and social systems that could not easily be changed. Niebuhr believed these drives and systems affected all humans. On the other hand, Niebuhr noted that people were able to contemplate ideals. They had the power to imagine and strive toward perfection. In Niebuhr's view, the natural drives and systems had to be kept in balance with the imagined ideals. Neither side of the equation should be embraced without restraint. According to Niebuhr, evil was the attempt to ignore the ideals by giving oneself entirely to the drives of nature or trying to escape the limits of nature by clinging only to ideals. The Nazis, he believed, had chosen to abandon themselves exclusively to the drives of nature. But pacifists, he charged, had forsaken the ambiguities of the real world to seek refuge in the world of ideals. According to Niebuhr, that path was evidence of the sin of pride, and it allowed great evil to succeed. What was needed, Niebuhr argued, was for good people to remain in the real world and to choose the most practical option, even if that meant accepting the lesser of two evils. In Niebuhr's view, the commandment to love one's neighbor sometimes required a person or nation to take up arms. Absolute pacifism, he said, was ineffective against terrible evils such as Nazism and it refused to accept the responsibilities of living in the real world.

For many critics of pacifism, and even for many pacifists, Niebuhr's logic seemed irrefutable. Not only did he provide strong reproof of overly optimistic liberalism, he offered a powerful criticism of excessively idealistic pacifism. Furthermore, Niebuhr seemed to give advice that could be used by people holding positions of responsibility in government. Because Niebuhr asked policy–makers to choose the lesser of two evils, his writings offered improvement even if they did not promise perfection. For their part, pacifists calling for people to "turn the other cheek" seemed to have nothing practical to say to chief executives, diplomats, and people in the military.

What is the response of pacifists to thinkers such as Niebuhr who see pacifism as an appealing, but hopelessly unrealistic ideal? Specifically, do pacifists have any answer to the problem of World War II, a problem that was so troublesome for Niebuhr and millions of other thoughtful people? Although their views have not found their way into mainstream textbooks, pacifists claim they have a response to people like Niebuhr.

Pacifist Views of World War II

Pacifist historians remind people that the popular view of World War II is often a very selective version filtered through the eyes of Hollywood or one–sided nationalistic accounts. In those versions, the Allies are portrayed as innocent victims of aggressive German and Japanese surprise attacks. There is no hint of any Allied responsibility. In fact, the Allies' only failure was said to have been an unwillingness to confront evil sooner. Chamberlain's debacle at Munich is regarded as a clear lesson that more, not less, force must be applied to potential conflicts. Furthermore, according to popular opinion, the battles of World War II were fought by tough, strong, young men from Germany, Japan, the United States, Britain, France, and Russia. There is no suggestion that most of the casualties were innocent civilians. Finally, defenders of the war argue that World War II was fought not only to save democracy, but also to rescue Jews being destroyed in the Holocaust. There is no reference to anti–Semitism in America or in the European democracies. And there is little reference to the fact that the Allies also intentionally killed many unarmed men, women, and children.

Real aims of the war In looking at the causes of World War II, pacifists remind people that World War II was actually a continuation of World War I, and they recall that World War I was caused by the reckless arms buildup that took place in the early years of the twentieth century. Although European nations only wanted to intimidate their neighbors, not start a war, the situation got out of hand and Europe stumbled into war in 1914. The punitive and unjust "peace" that France and Britain imposed by the Treaty of Versailles left Germany humiliated and economically devastated. That "peace" created a perfect climate for the rise of Hitler who found a group to blame—the Jews—and who promised to restore Germany's glory. A pacifist would place much of the responsibility for World War II on the excessive militarism that led up to World War I and to the harsh peace forced on Germany in 1919.

Some pacifists argue that the Allies did not enter World War II to save Jews. Anti–Semitism was widespread in Europe and America. In fact, many people in countries such as France, Belgium, and England supported Hitler's anti–Jewish rhetoric. At a time when Hitler still allowed Jews to emigrate from Germany, the United States turned away a ship loaded with Jews seeking asylum. Eventually, the ship returned to Germany where many of its occupants eventually suffered extermination. These anti–Semitic attitudes and actions, both in Europe and America, signaled to Hitler that the rest of the world condoned, perhaps even admired, what he was doing in Germany.

As for the war with Japan, some pacifist historians contend that in 1941 the Japanese Prime Minister Konoye (1891–1945) was eager to negotiate with the United States and that he would have been willing to reverse Japanese expansionism in the Pacific. But, he wanted to do so in a gradual manner that would not result in a loss of face for Japan or the Emperor. The Prime Minister, who feared assassination at the hands of hard–line militarists if the talks became public, pled for secrecy. However, after a spirited internal debate, the U.S. government took a hard line and issued a public call asking the Japanese to back down. As a result, Konoye resigned and the far more aggressive Hideki Tojo (1884–1948) was installed as Japan's leader. At that point, planning for Pearl Harbor pushed ahead and led to the confrontation that neither nation really wanted.

Looking at Germany's war in Eastern Europe, pacifists note that only fifty years earlier other European powers also had engaged in campaigns of conquest and colonization. The territories taken in those actions remained under European control in the 1930s. Thus, Germany saw eastward expansion simply as a replay of what England, France, and Belgium had done in Africa and Asia. Therefore, in the view of pacifist historians, it was hypocritical for the Allies to condemn Germany for its attempts to colonize Eastern Europe and Russia.

The Holocaust Pacifists readily agree that the Holocaust was an unmitigated evil. However, they point out that most of the Jews who were rescued during World War II were not saved by Allied armies, but by the nonviolent actions of civilians who sheltered Jews and/or smuggled them out of Nazi– or Fascist–controlled territory. According to some reports, 80 percent of all Jews saved in France were rescued in that manner. In Italy, the numbers were 90 percent, in Belgium about 50 percent, and in Denmark almost 100 percent of the Jews who escaped extermination were saved by civilians. To say that Jews were rescued by heroic Allied armies is a misrepresentation of history.

Pacifists note that the idea of targeting innocent civilians for extermination was an idea first implemented by Winston Churchill (1874–1965), not by Adolf Hitler (1889–1945). Until 1940, bombing raids on both sides had been conducted against industrial or military targets. Civilian casualties, even when heavy, were generally accidental side effects of attacks against such facilities. But, in 1940, Churchill began the deliberate bombing of German cities. Bomber commanders were ordered to drop their bombs into the very hearts of German cities, not at industrial or military targets. Churchill believed that such raids would weaken the support of German civilians for Hitler. Even after D–Day on June 6, 1944, when it became increasingly clear that the war was ending, the bombing of civilians continued. One of the targets of these bombing raids was Dresden, a city with no military significance. In all, between 600,000 and 800,000 German civilians were killed in the actions against urban settlements. Ironically, such bombing served to strengthen support for Hitler and, thus, actually may have prolonged the war.

The atomic bomb In August, 1945, the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombs killed more than 200,000 civilians and injured almost an equal number of people. By August 1945, no significant military targets still remained in Japan. Furthermore, the Japanese navy had been destroyed, and the Japanese army had been cut off from the mainland. Pacifist historians contend that since the bombings were designed to destroy civilians and not military installations, they were not much different from the Holocaust. Both the Germans and the Allies were willing to sacrifice innocent civilians for political or military gains. The only difference, pacifists argue, is that the Germans brought the people to the ovens while the Allies dropped the ovens on the people.

As for the argument that the atomic bomb was needed to convince the Japanese to surrender, historians point out that the Japanese government had already made overtures through Russia that it wanted peace. In July 1945, former Prime Minister Konoye flew to Moscow to negotiate for peace. His only condition was that Japan not be occupied and that the Emperor not be dethroned. Thus, an offer of surrender was on the table before the bomb was dropped. Even after the bomb fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese did not surrender until they received assurances that the Emperor would remain on his throne.

Pacifism and the Future

Gene Sharp's proposals for CBD, the use of nonviolent methods for dealing with political and ethnic conflict, and the VORP programs are three examples of how nonviolence theory has influenced or could influence real world politics. No political theory is ever implemented in its pure form. That is true of communism, democracy, and monarchy. All functional modern political ideologies began as distant and incomplete visions in the minds of thinkers and activists who were considered impractical idealists. In the view of many pacifists, what today seems impossible will one day become accepted convention. Less than 1,000 years ago, many people would not have been able to conceive of a well–ordered world without the protection of holy wars or human sacrifice. Less than 200 years ago, many responsible people were convinced that society could not function if slaves were freed or if people other than propertied males participated in politics. As recently as the 1940s, few people would have dreamed that both Japan and Germany could become staunchly democratic and pro–American nations. Clearly, these examples prove that profound change is possible. Pacifists believe, at least hope, that in the future their views will be incorporated into the constitutions and policies of most nations around the world.


  • Must pacifism like Thoreau's come into conflict with government policy or even come into conflict with the very existence of the state?
  • What pacifistic themes are there in Tolstoy's novels?
  • Study one of Gandhi's many nonviolence campaigns in South Africa or India. What made them effective?
  • Examine newspapers and periodicals of the 1930s and 1940s. Was Gandhi viewed as a hero in the West at that time? Also, what did Americans think of Martin Luther King Jr. and his activities in the 1960s?
  • In today's textbooks, are pacifists or pacifistic ideas and actions given any credit for helping to end slavery, for challenging segregation, or for strengthening democracy? Internationally, are they given any credit for helping to end the power of the Soviet Union over Eastern Europe?



Aung San, Suu Kyi. Freedom From Fear and Other Writings. London: Penguin, 1991.

Gandhi, Mohandas. All Men are Brothers. New York: Continuum, 1980.

The Holy Bible, New International Version. Colorado Springs, Colorado: International Bible Society, 1984.

King, Martin Luther Jr. Why We Can't Wait. New York: Harper & Row, 1991.

Nhat Hanh, Thich. Being Peace. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1987.

Reardon, Betty. Sexism and the War System. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1985.

Yoder, John H. The Politics of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972.

Zehr, Howard, J. Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1990.

Further Readings

Ackerman, Peter, and Christopher Kruegler. Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: The Dynamics of People Power in the Twentieth Century. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994. Explanation of how nonviolent civilian actions have succeeded in modern times.

Barash, David P. Approaches to Peace, A Reader in Peace Studies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. An excellent anthology containing a wide variety of essential texts on nonviolence.

Hawkley, Louise, and Juhnke, James, eds. Nonviolent America, History Through the Eyes of Peace. Newton, KS: Mennonite Press, 1983. A study of pacifism in America and a description of how nonviolent actions have been overlooked in the writing of American history.

Krog, Antjie. Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits to Freedom in the New South Africa. New York: Random House, 1998. A vivid and moving account of testimony heard by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Sharp, Gene. Making Europe Unconquerable: The Potential of Civilian–based Deterrence and Defense. Cambridge: Ballinger, 1985. An explanation of how Sharp's theory could be used to build an effective defense for European nations.


Imperialism, Socialism, Utopianism,


views updated Jun 27 2018


Charles Chatfield

The meaning of "pacifism" was altered in Anglo-American usage during World War I. Before 1914 the word was associated with the general advocacy of peace, a cause that had enlisted leaders among the Western economic and intellectual elite and socialist leadership. In wartime, "pacifism" was used to denote the principled refusal to sanction or participate in war at all. This doctrine was associated with the nonresistance of the early Christian church or the traditional "peace" churches, such as the Mennonites, Quakers, and Brethren. During and after World War I, absolute opposition to war was joined with support for peace and reform programs to produce modern, liberal pacifism. The earlier broad usage is still current in Europe and, to some extent, in the United States; and so the significance of changes in the concept is somewhat lost.

The shift in conceptualization of pacifism early in the twentieth century is the key to its significance for American foreign policy, however. Once this is understood, it is possible to interpret pacifism as simultaneously the core of several modern peace movements and, ironically, a source of factionalism among peace workers; it is also possible to appreciate the contributions of pacifism to the foreign policymaking process.


Pacifism, although absolutely opposed to war, never has been confined to antiwar movements. It has been a way of life for individuals and religious sects, and it has characterized peace organizations founded in the wake of wars. Thus, pacifism contributed to the formation of the first peace groups after the Napoleonic wars, notably the American Peace Society (1828). It was the basis of the Garrisonian New England Non-Resistance Society, founded in 1838 by abolitionists and others dissatisfied with the moderate position of the American Peace Society, and of the Universal Peace Union, founded in 1866 by Alfred A. Love following the collapse of peace societies during the Civil War.

The modern conceptualization of pacifism draws upon the doctrinal sacredness of life and abrogation of violence in the Christian religion, strains of philosophical anarchism and socialism, nineteenth-century internationalism, and a religious principle of social responsibility. These were the basic elements that were brought together in the context of World War I.

The oldest element of modern pacifism is the tradition of religious nonresistance that was formed in the first three centuries of the Christian church, under Roman rule. Abandoned for the concept of just war, in fact by the time of Constantine I and in theory Saint Augustine, nonresistance pacifism appeared again with Christian sects in the medieval era. It emerged in the Protestant Reformation, notably under Peter Chelčick´y and the Unity of the Brethren (Bohemian Brethren) in the fifteenth century and among the Anabaptists. From the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, it was institutionalized in the writings and practice of so-called peace churches: the Mennonites, the Quakers, and the Brethren.

Nonresistance characterized the thought of leaders in the early-nineteenth-century peace societies of the United States. It was officially recognized as ground for exemption under the conscription systems of the Civil War and World War I. Many of the Mennonites and Brethren who immigrated to the United States late in the nineteenth century at least partly sought to escape conscription abroad. Traditional nonresistance implied not only the repudiation of violence and warfare but, frequently, dissociation from government, based as it seemed to be on physical force.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, traditional nonresistance was supplemented by anarchism deriving from the religious inspiration of Leo Tolstoy and from those philosophical anarchists who repudiated violence. In addition, some leading European socialists took the position that national wars were instruments of class action that should be boycotted by workers. In the United States during World War I these elements of pacifism brought objectors into conflict with American law, which provided for conscientious objection based only on religious opposition to fighting and not that which derived from secular or political principles or was directed against conscription itself. Furthermore, the majority position of the Socialist Party then condemned American involvement, thus bringing socialists to the antiwar cause.

Also during the second half of the nineteenth century, nonresistance as a force motivating peace advocacy was supplemented by organized internationalism. In some measure this derived from the humanistic traditions of Hugo Grotius and Immanuel Kant, and it evolved into programs for international law, international arbitration, and even international organization. In some measure, too, internationalism derived from classical economists who, like Jeremy Bentham, repudiated mercantilism and advocated free trade. In the United States, internationalism was buttressed by Americans' tendency to assume that their institutions would produce harmonious progress if written on a world scale, and it garnered enthusiastic support from men of means and prestige in the years before World War I. It is important in the development of modern pacifism because its institutional and world views, and even some of its programs, were incorporated into the encompassing policy platforms of pacifists.

A fourth element of modern pacifism was the sense of social responsibility that derived from antebellum evangelical religion and especially from religious analyses of industrialism and urbanism about the turn of the century. The reform spirit, the transnational outlook, and the political philosophy of liberal pacifism were rooted in two decades of Social Gospel and Progressive activity that preceded World War I.

Upon the outbreak of that conflict, most traditional internationalists supported the Allied cause and became reconciled to American intervention. When the United States entered the war, they viewed the crusade as the vehicle of international organization and tried to write their views into the Allied war aims, notably in the case of the League of Nations.

Meanwhile, between 1914 and 1917 several organizations were formed to oppose Woodrow Wilson's preparedness program and intervention, and to support conscientious objectors: the American Union Against Militarism (19151921), which was succeeded by the National Council for Prevention of War; the Women's Peace Party (1915), which was succeeded by the United States Section of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom; the Fellowship of Reconciliation (1915), which was supplemented in 1923 by the War Resisters' League; and the American Friends Service Committee (1917). In wartime these groups were sifted of nearly all but pacifists, and they became the institutional base of modern pacifism in the United States.

The leaders of these and other wartime pacifist organizations were predominantly Progressives, often women, and with few exceptions were religious. They included Jane Addams and Emily Balch, directors of Hull House and Denison House settlements; Crystal Eastman, an ardent suffragist and expert on the legal aspects of industrial accidents; her brother Max Eastman, who edited two radical literary journals, Masses and Liberator; Norman Thomas, later the leader of the Socialist Party; Roger Baldwin, longtime director of the American Civil Liberties Union; Rufus Jones, a Quaker historian; Paul Jones, an Episcopal bishop; Jessie Wallace Hughan, founder of the War Resisters' League; John Nevin Sayre, interwar stalwart of the Fellowship of Reconciliation; and John Haynes Holmes, a Unitarian pastor. They identified with transnational ideologies, whether religious, humanitarian, or socialist; but politically they were pragmatists in the Progressive tradition. They believed in the ultimate worth of the individual, but they appreciated the influence of social institutions upon personal development.

They associated with antiwar radicals, with whom they were often persecuted. Indeed, pacifists formed the American Civil Liberties Bureau in 1917 for the defense of conscientious objectors and radicals during the war. Leading pacifists identified force as an instrument of social control and associated violence with authoritarianism. They therefore associated their own quest for peace with a commitment to social justice, so that they combined complete opposition to war with the spirit of reform and internationalism. Their organized expression of this belief during World War I marks the beginning of modern liberal pacifism and the development of an activist core of the peace movements in recent American history.

Traditional religious pacifism as documented by Peter Brock and colleagues has been a vital, often poignant part of the twentieth-century experience in Europe and North America. It was the liberal and activist strand of pacifism, however, that became most relevant to American foreign relations.


Peace and antiwar movements can be viewed, institutionally, as a single element of the foreign policy-making process. To draw a distinction between them is legitimate with regard to specific foreign policy issuesthat is, specific warsbut not with regard to the process of policy formation. Taken together, peace and antiwar movements in all periods of U.S. history have been coalitions of separate groups aligned variously with regard to different policy issues. These constituencies have combined to influence public policy either directly through the professional expertise of peace advocates (as in the case of numerous projects of the Carnegie Endowment) or through political lobbying, or indirectly through public opinion. In any case, pacifists have been relevant to the policymaking process in terms of the broader peace movements, and they cannot be evaluated apart from them.


There is one possible exception to this observation: the contribution made by pacifist pressure groups to the administration of conscription and the treatment of conscientious objectors. In this case pacifist pressure groups acted directly upon government agencies and substantially affected policy formation.

Efforts on behalf of conscientious objectors have taken essentially three forms. First, pacifists representing the peace churchesthe ecumenical Fellowship of Reconciliation and, prior to World War II, the secular War Resisters' Leaguelobbied to broaden the basis of exemption. At the outset of World War I objectors were exempted only if they belonged to churches with doctrinal positions against military service, and even then they were legally exempted only from fighting. Provisions were broadened administratively during the war to include all religious objectors. Subsequently, exemption was expanded by court decision to include philosophical authority embodying a universal principle, and leading churchmen and church bodies later endorsed the principle of selective objection to war on political grounds.

Second, pacifists have lobbied in support of administrative agencies that would remove objectors from military jurisdiction, in recognition of those who object to conscription per se. The Civilian Public Service of World War II was the result of such pressure, although it proved to be an unsatisfactory solution. Various forms of exemption for civilian jobs since that time represent attempts to accommodate pressure from pacifists, buttressed as it often is by church bodies and liberals who recognize conscientious objection as an authentic ethical choice even when they do not endorse it as a preferred one.

Third, pacifists lobbied for amnesty for conscientious objectors following each war of the twentieth century. The basic rationale for amnesty has been that objectors are really political prisoners, although the laws of the United States do not recognize political crimes and treat objectors as criminals. During the Vietnam War the number of men who publicly deserted from the military or fled the country to escape the draft created a situation in which pacifists found themselves joined in their demand for amnesty by nonpacifists interested in political and social reconciliation. Insofar as conscientious objection has become recognized as a legitimate ethical option and a form of protest, it has ceased to become the exclusive concern of pacifists.

Even with regard to conscientious objection, therefore, the influence of pacifists must now be evaluated in relation to that of the general peace movements. Indeed, as John Chambers and Charles Moskos have shown, the recognition of conscientious objection is integral to the modern character of military service.


Pacifists affected peace coalitions in which they participated by their cultivation of a political base in specific publics and by the political techniques they employed. In the Cold War period they introduced new techniques of nonviolent protest. They also gave distinctive emphases to movements in which they were associated.

Pacifists were drawn together both by their opposition to World War I and by their isolation from the American public during the conflict. Increasingly, they became committed to a campaign against all future wars (and to campaigns for social and labor justice). They cooperated with those who had supported the war effort as a vehicle of internationalism and who, in the 1920s, supported membership in the League of Nations and the World Court, or ratification of a treaty outlawing war. In an era when leading peace advocates maneuvered to secure their own pet approaches at the expense of others, the more pacifist among them tended to be the most inclusive. Pacifists also systematically cultivated constituencies that had been largely neglected by other peace workers: religious bodies, college youth, Christian youth organizations, and labor. Although their primary appeal was to repudiate warfare altogether, pacifists also educated the public on international relations and recruited support for specific legislation, notably arms limitation. They lobbied through their own associations and also created a major coalition organization, the National Council for Prevention of War (1921).

By the mid-1930s a core of pacifist leaders had developed a network of support groups, a political base from which they tried to build a public consensus for strict neutrality. To this end they managed to align nonpacifist internationalists affiliated with the League of Nations Association in their $500,000 Emergency Peace Campaign. Occasionally they were able to translate public opinion into congressional positions, and they considerably reinforced popular resistance to over-seas involvement. In the course of the neutrality controversy, however, the League of Nations Association gradually broke from its coalition with pacifists and organized a counter-campaign for collective security arrangements. In this respect, the activity of pacifists heightened the political organization of the interwar peace movement, which, however, it also helped to polarize.

During World War II pacifists were largely isolated from political influence except insofar as they cooperated with prowar internationalists to popularize the proposed United Nations. They remained isolated after the war, as the world became polarized between the United States and the Soviet Union, and collective security was reinterpreted in terms of Cold War containment, still ostensibly in the service of internationalism.

Then, in 1957 pacifists became instrumental in forming a new national coalition to challenge nuclear weapons testing. Disclosures about the threat of nuclear fallout engendered worldwide protest that was led in the United States by the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) and the Committee for Nonviolent Direct Action (CNDA). The former was a coalition with nonpacifist liberals like Norman Cousins, and it used traditional techniques of education, lobbying, and electoral action. CNDA represented an activist pacifist core, and it employed the tactics of nonviolent direct action, including civil disobedience like climbing or sailing into nuclear test zones and blockading nuclear submarines.

The bulk of the test-ban campaign was carried by SANE and the pacifist groups that had sponsored itthe American Friends Service Committee, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. The cause also spawned new organizations, notably Women Strike for Peace and the Student Peace Union, and the whole U.S. effort was in limited measure coordinated with the international campaign. It contributed to a moratorium on atmospheric testing during the Eisenhower administration and had a direct role in the adoption of the 1963 partial nuclear test-ban treaty under President John F. Kennedy.

The test-ban coalition formed the initial base for the antiwar coalition that challenged the U.S. war in Vietnam, even before that conflict became formalized in the bombing campaign early in 1965. Again SANE negotiated the linkage between pacifists and nonpacifist liberals, although increasingly an independent left wing competed for recognition. In the first three years of the Vietnam War, antiwar constituencies multiplied: business and professional groups, cultural and entertainment notables, Peace Corps and social service groups, Old Left socialists and New Left students (notably Students for a Democratic Society), and religious leaders (notably Clergy and Laity Concerned). The latter was predominantly though not exclusively pacifist, while a core of radical pacifist Catholics led by the priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan developed a sharp civil disobedience witness in the Catholic Worker tradition.

In 1968 the antiwar coalition fully informed Democratic Party politics and conditioned even the Republican platform on the war. The following year the coalition severely constrained President Nixon's war policies. By then the large liberal wing of the antiwar movement was becoming thoroughly politicized, especially in Democratic Party politics, while its smaller radical wing spun apparently out of control (where it could not be disciplined by pacifists). Given its media-driven stereotype as radical and countercultural, the movement seemed to have died, whereas actually the coalition had become mainstreamed.

Throughout this period, activist pacifists in the Fellowship of Reconciliation, American Friends Service Committee, Clergy and Laity Concerned, and Catholic and other groups were intensely involved in coalition politics of the political left and center. By the same token, pacifist communities were sharply tested by the tension between the radical and liberal approaches their members espoused.

Two other large-scale peace coalitions made serious impacts on twentieth-century U.S. foreign relations: the nuclear freeze campaign against nuclear weapons of the 1980s and the concurrent campaign for solidarity with Latin American liberation movements. In the case of the 1991 Gulf War, by contrast, no serious coalition arose. At the outset it was widely conceded that the evenly divided country was ripe for protest, and pacifist groups were prepared even to wield nonviolent disobedience. However, the limited duration and tight control of military operations obviated the development of a broad public coalition in opposition to the Gulf War.

The nuclear freeze campaign in the first half of the 1980s was systematically organized against the background of massive European protest, dramatic revelations of the destructive scope of nuclear weapons, and fear of nuclear war that was intensified by the Ronald Reagan administration. Pacifists were among the organizing and motivating core of a broad, diverse public coalition that was fed by media coverage. Although it failed to secure an outright freeze on nuclear weapons building or deployment, the nuclear freeze campaign was substantially responsible for reinstating the policy and institutions of arms control that the administration had begun to scrap.

Out-publicized by the more visible and larger nuclear freeze campaign, another coalition successfully challenged the Reagan administration on Latin America. It consisted of innumerable grassroots groups with direct contacts in Central America, which were linked by a few national organizations. These groups disseminated information from sources abroad, mounted public pressure, and lobbied in Congress. Their main focus was on human rights abuses in El Salvador and Honduras and U.S. intervention in the civil war in Nicaragua through the contras. In the former two countries, transnational associations channeled economic help to revolutionary forces and peasant war victims, exposed human rights abuses, and challenged U.S. ties to military regimes. On Nicaragua, peace groups lobbied and disseminated information. In all three cases they worked with the international community. Pacifists also brought organized nonviolent action to bear in the solidarity campaign.


From World War I on, a core of pacifists supported domestic reform programs as a concomitant of cultivating labor and reform constituencies for peace. Increasingly, they developed techniques of nonviolent direct action (often modeled on the example of Mohandas Gandhi) that they employed on behalf of labor and especially in the civil rights struggle. Thus, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE, 1942) was nourished by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. By the time of the Reverend Martin Luther King's campaign to desegregate buses in Montgomery, Alabama (19551956), a few pacifists had considerable experience with these forms of protest. The Fellowship of Reconciliation, American Friends Service Committee, and War Resisters' League played an active role in the early civil rights movement about the same time that the core of radical pacifists in the Committee for Nonviolent Direct Action employed civil disobedience in the testban campaign. Accordingly, nonviolent direct action was a ready tool in the pacifist repertoire during the Vietnam War.

The technique took many forms: it involved returning or burning draft cards, trespassing, blocking arms shipments and troop trains, or otherwise challenging authority. On occasion it meant defiling or destroying draft records or providing sanctuary for draft resisters. It was street theater, designed to dramatize the tragedy and moral turpitude that pacifists attached to the war. Occasionally, direct action was applied violently by nonpacifists, and then it was counterproductive.

It was again applied in the 1980s campaign against nuclear weapons, notably in the actions of the Berrigans' Plowshares group, which aimed to defile or destroy missile components, or of Women's Pentagon Action. By that time the technique had become widely, even legally, accepted as a viable form of public protest. It found expression in the last decade of the twentieth century as a form of protest against economic globalism, where it appears to have inclined governments to be more discreet if not more responsive to protest.


It has become conventional to regard transnational nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as players in the foreign relations field. The peace movement, viewed as a transnational social movement, spans two centuries, and its pacifist core comprises a century of transnational experience.

The International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR, 1919), the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF, 1919), and the War Resisters' International (WRI, 1921) all were transnational associations with strong U.S. components. Except for the WRI, they were formed during World War I. (Indeed, the WILPF derived from a 1915 meeting in The Hague, where mainly pacifist women from the then belligerent countries delegated emissaries to heads of government in search of a mediated peace.) In wartime these groups linked isolated pacifists and conscripted war resisters. Thereafter they cooperated in relief and reconstruction projects, except that the WRI focused on providing a socialist matrix for war resistance.

In the interwar years the WILPF established an office in Geneva from which it sought to mobilize a transnational, citizen constituency for disarmament and other League of Nations initiatives. Pacifists in fascist countries were part of an international network. As the prospect of war grew again, U.S. pacifists strengthened their international ties, sponsoring colleagues from abroad to the United States on behalf of neutrality legislation.

The largely pacifist-initiated U.S. test-ban coalition of the 1950s was part of a world movement, as was its successor campaign against nuclear weapons in the 1980s. In both cases transnational coordination was secondary to national concerns, although the 1980s campaign was explicitly interfaced with the UN agenda. Similarly, pacifists extended their international links during the Vietnam War. The Fellowship of Reconciliation mounted an ambitious attempt to coordinate Vietnamese Buddhist and American antiwar efforts, publicized the existence and persecution of antiwar South Vietnamese, sent reconciliation and information teams to North Vietnam, and tried to relate public protest in Europe to that in the United States.

In Latin America the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and its U.S. national chapter worked from the 1960s to the 1980s to spread the concept and techniques of nonviolent resistance as a viable alternative to both violent revolution and apathy. U.S. civil rights and Fellowship of Reconciliation leaders reached both Protestants and Catholics in Latin America, while IFOR emissaries Jean Goss and Hildegard Goss-Mayr were particularly effective in Catholic circles. A period of social evangelism and preliminary organization led to the formation of SERPAJ (Servicio Paz y Justicia en América Latina, or Service for Peace and Justice) in 1974. Itself a regional organization, SERPAJ provided Latin American national and church leaders with nonviolent resistance techniques and with contacts in the international community, greatly empowering, for example, Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel of Argentina.

Nonviolent direct action was brought to bear upon the region's human rights crises and civil wars. Beginning in 1983, for example, Witness for Peace stationed trained North Americans in teams along the Nicaraguan border. They helped with economic development, but their high visibility was designed also to deter contra attacks. After U.S. support for the contras was withdrawn in 1988, the Witness for Peace program of intercession was expanded to other areas. Pacifist nonviolent action thus became one of several instruments through which a coalition with transnational linkages effectively challenged U.S. Latin American policy in the 1980s. Meanwhile, within the United States there was a surge of refugees from political life-threats in Central America. The U.S. government's reluctance to grant them asylum led to a sanctuary movement to provide safety, most often in churches. By the time the refugee flow subsided late in the decade, hundreds of sites were networked to smuggle people across borders and provide safe havens and legal and humanitarian services. Sometimes this modern Underground Railroad moved refugees on into Canada. The operation was a case of large-scale civil disobedience so widely condoned that the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service was slow to challenge it.


Pacifists have not evolved a vision of foreign policy as coherent as collective security or its counterpart, containment. Nonetheless, they have shared distinctive qualities with which they helped to frame foreign policy issues. These qualities include their transnational orientation, moral thrust, and skepticism about the efficacy of military force.

Transnational Orientation The orientation of nineteenth-century pacifists was largely religious and resulted from the dualism of Christian perfectionism, which assigned different roles to religious bodies and secular societies. To this was added the antistate individualism of philosophical anarchists and the class analysis of socialists. But none of these elements yielded specific implications for foreign policy.

In the twentieth century the perspective of pacifists was secularized, but it remained essentially ethical and humanistic rather than political. It was oriented to the quality of life and the equitable distribution of power rather than to the political relations of states. In this sense, leading pacifists found World War I, for all its magnitude, to be irrelevant to the solution of fundamental world problems. What they found truly basic was human need, creativity, and community. Progressive pacifists, and especially the articulate women among them, thus brought a strong sense of community to peace work (by contrast to the social, legal, and political structures emphasized by other peace advocates). They eventually supported the League of Nations, but they harbored the reservation that such international organizations were inadequate vehicles for change and human welfare.

But some pacifists were systems oriented. The outstanding pacifist analyst of international affairs in the 1930s was Kirby Page, who argued that traditional European rivalries had vitiated the League of Nations and would lead to another world war unless a new foundation could be built for international relations. Ironically, although pacifists viewed historical revisionism as the basis for a realistic assessment of traditional diplomacy and a justification for radically internationalizing world power, many Americans used it as their justification for a new isolationism.

Following World War II some pacifists followed pacifist leader Abraham J. Muste in seeking a new basis for a transnational foreign policy. By the 1950s, Muste viewed the Third World as the fulcrum for a global policy beyond the bipolar terms of the Cold War. This notion was taken up in the following decade by some New Left radicals; but as a basis for foreign policy analysis, it was eclipsed by the rhetoric against nuclear arms and then war in Vietnam. Nonetheless, the American Fellowship of Reconciliation and other pacifists actively promoted the "Third Force" concept of Vietnamese Buddhists as a standard against which to frame U.S. policy goals.

Moral Emphasis The moral emphasis of nineteenth-century pacifism was individualistic. Pacifists tended to assume that good people would make a good world. Twentieth-century pacifists, however, initially reflected the Progressive emphasis on social environmentalism. They included war among the social institutions in which good men and women become enmeshed with devastating consequences. Accordingly, they made pacifism an expression of social ethics; and their journal, The World Tomorrow (published 19181934), became the most forthright exponent of the social gospel. "If war is sin," wrote Kirby Page, then it must be abjured and overcome by every available stratagem. Their essentially moral outlook enabled several pacifist leaders to transcend the narrow allegiances to specific programs that set so many internationalists at odds with one another.

In the 1920s, for example, Page and his colleagues made futile attempts to devise a plan of unity between the advocates of a World Court and of a general treaty to outlaw war. Similarly, in the 1930s pacifists were able to write an umbrella platform that attracted nonpacifist internationalists to their Emergency Peace Campaign, with its neutralist bias. In 1957 a pacifist nucleus stimulated the formation of both the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy and the Committee for Nonviolent Direct Action in order to enlist both liberal and pacifist constituencies in action against nuclear arms. And in the 1960s, a generalized sense of moral outrage accounted for whatever cohesion there was in the organized antiwar movement. It was the basis on which pacifists could associate with groups having nonpacifist political biases.

The very sense of moral commitment that led to comprehensiveness in some circumstances engendered division in others. Ideologies often have served as standards of factional loyalty within out-of-power groups, and the principled total repudiation of violence and warfare sometimes functioned in this way among pacifists in the coalitions they joined. A few examples illustrate this problem. Prior to the Civil War, the American Peace Society was impelled by a sense of moral obligation, but it was wracked by factional disputes over the question of whether to prohibit all wars or only aggressive ones. Again, in World War I absolute pacifism was both the cohesive element of pacifist organization and the reason that prowar liberals refused to work with pacifists even for liberal goals. Although the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, formed just after the war, included pacifists Jane Addams and Emily Balch, the coalition was too broad for Fanny Garrison Villard and other absolutists, who created the separate Women's Peace Society. Early in the 1930s both the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Socialist Party were sharply divided over how completely they should renounce violence in a potential class struggle. Socialists never recovered from the political effects of that controversy, and they also were faced with the theoretical issue of whether to support an antifascist war.

By 1938 pacifist groups were united against intervention, but they tended to withdraw from political action in order to prepare communities of believers for the coming crisis. During World War II the pacifist community was divided over the implications of its moral commitment to conscientious objection, and its support groups disagreed about the limits of cooperation with Civilian Public Service, the administrative agency for objectors.

The antiwar movement of the 1960s was no more immune to factionalism than its predecessors, and the division was often over conflicting principles. Divisive issues included whether to exclude communists from coalitions, whether to criticize North Vietnamese and communist policy in the context of analyses of American involvement, tactics for demonstrations, and organizational principles within the movement. Protest during the Vietnam conflict was united under an intense sense of moral outrage, but it also was divided by the question of allegiance to specific principles, of which the total repudiation of violence and authoritarianism was one.

In any case, pacifists have reinforced an essentially ethical interpretation of national interest: that world interest should be a criterion of national policy and that the concomitants of peace are change as well as order, justice as well as stability. This moral thrust is not unique to pacifists, but it has been sharpened by their participation in American peace movements.

Skepticism of War No less than belief, skepticism has characterized pacifist propaganda and attitudes. Indeed, modern pacifism was formed in opposition to a popular war, the so-called Great War, and to the power assumed by government in it. That skepticism became a valuable credential when disillusionment followed the war. Pacifists themselves assiduously propagated skepticism about the justness of specific wars, the credibility of war aims, and the constructive potential of victory. For most of the twentieth century they challenged the general claim that preparedness deters warfare and the specific claims of military security needs. From Woodrow Wilson's 1916 preparedness campaign to legislation for arms spending in the 1920s and nuclear arms in the 1950s, from the inauguration of conscription in 1917 to its reinstatement in 1940 and the peacetime draft of 1948, the small body of pacifists constituted a core of political opposition. They challenged not only programs but also the rationale for them. Some pacifists also marshaled economic and anti-imperialist interpretations of war to expose the economic linkages of warfare and to challenge official explanations of foreign policy. And they propagated skepticism about the efficacy of American intervention abroad, whether public or covert, whether in World War I or the Cold War, in Southeast Asia or Latin America.

Skepticism about the use of military power and the rationale for violence has been extended to systematic inquiries about the nature of power by building first on the experience of Mohandas Gandhi and then on American reform experience. Late-twentieth-century scholarship put nonviolent application of social force on a systematic and empirical basis and explored its implications for national security. In this sense the study of nonviolence is no longer confined to ethical pacifism.

Skepticism about foreign policy and governmental accountability is the legacy of the nonresistants and the experience of the peace sects. It was reinforced when pacifists were persecuted or were treated as irrelevant. It is the concomitant of the pacifist values of individual worth, harmony, and brotherhood, contrasted as they are with articles of foreign policy such as national interest, conflict, and sovereignty. Skepticism follows from the pacifist emphasis on a transnational orientation and moral commitment, as against foreign policy based on national interest and pragmatic choices. It is at the heart of the demand that foreign policy be tested publicly by the very values it purports to secure. Skepticism is not unique to pacifism, but it has been significantly sharpened in the American peace movement as a result of pacifist activity.


Foreign policymaking can be interpreted as the process of relating national interest to international situations. A crucial stage of the process is the definition of national interest, and it is at this point that ideals are related to concrete self-interests. A given principle of American institutions is that policy choices should be subject to public scrutiny and popular pressure. Accordingly, coalitions of peace advocates are essential in a democratic republic because they serve the twin functions of providing independent education about international affairs and of organizing public opinion and translating it into political pressure.

Pacifism has been significant for foreign policymaking insofar as pacifists have influenced peace coalitions. Pacifists have broadened the popular base of pressure, stimulated political organization, and developed techniques with which minorities may challenge majority consensus. They also have imbued the peace movements with such distinctive qualities as their transnational orientation, moral thrust, and skepticism about the efficacy of military force to bring about orderly change or an equitable distribution of world power.

Furthermore, organized pacifists have occasionally played historical roles in consensus formation, notably in the resistance to preparedness and intervention in World War I, in the neutrality controversy of 19351937, in constraining nuclear weapons, in the protest against the Vietnam War, and in solidarity with Latin Americans resisting repression. They have attempted to abolish conscription and have liberalized the treatment of conscientious objectors. At the opening of the twenty-first century, pacifists mobilized Nobel Peace Prize winners to challenge U.S. sanctions on Iraq and were working directly with the United Nations to promote a culture of peace.

Influenced by social-movement approaches, modern analysts have treated peace movements as transnational social change movements, often with liberal pacifists at their core. Pacifists in this sense can be understood as integral to foreign policymaking as they collectively interact with the general public, national government, other national and international nongovernmental organizations, and international agencies.

Most people who repudiate violence and war on the basis of pacifist beliefs are not politically active. But even their faith is significant for American foreign policy in two respects. First, in its conduct of foreign relations, including warfare, the nation has been obligated to protect principled dissent from persecution or repression. The fact that this rule has been abrogated does not minimize its constraint on the foreign policy process. Second, the definition of national interest and power is subject to openly advocated alternative conceptions. Whatever the merits of pacifist judgments on specific policies, the free existence of pacifism and its political expression constitute a significant index of the consistency of foreign policymaking with democratic institutions.


Ackerman, Peter, and Jack DuVall. A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict. New York, 2000. A sweeping account of twentieth-century nonviolent campaigns that form the global context of U.S. activist pacifism.

Allen, Devere. The Fight for Peace. New York, 1930. Written by a journalist and editor who advocated war resistance and political activism, this substantial volume remains an important primary source of pacifist thought and history.

Alonso, Harriet Hyman. Peace as a Women's Issue: A History of the U.S. Movement for World Peace and Women's Rights. Effectively fills a gender gap in the history of twentieth-century peace activism.

Brock, Peter. Pacifism in the United States from the Colonial Era to the First World War. Princeton, N.J., 1968. The best history of the subject, thorough in its coverage of pacifism in sects, peace churches, and antebellum reform and includes a valuable bibliography.

Brock, Peter, and Nigel Young. Pacifism in the Twentieth Century. Syracuse, N.Y., 1999. A brief, balanced treatment of pacifism in an international context.

Chatfield, Charles. For Peace and Justice: Pacifism in America, 19141941. Knoxville, Tenn., 1971. Rev. ed., New York, 1973. Traces the development of modern, liberal pacifism through the interwar period in relation to peace coalitions and foreign policy issues, and also in relation to reform movements.

. The American Peace Movement: Ideals and Activism. New York, 1992. The standard survey of the subject that includes a resource mobilization approach.

Curti, Merle Eugene. Peace or War: The American Struggle, 16361936. New York, 1936. Unsurpassed for its balanced, chronological narrative of the period and treats pacifism in relation to the broad peace coalition.

DeBenedetti, Charles, with Charles Chatfield. An American Ordeal: The Antiwar Movement of the Vietnam Era. Syracuse, N.Y., 1990. A thorough and comprehensive narrative.

Early, Frances H. A World Without War: How U.S. Feminists and Pacifists Resisted World War I. Syracuse, N.Y., 1997. A full treatment that fills a gender gap in the literature on the period.

Howlett, Charles F. The American Peace Movement: References and Resources. Boston, 1991. Indispensable resource that combines an annotated bibliography with a history of the field.

Josephson, Harold. Biographical Dictionary of Modern Peace Leaders. Westport, Conn., 1985. A massive reference work that includes biographies of major pacifists.

Kleidman, Robert. Organizing for Peace: Neutrality, the Test Ban, and the Freeze. Syracuse, N.Y., 1993. A well-researched comparative study.

Klejment, Anne, and Nancy L. Roberts, eds. American Catholic Pacifism: The Influence of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement. Westport, Conn., 1996. Treats this modern dimension of Catholicism biographically.

Moskos, Charles C., and John Whiteclay Chambers, II, eds. The New Conscientious Objection: From Sacred to Secular Resistance. New York, 1993. The standard treatment.

Patterson, David S. Toward a Warless World: The Travail of the American Peace Movement, 18871914. Bloomington, Ind., 1976. A scholarly narrative of the rise of the modern peace and internationalist movement with particular attention to organizational roles, social origins, and attitudes.

Powers, Roger S., and William B. Vogele, eds. Protest, Power, and Change: An Encyclopedia of Nonviolent Action from ACT-UP to Women's Suffrage. New York, 1997. A basic reference work.

Wittner, Lawrence S. Rebels Against War: The American Peace Movement, 19411983. Revised ed. Philadelphia, 1984. A work in which pacifists provide the thread of continuity, although Wittner describes shifting and contending patterns within the broad peace coalition; contains an extensive bibliography.

. The Struggle Against the Bomb. Stanford, Calif., 1993. A trilogy (of which two volumes have been published) narrating the history of transnational movement against nuclear weapons; the only comprehensive account of a transnational peace movement.

See also Collective Security; Dissent in War; Ideology; Internationalism; Intervention and Nonintervention; Isolationism; The National Interest; Neutrality; Peace Movements; Public Opinion.


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PACIFISM. The development of sentiments of peace arose in a period of religious and political turmoil and strife. This period of strife resulted from the Reformation and from the process that led to the emergence of sovereign states and a new international system characterized by anarchy. The various ideas, proposals, and peace movements can be divided into three categories. Pacifism, the rejection of all violence and war, initially on the basis of religious doctrine or conviction, was exemplified in several Christian sects of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries. Such pacifism manifested itself more in personal witness than in political movements. A second tradition, more avowedly political in orientation and origin, was that of the perpetual peace plansproposals for the abolition of warfare through international organization. Virtually all such proposals, which flourished especially in the eighteenth century, contained provisions for the coercive exercise of power by the envisaged international authority; therefore these proposals were internationalist rather than strictly pacifist in nature. Even less pacifist was a third approach that emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which attempted to regulate the relations between sovereign states through the development of a law of nations (for which Jeremy Bentham coined the expression "international law" in 1780). These three traditions have continued to develop and interact with each other and have shaped humanity's thinking about war and peace up to the present. However, the start of the modern age witnessed a great flowering of antiwar writings that have continued to encourage critics of war and inspire dreamers of peace through the centuries.


Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466?1536), the "prince of humanists," drew on both his theological and classical scholarship to ridicule and condemn war as stupid, costly, and unworthy of Christians and the human race in general. Writing at a time when Christian rulers (including the pope) were fomenting and fighting wars, Erasmus used wit and satire to depict the brutality and irrationality of such campaigns. Going against the conventions of his time, Erasmus argued that nothing was less glorious than war, which only brought death, destruction, and misery. He stressed constantly the far-reaching and long-lasting consequences and evils of war. The friend of princes and bishops throughout Europe, he urged them to adopt a saner and more Christian attitude. He argued that their duty was the safety and happiness of their people, not the wanton destruction of their lives and livelihood in incessant, senseless warfare. These themes are pervasive in his numerous writings, but are most fully and devastatingly addressed in War Is Sweet to Those Who Do Not Know It (Dulce Bellum Inexpertis, 1515) and The Complaint of Peace (1517). His best-loved book, The Praise of Folly (1509), contains a mocking criticism of war. The numerous translations and reprints of Erasmus's antiwar writings are testimony to the fact that his glowing convictions and sharp pen have inspired the peace movement since his day.

Erasmus's condemnation of war was shared by his friends, notably the English humanists John Colet and Thomas More, and the Spaniard Juan Luis Vives, whose writings also deglorified war and urged a more rational, humane, and Christian policy on the rulers they addressed. For Erasmus, in an age of absolute monarchy, the education of Christian princes along pacifist lines was indeed of critical importance. He treated the subject in The Education of a Christian Prince, and his advice was very different from that offered at the same time by Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince. In the Erasmian literature there is little beyond these appeals to education, apart from the need to submit disputes to arbitration, as proposals for the avoidance of war. Erasmus was not an absolute pacifist, as evidenced by his discussion of whether war against the Turks was justified. Given the abuse of the traditional Catholic Just War doctrine, he took as his starting point the unchristian nature of war as shown in the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and thus shifted the balance of the argument away from justifying war to condemning it. Sebastian Franck's Kriegsbüchlen des Frides (1539) contains elements of a very modern pacifism in its emphasis on personal responsibility and individual conscience. The greatest French writers of the sixteenth century, François Rabelais (14901553) and Michel de Montaigne (15331592), condemned and ridiculed war as evidence of human stupidity.


The absolute rejection of war and the doctrine of nonresistance characterized the pacifist sectssome with roots in the heretical sects of the medieval worldthat emerged at the time of the Reformation and the period leading up to it. In the middle of the fifteenth century, Bohemia became a center for the absolute renunciation of war through the teachings and writings of Petr Chelcicky (c. 13801450s). He influenced the emergence during 14571467 of the Bohemian or Czech Brethren, who adhered to a literal interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, preached a return to the teachings of Christ and his early followers, and rejected the state as an unchristian institution. Before the end of the century, the sect abandoned these absolutist views as a result of internecine struggles. However, they were adopted by the Swiss Anabaptists (or Brethren) under their leader Konrad Grebel (14981526) and also by the leader of the Dutch Anabaptists, Menno Simons (14961561), whose renewal of the sect was reflected in its new name, Mennonites. They secured the unprecedented right to an alternative civilian service in place of military service. Small Mennonite communities can still be found today in North America, where they continue to provide an active and living witness of Christian pacifism.

The largest of the Christian pacifist sects are the Quakers, who emerged in the 1650s in England, then in the throes of religious and political turmoil. Founded by George Fox (16241691), in 1661 the Quakers expressed their commitment to a renunciation of all violence and an individual witness against all war and all preparation for war in the Quaker Peace Testimony. From an initial refusal to take up arms, the Testimony has grown into a wide-ranging, active, and constructive program for the promotion of social and international peace.

Among early Quakers who worked for international peace were Robert Barclay (16481690), William Penn (16441718), and John Bellers (16541725). In 1678, Barclay addressed his "Epistle of Love and Friendly Advice" to the ambassadors of the several princes of Europe, who met at Nijmegen. He exhorted them to be guided by the divine light within and a peaceable spirit, which alone were capable of delivering a lasting peace settlement. Penn reacted to the wars of his time by proposing a European parliament in his Essay Towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe (1693). He argued that as civil war was prevented by just governance, so international war could be avoided by the creation of an international body entrusted with the just solution of contentious issues between its member states. In Some Reasons for an European State (1710), Bellers stressed that religious tolerance and liberty of conscience are essential prerequisites for European peace. It was precisely their absence in England that led Penn to establish his "Holy Experiment" in Pennsylvania, which became a haven for his coreligionists and similarly persecuted Nonconformist sects from Europe. For some seventy years (16811750), his colony was a tolerant and peaceful community that, unusually, also lived in harmony with Native Americans. It has inspired many who have dreamed of creating an ideal society.


Constant European warfare, the result of political and religious disunity, inspired many peace plans whose real aims were frequently to favor the hegemony of one or other power, and to protect Christianity from the Turks. Among the earliest of these plans are the Universal Peace Organization (1462/1464) of King George Podebrad (ruled 14581471) of Bohemia and the Grand Design of Henry IV (1638). The latter was the work of Henry's chief minister, Maximilien de Béthune, Duc de Sully (15591641), who attributed it to the king in his Mémoires in order to enhance its authority. A truly modern, universal plan for world peace is in The New Cyneas (1623), written by the Parisian monk Eméric Crucé (c. 15901648), which appeared in the middle of the Thirty Years' War (16181648). It did not favor any particular power or religion and stressed the potential for world peace inherent in global free trade. Since Crucé wrote when the ruling economic doctrine was bellicose mercantilism, which held that trade between countries could only benefit one of them at the expense of the other(s), his ideas were too far ahead of his time to make an impact. He contrasted the old ideal of the destructive warrior with that of the productive worker and foresaw a global community of mutually stimulating peace and prosperity. The wars of Louis XIV (ruled 16431715) inspired plans for European peace such as those by Penn and the Abbé de Saint-Pierre (1713), whose voluminous Project of Perpetual Peace (17131716) was summarized by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1761). Voltaire (16941778) shared Saint-Pierre's abhorrence and condemnation of war, calling it a "plague and crime . . . which includes all plagues and all crimes." However, he rejected as utopian Saint-Pierre's remedy: a confederation of European states meant to perpetuate the status quo internally as well as internationally. Philosophes, such as Voltaire, condemned the dynastic wars of their time and decried the fanaticism, despotism, and superstition that gave rise to war. Its elimination, they held, would come about through reason, tolerance, and social justice.


The rise of independent, sovereign states, together with their discoveries and colonization of extra-European territories, necessitated agreement on the principles for governing the emerging international system. The theory of the existence of a natural lawwhich held that humanity had common bonds, and that there existed fundamental rights and obligations that were not grounded in theologyallowed the development of a new science of international law. While the Spanish theologians Franciscus de Vitoria (14801546) and Franciscus Suarez (15481617) prepared the ground, the secularization of international law was brought to fruition by the Italian jurist Alberico Gentili (15521608). Gentili influenced Hugo Grotius (15831645), whose On the Laws of War and Peace (1625) was the first comprehensive and systematic attempt to formulate the principles of the new science. The Dutch diplomat asserted that there existed a common law among nations, and that this law also applied in war. He rejected the popularly held view that in war, law was in abeyance, and he was much concerned with the rules governing the behavior of belligerents. Writing in the middle of the Thirty Years' War, Grotius agitated against the lawless practices that were only too evident and that, he noted, would have made even barbarians blush. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) that ended the war sanctioned the new system of independent states. Grotius's famous treatise provided a body of rules to govern their relations in both war and peace.

See also Erasmus, Desiderius ; Franck, Sebastian ; Grotius, Hugo ; Law: International Law ; More, Thomas ; Quakers ; Rabelais, François .


Adams, Robert P. The Better Part of Valor: More, Erasmus, Colet, and Vives on Humanism, War, and Peace, 14961535. Seattle, 1962.

Brock, Peter. Pacifism in Europe to 1914. Princeton, 1972. Exhaustive study of Christian sects repudiating war from late medieval times.

Cooper, Sandi E., ed. Peace Projects of the Seventeenth Century. New York, 1972. Reprints of writings by Sully, Grotius, and Penn, with introductions. Part of the large Garland Collection of War and Peace reprints.

Eliav-Feldon, Miriam. "Grand Designs: The Peace Plans of the Late Renaisssance." Vivarium 27, no. 1 (1989): 5176. Focuses on Erasmus, Sully, Crucé, and Franceso Pucci.

Heater, Derek. The Idea of European Unity. Leicester, 1992. Concentrates on Sully, Penn, Bellers, Saint-Pierre, Rousseau, and later authors.

Hemleben, Sylvester John. Plans for World Peace through Six Centuries. Reprint. New York, 1972. Comprehensive study with full descriptions of plans from 1300s until World War I.

Johnson, James Turner. The Quest for Peace: Three Moral Traditions in Western Cultural History. Princeton, 1987. On radical Christian sectarianism, humanist utopianism, and the Just War tradition.

Kende, Istvan. "The History of Peace: Concept and Organizations from the Late Middle Ages to the 1870s." Journal of Peace Research 26, no. 3 (1989): 233247. Documents the evolution of peace concepts and organizations as a result of social developments.

Ter Meulen, Jacob. "Bibliography of the Peace Movement, 14801776" (1936). Reprint. In From Erasmus to Tolstoy: The Peace Literature of Four Centuries, edited by Peter van den Dungen. Westport, Conn., 1990. Chronological listing of 450 published works, mainly in Latin, French, German, and English.

Peter van den Dungen


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At the end of the twentieth century Europeans could applaud themselves for the state of peaceful coexistence in which most among them lived out their lives. This sense of peace and security, however, was a novelty in a century marked by hostility, antagonism, and outright war. From World War I to World War II, from the wars of decolonization to the Cold War, Europeans engaged in a relentless series of violent clashes between competing states and ideologies. This unyielding cycle of warfare destroyed millions of lives and reshaped countless others. It also led hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Europeans to renounce armed conflict as a reasonable means of solving national differences and to adopt pacifism as a personal and political creed.

Those men and women who called themselves pacifists did not necessarily share the same beliefs. Some were absolute (or integral) pacifists, rejecting all wars under any circumstances. Others were conditional pacifists of various sorts. Socialist pacifists, for example, often rejected wars between capitalist nations but accepted the idea of violent struggle as a necessary means to achieving economic equality. Many other pacifists rejected wars of aggression but continued to maintain a belief in the necessity of national defense. European pacifists—like their counterparts on other continents—also disagreed over how to best translate their beliefs into action. For some, pacifism was essentially a personal commitment, and conscientious objection was the primary means of withdrawing support for war. For many others, collaborative and proactive protest against militaristic policies was the foremost priority. Pacifists, broadly speaking, were those individuals who believed warfare to be an unnecessary evil and who actively and methodically sought to eliminate it from the arena of international affairs.


At the turn of the twentieth century Europeans already had a long history of pacifism from which to draw. As early as the 1700s Anabaptists established a religious basis for pacifism, rejecting the authority of both the Catholic Church and secular governments. Instead, they withdrew into their own independent societies and refused to collaborate with state authorities, including in times of war. The Anabaptist precedent was followed by members of other Protestant religious sects, particularly the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in England, who also found inspiration for the rejection of war in Christian doctrine. Much later, in Russia, the novelist Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910) was also inspired by Christianity when he challenged humankind to rebel against evil by repudiating violence and refusing to compromise with an aggressive state.

By the 1800s Europeans began to organize in larger numbers in order to prevent the return of violent conflict. The London Society for the Promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace, the first major peace organization in Europe, was formed largely under Quaker auspices in 1816. Although members of dissenting sects remained important to the peace movement, in the nineteenth century some "friends of peace" also drew from secular sources of inspiration. Enlightenment ideas of rationality and progress led to reasoned critiques of warfare as economically unsound, politically ineffective, and socially destructive. Later in the nineteenth century members of Europe's socialist movements also denounced international war as the inevitable product of capitalist society. Although few socialists rejected violent struggle outright, they did condemn wars between capitalist nations and sought to convince members of the working class that their governments viewed them as expendable cannon fodder.

In the 1890s these scattered voices for peace in the various nations of Europe began to come together into a veritable international movement. Although individuals such as Albert Skarvan, a Slovak doctor who went to prison in 1895 rather than serve in the Austro-Hungarian army, continued to act alone, most peace activists joined in groups in order to promote arbitration, international law, and disarmament as the surest paths to lasting peace. Twenty-five years later, on the eve of World War I, nearly two hundred European peace societies could be found stretching from Sweden down to Italy and from Portugal across to the Russian Empire. At the international level, pacifists regularly came together at annual Universal Peace Congresses; their representatives met together regularly as an Interparliamentary Union, and their leaders had established a permanent International Peace Bureau in Switzerland. In 1901 the Frenchman Émile Arnaud (1864–1921), president of the International League for Peace and Liberty, gave the movement a new word to describe the ideals for which it stood: pacifism.

Women became an important force within the European peace movement in these decades. Indeed, it was a woman—the novelist Bertha von Suttner (1843–1914) of Austria—who was most responsible for arousing popular pacifist sentiment in Europe at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1889 von Suttner published Lay Down Your Arms, a novel that portrayed all the ills of modern warfare and was seen by her readers as a scathing indictment of militarism. The book became an instantaneous bestseller and was rapidly translated throughout Europe. Tolstoy was an early admirer, telling von Suttner that he thought her novel had the potential to galvanize opponents of war the way Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811–1896) novel Uncle Tom's Cabin had advanced the cause of abolitionism in the United States. Von Suttner subsequently became one of the universally recognized leaders of the peace movement in Europe. In 1905 she became the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the early 1900s European pacifists faced an uncertain future. The major European states entered the twentieth century nominally at peace, but enduring antagonisms between the major states, a heated arms race on land and sea, and competition for colonies abroad all were working to undermine international stability. Politicians and the press both freely fanned the flames of nationalism to advance their own agendas. Europe was indeed a powder keg. The spark that set it alight came 28 June 1914, with the murder of the heir to the Habsburg throne, Archduke Francis Ferdinand (1863–1914), by a Serbian nationalist. By the end of the summer, Europe was engulfed in what would become known as World War I, a conflict far more horrible than anything von Suttner or her fellow pacifists had ever imagined and which they proved utterly unable or unwilling to prevent. How can their failure be explained?


The simplest answer to this question is that in 1914 pacifism was a minority movement. Those Europeans who did consider themselves pacifists, moreover, widely believed their governments were asking them to participate in a just war. Central Europeans lost their most persuasive voice for peace just when they needed her most; Bertha von Suttner died in her sleep just one week before the archduke's assassination. Throughout July 1914 moderate pacifists in France and Belgium actively sought to convince their governments to arbitrate the dispute between Austria and Serbia, and French antimilitarists from within the socialist and anarchist camps frantically demonstrated against the mounting war hysteria and campaigned for a general strike. Despite these efforts, the diplomatic situation deteriorated rapidly, as Germany, Russia, and France all mobilized for war. With Germany's invasion of neutral Belgium in August 1914, most pacifists in Western Europe rallied to their governments' calls for national defense. In Central Europe, where pacifism had never been as strong, the Habsburg and German governments quickly silenced the peace societies, and the most prominent pacifist leaders went into exile.

From 1914 to 1918, in both the west and the east, Europe became a battleground and a graveyard. With tanks and submarines, machine guns and heavy artillery, flamethrowers and poison gas, the armies of Europe attacked each other relentlessly, and the death toll continued to rise. By the time World War I was over between nine and ten million Europeans had lost their lives due to the direct consequences of fighting; millions of others lived on, mere shadows of the men and women they had once been.

Although they proved incapable of preventing the war, pacifists did not simply accept the bloodbath as it transpired. Some absolute pacifists refused to take up arms. For men from the continental belligerent countries, such action generally led to imprisonment, hard labor, and sometimes confinement in lunatic asylums. Neither republican France nor the empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia recognized the right to conscientious objection.

In Britain the long history of pacifist commitment among dissenting sects made the question of conscientious objection more urgent. In 1914 Britain still depended on a volunteer army, and the initial challenge for pacifists was to prevent the institution of universal conscription. Both religious and socialist pacifists joined together in creating the No-Conscription Fellowship, the most important pacifist group in wartime Britain. When the British government introduced conscription in March 1916 the Fellowship transformed itself into a support organization for conscientious objectors, championing their cause in public while providing moral and material support to them and their families.

During World War I in Britain more than sixteen thousand men declared themselves conscientious objectors, a status formally recognized by the Military Service Acts of 1916. The fate of any individual objector was determined by a Local Tribunal, which was instructed to judge the sincerity of the man's convictions and to determine the terms of his release from military service. Most objectors agreed to perform some form of alternative noncombatant service or civilian work of national importance. Some served in the Friends' Ambulance Unit, founded by Quakers in 1914. Only absolutist objectors—who refused any service on the ground that it facilitated the war effort—faced prison terms. Among them was the philosopher and lifelong peace activist Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), whose eloquence and notoriety helped gain attention for the cause.

Conscientious objectors may have been few in number, but as World War I dragged on and the death toll mounted, antimilitarism germinated in new circles. Ultimately, World War I reinvigorated the pacifist movement in Europe, as witnesses to and participants in the debacle swore the Great War that had engulfed them would be the "last of the last."

Soldiers who had experienced all the horrors of the trenches became some of the most outspoken critics of modern warfare, despite the fact that they could and did face the firing squad for disobeying orders. On an individual level, an unknown number of men deliberately maimed themselves in order to escape further combat. Others revolted on a broader scale. For example, hundreds of soldiers from the French Fifth Division mutinied in June 1917, refusing orders to return to the front lines and demanding their leaders seek a negotiated peace. That same year, on the eastern front, mutinous troops joined with revolutionaries at home in demanding Russia's immediate withdrawal from the war.

World War I was the first war to be fought by soldiers with a high degree of literacy, and some began to wield their pens for the cause of peace. While home on leave in Britain, Second Lieutenant Wilfred Owen (1893–1918) wrote bitter, devastating poetry that decried the "old lie": how sweet and noble it is to die for the fatherland. Owen's fellow countryman and poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967) also became a critic of the war. In July 1917 he published his "Soldier's Declaration," which condemned "the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed" (Ceadel, p. 56). These antiwar appeals temporarily landed both Owen and Sassoon in a psychiatric ward. The French soldier and author Henri Barbusse (1873–1939) fared better. In 1916 he published a socialist antiwar novel, Le feu (Under Fire, 1917), which became an instant bestseller in France and was awarded the prestigious Goncourt Prize for literature. The novel was rapidly translated for other European audiences and became one of the best-known antiwar novels of its day. Although author-soldiers like Owen, Sassoon, and Barbusse did not take an absolute pacifist position, they did help create a new aesthetic for war literature, one that replaced romantic heroism with cold realism and challenged Europeans to begin to confront the full horror of the war that raged around them.

The threat of military discipline undoubtedly prevented many other men from expressing fully their revulsion toward war, but the same threat could not be used to silence women. Throughout the war years women helped sustain the pacifist movement by stepping into leadership roles as their male counterparts were called to arms or imprisoned. Theodora Wilson Wilson edited and financed the New Crusader, a British Christian-socialist paper, after its founder was sent to prison as an absolutist objector. Similarly Hélène Brion, an outspoken French socialist and feminist, as well as a nursery schoolteacher, took over as president of the revolutionary National Federation of Teachers' Unions in 1916. Although it was not a pacifist organization per se, the Federation actively campaigned against war hysteria and for an immediate negotiated peace. In November 1917 Brion was arrested for alleged "defeatism." Her subsequent trial became front-page news, allowing Brion an unparalleled platform for her feminist-pacifist views. "I am an enemy of war because I am a feminist," she told the court. "War is the triumph of brutal force; feminism can only triumph by moral force and intellectual worth. There is absolute antipathy between the two" (Siegel, p. 47).

Feminists were also at the forefront of one of the first overtly antiwar conferences to be staged in Europe after the outbreak of hostilities. The conference was convened by Dr. Aletta Jacobs (1854–1929), president of the Dutch suffrage movement, who, in the face of mounting chauvinism, stubbornly insisted that women could remain united. Jacobs proceeded to coordinate the International Congress of Women, which opened at The Hague in April 1915 under the presidency of the American social reformer Jane Addams (1860–1935). Representatives of England, Belgium, Germany, and Austria were among the 1,136 delegates who met to discuss the grounds for preparing a permanent peace. The attendees insisted on the need for neutral mediation of the conflict, and they formed two delegations to meet with world leaders to press this agenda. They also insisted on women's enfranchisement as a necessary prerequisite to sustainable peace in Europe. Finally, they formed a permanent organization, later named the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the oldest feminist peace organization still active today.

World War I thus reshaped and expanded the pacifist movement in Europe in multiple ways. It provided a precedent for the recognition of conscientious objection. Equally important, it popularized antiwar sentiment by vividly illustrating the devastating nature of modern warfare. Many of those who had once believed in the positive, transformative power of war lost faith, and interwar European culture reflected a new obsession with death and violence.


War veterans often found themselves haunted by jarring memories of their battle experiences, and in the interwar decades European art and literature reflected their obsessions and antimilitarist sentiments. The German veteran and artist Otto Dix (1891–1969) transferred his nightmares to canvas in paintings that portrayed the barren, decomposing landscapes of the western front as well as the ongoing agony and isolation of "crippled" veterans. Dix's compatriot Erich Maria Remarque (1898–1970) used the novel to similar effect. Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front), Remarque's 1929 bestseller, depicted the brutality of modern warfare and the disillusionment of the "lost generation" of men who survived the conflict but who never escaped from under its shadow. The antimilitarism of Remarque and Dix was not shared universally among German veterans, but it captured the imaginations and sentiments of a sizable minority whose voices are too easily forgotten amid the Nazis' mounting war cries.

In France, war veterans were among the most outspoken and organized critics of war in the 1920s and 1930s. Many French veterans rejected both nationalism and militarism and their associations were firm champions of the League of Nations and efforts at international reconciliation. War veterans also insisted that commemorative ceremonies in France remain funereal and civic. They asked the nation to remember their fellow soldiers' sacrifice rather than their victory. World War I, as they portrayed it, was a nightmare and a bloodbath. Drawing on the authority of their frontline experience, pacifist war veterans in France, as in other parts of Europe, demanded that their fellow citizens confront the full brutality of modern war.

Women continued to play a central role in pacifist organizations in the interwar decades. Many of them in fact laid claim to peace as a woman's issue. They framed their arguments in explicitly gendered terms, speaking as women and mothers whose sensitivity and maternal instinct dictated their revulsion to war. The peace activist Helene Stöcker (1869–1943) of Germany argued that antimilitarism was a particularly female responsibility because she considered war to be "an abuse of motherhood, a distortion of the duty to be the guardian of life" (Braker, p. 81). Similarly, the French socialist-pacifist Madeleine Vernet (1878–1949) sketched a moving portrait of the "Unknown Mother of the Unknown Soldier" to convince her female compatriots to turn their maternal grief into a force for peace.

The WILPF drew upon such sentiments in the 1920s and 1930s and established national sections throughout much of Europe and beyond. WILPF members engaged in a variety of activities designed to help foster international reconciliation and world peace. The German section, for example, raised money to plant trees in the devastated regions of Northern France, while the British section protested its government's treatment of Ireland. The WILPF also offered summer peace camps for children, and it advocated on behalf of disarmament and the League of Nations.

Franco-German reconciliation, collective security, mutual disarmament, peace education: all of these projects were cornerstones of moderate European pacifism in the interwar years. The French Association de la Paix par le Droit (Association of Peace through Law) and the Deutsch Friedensgesellschaft (German Peace Society) were among the important groups that advocated for peace through increased international cooperation and strengthening international institutions. Peace education was a particular concern of the French National Teachers' Union, which embraced pacifism by the 1920s and actively sought to remove all nationalistic and militaristic materials from that nation's schools. French and German teachers and historians also launched a project in the interwar years to strip history textbooks of their chauvinism and turn the discipline of history into a tool for reconciliation and peace.

In the hopeful diplomatic environment of the late 1920s enthusiasm for such cooperative paths to peace ran high. By the 1930s, however, the growing strength of fascism and the outbreak of war in China, Ethiopia, and Spain led some European pacifists to call for more radical measures. In Britain, the WILPF member Maude Royden (1876–1956) led a movement to found a Peace Army. Inspired by Mohandas Gandhi's (1869–1948) nonviolent campaign against imperialism, Royden sought unarmed volunteers willing to go to Asia and form a human barrier between the Japanese and the Chinese. At the same time, in France, Victor Méric (1876–1933) founded the anarchist-leaning Ligue International des Combattants pour la Paix (International League of Peace Fighters) which rejected the slow, juridical path to peace and called for an open war against war by whatever means necessary.

For absolute pacifists, conscientious objection and the personal renunciation of war remained the most important forms of peace activism, and in the interwar years new organizations like the German War Resisters' League and the British No More War Movement advanced this agenda. In the early 1920s these two national bodies joined with groups from Holland and Austria in creating the War Resisters' International (WRI). Alongside the more overtly religious Fellowship of Reconciliation, the WRI diligently promoted conscientious objection throughout Europe, and it sought to convince European states to recognize objector status. In neither goal was the WRI particularly effective. After World War I the Scandinavian countries and Holland did establish civilian service schemes, but throughout most of continental Europe, compulsory military service remained law. In the new countries of Central Europe, military service was often seen as a near-sacred duty. In Joseph Stalin's (1879–1953) Soviet Union, conscientious objection was theoretically a possibility; in reality, it led to imprisonment or worse.

Pacifists in Great Britain continued to promote individual renunciation of war much more so than did their compatriots on the Continent, and the idea of "pledging" to refuse military service captured the nation's attention at two different times in the 1930s. The first incident occurred in February 1933, when the Oxford Union Society passed a resolution stating "that this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country" (Ceadel, p. 127). The pledge, coming ten days after Adolf Hitler's (1889–1945) rise to power, evoked considerable controversy, but ultimately most of its supporters were not absolute pacifists and backed collective security measures as the best means of ensuring peace.

The second movement was forwarded by Canon Dick Sheppard (1880–1937), a magnetic figure within radical religious circles and a vocal proponent of peace activism since the late 1920s. At the end of 1934 Sheppard published an open letter asking all British men to take the pledge: "We renounce war and never again, directly or indirectly, will we sanction or support another" (Ceadel, p. 177). Some fifty thousand men answered his call, and the enthusiastic response led Sheppard to found the Peace Pledge Union (PPU). With more than 130,000 members at its apogee, the PPU became the largest peace organization in Britain between the wars. Distinguished intellectuals, including Bertrand Russell, Aldous Huxley (1894–1963), and Vera Brittain (1893–1970), all lent the organization their support. Ultimately the PPU never developed a cohesive program beyond the pledge itself. Sheppard died in 1937 and the group supported the government's policy of appeasement in the face of Hitler's expansionist demands.


The advent and spread of fascism in Europe proved to be the most difficult and, in the end, insurmountable challenge facing pacifists in the interwar decades. As early as 1933 Hitler's ascension to power caused some pacifists to rethink their convictions. Albert Einstein (1879–1955) is a prominent early example. In the 1920s Einstein had used his celebrity to support pacifism and conscientious objection. In 1933 he wrote to the king of Belgium that "in the present circumstances, I, if I were a Belgian, should not refuse military service, but accept it with my whole conscience, knowing that I was contributing toward the salvation of European civilization" (Ceadel, p. 125).

Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and the outbreak of civil war in Spain the following year posed even more serious challenges. The inability of the League of Nations to impose any effective sanction against Italy began to undermine some pacifists' faith in collective security as the best means of preventing war. At the same time, the war in Spain galvanized leftists in Europe, many of whom readily applauded the Spanish republicans for their heroic struggle against international fascism.

Ultimately Hitler's oppressive regime in Germany and his aggressive incursions into Central Europe destroyed the interwar pacifist movement. Most members of pacifist organizations like the PPU and the Ligue International des Combattants de la Paix were outspoken antifascists; yet, throughout most of the 1930s, they also maintained that opposition to fascism did not imply support for war. In 1938, when Hitler demanded the right to annex the Czech Sudetenland to Germany, all of these organizations demanded their governments pursue a diplomatic solution, as did large sectors of the French and British populations. Yet when Hitler failed to live up to the terms of the Munich agreement and ordered his armies further into Central Europe in 1939 the vast majority of pacifists prepared for war.

Hitler's blitzkrieg across Europe made the question of pacifism all but irrelevant on the Continent. In France a few notable interwar pacifists, such as Professor Léon Émery, collaborated with the German occupiers, but most male pacifists took up arms in 1940, and many other pacifists, men and women, ultimately joined the Resistance. Among the European countries, only Great Britain had a sizable population of conscientious objectors—approximately sixty thousand—during World War II. As in World War I most performed some sort of alternative service as farm laborers, hospital porters, or ambulance drivers; some contributed to Britain's civil defense. For many, this war against fascism and authoritarianism aroused very different feelings than the seemingly pointless World War I. It also took far more lives. By the time of Japan's surrender in 1945 approximately sixty million people had died during the conflict.

World War II left the populations of Europe decimated and exhausted. Defeat and then occupation at the hand of the Nazis discredited pacifism in many circles. The rapid onset of the Cold War also stymied the peace movement, as some pacifists accepted the idea that Stalinism could only effectively be countered by arms. The explosion of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, however, provided a new purpose and momentum for the peace movement.


In the second half of the twentieth century nuclear disarmament became the single most important focal point for the European pacifism. Granted, not all antinuclear activists were pacifists in any strict sense; many continued to accept the need for national defense with conventional weapons. After 1945, however, many Europeans believed nuclear disarmament to be the surest path to preventing mutual self-destruction in a now-imaginable apocalyptic war.

Immediately after World War II scientists in both the United States and Europe tried to derail a budding arms race by arguing that the U.S. government should turn over control of nuclear knowledge and technology to an international body. Their warnings were ignored. In 1949 the Soviets exploded an atomic bomb and both Britain and France began to develop their own nuclear programs. The French Atomic Energy Commission faced its first political crisis in 1950 when its founder, the nuclear physicist and Communist Party member Frédéric Joliot-Curie (1900–1958), declared he would never help build a bomb because its use would precipitate another world war. Under American pressure, Joliot-Curie was dismissed, and the Commission continued to pursue military research alongside the quest for nuclear energy. Throughout the 1960s, with the exception of the Communists, a broad consensus in France supported nuclear deterrence.

In Britain, by contrast, the quest for nuclear disarmament began to attract a larger following. In a chilling 1954 Christmas broadcast on the BBC, "Man's Peril," Bertrand Russell appealed to his compatriots to reject nuclear weapons, asking if humankind had become "so destitute of wisdom, so incapable of impartial love, so blind even to the simple dictates of self-preservation, that the last proof of its silly cleverness is to be the extermination of all life on our planet" (Brandon, p. 32). The explosion of Britain's first H-bomb in 1957 sent Russell and others into the streets in protest, and they formed a central organization to press their agenda: the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Throughout the early 1960s the CND repeatedly mobilized thousands of protesters and engaged in acts of civil disobedience. Following the CND's lead, the antinuclear movement began to spread to other parts of Europe—particularly in West Germany—as well as to the United States. The Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963, however, calmed people's fears of nuclear contamination and stymied pacifists' organizing efforts.

NATO's 1979 decision to update Western Europe's nuclear missiles revived the British nuclear disarmament movement and helped awaken a broad-based antinuclear coalition on the Continent. In Britain CND membership skyrocketed and other peace groups began to command public attention. Among them was the Greenham Common Peace Camp, established by feminist-pacifist women in 1983 to oppose the installation of ground-based Cruise missiles. A constant presence throughout the 1980s, the Greenham women wove together radical feminism and pacifism in their protest. The British nuclear disarmament movement also gained a prominent new spokesperson: the peace activist and former history professor Edward Palmer Thompson (1924–1993), who argued passionately for a united and nuclear-free Europe.

The 1980s witnessed the revitalization of the antinuclear and pacifist movement on the Continent, particularly in West Germany. Already in the late 1950s the decision to equip the German army with tactical missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads had led to a mass "Campaign against Atomic Death," which brought more than three hundred thousand West Germans into the streets in protest. From 1960 onward West German pacifists helped stage regular Easter Marches against nuclear arms. The emergence in 1980 of the German Green Party, with its overtly pacifist and antinuclear party platform, helped give new structure and legitimacy to the campaign for nuclear disarmament. By 1985 the annual German Easter March attracted nearly five hundred thousand people. In Belgium that same year more than 150,000 people flooded into Brussels to oppose the installation of Cruise missiles. In France, a heterogeneous Committee for the Nuclear Disarmament of Europe also staged public protests, even as the Socialist President François Mitterrand (1918–1996) insisted that "the nuclear warhead … remains, whether one likes it or not, the guarantee of peace" (Vaïsse, p. 336).


The end of the Cold War in 1989 and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union largely defused the nuclear disarmament movement in Europe. By the end of the twentieth century many of the major ideological divisions that had torn the Continent apart in prior decades no longer threatened the peace. With the creation of the European Union (EU) in 1992 and with the admission of eight Eastern European countries, plus Malta and Cypress, into the EU in 2004, Europeans sought to reinforce peace through economic and political integration. The European Union's Charter of Fundamental Rights, moreover, recognized the right of conscientious objection in all member states.

The opposition generated by the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003 demonstrated just how ideologically unified Europeans had become by the turn of the twenty-first century. The governments of France and Germany led the opposition to the war at the United Nations, while hundreds of thousands of antiwar protesters took to the streets in Stockholm, Athens, and a dozen capitals in between. Even in the United Kingdom, Spain, and Poland, where the governments in power supported the American invasion, a strong majority of the population was against the war. To the administration of the U.S. president George W. Bush, this outpouring of antiwar sentiment was a clear sign of European cowardice and decadence. To many Europeans who had survived the horrors of the war-torn twentieth century, however, "pacifist" was no longer a shameful epithet, and opposition to the Iraq war appeared a moral imperative.

See alsoAtomic Bomb; Conscription; Disarmament; Dix, Otto; Owen, Wilfred; Russell, Bertrand; Sassoon, Siegfried; World War I; World War II.


Primary Sources

Barbusse, Henri. Under Fire. Translated by Robin Buss. Introduction by Jay Winter. New York, 2004.

Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. Translated by A. W. Wheen. Boston, 1929.

Skarvan, Albert. Life in an Austro-Hungarian Military Prison: The Slovak Tolstoyan Dr. Albert Skarvan's Story. Translated and edited by Peter Brock. Syracuse, N.Y., 2002.

Von Suttner, Bertha. Lay Down Your Arms: The Autobiography of Martha von Tilling. Translated by T. Holmes. New York, 1972.

Secondary Sources

Braker, Regina. "Helene Stöcker's Pacifism in the Weimar Republic: Between Ideal and Reality." Journal of Women's History 13, no. 3 (2001): 70–97.

Brandon, Ruth. The Burning Question: The Anti-Nuclear Movement since 1945. London, 1987.

Brock, Peter, and Nigel Young. Pacifism in the Twentieth Century. Syracuse, N.Y., 1999.

Bussey, Gertrude, and Margaret Tims. Pioneers for Peace: Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1915–1965. 2nd ed. London, 1980.

Ceadel, Martin. Pacifism in Britain, 1914–1945: The Defining of a Faith. Oxford, U.K., and New York, 1980.

Cooper, Alice Holmes. Paradoxes of Peace: German Peace Movements since 1945. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1996.

Cooper, Sandi. Patriotic Pacifism: Waging War on War in Europe, 1815–1914. New York, 1991.

Hamann, Brigitte. Bertha Von Suttner: A Life for Peace. Syracuse, N.Y., 1996.

Hynes, Samuel. A War Imagined: The First World War and English Culture. New York, 1990.

Ingram, Norman. The Politics of Dissent: Pacifism in France, 1919–1939. Oxford, U.K., and New York, 1991.

Oppenheimer, Andrew. "West German Pacifism and theAmbivalence of Human Solidarity, 1945–1968." Peace and Change 29, no. 3–4 (2004): 353–389.

Prost, Antoine. In the Wake of War: Les Anciens Combattants and French Society. Translated by Helen McPhail. Providence, R.I., 1992.

Siegel, Mona. The Moral Disarmament of France: Education, Patriotism, and Pacifism, 1914–1940. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2004.

Vaïsse, Maurice. "A Certain Idea of Peace in France from 1945 to the Present Day." French History 18, no. 3 (2004): 331–337.

Mona L. Siegel


views updated May 18 2018


The issues summoned up by the term pacifism are complex and varied because different concepts, traditions, and definitions exist throughout the world, often creating misunderstanding and confusionsometimes intentionally so. For example, the term may be used pejoratively in political debates by individuals seeking to portray opponents who refuse to support a specific military action, or by those who prefer nonviolent approaches to a problem or conflict while not being principled pacifists. The term underwent a bifurcation, redefinition, and narrower specification with the watershed years of the so-called Great War of 1914. The distinction between absolute pacifism and "pacific-ism"the latter a term coined by the modern historian A. J. P. Taylor and used by his successorsor other less ethically rigid "pacifist" positions emerged then. Before 1915 the term pacifist was employed as a more general term to describe one who opposed war as an institution, rejecting violence in favor of turning "swords into plowshares." But the earlier definition of pacifist did not necessarily exclude violencestill less all forceas a means to an end, for example, in opposing slavery.

This more general understanding of pacifism did not necessarily imply a refusal to support, or indeed fight in, a war once it broke out. The more rigid position became defined as "absolute" or "pure" pacifism, identifying those whose stance in 1914 or from 1915 to 1916 was based on consistent principles. The terms pure or absolute have been dropped from the political debate since then, and the term pacifist now tends to mean rejection of all and any warespecially since the 1960s, when some "pacifists" remained equivocal on violence in Indochina.

The Religious Concept of Pacifism

The individual moral concept of "turning the other cheek" is one that belongs to a number of religious traditions, though the position has perhaps arguably been most fully developed as an ethical position in Judaism and then Christianity and as a spiritual position in Buddhismand, mainly through Mahatma Gandhi (18691948), as a revision of Hindu thought. The major religious tradition with the least apparent pacifist dimension seems to be Islam. Secular ethical pacifism emerged in the nineteenth century alongside other "isms" based on humanist and universalist ethics and overlaps with several ideological strands from liberalism to anarchism and, since the 1970s, feminism.

Pacifism and Resistance to War

The biblical commandment "thou shall not kill" does not specifically refer to organized war and can thus be taken as a prohibition of individual murder, perhaps not the "legitimate" killing by soldiers in waran ethical sleight of hand that has been convenient to states and rulers and allows the concept of just war, elaborated by the Christian Church when it became institutionalized in the West in the fifth century and continuing for a millennium. The injunction to turn the other cheek in the face of violent provocation has been seen not as a theory of nonviolence but as one of passivity, suffering, and stoicism. Pacifist idealism and ethics have evolved toward a more formal position of war refusal or war resistance. More generally, pacifism worldwide has evolved from an ethic of suffering and detachment to active engagement through nonviolence as an alternative to war. The invention of Gandhian nonviolence thus represented a critical moment in the evolution of pacifist ethicsthough Gandhi was not an absolute pacifist in the strictest sense.

Conscientious Objection Based on Pacifist Principles

Since laws of universal military serviceconscription or the draftand claims of conscientious objection spread gradually during the nineteenth century, the issue of refusal to fight in war did not appear to be a universal issue of conscience. It had been possible to avoid the choice if faced with it. Pacifism as opposition to war as an institution did not mean refusal to participate in it until the drafts of 19141918, when those who accepted the call of country (so-called pacificists) divided themselves from the minority absolute pacifists who remained antiwar in practice as well as theory.

War Resistance versus Pacifism

Similar ethical divisions over war in general and specific (just) wars have continued. War resistance (often to specific wars) and pacifism are not the same; some have refused to participate in specific "unjust" wars or opposed an arms race or particular (for example, nuclear) weapons without being pacifists in regard to all war. For example, the peace movement was often partisan regarding whose weapons and wars it most actively opposeddivided over emancipatory or "progressive" war or violence (such as the defense of the Spanish Republic against fascism after 1936). Other ethical issues for pacifism have arisen over the moral duty to counsel others to refuse military service (under some laws "incitement to disaffection")or to take nonviolent action, even sabotage, to obstruct war or destroy weapons.

Further examples of this dilemma abound. Should continued religious teaching against war or military combat be interpreted as treasonable or subversive of a state in time of war? Certainly not all those who refuse to be involved in war on ethical grounds are advocates of nonviolence or turning the other cheek in other situations. Equally those who accept a nonviolent discipline in domestic politics (such as Gandhi's) do not necessarily condemn all war. The grounds for opposing war and conscription are often not strictly ethical; they may be political or personalethics of justice, liberation, equality or "national liberation" may be more important than nonviolence in antiwar protests.

The Personal versus the Political in Pacifism

The term pacifism is usually used of an ideological position that is more than purely personalthe U.S. anarchist Paul Goodman (19111972) called himself a "fist-fighting pacifist." For others personal nonviolence in life, or a meditative path, is more important than whether one dons a uniform or picks up a weapon or takes a position against a war or revolution. It is essentially retreatist. There are many variants of these positions.

The millennia of otherworldly retreatmonastic or utopianfrom a world that appears lost repeats itself as communitarian pacifism and recurrently inherits recruits from failed or dissipated antiwar movements. There is an emphasis on child development, peace education, and the construction of a more peaceful culture, which has had an impact on modern pedagogy.

Gandhi's own ambivalence on these dilemmas, expressed in his retreat after the mass 1920s campaigns became violentagain is symptomatic of this ambiguity in pacifist idealism; yet by the 1930s and 1940s he once again advocated mass nonviolent resistance to British colonial rule in India, even during wartime, while also urging such resistance to Hitlerism from the 1930s onfor those brave enough to do so. Violence in this view was the inferior weapon of the weak, preferable to cowardice, but a lesser evil at best. Gandhi's model was reproduced in Ghana to some extent, but more violent methods adopted by leftist or nationalist revolutionaries tended to dominate such struggles thereafter.

Gandhi was also a political pacifist, however, in seeking programs of social and institutional change, not merely personal transformation. He saw them as being linkedfollowing the teachings of Leo Tolstoybut went further than the Russian Christian anarchists in creating a political ethic of nonviolent collective action (drawing also from Thoreau's principles of civil disobedience). These ideas in turn inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (19291968) and other human rights leaders. In the early New Left of the 1960s and the women's movements of the 1970s and 1980s and since, the personal and the political came together again in a fusion of pacifism and antipatriarchal women's peace activisms that sought to "take the toys from the boys" not least the Cruise missiles deployed in the United Kingdom by U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. The Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp at the Greenham missile base in the United Kingdom was symptomatic of hundreds of such projects, militantly antimilitarist but linked to feminist and pacifist ideologies and predominantly nonviolent in methodology.

Twentieth-Century Developments

In the twentieth century new forms of pacifism emerged that were linked to political traditions: anarchist or socialist pacifism, nationalist pacifism (for example, in Wales), nuclear pacifism or the refusal to support or tolerate the stockpiling manufacture, use, or threatened deployment of weapons of mass destruction. Many pure pacifists were ambivalent about such a movement against only one form of war, while others took leadership roles in movements opposing the atomic bomb, in turning the movement to the use of Gandhian nonviolence. Feminism took an interest in pacifism from the first women's movements, burgeoning in the antinuclear women's peace movements of the 1980s and reflected in writers such as Barbara Deming.

Since 1918 the link between individual pacifist ethics and political pacifism has been shown to be most obvious; the sum of individual conscientious stances can create a social force based on ethics that can have an impact on policy. While more noticeable in liberal democratic contexts, even in authoritarian and repressive situations, such movements have had enormous effectiveness. Acting against the military draft, opposing the threat to engage in war, or the planned deployment of a new weapon (for example, to target civilians), or the invasion of another countrysuch movements have suffered many short-term setbacks but some long-term successes. Yet often pacifist and pacifist groups have remained marginal in their attempt to bring ethical stances into political life; the peace churches and "prophetic minorities" have kept ethics alive and provided leadership but are at best pressure groups or lobbies for change, as was the attempt to stop the strategic bombing of cities in World War II (19431945). In retrospect this was, even from the mainstream, not considered treasonable behavior but a legitimate ethical position. At the time it was seen as disloyal and questionable and was therefore marginalized by the allied military-political elites.

The war in Vietnam is another instance where, in hindsight, the pacifist positions that were marginalized in 1965 seemed justifiable only a decade later. The draft resistance movement led by pacifist groups has gained a respectable if not heroic image. However, this opportunistic application of just war or pacifist theories is anathema to absolute pacifists for whom even World War II, the "good war," remains ultimately an injusticeto the victims and those forced to fight in it.

Ethical pacifists who have emerged in the twentieth century with leading roles in social movementsDr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and many othershave, like some of the great pacifist religious prophets of the distant past, had an impact on social consciousness and cultural history far beyond their immediate actions. Yet pacifist ethics are in tension not only with the institution of war but even with the violent origins, foundations, and operations of the state and its penal and security systems. Despite the Gandhian model, pacifism often finds itself in tension with nationalist aspirations, or the urge toward armed emancipation from oppression. The "Balkan Gandhi," Ibrahim Rugova (b. 1945), witnessed two decades of nonviolent struggle for the autonomy of Kosovo, but also saw his nonviolent movement overtaken by a violent reaction to Serb oppression in 19981999 and ultimately by military intervention by NATO.

The episode in Kosovo, like the Spanish Civil War of 1936, underlines the dilemmas of pacifist ethics in a highly militarized world, socialized toward violent solutions to conflict. Such events do not prove pacifism right or wrong; they do raise issues of immediate effectiveness in the last resort (especially where peoples are under threat, or as in Spain where the long-term consequences of inaction may be disastrous), as against aspirations for long-term cultural and political change, and the failure to break the cycle or self-sustaining character of violent action. The great social structural insight of pacifism (as opposed to its ethical probity) is that violent conflict and change begets violent institutions, authoritarianism, and further violence. Whether nonviolence as a method can slowly replace that structural dynamic remains open to question, yet it is surely one of the prime issues of all human politics.

See also Nonviolence ; Peace ; Resistance and Accommodation ; War .


Bondurant, Joan V. The Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958. Still the classic academic work of political theory on the ideas and practice of nonviolence by political scientist.

Brock, Peter. Pacifism in the United States: From the Colonial Era to the First World War. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968. The foremost historian of pacifism.

. Pacifism since 1914 An Annotated Reading List. 3rd ed. Toronto: P. Brock, 2000. Best bibliography on Modern pacifism

. Varieties of Pacifism: A Survey from Antiquity to the Outset of the Twentieth Century. 4th ed. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2000. Short essays.

Brock, Peter, and Nigel Young. Pacifism in the Twentieth Century. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1999. Strongest on religious debates and useful as a comprehensive reference work.

Carter, April. Peace Movements: International Protest and World Politics Since 1945. London and New York: Longman, 1990. Sympathetic critical account of pacifist and nonpacifist movements by an academic once active in the movements.

Ceadel, Martin. Pacifism in Britain 19141945: The Defining of a Faith. Oxford: Clarendon, 1980. Written by a nonpacifist who has written several other works critically examining pacifism.

Cooney Robert, and Helen Michalowski. The Power of the People: Nonviolent Action in the United States. Philadelphia: New Society Press, 1988. Accessible, wellillustrated general accounts of pacifist campaigns mostly twentieth century.

Gandhi, Mahatma. The Moral and Political Writings of Mahatma Gandhi. Edited by Raghavan Iyer. 3 vols. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 19861987. Contains "My Experiments with Truth" (Gandhi's autobiography).

Nuttall, Geoffrey. Christian Pacifism in History. Oxford and New York: Blackwell, 1958. A summary of the religious standpoint.

Young, Nigel. "War Resistance and the Nation State." Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1976. An academic political sociology of pacifist action written by an academic peace researcher, observer, and participant, who has written extensively on war resistance, peace, and radical movements.

. "War Resistance in Britain." In chap. 1, Campaigns for Peace, edited by Richard Taylor and Nigel Young. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1987. This collection contains several other useful and pertinent essays including on the women's peace movement; the introduction has a useful tabulation of peace traditions following R. Overy and others.

Nigel Young


views updated May 23 2018



Foundations and emphases

Implications and problems



Pacifism has had both a broad and a narrow connotation. In the former sense, it has often been used—particularly in continental Europe just before and after World War i—to designate those outlooks centering their attention on the need for international reconciliation and peacemaking machinery. Thus many tendencies in thought werepacifist, the word being employed to describe a whole spectrum of ideas and activities that might conceivably be peacemaking in character. From this point of view, Jean Jaures, the French socialist leader, and men like Woodrow Wilson were pacifists; and organizations like the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace were pacifistic.

While this broad usage of the term is still to be found, pacifism has generally come to be connected with all those ideas, attitudes, and movements which repudiate the use of violence, particularly war, under any circumstances. The pacifist in this sense will argue that war, whether defensive or aggressive, is always ethically illegitimate and, in the long run, inefficacious for the attainment of desirable goals. Often, this conception also embraces the notion that forms of nonviolent power can be discovered and ought to be used to counter external aggression and internal exploitation and injustice. Various forms of nonviolent resistance or nonviolent coercion are thus associated with pacifism. From the viewpoint of political theory, it would be aligned with those doctrines which stress consent rather than force as the basis for political authority.


Although pacifism, in the narrow sense, is a modern concept, the general outlook that it designates has a long history. In the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., Jeremiah developed certain attitudes toward Babylonian aggression that can legitimately be described as pacifist. A little later, in China, Lao-tze advocated positions that were very close to a kind of anarchist pacifism. In Greek thought, certain of the Cynics and Stoics came close to a pacifist outlook; and some of the Essenes in the Hebrew tradition apparently repudiated the utilization of war and all violence, whether personal or group.

The spirit of the Gospels, so some modern scholars, notably MacGregor (1936), have argued, cannot be reconciled with violence, whether personal or political. Evil is to be overcome only by good. True, the New Testament does not explicitly exclude warmaking for the believer; but it does lay down principles that clearly point in this direction.

Although the attitude of the early Christians is still a matter of controversy, many of the best modern authorities, for example, the Scottish scholar C. J. Cadoux (1940), contend that for at least the first century few, if any, Christians would enter the Roman army. In part, at least, their refusal was based on a religious repudiation of the violent acts that soldiers had to perform, whether in battle or as executioners. As late as a.d. 295, Maximilianus underwent martyrdom primarily because, as a Christian, he said he could not be a soldier. By the early part of the fourth century, however, the strong pacifist strain in Christian thought began to die out. Thus the Council of Aries, A.D. 314, decreed that those Christians who gave up their arms in time of peace should be excommunicated. During the Middle Ages, according to orthodox doctrine, laymen could participate in “just” wars. Both regular and secular clergy, however, were supposed to refrain from the shedding of blood. This dualistic ethic was challenged by certain heretics who sought to revive the attitudes of early Christian apologists.

The beginning of modern pacifism may be discerned in a number of the early Anabaptists and in religious groups (like the Mennonites) having similar theological beliefs. During the sixteenthcentury religious struggle in France, the Roman Catholic Etienne de la Boetie argued strongly for tactics of nonviolent resistance against tyranny. Since all rule depends on willingness of men to obey, he maintained, withdrawal of obedience could lead to the collapse of any tyranny. In the seventeenth century, the British Quakers sought to implement pacifism in politics by establishing a disarmed commonwealth in Pennsylvania; and for about two generations that colony, unlike the others, was free of Indian warfare.

Eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century pacifism was affected by the decline in the religious basis of social and political doctrine. Rationalistic and utilitarian near-pacifism came to the forefront in the writings of the early anarchist William Godwin. Godwin stressed the irrational and immoral character of the appeal to force, even for the ends of justice. Revolutionary violence, he held, was a contradiction in terms. Similar views were reflected in the political poetry of Shelley, who in the Masque of Anarchy urged British workers to revolt against exploitation through a “folded arms” strike. After Shelley, the anarchist pacifist strain was reflected in men like Thoreau, Benjamin Tucker, Tolstoy (1908), and Barthelemy de Ligt (1934). Tolstoy, however, grounded his pacifism primarily on an anarchist interpretation of the Christian Gospels. Writing with great literary power, he had a considerable impact on early twentieth-century thought. [SeeAnarchism.]

Perhaps the greatest pacifist figure of the twentieth century has been Mohandas K. Gandhi, who combined in his views and practices both religious and utilitarian notes. Religiously, he was inspired by certain Hindu scriptures (for example, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita), the New Testament, and the writings of Tolstoy. His experiences as a lawyer and man of affairs seemed to suggest that sheer retaliation in group conflict does not in the long run accomplish desirable objectives. On the other hand, even adamant opponents will often respond favorably to acts animated by love and in which the actors willingly undergo suffering for a cause. Notions of this kind became the basis for what Gandhi called the doctrine of Satyagraha(“truth power” or “firmness in truth”). Gandhi insisted that Satyagraha was applicable in political as well as in personal relations; and he sought to demonstrate this proposition in his leadership, 1919-1947, of the nonviolent resistance to British rule in India. His theory and example were also important in such movements as the struggle of the American Negro for racial integration, the South African natives’ battle for equality, and the achievement of political independence by Ghana in 1957. [SeeIndian Political Thought.]

The impact of World War I on the development of twentieth-century pacifism was considerable. Utter disillusionment with war as an institution led to such phenomena as the “Oxford oath” in which, during the 1920s and 1930s, thousands of young Britons pledged themselves never to fight again “for king and country.” The Peace Pledge Union sought to provide a register of all those who subscribed to the promise. Elsewhere, and particularly in the United States, there were similar tendencies. Pacifist attitudes were encouraged by public exposes of the role of munitions manufacturers in encouraging conflict and also by a widespread belief that economies based on private profit tended to make for war and violence.

Political experience just before and during World War II led many pacifists to re-evaluate their views and some to change them. However, for not a few the period between 1939 and 1945 was primarily a challenge that demanded from them greater intellectual clarity and more nearly adequate proposals for pacifist alternatives. Throughout the war, Gandhi’s personal view was that India should oppose any Japanese invasion only by nonviolent resistance; he also thought that Hitler and the National Socialists could, and ought to be, counteracted in the same way. For pacifists of Gandhi’s type, World War II in its methods and results had the effect of strengthening their convictions. For leaders like Martin Niemoeller, who had been unsympathetic before, war experiences helped create a postwar pacifist outlook.

After World War n, potentialities for widespread destruction through nuclear arms led some to become nuclear pacifists. Certain scientists and engineers in Germany, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, the United States, and elsewhere, disturbed by the possible social consequences of some types of research, pledged themselves to refuse to labor in those areas.

Pacifists have also been active in the effort to gain legal recognition for conscientious objectors to war and in the struggle against military conscription. Between World War I and World War H, recognition was broadened in Great Britain and the United States. After World War n, the constitution of the German Federal Republic recognized the right of objection; and in 1962, after a long struggle, some legal status was accorded to French objectors.

While pacifism remained the ideology of a minority in the 1950s and 1960s, the ubiquity of violence and the radical increase in the destructive power of modern weapons tended to dramatize its propositions by sheer contrast. In a world of monumental violence, its doctrine of nonviolent power took on new meaning and added significance.

Foundations and emphases

Aside from the fact that all pacifists eschew violence for any purpose, pacifism has no uniform or authoritative theory or ideology. To illustrate the range of pacifist views, a rough classification of schools of thought may be useful:

(1) The scriptual text school bases its beliefs on certain texts of the New Testament, and since it believes that the Bible is divinely inspired, these texts become authoritative. Groups like the Mennonites have tended to espouse this position.

(2) Another viewpoint bases its attitude on what it regards as the spirit of Biblical or other scriptual ethics. Jewish pacifists cite the spirit of Hebrew prophecy, while those in the Christian tradition root their beliefs in their interpretation of the New Testament. For sects like the Religious Society of Friends, all religious tradition is subject to constant reappraisal through the Inner Light possessed by each individual. Those of the Hindu pacifist tradition claim support in the spirit of the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads.

(3) The just war school is largely, although not exclusively, confined to Roman Catholics. Using as its criterion the traditional Catholic definition of the “just war,” it concludes that no modern war can possibly satisfy the standards laid down by that definition—declaration by a public authority, conduct by methods that discriminate between combatants and noncombatants, promise of producing a better situation after the war than before it, etc. Hence a pacifist position is not only justified but required. Many “just war” pacifists cite certain encyclicals and other messages of Pope Pius xii and Pope John xxm to buttress their position.

(4) The utilitarian school, in its several versions, maintains that war and violence, on the whole and in the long run, work against the implementation of desirable social and political values, whatever the short-run effects may appear to be and whatever the proclaimed objectives of the struggle. Many anarchist pacifists are utilitarians, as are most socialist pacifists. Often the views of those who state their positions in traditional religious language have a large measure of the utilitarian in them: Gandhi is a good example. In the twentieth century the percentage of utilitarian pacifists has probably increased considerably.

But no classification can do justice to the many elements that may constitute the groundwork for any individual pacifist outlook.

An important distinction running through all pacifist thought is that between the personal and the political emphasis. Many think of the pacifist ethic as primarily relevant to personal relations or applicable to individual attitudes to the state (refusal of direct war service, for example) but not particularly relevant for group or state relations. Thus, some feel that they have a peculiar “vocation” for pacifism but do not think that the imperative is a universal one. Others think of political relations as inevitably bound up with violence and therefore largely “unredeemable.”

By contrast, political pacifists, whatever the foundations for their beliefs (religious or utilitarian), tend to think not merely in personal terms but also in terms of nonviolence for group relations. Hence, political pacifism is concerned about such issues as principles of group conciliation, nonviolent coercion, the nature of a pacifist society, and pacifist methods for resisting military invasion. Generally speaking, the political pacifist emphasis has become central in modern discussion, and the remainder of this article will refer primarily to it.

Implications and problems

Pacifist thought has been much affected by development of the sociology of conflict, penology and criminology, and psychological approaches to the study of human behavior. C. M. Case’s researches into the phenomena of nonviolent coercion (1923) helped direct attention to alternatives to violent power; and in the 1930s Richard Gregg (1930) commented on such questions as nonviolent treatment of criminals and the mentally ill, as well as on the phenomena of nonviolent action in general. Both Case and Gregg envisioned the possibilities of a largely nonviolent police system. Pitirim Sorokin (1954) has surveyed exemplifications of what he calls “altruistic love” and has appeared to confirm the judgment of pacifists that violent conduct, whether personal or political, is not only immoral but also “impractical.”

Studies such as those of Case, Gregg, and Sorokin served as a challenge to examine sociological and political particulars in the pacifist case. They also called attention to certain implications and problems for application of the doctrine.

One such problem is to define more clearly the circumstances under which physical force might be legitimate; for while some pacifists repudiate the utilization of physical force altogether, many recognize a distinction between force (applied discriminately and with no irremediable injury) andviolence (forms of force, or contexts within which force is used, that result in indiscriminate and irremediably injurious action).

Another question involves the attempt to understand psychological and social factors involved in conflict resolution. Galtung (1959), in a sociological interpretation, contends that for the pacifist the doctrine involves two fundamental norms: (a) act so that a solution acceptable to all parties can be attained; and (b) act so that the short-run and long-run application of violence will be reduced. As an instance of (b), the pacifist eschews direct or indirect use of violence. To implement norms of this kind obviously requires understanding based not only on enlarged academic knowledge but also on broadened experience.

Pacifists, guided by thinkers like John Dewey and Aldous Huxley, tend to stress the interpenetration of means and ends in politics. Specifically, political pacifism emphasizes the possibilities of using nonviolent power against both domestic and foreign tyranny and exploitation. Nonretaliatory, nonviolent resistance, it is maintained, can either change the attitude of a tyrant or an invader or deprive him of his instruments and resources (and therefore of his power).

Although the systematic analysis of nonviolent resistance as a technique is relatively recent, utilization of such methods as the strike, boycott, and civil disobedience is very old. In ancient Rome the boycotts of the plebs resulted in revolutionary changes in Roman life. Indian history reveals numerous instances of noncooperation with rulers or even complete withdrawal of protesting groups from the territory of the prince (thus depriving him of an economic base for his government). Modern examples include the experience of colonial Pennsylvania with nonviolence; the Hungarian struggle for autonomy under the leadership of Francis Deák, which led to the dual monarchy in 1867; Norwegian nonviolent resistance against the Germans in World War ii; eastern European demonstrations against communist control (in some cases Russian soldiers refused to fire on their unarmed opponents, even when ordered to do so); and the American Negro struggle for equality and integration through sit-ins and other forms of nonviolent direct action.

The use of nonviolent resistance is subject to a number of hazards, as Case and others have pointed out. One is that in the atmosphere of tension and conflict, violence might break out. Another is that the hardships entailed by nonviolent, non-retaliatory action could lead to discouragement and abandonment of the campaign. Modern pacifist thinkers, aware of these difficulties, have encouraged more thorough analysis of nonviolent resistance movements with a view to discovering under what circumstances they are most likely to be effective. All stress the need for careful planning, organization, and discipline.

The pacifist outlook strongly supports development of world organization and law but, in general, distrusts those views which would conceive of peace as being imposed by force. States cannot be coerced by violent power, it is argued, without risk of war; and police action for implementation of law must confine itself to discriminate and nonviolent coercion of individuals. Even in a world state, moreover, nonviolent resistance would still need to be employed on occasion; for imbalances of power, exploitation, and tyranny would still be more than mere possibilities. Some thinkers call for greater imagination in sketching out the institutions of a pacifist world order; and most would argue that it cannot simply duplicate the national state, which has been molded to so large a degree by domestic and international violence.

In seeking to cast light on the political implications of their doctrine, pacifists have frequently called for more research. While recognizing that general academic, political, and social research might prove helpful, they have remained unsatisfied by it. In World War n, therefore, they organized the Pacifist Research Bureau in Philadelphia, which published studies on such themes as the political theories of pacifism and the problem of coercion of states. More recently, at the University of Michigan, the Center for the Study of Conflict Resolution has engaged in similar types of research. The Institute for Peace Research at the University of Oslo has undertaken some parallel studies. Pacifist research activity in India, and in the United States at Harvard University under the direction of Pitirim A. Sorokin, might also be mentioned.


Pacifism has been subjected to criticism on several different grounds. Some contend that in the world as it is, it is an impossible and perhaps even an immoral principle. So long as evil men exist and power politics flourishes, it is maintained, righteousness may have to be vindicated through use of violence, including war. About the time of World War II, John Lewis (1940) developed a criticism from the Marxist point of view. And after World War II, it was frequently contended that pacifist influence had led to British military unpreparedness in the 1930s and hence to the impossibility of deterring Hitler from war. Critics like Reinhold Niebuhr (1940) stress the reality of power in human affairs and accuse pacifists of blindness to it. According to such critics, justice always requires power.

Countercriticisms include the following arguments: While the full implementation of pacifist goals is indeed difficult, the statement of the ideal is itself a factor in helping to attain the goal. Nonviolent treatment of the mentally ill is now no longer deemed to be impossible, although severe restraint used to be regarded as indispensable. Modern war must always defeat the ends of justice because of its utterly indiscriminate character. Pacifists by no means ignore power but rather seek to develop nonviolent forms of it. Britain, moreover, did not follow a pacifist policy before World War II but rather one based on indifference, partial financial assistance to Hitler, preservation of thestatus quo at almost any cost, and insensitivity to the economic basis for acceptance of National Socialism by Germany. Finally, apologists claim that tyrannies arise not because men have accepted pacifism—with its stress on economic justice, absence of a psychology of subordination, repudiation of violence, and planning for nonviolent resistance—but rather because they have rejected it.

Mulford Q. Sibley

[See alsoCivil Disobedience; Militarism; Peace.]


Allen, Devere (editor) 1929 Pacifism in the Modern World. New York: Harper.

Bondurant, Joan V. 1958 Conquest of Violence. Princeton Univ. Press.

Cadoux, C. J. 1940 Christian Pacifism Re-examined. Oxford: Blackwell.

Case, Clarence M. 1923 Non-violent Coercion. New York: Century.

Galtung, Johan 1959 Pacifism From a Sociological Point of View. Journal of Conflict Resolution 3:67-84.

Gandhi, Mohandas K. (1924) 1954 Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth. Washington: Public Affairs Press. → Translated from the Gujarati edition. A paperback edition was published in 1962 by Beacon Press.

Gregg, Richard B. (1930) 1959 The Power of Nonviolence. 2d rev. ed. Nyack, N.Y.: Fellowship Publications. → The first draft of the entire book was published in India as Gandhiji’s Satyagraha: Or, Nonviolent Resistance.

Hershberger, G. F. 1944 War, Peace and Nonresistance. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press.

lee, Umphrey 1943 The Historic Church and Modern Pacifism. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon-Cokesbury.

Lewis, John 1940 The Case Against Pacifism. London: Allen & Unwin.

Ligt, BarthÉlemy de (1934) 1937 The Conquest of Violence: An Essay on War and Peace. Rev. and enl. London: Routledge; New York: Dutton. → First published as De overwinning van het geweld. The English version was translated from the revised and enlarged 1935 French edition.

Macgregor, George H. C. (1936) 1953 The New Testament Basis of Pacifism. London: Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Miller, William R. 1964 Nonviolence: A Christian Interpretation. New York: Association Press.

Niebuhr, Reinhold 1940 Christianity and Power Politics. New York: Scribner.

Oppenheimer, Martin; and Lakey, George 1965 A Manual for Direct Action. Chicago: Quadrangle.

Paullin, Theodore 1944 Introduction to Non-violence. Ithaca, N.Y.: Pacifist Research Bureau.

Schwarz, Ernst (1952) 1959 Path to Freedom Through Nonviolence: A Study of the East-West Conflict and the Methods of Nonviolent Resistance. Vienna: Sensen. → First published as Wege zur gewaltlosen Befreiung.

Sharp, Gene 1959 The Meanings of Non-violence: A Typology (Revised). Journal of Conflict Resolution3:41-66.

Sibley, Mulford Q. 1944 The Political Theories of Modern Pacifism. Ithaca, N.Y.: Pacifist Research Bureau.

Sibley, Mulford Q. (editor) 1963 The Quiet Battle: Writings on the Theory and Practice of Non-violent Resistance. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Sorokin, Pitirim A. 1954 The Ways and Power of Love: Types, Factors, and Techniques of Moral Transformation. Boston: Beacon.

Tolstoy, Leo (1908) 1948 The Law of Love and the Law of Violence. New York: Field. → Translated from the French by Mary Koutouzow Tolstoy.

Weinberg, Arthur M.; and Weinberg, L. S. (editors) 1963 Instead of Violence: Writings by the Great Advocates of Peace and Nonviolence Throughout History. New York: Grossman.


views updated May 21 2018


This term admits of no single definition. It can denote a political movement that seeks to eliminate war by inducing all nations to settle their disputes peacefully, but more commonly nowadays it denotes an ideology based on a personal conviction that war is morally unjustifiable. Absolute or doctrinal pacifism condemns all war as immoral; relative or practical pacifism limits its objection to particular wars or forms of war.

Pre-Christian Attitude. The ancient pagan world seems to have regarded war as a natural phenomenon or necessary evil entailed by the struggle for existence, and military service as a duty of citizenship or a burden owed to the sovereign that might bring gain or glory. Buddhism was exceptional among pagan religions in preaching a creed of nonviolence. The historical books of the OT echo with the clash of battles fought in the conquest or defense of the Promised Land, always with the conviction that they were a sacred duty willed by the God of Israel, Lord of Hosts. Jeremiah (2729) might condemn particular wars, and Isaiah (11.19) foretell the reign of the Prince of Peace, but none of the prophets condemned all war as such. The essenes, an ascetical Jewish sect dating probably from the 2d century b.c., are said to have repudiated violence, but they were unrepresentative of Israel and are not mentioned in the Bible.

New Testament. The NT message is fundamentally one of peace among men of good will (Lk 2.14), based on brotherhood in Christ and sonship of His Father. Christ indeed warned His disciples that His Gospel would set men at variance: "I have come to bring a sword, not peace" (Mt 10.34); but He Himself blessed the peacemakers, rejected the lex talionis of an eye for an eye, and urged His followers not to resist evildoers, but to turn the other cheek, love their enemies, do good to them that hated them, and pray for them that persecuted and calumniated them (Mt 5.9, 3839, 44).

That He did not condemn all use of physical force is clear from His use of a whip in driving the merchants from the Temple (Jn 2.1416). Nor, to judge from his warm commendation of the faith of the centurion (Lk3.14), did He regard the military profession as an impediment to discipleship. Nevertheless, though He had warned His disciples that they would need swords (Lk 22.36), He would not let them be used to save Him from arrest, and He ordered Peter to sheath the sword with which he had struck the High Priest's servant, "for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Mt 26.52).

The subsequent attitude of the Apostles to the use of force was similarly qualified. St. Paul wrote: "If it be possible, as far as in you lies, be at peace with all men" (Rom 12.18); yet he acknowledged the right and duty of rulers to wield the sword, as God's ministers, in defense of the public good (Rom 13.4). So too St. Peter preached

peace (1 Pt 3.811), but he baptized the centurion Cornelius without apparently requiring him to seek another profession (Acts 10.47).

Early Christian Position. For the first three centuries of the Christian era, the general exclusion of Christians from public life removed the moral problem of war from the area of their immediate responsibility and concern. Only in regard to service in the imperial forces did a practical case of conscience arise. Many converts continued in fact to serve, and those who left the army seem to have done so in order to avoid being involved in idolatrous practices, or to devote themselves more directly to the service of God, rather than from any conscientious objection to war as such. The problem was never officially solved. Some, like St. Hippolytus (c. 170-c. 236), condemned voluntary military service by Christians (F. Funk, Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostolorum, Paderborn 1905, 2:97); and, a century later, after the Emperor Licinius had imposed idolatry on all his forces, canon 12 of the First Council of Nicea (325) enacted a severe penalty against Christians who reenlisted in the imperial army; but only Tertullian, writing as a Montanist c. 202 a.d. (De Idololatria, 19), and Lactantius (Divinae Institutiones 6.20) condemned military service outright. None

of the accepted Fathers of the Church ever adopted this extreme position; and although the episcopate generally discouraged the military career while it involved religious and moral dangers, it ceased to do so after the conversion of Constantine, when these religious and moral dangers were largely removed.

Post-Constantine Tradition. What eventually became the accepted Christian attitude toward war was first established by St. Augustine. His doctrine, as contained in Civ. (19.7, 12, 13, 15), can be summarized as follows: peace is a supreme social good, indispensable to the proper development of man and human institutions; true peace consists, however, not in the mere absence of war, but in the tranquillity of order. It presupposes a just, equitable, and harmonious order of things like and unlike that secures to everyone and everything its due place. War cannot be justified except as a necessary means to the establishment or restoration of this order and of the peace that is its fruit; but it can so be justified because just men may be forced into war by the injustice of others. Nevertheless, war is so monstrous a means to just order that no public authority has the right to undertake it, even for a just cause, unless all peaceful means to an equitable settlement have first been tried in vain.

The conclusion that war can be justified was accepted by subsequent Christian writers of the early Middle Ages, notably by St. Isidore of Seville (Etymologiae, 18.1; Patrologia Latina, 82:639) and by Gratian (Decretum, 23, 13); St. Thomas Aquinas was himself content merely to enumerate and to analyse the necessary, conditions, viz, legitimate authority, just cause, and right intention (Summa Theologiae 2a2ae, 40.1). The outstanding Catholic authorities of later days, Francisco de Vitoria, OP (c. 14851546), Francisco de Suárez, SJ (15481617), and Louis Taparelli d'Azeglio (17931862), underlined or developed certain aspects of this traditional doctrine, but kept its substance intact. Vitoria, by arguing that the right of princes to make war on unjust aggressors was necessary to world order (Relectiones Theologicae 6; De Iure Belli 19; Lyons 1587, 234), implicitly made the exercise of the right dependent on the interests of world order. Taparelli enlarged on this point and drew the conclusion that the right of war of individual states would cease if and when an international society capable of imposing justice came into being (Saggio Teoretico di Diritto Naturale, Prato 1883, 2:198). Suárez rejected the notion that princes have the right to punish injustice anywhere in the universe (De Charitate 13.4.3; Opera Omnia 12, Paris 1858, 744).

Pacifist Sects. Denial of the right of war was limited in effect to a few heretical sects of relatively later date and minor influence. The waldenses, who originated in the 12th century, initially condemned all war or taking of human life, but eventually fought in their own self-defense. Certain groups of the 16th-century anabaptist sect, notably the Swiss Brethren and the mennonites, likewise advocated pacifism and nonresistance. John Smyth, from whom the English Baptists derive, came under Mennonite influence, but not a few of his religious descendants fought in Cromwell's army. More consistent in their religious opposition to war and military service were and are the Quakers, founded by George Fox in 1668 and established in Pennsylvania by William Penn in 1682. Most of these sects, like the later plymouthbrethren and christadelphians, were inspired primarily by the desire to return to what they believed to have been the primitive and true form of Christianity, or else to withdraw from a world which they believed to be irretrievably bad; pacifism was a consequence of their religious creed rather than one of its basic tenets.

Modern Developments. Modern pacifism is less closely associated with religious belief. Its adherents are to be found in all the major religious denominations and may belong to none. Some, like Tolstoy (18201910), base their philosophy of absolute pacifism on the Sermon on the Mount but without necessarily accepting the divinity of Christ. Others have been inspired by the success of Gandhi's policy of nonviolent resistance in India. With others, pacifism is a matter merely of personal conviction, either in regard to the will of God or in regard to the futility of war as a means to justice. Others see it as a practical policy, either in the form of nonviolence, which will convert aggressors by benevolence, or in the form of passive resistance, which will finally break their will. Others still are pacifist only in the sense that they work unceasingly for an international order in which war will be replaced by arbitration, judicial decision, or, failing these, by international police action. Fruits of their activity may be seen in the international peace congresses that led up to the Hague Convention (1899), the Hague Court (1907), or even the Kellogg Pact (1928), by which the signatory nations formally renounced war as a means of settling international differences.

Since the Second World War, Catholic reflection on pacifism, absolute and relative, has developed in three stages. First, with the advent of the threat of nuclear war, many Catholics adopted a position of relative pacifism. They admitted that a war of national defense against unjust aggression could be justified if the traditionally required conditions were fulfilled, but denied that these could in fact be fulfilled in the modern world, because war had become so violent and indiscriminate that its evil consequences, moral and physical, were bound to outweigh the intended good. Cardinal Ottaviani came close to accepting this position, when he insisted that not even a defensive war may be waged unless the responsible authority is sure of victory and even more sure that the good accruing to the nation outweighs the monstrous evils that will result for itself and the world (Institutiones Iuris Publici Ecclesiastici, Rome 1947, 1.86). Vatican II did not go so far as this, but simply condemned the idea that an act of war, nuclear or not, directed to "the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants" could be acceptable (Gaudium et spes 80). With the decrease in likelihood of nuclear war and the rise of terrorism at the beginning of the third millennium, Catholic thinking about war came to be less dominated by the prospect of "total war."

Second, the council extended its recognition of pacifism as a legitimate public stance in saying that "it seems just that laws should make humane provision for the case of conscientious objectors who refuse to carry arms, provided they accept some other form of community service" (GS 79; also Catechism of the Catholic Church 2311).

Third, nonviolence has increasingly been promoted not as a simple negative (the absence of violence) but as a positive, practical program that can address some of the causes of war. At the time of Vatican II a number of Catholics, encouraged by John XXIII's encyclical pacem in terris, saw this hope embodied in calls for the development of international structures of cooperation and development: the community of nations organizing itself to address global needs, rather than individual nations pursuing a narrow conception of their own concerns. More generally, the teachers of the Church have highlighted the connection between peace and social justice. In a message, "To Reach Peace, Teach Peace," issued on the World Day of Peace in 1979, Pope John Paul II outlined seven principles which are fundamental to world peace: human affairs must be dealt with humanely, not with violence; tensions, rivalries and conflicts must be settled by reasonable negotiations; opposing ideologies must confront each other in a climate of dialogue and free discussion; the legitimate interests of particular groups must also take into account the legitimate interest of the other groups involved and of the demands of the higher common good; recourse to arms cannot be considered the right means for settling conflicts; the inalienable human rights must be safeguarded in every circumstance; it is not permissible to kill in order to impose a solution. The pope's statement reflects a deepened appreciation for the practice of nonviolence both as a method of achieving justice and as a spiritual practice. Vatican II had both recognized and praised those "who renounce the use of violence in the vindication of their rights and who resort to methods of defense which are otherwise available to weaker parties too, provided that this can be done without injury to the rights and duties of others of the community itself" (GS 33). Such statements are not an endorsement of absolute pacifism; however, they call for the development of a form of pacifism that matches the just-war theorist's concern for the need to protect those threatened by an aggressor.

Moral Appraisal. Despite the legitimacy that has been accorded to pacifism in recent decades, absolute pacifism is still judged irreconcilable with Catholic doctrine. Catholic exegetes likewise commonly reject the pacifist interpretation of Christ's teaching. His pronouncement on nonresistence to evil is taken as a counsel rather than as a precept, and for private individuals rather than for public authorities, since these latter would fail in an essential duty were they to offer no forceful resistance to violent aggressors from within or without. His warning to those who "take the sword" is commonly understood, as by St. Augustine (Contra Faustum 22.70), to refer to those who usurp the function of rulers, for rulers alone bear the sword as God's ministers (Rom 13.14). Nor is there any intrinsic contradiction between a just war and Christ's command that we love our enemies. A just war expresses hatred of the evil deed rather than of the evildoer.

On the other hand, the chief contention of relative pacifism is deduced from accepted Catholic principles. It is the logic of the conclusion that is disputed. No one can deny that the fulfillment of one of the essential conditions of just war (that the intended good shall outweigh the evil entailed) becomes less likely with every increase in the violence and indiscriminate destruction of modern war. Indeed, it is almost impossible to conceive of any merely temporal good that could outweigh the evil consequences of a total nuclear war; and though experience since 1945 has shown that not every modern war need be either total or nuclear, such a conflict remains a serious possibility. It was this consideration that led Pius XII to declare that nothing less than the absolute necessity of self-defense against an unjust aggression threatening the very life or integrity of a state or the essential and inalienable rights of its members can nowadays provide a just cause for war (address, Sept. 30, 1954, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 46:589). But Pius XII was equally insistent that "the right to stand on the defensive cannot be denied to any State even today" (address Oct. 3, 1953, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 45:733) and that a situation can arise in which it can legitimately be exercised even against nuclear attack (Christmas message 1956, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 49:19). The immense evils liable to result from it are not demonstrably greater than those that would afflict mankind if force could no longer be used to repel the armed aggression of tyranny.

Whether the repeated calls of Pope John Paul II, the writings of the U.S. bishops (esp. The Challenge of Peace ) and the efforts of peace-groups from all traditions can transcend the impasse of the endless argument between pacifists and just-war advocates, between the concerns of justice and those of peace, remains to be seen. A justice-seeking form of nonviolence is less easily accused of naivete toward the reality of sin in this "in between" time of history straining toward the eschaton. The development of such a form of pacifism remains partial at best. And absent an effective proposal for protecting the common good in a nonviolent way, a nation's recourse to military action against an aggressor must be recognized as legitimate, if the criteria of a just war are met.

See Also: war, morality of; conscientious objection; epikeia.

Bibliography: In addition to the works already cited, r. coste, Le problème du droit de guerre dans la pensée de Pie XII (Paris 1962). m. f. scheler, L'Idée de paix et le pacifisme (Paris 1953). j. newman, Studies in Political Morality (Chicago 1963) 69118. w. j. nagle, ed., Morality and Modern Warfare (Baltimore 1960) contains an article by a practical pacifist, g. c. zahn, and an excellent bibliography by w. j. brown. c. j. cadoux, The Early Christian Attitude to War (London 1940) non-Catholic pacifist. j. lewis, The Case Against Pacifism (London 1940). e. a. ryan, "Rejection of Military Service by the Early Christians," Theological Studies 13 (1952) 132. j. childress, "Moral Discourse About War in the Early Church," Journal of Religious Ethics 12:1 (1984). j. dwyer, ed., The Catholic Bishops and Nuclear War (Wash. D.C.1984). s. hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom (Notre Dame, Ind.1983). r heyer, Nuclear Disarmament: Key Statements of Popes, Bishops, Councils and Churches (Mahwah, N.J). nccb, The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response (Wash. D.C.1983). g. sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (Boston, Mass.1973). g. a. vanderhaar, Christians and Nonviolence in the Nuclear Age (Mystic, Conn. 1982). j. h. yoder, Nevertheless: The Varieties and Shortcomings of Religious Pacifism (Scottsdale, Pa.1976).

[l. l. mcreavy/

f. x. meehan/eds.]


views updated Jun 08 2018

Pacifism is the principled rejection of war. It has found expression in American history through individuals who acted upon basis of personal conscience and through groups who acted out of a corporate sense of peoplehood. Pacifism has involved the refusal to participate in war or military service, as well as organized activities to promote peace and to give witness to the power of love in social and political relationships. Degrees of pacifist expression and commitment have varied widely, from a total renunciation of war by separatist religious sects to a general secular bias against militarism. Pacifism has had a role both at the sectarian fringes and at the public center of American life. By the broadest definition of the term—the desire to avoid war—in the words of John Dewey in 1917, “the American people is profoundly pacifist.”

Some Native North American tribes had developed corporate pacifist traditions before contacts with the Europeans. In the early fifteenth century, Deganawidah, semimythical founder of the Iroquois confederacy, taught a gospel of disarmament, social cooperation, and the rule of law. Sweet Medicine, legendary founder of the Cheyenne, established a “Peace Chief” tradition that counseled chiefs to suffer nonviolently rather than to take violent revenge. The Lenni Lenape (Delaware) had traditions of peacemaking and mediation which, together with the pacifism of William Penn and the Quakers, helped the colony of Pennsylvania for seventy years to avoid the scourge of war that afflicted Indian‐white relations elsewhere.

The pacifist Quaker movement began in the mid‐seventeenth century in the separatist wing of the Puritan dissent against the Church of England. The Quakers taught that all people, not just “the elect,” could be saved and live a life of righteousness through the guidance of the “inner light” from God, without the mediation of priest or sacrament. The Quakers took the Bible seriously, especially the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament, but gave primary emphasis to the universal light within. William Penn made liberty of conscience and the renunciation of war central to his “Holy Experiment” in social and cultural pluralism in the Delaware Valley. Social order in Pennsylvania was not guaranteed by militia, imposed creeds, or social hierarchy, but by an ideal of social harmony and mutual forbearance among different groups. From the founding of Pennsylvania in 1682 to the withdrawal of Quakers from political control in 1750, this experiment evolved a set of pacifist‐oriented social ideals and institutions that worked a lasting influence upon American life. After 1750, Quaker pacifism became a more marginal and perfectionist movement, but it remained a continuing source of humanitarian reform impulses for movements against slavery, militarism, and other social ills.

Among the groups Penn attracted to his colony were German‐speaking pacifists of Anabaptist and Pietist origin, notably the Mennonites, Amish, and Dunkers (Church of the Brethren). The Mennonites originated in the left wing of the Protestant Reformation on the European Continent and held to a doctrine of two kingdoms that separated church and state. The state was “outside the perfection of Christ” and ordained by God to maintain order in the world. The church was a body of disciplined adult believers who literally followed the teachings of Jesus, including the commandment to love one's enemies. Mennonites and their cousins, the Amish, generally stayed aloof from politics. The Dunkers, of eighteenth‐century radical Pietist origin, expressed a warmer evangelical piety than the Anabaptists, but also maintained a strictly disciplined church life of nonresistance, simplicity, and separation from the world. The Quakers, Mennonites, and Brethren eventually became known as the “historic peace churches.” Other church and communitarian groups also developed pacifist stances based upon varying apostolic, eschatological, and reform visions (Shakers, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh‐Day Adventists, Churches of Christ, Church of God in Christ, and others).

The classical republican political philosophy that guided the founders and leaders of the early American republic contained significant elements of pacifist antimilitarism. Classical republicanism, derived from scholars of the French Enlightenment and from English Whig opponents of monarchy, assumed that warfare resulted from the alliance of the ruling aristocracy with their national military forces. This alliance produced standing armies, which encouraged despotism and threatened the freedoms of the people. To maintain public order, classical republicans counted upon the superior virtue of citizens in a republic and upon the efficacy of well‐regulated local militia. Classical republicanism, in its acceptance of militia and of defensive wars, was far from absolute pacifism. But it was a “halfway pacifism” opposed to professional military training academies, to a standing army in peacetime, and to national military conscription in wartime. In the early American republic, it also informed peace initiatives such as President John Adams's decision for peace with France in the wake of the XYZ Affair (1799–1800) and President Thomas Jefferson's use of a trade embargo as an alternative to war (1808). Also in the classical republican tradition were rapid disarmament and reduction of the army after wars, strong opposition to military conscription in the Civil War and World War I, and alarm over the power of the military‐industrial complex in the Cold War.

The first nonsectarian peace societies in the United States emerged in the wake of the War of 1812. In 1828, the local and state peace societies joined to form the American Peace Society. The peace societies were deeply religious and primarily Christian, believing that God was revealed in Christ, and that Jesus' ethic of love required the rejection of violence and war. The relationship of the peace reform to movements against slavery and for women's rights was especially important in this reform‐minded era. In 1838, some radical pacifists, led by William Lloyd Garrison, formed the New England Non‐Resistance Society and called for righteous people to separate themselves from an evil world, particularly the slave‐owning South. The peace societies opposed the Mexican War (1846–48), but when the Civil War broke out (1860) they nearly all supported the North's military effort as a justifiable police action to end slavery and preserve the Union.

Between the Civil War and World War I, the pacifist‐anarchist teachings of the Russian author Leo Tolstoy added a new dimension to the peace movement, even as the movement adapted to the new challenges created by urbanization and industrialization. Tolstoy taught a universal nonresistant gospel based upon a law of love common to all world religions. In the first decades of the twentieth century, the secular theme of internationalism became especially prominent, with proposals for international law and for arbitration of disputes. In 1910, the philosopher and psychologist William James wrote an influential essay, The Moral Equivalent of War, which argued that the apparent opposites, killing and service, were both expressions of a universal impulse to heroic self‐sacrifice. James's essay gave new psychological depth to pacifist thought and fostered alternative service programs to military service. Jane Addams, founder of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, envisioned benevolent social work on a grand scale as a means of achieving world peace.

Pacifism in the twentieth century addressed the problems of total international warfare and ultimately of a thermonuclear arms race. During wartime, the historic peace churches continued their conscientious objection to war and refused military service. The numbers of men who went to prison or to alternative service programs remained small, reduced through acculturation to American patriotism. But the peace church precedent of conscientious objection provided a wedge for massive challenges to the military draft during the unpopular Vietnam War, when the Selective Service System almost broke down. Some pacifists worked together with socialists and labor movement leaders in direct action for social justice—sometimes involving civil disobedience.

The nonviolent teachings and methods of Mohandas K. Gandhi, expressed in the popular movement for Indian independence from British imperial rule, influenced American pacifists with their integration of personal and social ethics, their unity of means and ends, and their combination of Hinduism and Christianity. Martin Luther King, Jr., adapted Gandhi's methods in leading the civil rights movement from 1956 to 1968 as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. King's pacifism extended to opposition to the Vietnam War at a time when that stance seemed to threaten the civil rights coalition. A boycott on behalf of striking grape pickers in California, organized by Cesar Chavez, (1965–70), was a form of pacifist nonviolent direct action.

During the Cold War, pacifist activity waxed and waned according to recurrent crises in the competition between Communist powers and the West. The threat of atomic destruction produced a position known as “nuclear pacifism”—reflected in the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, and held by people who could justify winnable or “just” wars but who in principle opposed nuclear warfare because of its consequences. Pacifist ideals gained expression through activist organizations as well as through the growing academic discipline of peace and conflict resolution studies. A government agency, the United States Institute of Peace, was founded in 1985. National problems of escalating violence led to creative new movements for peer mediation in public schools and victim‐offender reconciliation programs in local communities. These new initiatives drew upon a long history of pacifist idealism in the American experience.
[See also Just War Theory; Militarism and Antimilitarism; Nonviolence; Nuclear Protest Movements; Peace and Antiwar Movements; Vietnam Antiwar Movement.]


Peter Brock , Pacifism in the United States: From the Colonial Era to the First World War, 1968.
Charles Chatfield , For Peace and Justice: Pacifism in America, 1914–1941, 1971.
Charles DeBenedetti , The Peace Reform in American History, 1980.
Lawrence S. Wittner , Rebels Against War: The American Peace Movement, 1933–1983, 1984.
Valarie H. Ziegler , The Advocates of Peace in Antebellum America, 1992.
Charles Chatfield and and Robert Kleidman , The American Peace Movement: Ideals and Activism, 1992.
Matthew Dennis , Cultivating a Landscape of Peace: Iroquois‐European Encounters in Seventeenth‐Century America, 1993.
Louise Hawkley and James C. Juhnke, eds., Nonviolent America: History Through the Eyes of Peace, 1993.
Charles C. Moskos and John Whiteclay Chambers II, eds., The New Conscientious Objection: From Sacred to Secular Resistance, 1993.
Staughton Lynd and Alice Lynd, eds., Nonviolence in America: A Documentary History, 1995.

James C. Juhnke


views updated May 23 2018


A belief or policy in opposition to war or violence as a means of settling disputes. Pacifists maintain that unswerving nonviolence can bestow upon people a power greater than that achieved through the use of violent aggression.

Over the years, pacifism has acquired different meanings. As a consequence, it is practiced in a variety of ways. For example, pacifists may make an individual vow of nonviolence. They may also organize and actively pursue nonviolence and peace between nations. They may even assert that some form of support for selective violence is sometimes necessary to achieve worldwide peace.


The earliest form of recorded pacifism appear in the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who became known as the Buddha. The Buddha, or the Enlightened One, left his family at a young age and spent his life searching for a release from the human condition. Before dying in northeast India between 500 and 350 b.c., the Buddha taught the paths to elevated existence and inspired a new religion. Buddhism eventually spread from India to central and Southeast Asia, China, Korea, Japan, and the United States.

The teachings of Jesus Christ continued the attachment of nonviolence to organized religion.

Christ taught, in part, that an appropriate response to violence is to "turn the other cheek" and offer no resistance.

As civilization expanded and distinct states were formed, Christianity was carried to developing areas. It became popularized as the official religion of entire states, the leaders of which sought to retain both Christianity and a stronghold on power. In the third century, the nonresistance aspect of Christianity was reconsidered, and certain passages in the Gospel were interpreted to mean that resistance is an acceptable reaction to evil forces.

Saint Augustine solidified Christianity's break with pure pacifism in the fifth century with a warmly received religious treatise. In The City of God, he maintained, in part, that peace could be realized only through the acceptance of Christianity and that the Church was to be defended.

More than a millennium passed before the next great pacifist movement was seen. In the fifteenth century, Martin Luther led the Protestant Reformation, which inspired religious creativity. Europeans who were disenchanted with Catholicism broke away from the Church in Rome, experimented with observations and practices, and founded their own religions. The most pacific of these was Anabaptism. Anabaptists practiced nonviolence and actively supported those suffering from violence.

In the seventeenth century, still more pacific religious groups were established, such as the Mennonites, the Brethren, and the Religious Society of Friends. Of these, the Friends have gathered the largest following in the United States.

Religious Society of Friends

In 1652, George Fox founded the Religious Society of Friends in England. Initially, Friends were known as Children of the Light, Publishers of Truth, or Friends of Truth. They held fast to the belief that there exists in all persons a light, which can be understood as the presence of God. With this reverence for other people, nonviolence came naturally. And, since God exists in all people, violence can be avoided by finding and revealing the Light in others.

Friends were also called Quakers, perhaps from the trembling some experience as they find the Inner Light during meetings. The nickname was originally coined by antagonists and intended as derisive, but many Friends began to use it in their own speech. Quaker soon lost its derogative connotation, and it remains the most recognized name for Friends.

A Friend's commitment to pacifism often came with no small dose of activism. Friends interrupted church services and refused to take oaths in seventeenth-century England, arguing that if one always tells the truth, one need not promise to do so. Friends ignored social niceties, refusing, for example, to remove their hat in the presence of royalty. Friends also used the informal thee and thy in place of the more respectful you and your. Within four years of the creation of the Society, Friends in England were being imprisoned by the thousands, and they began to seek refuge in the New World.

Ann Austin and Mary Fisher were the first Friends to reach colonial America from England. After their arrival in 1656, Austin and Fisher were imprisoned and deported. Friends who came after them suffered a similar fate. Many of those who stayed moved to Rhode Island, which Roger Williams founded on religious freedom principles.

In 1681, Charles II gave to William Penn, a longtime Friend, the charter to colonial land in America as repayment for a debt owed to Penn's father. In 1682, Penn founded Pennsylvania as a "holy experiment," and many English and European Friends found permanent sanctuary there.

Friends continued their activism in colonial America by obstructing the business of slavery. Many Friends published their opposition to slavery and assisted fugitive slaves. Friends also addressed other social issues, such as the treatment of mentally ill persons and the rights of women. With the onset of the Civil War, many Friends reconsidered their absolute refusal to participate in war and helped the Union forces and slaves. In World Wars I and II, many Friends took an active part in medical and relief work.

Mohandas K. Gandhi

Mohandas K. Gandhi was the first great modern pacifist. Born October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, India, Gandhi led a high-profile life dedicated to political and social reform through nonviolence.

During the 1900s, Gandhi experimented with various means of resolving conflict. Passive resistance, according to Gandhi, had to be supplemented by an active effort to understand and respect adversaries. In an atmosphere of respect, people could find peaceful, creative solutions. This active campaign for equality is called satyagraha, or "grasping for the truth."

Gandhi led a well-orchestrated political campaign for Indians in South Africa through the early 1900s. The movement reached its pinnacle in November 1913, when Gandhi led Indian miners on the Great March into Transvaal. The march was a profound show of determination, and the South African government opened negotiations with Gandhi shortly thereafter.

By promoting a variety of nonviolent activities designed to dramatize and call attention to social injustice, Gandhi won new rights for laborers, members of minorities, and poor people in South Africa and India. In many cases, however, Gandhi was working against centuries of hatred, and success was never absolute.

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement

Gandhi's campaigns became the inspiration and model for the U.S. civil rights and political

movements in the 1950s and 1960s. Among those inspired was martin luther king jr. King was born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929, the son of a Baptist preacher. His Baptist upbringing was supplemented by the study of theology at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, where he was introduced to the nonviolent teachings of Gandhi.

In 1955, King became involved with the first great pacifist movement in the United States, the African American civil rights movement. He eventually spearheaded that movement. On December 1, rosa parks, a black Montgomery resident, refused to surrender her seat on a bus to a white man. Her subsequent arrest for violating segregation laws sparked a boycott of the Montgomery transit system led by King and the black activists of the Montgomery Improvement Association. The boycott lasted over one year, until the Montgomery city government abolished segregation on buses. King's leadership had helped effect political change without the use of violence, and he resolved to build on the success.

In the late 1950s, King organized the southern christian leadership conference (SCLC). The SCLC operated as a network for civil rights work and a platform from which to address the nation and the world. Armed only with fortitude, the moral rightness of a cause, and an exceptional gift for public speaking, King was able to garner widespread support for a

series of popular campaigns that led to the end of official discrimination and segregation in the southern United States.

The influence of Gandhi on King was apparent. At the core of King's philosophy was nonviolence, but this pacifism was buttressed by action. Like Gandhi, King directed much of his energy toward the organization of nonviolent campaigns designed to call attention to social injustice. The campaigns did not always win the hearts and minds of other U.S. citizens. Occasionally, King and fellow civil rights activists suffered from the violence of their opponents.

Conscientious Objector Status

When the United States becomes involved in war, military service may become mandatory, and the status of conscientious objector (CO) is sought by pacifists to avoid military service. To qualify as a CO, one need only show "a sincere and meaningful" objection to all war (Reiser v. Stone, 791 F. Supp. 1072 [E.D. Pa. 1992] [quoting Shaffer v. Schlesinger, 531 F.2d 124 (3d Cir. 1976)]). This objection need not be grounded in religion. It is legitimate if it results from an "intensely personal" conviction that some might find "incomprehensible; or "incorrect" (Reiser [quoting United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, 85 S. Ct. 850, 13 L. Ed. 2d 733 (1965)]).

In Reiser, Dr. Lynda Dianne Reiser sought discharge from military service on the grounds of a conscientious objection to war. Reiser had entered the Army in 1983 in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program at Washington and Jefferson College. After graduating in 1986, she sought and received a deferment of military service in order to attend Temple University Medical School. Upon graduation from medical school in 1990, Reiser sought and received another deferment in order to perform a one-year medical internship. In August 1990, Reiser informed the Army that she was a conscientious objector and that she would refuse the four years of military service required of her in return for the ROTC scholarship.

Although Reiser had possessed moral convictions approaching pacifism before entering the ROTC program, she had envisioned a career in medicine and expected her participation in military service to be minimal. In 1985, serious misgivings over military service began to take hold in Reiser. By 1989, her opposition to military service was firm. After treating a 16-year-old shooting victim, Reiser experienced nightmares and attempted to avoid all contact with violence. In April 1990, her beliefs crystallized into complete opposition to violence, war, and military service. Four months later, she applied for CO status.

The Department of the Army Conscientious Objector Review Board (DACORB) denied Reiser's application in September 1990. Despite supporting testimony from Army chaplain Colonel Ronald Miller and Army investigator Lieutenant Colonel Charles Nester, DACORB concluded that Reiser's belief in pacifism was not sincerely held.

Reiser appealed the DACORB decision to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. After reciting the chronology of the case and the legal standards for CO status, the court conducted a complete review of the record. This included an in-depth examination of Reiser's evolution to pacifism.

In addition to possessing a predisposition to nonviolence, Reiser had undergone a pacific metamorphosis that had not been disproved. Reiser had been deeply affected by the Kurt Vonnegut novel Slaughterhouse Five (1969) and had had her growing pacifism affirmed by roommates. She had also experienced a strengthening of her nonviolent convictions as a result of her medical training.

DACORB had ruled that Reiser had failed to prove that she would have "no rest or inner peace" if she were not discharged. This standard had been rejected by the court in an earlier case, which held that conscientious objectors need only show sincerity in their opposition to war (Masser v. Connolly, 514 F. Supp. 734, 740 [E.D. Pa. 1981]). According to the Reiser court, the "no rest or inner peace" standard was valid, but nothing in the record supported the DACORB conclusion that Reiser would lose no sleep over forced military service.

Because the timing of a CO application alone cannot be used to deny CO status, DACORB took pains to deemphasize the timing of Reiser's application. However, Reiser's application came less than one year before she was scheduled to begin military service, and DACORB was unable to let the issue go untouched. The timing of the application, admitted DACORB, called Reiser's sincerity into question.

DACORB use of application timing did call Reiser's sincerity into question. What DACORB failed to do, according to the court, was answer the question of Reiser's sincerity. Without additional support for its skepticism, DACORB use of application timing as a basis for rejecting CO status for Reiser carried no weight. The court ultimately reversed the DACORB decision and relieved Reiser of her obligation to work four years for the U.S. Army.

further readings

Beck, Sanderson. 2003. Guides to Peace and Justice: Great Peacemakers, Philosophers of Peace, and World Peace Advocates. Ojai, Calif.: World Peace Communications.

Burkholder, J. R., and John Bender. 1982. Children of Peace. Elgin, Ill.: Brethren.

Churchill, Ward, with Mike Ryan. 1998. Pacifism as Pathology: Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America. Winnipeg, Man.: Arbeiter Ring.

Kellett, Christine Hunter. 1984. "Draft Registration and the Conscientious Objector: A Proposal to Accommodate Constitutional Values." Columbia Human Rights Law Review 15.

Randle, Michael, ed. 2002. Challenge to Nonviolence. Bradford, U.K.: Univ. of Bradford, Dept. of Peace Studies.

Todd, Jack. 2001. Desertion: In the Time of Vietnam. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Wallis, Jim, ed. 1982. Waging Peace: A Handbook for the Struggle to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. New York: Harper and Row.


Civil Rights Movement; Conscientious Objector; Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand; King, Martin Luther, Jr.


views updated Jun 08 2018


PACIFISM. Four unique types of pacifism have entered American life and politics: (1) conscientious objection to war, resulting in personal refusal to participate in war or military service; (2) opposition to and renunciation of all forms of violence; (3) a strategy of nonviolent action to overcome specific injustices or to bring about radical change in the social order; and (4) a "positive testimony" to a way of life based on conviction of the power of love to govern human relationships.

Conscientious objection to war was a central doctrine of the "historic peace churches" (Brethren, Mennonites, and Quakers), which held war to be in fundamental contradiction to their religious faiths. In prerevolutionary Pennsylvania, Quakers tried with some success to apply their pacifist convictions in the colony that William Penn had established as a "holy experiment," a colony where they could live at peace with each other and with all persons, including their Indian neighbors. The American Revolution, however, split the Quakers on the issue of political pacifism and led to their permanent withdrawal from politics as an organized religious body. This development returned pacifism to the individual for decision—on refusing to fight, pay taxes for military purposes, or in other ways to support the war "system."

The number of objectors and the form of their objection varied with the moral appeal of each war, reaching a climax of opposition to U.S. military action in Vietnam and Cambodia in the late 1960s. Probably one out of five of those of draft age during this period were exempted from military service because of conscientious objection (although many of these were ostensibly deferred for other reasons, because local draft boards did not wish to acknowledge such claims formally). An unprecedented, though unspecified, number of draftees were discharged from military service or were absent without leave (AWOL) because of objections after induction. In addition, a substantial number were imprisoned because they refused to fight or to be inducted.

During this time pacifist ranks reached out to most denominations, and many of the country's religious leaders were included. Also, persons whose objection to war stemmed from humanitarian or philosophical convictions rather than religious training and belief—the criterion for conscientious objection specified in the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940—were legitimized by a succession of Supreme Court decisions. Meanwhile, pacifists in the twentieth century had again sought political means to prevent war and keep the United States out of war. They were a principal force in the American peace movement and were often at odds with those who urged a collective security system with international military sanctions as the most effective approach to maintaining peace.

The second form of pacifism abjures violence in any form and sees violence operating not only in outright war but also through social institutions that permit human exploitation and discrimination and that rely on repression and force to maintain "law and order." Consequently, the major goal of such pacifists has been social reform. The core of the American antislavery movement was largely pacifist. For example, in the 1750s John Woolman preached to his fellow Quakers that slavery was incompatible with their professed respect for "that of God in every man." Social pacifism also infused the struggle for prison reform, the fight against capital punishment, the championing of women's rights, efforts to improve care of the mentally ill and retarded, and the securing of civil rights for all minorities.

Social-reform pacifists were in direct conflict with those who insisted that effective action demanded violence. They found themselves denounced as soft-headed dupes, if not outright lackeys, of the entrenched oppressors. To such charges pacifists responded with the third pattern—a strategy of nonviolent direct action. Modeled on Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of civil disobedience (satyagraha), sit-ins (put to an early test by some unions in the industrial conflicts of the 1930s), marches (which achieved dramatic impact with the "stride toward freedom" from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, of Martin Luther King Jr., who called for an end to racial discrimination), vigils (usually conducted by smaller groups with a strong religious motif), and boycotts (as notably organized by César E. Chavez, 1965–1970, on behalf of grape pickers striking against California growers) became expressions of nonviolent protest. These actions were characterized by extraordinary self-discipline, even when met by violent counteraction.

Pacifist influence was fractured by a succession of violent events. The assassination of King silenced the most effective spokesperson for nonviolence at a time when militants among blacks and others in the civil rights movement were clamoring for confrontation by force. Later, a sense of helplessness swept over the peace movement when President Richard M. Nixon moved to extend the war into Cambodia and substituted massive, electronically controlled bombing and mining for the presence of most American draftees in Vietnam. But backlash against the civil rights and peace movements demonstrated that a wide base of nonpacifist values existed throughout America. The collapse of the George S. McGovern campaign for the presidency in 1972 seemed to bury the hopes for effective political expression of pacifist concerns, leaving a vacuum of disillusionment that militants eagerly sought to fill.

Two influences combined to generate a fourth type of pacifism. Many conscientious objectors became increasingly troubled by the essentially negative posture of their position. They wanted not simply to protest wars and injustice, but also to create the conditions for a human community. Second, a growing number felt that societies in general and American society in particular were past reforming and that peace would have to be sought within a small group of kindred souls. Both influences moved toward a definition of pacifism as a total philosophy of life and toward experimentation with human relationships in which love would replace violence. These two expressions of pacifism, however, differed in focus. The first emphasized an outward "testimony" by which the principles of cooperative community could be demonstrated to others as a viable way of life. This was the original intent of the Civilian Public Service program, which had been organized voluntarily by the historic peace churches to offer an alternative to military service during World War II. Conscientious-objector units worked, with commendable efficacy, on conservation and park projects, in fire fighting and disaster relief, in mental health hospitals and schools for retarded children, and as "guinea pigs" for medical research. The effectiveness of the testimony-by-work approach was seriously undermined, however, by Selective Service control and the inescapable consciousness that the testifiers were in fact conscripts, not volunteers.

The second approach rejected society in favor of a commune of persons willing to live simply on a share-alike basis, as independently as possible from the requirements of the so-called system (including fixed employment). The new communes followed the long tradition in America of experimental communities devoted to the ideal of self-sufficient and harmonious living. In the mid-1970s pacifism in America seemed to have returned to its pristine base of individual conviction. But the activism of the 1960s had imparted both a commitment to conscientious objection to war and a sensitivity to social injustice that encompassed a much broader swath of American life than ever before. Indeed, events of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century revealed a broad spectrum of Americans ready to protest what they saw as injust wars, at home and abroad.

Citizens organized beginning in the 1980s to protest the civil-liberties violations, injuries, and deaths, and high imprisonment rates wrought by the war on drugs launched in the early 1980s by the administration of President Ronald Reagan. The police became increasingly militarized, using tactics of war rather than domestic law enforcement. The 1990s saw more traditional antiwar protests over the Persian Gulf War. After Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait in 1991, the United States launched a war to push Iraq back out. The United States government sent some 500,000 troops to the region and dropped huge numbers of bombs on Iraq, killing tens of thousands of Iraqis and destroying much of the nation's infrastructure. A significant protest movement against the Persian Gulf War, and the economic sanctions that followed, developed in the United States.

Pacifism became a much more dangerous position to hold publicly in the United States after 11 September 2001, when Islamic terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands and shattering Americans' sense of safety. President George W. Bush launched a "war on terrorism," which involved both sending military personnel around the globe and restricting privacy rights and other civil liberties at home. Citizens across the political spectrum, who had been shocked and horrified by the events of 11 September, nonetheless found themselves ill at ease over a "war" with no clear ending point and with an alarming tendency to rationalize the curbing of domestic civil liberties.


Birnbaum, Jonathan, and Clarence Taylor, eds. Civil Rights since 1787: A Reader on the Black Struggle. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

Bush, Perry. Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties: Mennonite Pacifism in Modern America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Early, Frances H. A World without War: How U.S. Feminists and Pacifists Resisted World War I. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1997.

Hawkley, Louise, and James C. Juhnke, eds. Nonviolent America: History through the Eyes of Peace. North Newton, Kan.: Bethel College, 1993.

Kammen, Michael, ed. Contested Values: Democracy and Diversity in American Culture. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.

Klejment, Anne, and Nancy L. Roberts, eds. American Catholic Pacifism: The Influence of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1996.

Schlabach, Theron F., and Richard T. Hughes, eds. Proclaim Peace: Christian Pacifism from Unexpected Quarters. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997.

Tracy, James. Direct Action: Radical Pacifism from the Union Eight to the Chicago Seven. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Philip E.Jacob/d. b.

See alsoAntiwar Movements ; Civil Rights Movement ; King, Martin Luther, Assassination ; Missiles, Military ; Persian Gulf Syndrome ; Persian Gulf War of 1991 ; Shakers ; United Farm Workers Union of America ; Utopian Communities ; Youth Movements ; andvol. 9:Peace and Bread in Time of War .

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