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Pacifism is the opposition to violence as a means of settling disputes. This opposition may range from the belief in peaceful resolution of international conflicts to personal rejection of a tradition of violent activity.


While pacifism is defined as "opposition to war" or "opposition to violence," some militarists have attempted to say that they are pacifists because they prevent violence by being violent, e.g. the U.S. Air Force motto "Peace is Our Profession." (See Nineteen Eighty-Four.)

A common question that is used in attempt to trip up pacifists is "What would you do if you found a man raping your wife?" It is widely and erroneously believed that the "correct" pacifist answer to this gotcha question would be to either do nothing or to try to interpose oneself between the parties. Some pacifists, therefore, choose a different self-definition where pacifism is the refusal to prepare for war or for acts of violence. This definition addresses the attempt to trap people into the culture of violence by giving a different answer to the old draft board question, namely "I don't know. But I do know this: I will not own a gun or make other preparations to do violence to another human being." This kind of pacifism is, probably, more widespread and palatable to the masses than the classic definition.

Some philosophies, such as MohismWikipedia, oppose wars of aggression but firmly support violence in self-defence; likewise since the Kellogg–Briand Pact in the 1930s and enshrined in the international system around the United Nations, wars of aggression are against international law but most nations reserve the right to fight in defence of themselves or their allies.[1][2] However active preparation for self-defence or fighting a defensive war is not normally considered compatible with pacifism.

Pacifism does not necessarily imply nonresistance. Nonviolent activists did not, for example, do nothing while the Nazis rounded up Jews for the concentration camps and, in fact, Quakers (see below) helped many Jews flee Germany before the beginning of hostilities between the United States and Germany. The use of the Holocaust as a rebuttal point against pacifism becomes, in this context, a straw man argument: pacifists do not endorse doing nothing; they create resistance without guns or other tools of manslaughter.

Politicians who apply pacifism to situations such as conflict are frequently know as having 'Dovish' policies as apposed to the opposite term. 'Hawkish'

Some well-known pacifists[edit]

  • Mohandas Gandhi
  • Tenzin Gyatso: Current Dalai Lama.[note 1]
  • Jesus: But you wouldn't know it today from some of His purported followers.
  • Robert LeFevre: An otherwise influential early libertarian theorist whose pacifism has not particularly carried over into the modern libertarian movement.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Bertrand Russell
  • Aung San Suu Kyi, except when it comes to violence affecting Rohingya people.
  • Dennis Kucinich has proposed a new US Department of Peace.
  • Norman Thomas: several-time Socialist Party candidate for President of the United States
  • Leo Tolstoy: Russian writer and anarchist, who influenced the development of Gandhi's passive resistance.[note 2]
  • Guillermo del Toro: Atheist, writer, and film producer/director. Wears some huge irony blinkers because of the violent nature of some of his movies.

Pacifist movements[edit]


  • Buddhism is known for its strong emphasis on pacifism. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, was a member of the Buddhist delegation to the Paris Peace Accords and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • The Society of Friends (aka Quakers) are the most well-known pacifist Christian group, affirming their pacifism as early as the English Civil War. Some Quakers have been prosecuted for their opposition to war and militarism. In the United States, they had great influence on the creation of conscientious objector provisions in the now-abolished draft laws, and many of the Quakers and other pacifists drafted for the Vietnam War consequently either served their commitments in non-military organizations or in nonviolent military roles, e.g. as combat medics. The colony of Pennsylvania was founded by Quakers who managed fairly peaceful dealings with the natives until the French and Indian WarWikipedia. In the UK they have been active in campaigning against the arms trade.[3][4] Other "peace churches" include the Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish, and Seventh-day Adventists.
  • Jehovah's Witnesses have been jailed throughout their history for rejecting conscription of any form, even as noncombatant conscientious objectors. In addition they don't believe in blood transfusions, so they can't be medics.
  • Christian pacifism in general.
  • Jainism is so peace-loving that its adherents refuse to kill the smallest animal, even a mowse. They are even afraid of farming because it might kill organisms in the soil. Aww. :)
  • Sikhs might be considered pacifists. Though their faith requires them (the men, anyway) to carry at least a ceremonial weapon at all times, they adhere to the same principle of ahimsa (nonviolence) as the Jains, though in a utilitarian interpretation rather than the Jains' deontological one. The Sikh view of nonviolence rests on minimizing the consequences of violence that actually occurs, rather than absolutely avoiding a particular individual's participation in it.
  • Raëlism is included in Wikipedia's article on pacifist religions. Because of course it is. Apparently, "even if the Elohim asked them to kill someone they should refuse."[5]


Pacifists in war[edit]

Historically, pacifists have not been unwilling to walk the battlefields. During World War I, for example, Quakers and other pacifists organized ambulance corps that patrolled no man's land and took the wounded to the hospital. This kind of activity was thwarted during World War II by the Starnes Rider which prohibited pacifists from participating in battlefield rescue efforts.

Phoney pacifists[edit]

Most religions appear to embody some pacifist principles. Christians and Jews are supposed to obey the Sixth Commandment ("thou shalt not kill"), and Jesus arguably advanced turning the other cheekWikipedia, but only a minority translate that into actual pacifism. Hindus subscribe to ahimsa, doing no harm, but the Rig Veda explains that war is OK as long as you shoot people in the front with non-poisoned arrows.[7]


Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs… It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany… As it is they succumbed anyway in their millions.
—Gandhi, 1946, Interview with Louis Fischer[8]
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
—Edmund Burke
Pacifism is not something to hide behind.
—Walter Sobchak

Pacifism, though often considered an unassailable position on morality, is not without its critics. Sam Harris believes pacifism is a system which allows millions to die for the hope that they might receive some benefit in the next life or that one day their murderers might doubt the goodness of their actions.[9] Such a system of course only gets worse as it becomes more prevalent, and those without moral scruples have more opportunity to continue their actions unopposed. In this way, a single sociopath with a knife could, in a world of pacifists, kill or force into hiding every other being on the planet without meeting any material opposition.

It has also been criticized as an inadvertent tool in the oppression of minorities, specifically being criticized as a system which advocates that those suffering under racism, sexism, or other forms of oppression in a society should merely peacefully protest and wait for their overlords to give them equal rights.[10] World War II was an especially difficult time for pacifists, leaving them in the position to either support a conflict that would lead to the deaths of nearly a hundred million people, or let the Nazis have a carte blanche.[note 3]

Even Gene Sharp, a major academic figure usually associated with pacifism, has expressed qualms about the very terminology itself, preferring to use terms like "non-violent conflict" instead.[note 4] The criticism here being that pacifism is more often than not presented as a moralistic and ethical principle that tends to conjure up feel-good idealism (if not utopian visions). And yet according to him, such a worldview disregards the socio-cultural contexts on the ground, the nature of power[note 5] and pragmatic realities like logistics, planning, organizing and so on; in other words, one doesn't have to even believe in pacifist ideals to use non-violence.[11]

Influence on children's television[edit]

During the late 1960s and 1970s, a lobbying group called Action for Children's TelevisionWikipedia launched an extended moral panic about "violence" in children's cartoons. By the early 1970s, the group had succeeded in driving Space GhostWikipedia, The HerculoidsWikipedia, The Fantastic Four, and many other superhero cartoons off the air.[12] They were replaced by cartoons such as Scooby-DooWikipedia, which featured a familiar plot device in which a fearsome ghost or monster in a horror fiction scenario always turned out to be a merely mortal miscreant unmasked in the final scene. When superheroes finally returned in the 1970s in the form of The SuperfriendsWikipedia, they appeared in a curiously bowdlerized form, where even Superman was not allowed to punch anybody, and the villains were likewise forbidden from threatening to kill anyone.[13]

During the Reagan administration, deregulation led to a renaissance in children's animation with more adventuresome themes, starting with the Jack KirbyWikipedia and Alex TothWikipedia designed Thundarr the BarbarianWikipedia, and He-Man and the Masters of the UniverseWikipedia. He-Man and Thundarr were at least allowed to punch the bad guys, although they never disembowelled anybody with their signature magic swords.[14]

Pacifist bashing[edit]

...voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
Hermann Goering[15]

In what should come as no surprise, anti-pacificism is sometimes taken to absurd levels, especially by those eager to go to war, for whatever reason. A favorite pastime of "pacifist bashers" is to treat pacifists like boogeymen who want to weaken the nation to both foreign and domestic threats. This is fairly common in authoritarian governments but it may happen in open democracies as well, especially among the hard-right. The political influence of pacifists may also be exaggerated, which is a cowardly tactic since pacifists do not have all that much influence in politics. In America it is common for wingnuts to conflate liberalism with "pacifism," which ignores the fact that most, if not nearly all, liberals are not pacifists; they're just less hawkish than neoconservatives.

One may also notice that those who foam at the mouth over pacifists often forget to mention many of the above listed pacifists (especially MLK), and that many pacifists who were drafted in both World Wars served as medics, one of the most dangerous jobs in the field. Also, Ike.

See also[edit]


  1. There is some controversy whether he is pacifist. Some critics say that he wants to enslave Tibet if it got free (Penn & Teller: Bullshit!). However, he has acknowledged that the Lamas' "getting their corrupt asses kicked out of Tibet" was a karmic correction, to be welcomed by the Sangha (lost in the mists of absfg, a Usenet "alt" newsgroup).
  2. This is hilarious in many ways: When War and Peace was published in 1869 it was largely criticized by the Russian left for romanticizing the Tsars, and at the same time praised by military generals for depicting an artful depiction of war. Neither of them probably read the full thousand pages.
  3. Take Albert Einstein, also well-known for his pacifist beliefs, who was mocked by those who believed he engaged in a double standard by warning the US of what Hitler represented.
  4. According to him, there would still be struggles and wars even in a world without violence
  5. Which for Sharp is less Mahatma Gandhi and more Machiavelli.


  1. Mohism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  2. See the Wikipedia article on War of aggression.
  3. Ending the Arms Trade, Quakers in Britain website, accessed Oct 25, 2019
  4. Peace and Disarmament, @disarmquaker, Twitter
  5. See the Wikipedia article on Pacifism.
  6. See the Wikipedia article on Pacifism.
  7. Hinduism and war, BBC Religions, 2005-07-04
  8. Gandhi, his Grandson, Israel, and the Jews
  9. Harris, Sam (2004). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. W.W. Norton & Company.
  10. "In Defense of Revolutionary Violence"
  11. Though ironically, he had a harder time convincing pacifists themselves on this.
  12. "The New Adventures of Superman", The Superman Homepage, accessed Nov. 7, 2017.
  13. "“One Dimensional Goodness: The Super Friends and the Good Old Days” ", special creator commentary feature on DVD, The All New Superfriends Hour: Season 1, Volume 1 (Warner Brothers, 2008)
  14. Hollis, Tim (2001). Hi there, boys and girls! : America's local children's TV shows. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. p. 20. ISBN 1578063965.
  15. The full quote on Snopes