Political Theories for Students. Editor: Matthew Miskelly & Jaime Noce. Volume 1. Detroit: Gale, 2002.


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.

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.

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 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.

Theory in Depth

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, Vardhamana, 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.


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.

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. Whileahimsa 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.

Theory in Action

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.


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.

Analysis and Critical Response

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.