"What is a 'pacifist'?", you ask? That's a difficult question. I cannot give you a written set of principles, you sign it, and BOOM, you're a pacifist. I cannot give you a book, such as one by Gandhi or William Penn, and have it tell you all of the steps you have to go through to become a pacifist. So, what is it?
It's a nebulous concept at best. One thing is do not do, or permit, violence to be done in your name. How can we do that? Ultimately, we cannot really! No matter what, I'm supporting the police, with all of the (some unnecessary) violence to be done in my name. I'm supporting the government, paying soldiers and marines to blow up things and people on the other side of the world.
Pacifism is generally non-violence. There are well over 100 ways to non-violently resist violence, or taking part in violence, or preventing violence. Some of these may be more or less appropriate or effective in any given situation. There may be a religious or spiritual reason for espousing non-violence, or it may be philosophical and individual. Either way, it's just as valid.

There are many books on ethics and morality throughout the ages and the world. None of them can possibly address every possible situation though. There are always unique elements in every situation. No set of written rules will cover all of the possibilities.

Violence is the voice of the weak. It takes a lot stronger person, or group of persons, to try to work out differences, to try to get everyone on the same side. Just to make myself clear, a pacifist may sometimes use violence, if it's the only way. There are situations in which you absolutely have to protect yourself or someone else that may even require violence. For instance, suppose someone had been ready to harm your daughterin some way. You've got a duty to protect your child. You tried to tell them to leave her alone, you tried to talk them out of the whole thing, you tried to talk them into inflicting the harm on you even. Nothing worked. If you had to fight, or even kill, the person who was going to gravely harm your daughter, you could still do it and remain a pacifist, IF AND ONLY IF all other routes had been exhausted. In fact, it takes a lot stronger person to stand up for what they believe.

For one with a comittment to non-violence, the decision is not an easy one, nor is it ever made lightly. It is a method of last resort when all other methods of resisting or preventing the violence have failed. Pacifism is not always popular. It's usually more popular when there's a conflict to go with the flow of wanting to be more violent, and stronger than the opposition. Very often, when proposing a non-violent solution, the peacemaker is often considered a traitor or not supporting his own side of the conflict.

To confound this more are the misguided acts on the part of some espousing nonviolence. Some will taunt or even openly assault those who have taken part in the violence for being violent. The idea of using violence to deter others from violence is pretty ludicrous. Those waving a flag of nonviolence may be acting more violent than those who they are in whatever way "punishing" for violence. That is certainly NOT the way to promote nonviolence. In fact, it has a great backlash.

Conscientious Objectors to war are usually, but not always, pacifists. In some conflicts, pacifists or those who are comitted to non-violent solutions have sometimes made the decision that serving in the military and taking part in that violent solution was an ethical thing to do. Others have refused taking direct part in the violence, yet have supported a war they consider to be just by taking part in a non-combat role, such as in a medical capacity. It is an individual choice, and there are as many solutions as there are human beings. It is a very personal decision.

Pacifism cannot and does not go by any book of rules. Sure, there are some things to absolutely not do, such as harming the innocent. In the example of a parent protecting a child though, it's much less clear. After you've tried talking, negotiating, distracting the attacker, and doing every other nonviolent solution you can, do you, or do you not, perform some violence if you can stop someone from harming your daughter? Well, suppose you do nothing. That's not pacifism. That's cowardice. She is relying on you to protect her, and you failed. What can you do? Must you use deadly force? Probably not. Perhaps you can wound him, or otherwise distract him until help arrives. What if there is no help? It all depends on the situation. Situations are each different, and individuals are each different, so there is no single solution that can be applied in every case.
Nonviolence Links
Nonviolence Upfront Solutions To Violence Pacifism
American Friends' Service Committee Lutheran Peace Fellowship Breaking the Cycle of Violence
Copyright 2004 by Elizabeth Harper
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