Discuss the role of pacifism in the contemporary world.
There are several different sorts of pacifism, but they all include the idea that war and violence are unjustifiable, and that conflicts should be settled in a peaceful way. People are pacifists for one or some of these reasons: religious faith, non-religious belief in the sanctity of life and practical belief that war is wasteful and ineffective.
Many believe that pacifism is more than opposition to war. They argue that it must include action to promote justice and human rights.
An absolute pacifist believes that it is never right to take part in war, even in self-defence. They think that the value of human life is so high that nothing can justify killing a person deliberately. To stick to this principle consistently is hard. It views it as unethical to use violence to rescue an innocent person who is being attacked and may be killed, and this is not a comfortable moral position. Absolute pacifists usually hold this view as a basic moral or spiritual principle, without regard to the results of war or violence, however they could logically argue that violence always leads to worse results than non-violence.
Conditional pacifists are against war and violence in principle, but they accept that there may be circumstances when war will be less bad than the alternative. They usually base their moral code on Utilitarian principles – it’s the bad consequences that make it wrong to resort to war or violence.
Other pacifists believe that it is a matter of degree, and only oppose wars involving weapons of mass destruction – nuclear or chemical and biological weapons – either because of the uniquely devastating consequences of such weapons, or because a war that uses such weapons is not ‘winnable’.
Pacifists are heavily involved in political activity to promote peace, and to argue against particular wars. During a war many pacifists will refuse to fight, but some will take part in activities that seek to reduce the harm of war; e.g. by driving ambulances, but other pacifists will refuse to take part in any activity that might support the war. Not all pacifists are brave enough to act according to these beliefs and to refuse to fight, but many have, bravely choosing punishment, and even execution, rather than go to war.
Nowadays most democratic countries accept that people have the right of conscientious objection to military service, but they usually expect the objector to undertake some form of public service as an alternative.
Pacifism as national policy for a nation is almost unheard of, for the obvious reason that it will only work if no-one wants to attack your country, or the nation with whom you are in dispute is also committed to pacifism. In any other circumstances adopting a pacifist stance will result in your country rapidly being conquered. However, the idea of pacifism, and of seeking non-violent solutions to disputes between nations, plays a significant part in international politics, particularly through the work of the United Nations.
Those who oppose pacifism say that because the world is not perfect, war is not always wrong. They say that states have a duty to protect their citizens, and that citizens have a duty to carry out certain tasks in a just war. It doesn’t matter that pacifists are motivated by respect for human life and a love of peace. The pacifists’ refusal to participate in war does not make them noble idealists, but people who are failing to carry out an important moral obligation.
Pytanie, które może zadać egzaminator
Do you think that non-violent actions can be effective in achieving the aim?
Non-violence doesn’t just mean not doing violence; it’s also a way of taking positive action to resist oppression or bring about change. The best example of the fact that violence is not necessary to solve conflicts is the leader of a non-violent movement was Mohandas K. Gandhi who opposed British imperial rule in India during the 20th century. The techniques of non-violent protest which proved to be effective, are peaceful demonstrations, sit-ins, picketing, strikes, blockades and civil disobedience.
unjustifiable – nieuzasadniony, niedający się usprawiedliwić
deliberately – umyślnie, celowo, rozmyślnie