A pacifist is a person who is opposed to war and violence. Pacifists believe that we should not kill or harm other people. And if killing is wrong, war must be wrong - because war is basically a matter of killing. Bertrand Russell pointed out that 'patriots always talk of dying for their country, but never of killing for their country'. Yet that is ultimately what war means: being prepared to kill other people and inflict suffering on them.
Have we the right to inflict suffering on others? If you think the answer might be 'yes' (or 'yes - in certain circumstances'), ask yourself if you would like to suffer in the way that people do because of other people's violence. For example, would you like to have petrol poured over you and set alight, so that you would die by burning or live in agony for a few days while your skin peels off? If you don't fancy suffering that sort of death, what makes you think you could ever be justified in dropping napalm bombs on people, since that is exactly the effect of napalm?
Or put it another way. Who is the person you love most? Your family? Your boyfriend or girlfriend? Your best friend? How would you feel about that person dying a horrible death as a result of someone's violence? Think about it, and then ask yourself if you still feel justified in using violence on other people. Because, whoever that person is, he or she is someone's child and has a mother, father or loved one to grieve over them, or children who will be left as orphans.
All I am trying to do is apply the Golden Rule: do to others as you would wish them to do to you. And it always has the implication: don't do to others what you would not like them to do to you. The world's religions disagree about many things but most of them agree that the Golden Rule is a good general guide to the way we should behave towards others.
Some people will argue that war is sometimes necessary to protect our families and fellow-citizens, or to defend such values as freedom, justice and peace. But how can war protect these things when it is a denial of freedom, justice and peace?
War may bring a sort of freedom to one group of people, but usually only at the expense of other people's freedom. In war, the side that 'wins' is not necessarily the one with the most justification, but the one with the greatest power. And the idea that you can get peace by fighting a war is about as sensible as planting weeds and expecting flowers to grow.
Far from ensuring peace, war creates new problems, such as leaving the vanquished to feel resentful so that they might want to get revenge in the future. We know from our everyday lives that, if we want people to live peacefully with us, it is best to be friendly - not threatening - towards them. So why should we think in international affairs it is possible to keep the peace by threatening or using war?
Pacifists are often asked such questions as 'What would you have done about Hitler?' - implying that some people are so evil that we need to use armed force to resist them. But Hitler was evil because he believed in violence and militarism, which led him (and his followers) to have so little respect for the lives and individuality of others. Pacifists believe in resisting evil - but nonviolently - and they would echo Albert Schweitzer's emphasis on the importance of 'reverence for life'. If we abhor Hitler because he killed people, how can it be right for us to kill people?
War is an unsuitable way for humans to solve their differences. And preparations for war deprive humans of many things they need. While two-thirds of the world's population is undernourished, the governments of the world spend more than a million dollars a minute on armaments.
The pacifist believes that war and violence are inhumane, impractical, immoral, unjust and wasteful. What has the pacifist got to offer in their place? Nonviolence - the very opposite of violence.
This doesn't just mean not using violence; it also means a search for positive ways of solving conflicts and achieving real peace; a situation where everybody is allowed all human rights and a full opportunity for development and growth. it is the use of nonviolence.
Pacifists can point to the success of nonviolent campaigns by such people as Gandhi in India, Dolci in Sicily, and Martin Luther King in America. But pacifists don't pretend to know all the answers. They cannot put forward nonviolence as a tried and tested method guaranteeing success, but as an idea worth trying because it is free from the harmful qualities of violence, because it is a more humane way than violence, and because it can conceivably work.
Pacifists will often work to improve society and remove the causes of war - injustice, exploitation, the repression of minorities. Some work politically, trying to influence governments on national or international issues. Others, who believe that people have to learn to improve their own immediate situation, work on a smaller scale in their own localities. All these different ways of working stem from the pacifist's wish to move from a society where war and violence are taken for granted, to a situation where peace is not only what people seek but also the only method they use in trying to move forward. Pacifists believe that 'There is no way to peace: peace is the way'.