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ISSUE 26
SUMMER 1999

ONLINE contents
Abolishing war
Education for sustainable future
Words at war over Kosovo
Media and war
Peace In the 21st century
20th century pacifism

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20th century pacifism

'the pursuit of peace in the modern world is too complex an activity to be comprised within the old pacifist slogan, ‘wars will cease when men refuse to fight.’
Pacifism certainly has never been as such a mass movement; rather, it has inspired and guided larger movements. It has never been solely a peace pressure group or lobby either, though its adherents have been part of pressure groups (e.g., on arms sales) and have at times acted on specific pacifist issues (the rights of C.Os., for example). Pacifists have also acted as a pressure group on and within the larger peace movement.
Pacifism has also constituted the principled part of the movement for change by means of nonviolent revolution. However, not all pacifists have been committed to nonviolent action, let alone nonviolent revolution. Equally, such movements have included supporters of pragmatic rather than principled nonviolence, and thus they may have had a nonpacifist majority. The most pertinent category, therefore, into which pacifism and its adherents fall is that of the ‘prophetic minority,’ a permanent gadfly in the body politic, a ginger group within the peace movements, and an element that survives, even thrives, in times of crisis in which the larger peace movements collapse. Such continuing minorities may be crucial in sustaining linkages between movements, despite cyclical decline. Yet pacifism, we may note, has been much less cyclical in character than the larger, mass peace movements; in the twentieth century undoubtedly its major trough occurred after 1945 when pacifists tended generally to turn to other (if related) activities.
By the l990s, in no country had either legal political demonstrations, or symbolic civil disobedience of an individual character, or attempts to obstruct the nuclear effort, succeeded in persuading a nuclear government either to abandon its reliance on a nuclear deterrent or to take serious steps toward implementing a nonviolent strategy of civilian defence. Nevertheless, the peace movement had certainly spread awareness of the nuclear threat. True, in no nuclear state did the citizenry come near to approving the relinquishment of nuclear, let alone conventional, weapons. Yet in the early l990s, in a referendum the nonnuclear Swiss showed a substantial minority (30 per cent) willing to abolish the army. Though not all who voted in favour did so on pacifist grounds, this surely may be taken as a significant achievement for pacifists and anti militarists.
The pursuit of peace in the modern world is too complex an activity to be comprised within the old pacifist slogan, ‘wars will cease when men refuse to fight.’ Conscientious objection still retains validity as a moral stand and pacifism as an individual ethic, but the world in the nuclear age stands in pressing need of collective alternatives to violence if its conflicts, whether domestic or international, are not to bring it sooner or later to extinction. Ultimately, the gospel of reconciliation, the Gandhian approach, may prove sounder politics than a philosophy of violent deterrence. Meanwhile, since modern wars are likely to require smaller armies and thus fewer soldiers and to be highly technological, pacifism must necessarily adapt to new strategies away from the focus on war resistance and conscientious objection toward creative cultural change and collective political noncooperation with the state’s warmaking activities.

From:
Pacifism in the twentieth century
Peter Brock and Nigel Young
Syracuse Universty Press. 1999

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