Pacifism is the idea that violence is inherently wrong. Sometimes it is also expressed as the idea that ‘violence doesn’t solve anything’ or that violence creates more violence. This is sort of a perversion of the old ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’ wisdom. This is expressed individually by being afraid of conflict, and politically with the idea that countries shouldn’t have, or don’t need, armies.
There’s more than a little bit of modern pretense in the popularity of these ideas today. I don’t think that most people really believe in pacifism in all cases, but it’s certainly a more prevalent philosophy than say, one or two hundred years ago, or a thousand. I think this is coming from the way the past is discussed in educated circles these days.
A common idea in society is that somehow social progress exists, in the sense that over time we get more civilized and more moral. In this point of view, the past was fundamentally different from the present, and one of these ways was violence – nations fought each other, children bullied each other, and men beat women and smaller men whenever they felt like it. And if you believe that, then a defining feature of the modern world is its peaceful enlightenment compared to what came before.
Of course, this is really only a worldview found in Western societies and maybe Japan, which leads to a related point – it’s also a guilt-based worldview. We’ve been taught that the past can also be understood as Europeans and Japanese mistreating and colonizing other peoples, or more recently for the Japanese and Germans, starting WW2 and committing atrocities.
Fear of Themselves
I won’t go into exploring a more nuanced view of history in this article. I merely mention that worldview because it is inherent in the modern ideal of pacifism, where people go so far as to say there shouldn’t be armies or sometimes even police, and that all violence comes from misunderstandings. This type of pacifism is the view of people who are more afraid of misusing power themselves than of other people or nations doing the same thing.
I’ll say that again – pacifists are more afraid of themselves than of other people. When a German, American, or Japanese person says that they don’t support having a military because they are a pacifist, they are discounting the fear that without one they’ll be attacked. They don’t think other nations are strong enough to hurt them, or will want to hurt them, because they understand history as other people being passive victims to Western aggression. Something similar happens when an educated suburbanite condemns the police, ICE, or other government enforcement mechanisms – crime and poverty aren’t a part of their world, so they don’t understand they can be hurt.
Someone living in a previously conquered country, or in a crime-ridden neighborhood, may want soldiers or police to behave differently or support different segments of the population than they do at the moment. But they are unlikely to want the anarchy of not having them at all. They know violence and killing isn’t a bad thing in itself. It’s a neutral thing that is bad when unjustified, and good when defending a victim, and maybe neutral when two fully informed parties decide to fight each other without hurting anyone else.
And that’s an important thing pacifists forget – for every invading colonizer or schoolyard bully, there is a victim on the other side who needed to be defended. In fact there are often many victims because people and nations rarely stop at just one victim. They keep going until someone or some group stops them. Is all resistance against aggression also ‘bad’ violence? Does any pacifist really believe that the army that fights the Nazis is as bad as the Nazis? But if peaceful nations shrink or disband their military, then who would resist the future aggressor?
Controlling The Future
Everyone else in the world is equally likely to misuse violence as yourself. Pacifists either forget this, or even more illogically give that as a reason that no one should have weapons or armies. By saying this, they forget that they can only control their own behavior. They may advocate peace for themselves, but they have no control over what other people will decide to do in the future.
They may be afraid of misusing their power or their privilege. But in the end – maybe not next year, or next decade, but as inevitably as night follows day – peace always ends. Someone also decides to see what they can take before someone stops them. And anyone who has voluntarily given up their ability to defend themselves or has talked others into doing so, shares the blame for what happens to the victims.