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Pacifism is opposition to war, militarism, or violence. The word pacifism was coined by the French peace campaigner Emile Arnaud (1864–1921) and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress in Glasgow in 1901. A related term is ahimsa (to do no harm), which is a core philosophy in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. While modern connotations are recent, having been explicated since the 19th century, ancient references abound.
Pacifism may be based on moral principles (a deontological view) or pragmatism (a consequentialist view). Principled pacifism holds that at some point along the spectrum from war to interpersonal physical violence, such violence becomes morally wrong. Pragmatic pacifism holds that the costs of war and interpersonal violence are so substantial that better ways of resolving disputes must be found. Pacifists generally reject theories of Just War.
An absolute pacifist is generally described by the British Broadcasting Corporation as one who believes that human life is so valuable, that a human should never be killed and war should never be conducted, even in self-defense. The principle is described as difficult to abide by consistently, due to violence not being available as a tool to aid a person who is being harmed or killed. It is further claimed that such a pacifist could logically argue that violence leads to more undesirable results than non-violence.
In Ancient Greece, pacifism seems not to have existed except as a broad moral guideline against violence between individuals. No philosophical program of rejecting violence between states, or rejecting all forms of violence, seems to have existed. Aristophanes, in his play Lysistrata, creates the scenario of an Athenian woman's anti-war sex strike during the Peloponnesian War of 431–404 BC, and the play has gained an international reputation for its anti-war message. Nevertheless, it is both fictional and comical, and though it offers a pragmatic opposition to the destructiveness of war, its message seems to stem from frustration with the existing conflict (then in its twentieth year) rather than from a philosophical position against violence or war. Equally fictional is the nonviolent protest of Hegetorides of Thasos. Euripides also expressed strong anti-war ideas in his work, especially The Trojan Women.
Beginning in the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation gave rise to a variety of new Christian sects, including the historic peace churches. Foremost among them were the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Amish, Mennonites, and Church of the Brethren. The humanist writer Desiderius Erasmus was one of the most outspoken pacifists of the Renaissance, arguing strongly against warfare in his essays The Praise of Folly (1509) and The Complaint of Peace (1517).
During the period of the Napoleonic Wars, although no formal peace movement was established until the end of hostilities, a significant peace movement animated by universalist ideals did emerge, due to the perception of Britain fighting in a reactionary role and the increasingly visible impact of the war on the welfare of the nation in the form of higher taxation levels and high casualty rates. Sixteen peace petitions to Parliament were signed by members of the public, anti-war and anti-Pitt demonstrations convened and peace literature was widely published and disseminated.
An important thinker who contributed to pacifist ideology was Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. In one of his latter works, The Kingdom of God is Within You, Tolstoy provides a detailed history, account and defense of pacifism. Tolstoy's work inspired a movement named after him advocating pacifism to arise in Russia and elsewhere. The book was a major early influence on Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948), and the two engaged in regular correspondence while Gandhi was active in South Africa.
After the immense loss of nearly ten million men to trench warfare, a sweeping change of attitude toward militarism crashed over Europe, particularly in nations like Great Britain where many of its citizens questioned why it was involved in the war. After World War One's official end in 1918, peace movements across the continent and the United States renewed, gradually gaining popularity among young Europeans who grew up in the shadow of Europe's trauma over the Great War. Organisations formed in this period included the War Resisters' International the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, the No More War Movement and the Peace Pledge Union (PPU). The League of Nations also convened several disarmament conferences in the inter-war period such as the Geneva Conference, though the support pacifistic policy and idealism received varied across European nations. These organizations and movements attracted tens of thousands of Europeans, spanning most professions including "scientists, artists, musicians, politicians, clerks, students, activists and thinkers.
As the prospect of a second major war began to seem increasingly inevitable, much of France adopted pacifist views, though some historians argue that France felt more war anxiety than a moral objection to a second war. Neighbors with Germany, Hitler's spreading influence and territory posed an enormous threat to French livelihood. The French countryside had been devastated during World War One and the entire nation was reluctant to subject their territory to the same treatment. Though all countries in the First World War had suffered great losses, France was one of the most devastated and did not want a second war.
With the start of World War II, pacifist and anti-war sentiment declined in nations affected by war. Even the communist-controlled American Peace Mobilization reversed its anti-war activism once Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, mainstream isolationist groups like the America First Committee, declined, but many smaller religious and socialist groups continued their opposition to war.
Some scholars theorize that pacifism was the cause of France's rapid fall to the Germans after it was invaded by the Nazis in June 1940, resulting in a takeover of the government by the German military. Whether or not pacifism weakened French defenses against the Germans, there was no hope of sustaining a real pacifist movement after Paris fell to the Nazis. Just as peaceful Germans succumbed to violent nationalism, the pacifist French were muzzled by the totality of German control over nearly all of France.
Aung San Suu Kyi is a Buddhist nonviolent pro-democracy activist and leader of the National League for Democracy in Myanmar (Burma), who became State Counsellor (similar to prime minister) of Myanmar in April 2016. A devout Buddhist, Suu Kyi won the Rafto Prize and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and in 1991 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her peaceful and non-violent struggle under a repressive military dictatorship. One of her best known speeches is the "Freedom From Fear" speech, which begins, "It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.