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Pacifism and War

A complicated issue often brought into question relates to the idea of Just War theory and its impact on a pacifist viewpoint. Pacifism has a range of interpretations, beginning with true pacifism, then digressing to non-lethal pacifism, anti-war pacifists, and finally, those who follow the Just War tradition. Each group’s perception of violence changes. Non-lethal pacifists and true pacifists define personal acts of violence as a failure of their moral systems, whereas anti-war pacifists and those who believe in Just War attempt to justify their violent actions.

Just War attempts to justify itself by saying it promotes peace, peace is the ultimate goal, the achievement everyone wants. However, if war occurs because of the “right intentions,” and if those intentions are based on a humanitarian objective, how can a war actually occur? How can one consider war humanitarian when people die? How can a war be humanitarian when civilians die?

A utilitarian, most likely a just war follower or an anti-war pacifist (who does a good job at justifying violence), would look at the situation in terms of maximizing happiness of all parties involved. If going into the war would cause more suffering than good, then the war would automatically lose support and new plans of action would be sought out. A Kantian (most likely a non-lethal pacifist) would most likely remain true to their perception of duty to preserving life in the human race. Since killing, as a rule, cannot easily exist in this system, the possibility of a Kantian going against their duty would be a failure to herself and her moral code. In addition, some cultures are completely pacifistic, never engaging in war, never using any sort of weaponry against anyone. In this sense, it is possible for people to exist without wars. If these cultures can live peacefully and treat others with respect, everyone else should have the ability to do the same. Admittedly, many cultures have very militant backgrounds, but those wars have been going on for centuries.

A true pacifist would never allow herself willingly to engage in an act of violence against another culture in order to keep peace. To keep peace, a pacifist would act peacefully and create a tactic that would not involve bombing anyone. A true pacifist would do everything in her power to create a safe, peaceful resolve that would create a lasting peace.

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