Understanding Pacifism

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Although the word “pacifism” is relatively new on the scene, having originated in the early 1900s, the concept of pacifism is much older than that. Pacifism is a rejection of violence, often specifically rejecting war-related violence, and it seems to have existed for at least as long as war has existed.

Pacifism has roots in a number of different religious traditions. Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, and Christianity all have claims on the concept of pacifism somewhere in their teachings, and many other religious traditions also counsel peace and can be interpreted as encouraging followers to embrace pacifism.


Pacifism as we know it today has often been used as a tool for political and social change. Great leaders have managed to accomplish both sweeping and gradual changes by practicing forms of pacifist activism. History has hailed these leaders as not only effective, but also worthy of respect and emulation for their non-violent activism. As a result, the pacifist activism tactics of leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. are used today by activists for a variety of causes in many different parts of the world.
Pacifism as a moral philosophy allows conscientious objectors to opt out of armed military service in the event of a draft. Objectors can instead be called upon to serve in non-combat roles either in the military or in civilian life. Pacifism is also still used today as a tool of change. Activists participate in civil disobedience or peaceful protest as a means of drawing attention and support for a cause or bringing about alterations in laws or public policies.

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