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Pacifism is the commitment to achieving one's goals only through actively non-violent or non-aggressive means. At the individual level, this can refer to how one chooses to live one's personal life when relating to other people, such as refusing to fight other people or to own weapons of self-defense; or it can refer in a more political sense to total opposition to war and the promotion of peaceful means of settling international conflicts. In the political sense, it may combine both the personal and the political through acts of civil disobedience or refusing to participate in a war effort.
Pacifists may be also vegetarian or vegan, but this is not a rule: pacifists refuse violence against human beings. Pacifists also vary with their opinion on virtual[?] violence, such as in some computer games, as it is not violence against real living beings. Some argue that virtual violence promotes and celebrates real violence, while others assert that it may be helpful to fight stress and relieve subconscious trends, and therefore prevent real violence.
"Pacifist" often less technically describes a person who accepts risks to himself and others, or prefers the social penalties which might accompany a non-aggressive stance even under extreme circumstances, for the sake of avoiding a violent or military solution especially in politics. Referring to personal character a person may be distinguished above others as more than usually confident in peaceful means for the resolution of any conflict, more of a pacifist than others, earning the reputation as a "dove", or a "peacemaker". Pacifism also describes a stance under particular circumstances, in contrast with those who believe that the criteria have been met for the justification of violence under those same circumstances. An advocate of a pacifist strategy may be more optimistic or relatively more opposed to violence relative to the situation, differing from his non-pacifist counterpart only in his assessment of the means called for by the specific situation. Positions which advise non-aggression under normal circumstances, but reserve the right to self-defense under crisis, while not pacifist in an ideal sense, they may be called more or less pacifist in a pragmatic sense, reflecting a more or less strong commitment to the natural and nearly universal preference of peace over war.
Pacifism may be adopted as a pragmatic political strategy, in which case its effectiveness is open to debate. It has sometimes been successful, as in the case of Mohandas Gandhi's non-violence, which played a major role in India's independence. Gandhi relied on his followers committing acts of non-violence with the specific purpose of setting a perfect contrast with the violence used by the British against them, in order to sway public opinion. Similarly, Gandhi repeatedly advocated that Europe, from Britain to the Jews and Czechs, not resist Nazi violence; he hoped that the Nazis themselves would then see the error of their ways. Critics have generally judged Ghandi correct in his own circumstance under the British, but naive in the case of the Nazis. His doctrines proved apparently incapable to prevent violence during the partition of British India into today's India and Pakistan. Critics of this kind of pacifism claim that being non-violent in the face of violent criminals or armies tacitly or explicitly encourages more violence. They often characterize pacifism as simply "waiting tolerantly for criminals to learn that their actions are unwise".
The political theory of Green parties lists 'non-violence' and 'de-centralization[?]' towards anarchist co-operatives or minimalist village government, as two of their ten key values. However, in power, Greens like all politicians often compromise, e.g. German Greens in the cabinet of Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder supported an intervention by German troops in Afghanistan in 2001, but on condition that they host the peace conference in Berlin - and during the 2002 election campaign forced Schroeder to swear that no German troops would invade Iraq.
This suggests that many who advocate 'non-violence' or pacifism, especially political parties that participate in government, actually advocate what is more properly called de-escalation[?] or even arms reduction[?] (on a very large scale). Many outstanding pacifists of this sort have taken part in defensive military actions when their countries were attacked, but others prefer to leave their country if it is preparing for aggressive war (such as Germany in the 1930s). Clearly a party that writes and enforces law is not non-violent. It can be pacifist, however, by refusing participation in external conflicts, refusing to supply weapons, and sheltering refugees but not combatants. There are many definitions of such "pragmatic pacifism".
While those who believe that war is normally preferrable to peace are rare indeed, pacifism as a distinctive belief is not at all common. The distinction of pacifism is not only an extraordinary faith in the effectiveness or benefits of peaceful means of resolution of conflict, but the principled rejection of all pretended justification of violent means under any circumstances. At a minimum, this stance is adopted as a matter of personal conviction limited to one's own choices, which sometimes leaves the individual conscientiously free to serve in a war effort as a non-combatant if required to do so. Some people who felt they could not in good conscience fight in a war, served as ambulance drivers during World War I, others were jailed.
The ultimate pragmatic argument that may be offered by pacifists is that violent resistance to violence always fails to bring about peace, that war can only be expected to establish a realignment of forces under principles of violence. Besides, pacifists may argue, war frequently fails to accomplish the political or economic ends to which it is supposedly directed, nor do the benefits usually outweigh the cost, and rarely in actuality is war motivated by the high ideals that its supporters use to justify it. Not all forms of radical pacifism make pragmatic assumptions, and rather simply oppose violence as such. Radical pacifism is controversial, and only a few religions (such as the peace churches of Christianity) advocate it.
Pacifism has both a passive component (refusing to fight) and an active component (working for peace). Many pacifists may seek to be recognized conscientious objectors by their government, and may actively seek other ways to avoid all participation in their nation's maintenance or use of military forces. Pacifists believe that if their community is threatened by a crisis of aggressive opposition, all aggression as such should be opposed, including self-defensive aggression. Those who advocate a philosophy of total non-violence at all levels may offer pragmatic arguments for the benefits of non-violent resistance; however, a radical pacifistic position is in the final analysis a moral, spiritual or religious principle intended to be maintained at all cost, and therefore does not necessarily imply any optimistic expectation for the material benefits of this policy.
Such radical behaviour as pacifism is often induced by religious beliefs. In particular, many Buddhists are pacifist, as are members of the Religious Society of Friends and some other Christian sects. During WWII some Quakers put aside their pacifist beliefs and did fight.
Opinions are divided among Christians over whether Jesus Christ advocated pacifist teachings. Certain Christian denominations, known as peace churches, have tave taken the position that he did do so, and believe further that early Christianity was essentially pacifist in nature. The Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy advocated what has come to be known as anarcho-pacifism or Christian anarchism[?]. He argued that Christians were obligated to be pacifists, and that pacifists, in turn, were obligated to be anarchists -- since government is based on the use of force. Tolstoy was influenced by Henry David Thoreau's writings on civil disobedience. Tolstoy's own writings on pacifism and non-resistance[?] converted Gandhi to pacifism.
Non-pacifistic religions, including Judaism, many varients of Christianity and Islam, have usually made no pretense of meaning "pacifism" by their messages concerning the great obligation to pursue peace: typically constructing rules, sometimes very elaborately defined, under which the use of aggression for the establishment and maintenance of justice may be legitimate. Non-pacifist Christians typically interpret Christ to have taught patience under even extreme religious persecution, but do not directly extend the teaching as a rule for the governance of nations or the strategies of police forces. Most, including the Roman Catholic Church, adopt some formulation of a just war doctrine, by which the use of violence or force is deemed legitimate and necessary under certain circumstances, on which occasions non-participation may be judged morally wrong.
While usually emphasizing the inherent limitations of aggression toward accomplishing these ends, and typically warning of the risk that aggression often works contrary to its aim, force is not a fundamental contradiction of their religious principles. However, it is almost universal among these religions to absolutely reject violence as a means for spreading their religion to uncoverted peoples - a principle for which their adherents are often chastised, from within and outside their communities, on account of the occasions upon which it has been ignored. Even some of the pacifist religions and philosophies have sometimes approved the use of force in apparent contradiction of their principles, although not always by stooping to take up weapons themselves. Buddhism, for one example, has repeatedly embraced bloodshed in its generally pacific history (through hired armies or government intervention) as a "Final Solution" against heterodox opponents. Members of the Religious Society of Friends and some other Christian sects are pacifists, but during WWII some Quakers put aside their pacifist beliefs and did fight.