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Pacifism, which literally refers to making peace (from pace and facere) is often mistakenly understood as passivity.




To come to terms, one must understand what fear means: what it implies and what it rejects. It implies and rejects the same fact: a world where murder is legitimate, and where human life is considered trifling. This is the great political question of our times, and before dealing with other issues one must take a position on it. Before anything can be done two questions must be put: “Do you, or do you not, directly or indirectly, want to be killed or assaulted? Do you, or do you not, directly or indirectly want to kill or assault? All who say No to both questions are automatically committed to a series of consequences, which must modify their way of posing the problem.
Albert Camus


Pacifists are vocal about what they think, and look for ways of expressing it in all aspects of life. Some ways of bringing pacifism to public attention demand courage and stamina, especially in places where it is regarded as a threat to the vested interests of war. Some people disobey the law by withholding part of their income tax (and paying the money into peace trusts instead) proportional to the percentage of the national budget spent on war. Others risk arrest and imprisonment by making 'direct action' protests: entering prohibited areas occupied by military installations, setting up peace camps on or beside military sites, or disabling machinery intended for use in war. Others learn and teach techniques of defusing conflict, and seek out danger areas where these skills can be applied.

But being a pacifist is not in itself dangerous or even particularly difficult: it's only a step beyond being the peaceable, peace-seeking person most of us naturally are. Many find ways to demonstrate their principles in ordinary life, being up-front about never responding to violence with violence. Everyday life, after all, is where social change begins.

Some people have been working for a long time on what is called conversion: practical ways for transforming the world's vast military complexes into organisations benefiting the civilian world. Military expertise can be turned to civilian use (as demonstrated by military assistance in dealing with natural catastrophes). Energy and intelligence devoted to devising modern weapons systems can be diverted to life technologies. Military sites and installations can become parks, business complexes, civilian science centres (and museums that warn future generations against a return to violence). The aim is to 'turn swords into ploughshares' without, for example, damaging economies or depriving people of employment. Some of these changes are already being tried out experimentally: the learning curve has begun.

Other people are studying the nature and dynamics of conflict, and how it too can be transformed to the good. They promote the learning of skills in resolving conflicts - skills now being refined by many peace research organisations as well as out in the field. Nonviolent techniques of mediation and negotiation, for example, are increasingly practised in many areas of life, such as schools and workplaces. Processes of reconciliation are also being initiated - famously in South Africa after apartheid, and in Rwanda after civil war.

Also being studied are the real causes of war. These aren't the flashpoints that seem to start wars off - such as an assassination, a border infringement, an incitement to riot, or even an invasion. The real causes lie deeper, in earlier history; in human psychology; in social and economic injustices; in political discontent and power-seeking. It means looking, too, at what these tensions are nurtured by. Maybe there's a political motive, war used as a deliberately planned diversion of people's attention from other problems; or maybe there's a disaffected sector of society (often, in the past, a country's army) interested in violent rebellion; or feuds, vendettas, tribal conflict; or disputes over trade, land, water, oil; or the lucrative arms business itself, which depends on war for its existence. These are the real reasons for war, hidden by cosmetic ones of patriotism or a stance against insult or injustice. The better the real reasons are understood, the better they can be predicted, detected, diagnosed, and defused.

Pain, fear, distress and conflict are part of the human condition. Selfishness, cruelty, vengeance, and all the other aspects of aggression, aren't likely to disappear (though they can be better controlled, especially in a society that finds them repellent). Pacifism doesn't imagine, or ask for, a world of visionary bliss. But it does mean rejecting absolutely the great wrong that we have done ourselves: organised killing, or war. It does mean that, at last, we will stop deliberately imposing suffering on other people and ourselves.

As you are reading this, work is going on in places all round the world to discover the best ways to set about abolishing war for good. It's work in which anyone can take part, anywhere.

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