Sandi Cooper

in Military History

ISBN: 9780199791279
Published online February 2012 | | DOI:

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Along with other “isms” such as feminism, pacifism was coined in the late 19th to early 20th centuries to describe a set of beliefs and movements that had existed long before they were named. As with other ideologies, pacifism might more rightly be called “pacifisms.” Adherents can be found across the political and ideological spectrum. The idea that human beings can solve their differences without murdering each other has deep roots in recorded human history. Among the major religions created during the so-called axial age (the period from 800 to 200 bce), Buddhism and Taoism in ancient India and China professed humanitarian and peaceable relations as the basic good of human behavior; in the Western tradition, the Sermon on the Mount attributed to Jesus Christ provided a foundation for pacifist thinking. Until the 19th century in the Euro-American world, pacifism remained largely a religious, moral, and/or intellectual philosophy and was practiced by religious sects such as the Quakers and Mennonites. However, following the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1814–1815), secular organizations, societies, and movements emerged in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Europe. Arguments made by these groups varied. Absolute pacifists who eschewed war under any and all circumstances insisted that Jesus’ admonition to “turn the other cheek” trumped all practical considerations. During the post-Enlightenment period, however, emerging industrial societies in Europe developed secular arguments: that advanced societies could solve international problems through legal and diplomatic means; that interdependent economies would suffer from military violence; that governments increasingly based on democratic participation rejected dynastic aggression as a measure of national greatness; and that legal mechanisms could be developed among states as they had within states to solve conflicts. Peace societies formed during the 19th century were largely middle class and male in membership; however, by the 1890s socialist organizations and feminist societies joined in the mix, bringing very different perspectives on how to preserve or achieve peace. For most socialists, the redistribution of wealth and power in capitalist societies was the prerequisite; women’s groups largely believed that peace and justice would emerge when women became fully educated citizen participants. The Great War (1914–1918), which peace societies had valiantly tried to prevent, transformed pacifism, as did the unexpected emergence of Gandhian nonviolence in the Indian national movement. In the 20th century, peace societies ranged from groups such as nongovernmental organizations advocating the League of Nations or the United Nations to organizations promoting social and environmental justice. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the nuclear weapons race between the Soviet Union and the United States, arms control emerged as a central feature of peace activism, whereas once it had not been emphasized out of fear of arousing nationalist sarcasm. Peace movements since the 1960s have often been shaped by opposition to an ongoing war (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan), not as an overarching effort to establish global nonviolence. Given the realities of 20th-century interstate warfare, peace activists are usually not denounced as childish utopians but are chided for not believing that peace is kept through strength and preparedness.

Article.  8446 words. 

Subjects: Military History ; Pre-20th Century Warfare ; First World War ; Second World War ; Post-WW2 Military History

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