The following information comes from the booklet Pacifism, Socialism, Anarchism: Which Way to Peace and Justice? written by Mulford Q. Sibley and published by The War Resisters League.

To the war resister and pacifist, the central offense that can be committed by one person against another -- whether in a personal capacity or as a member of any political movement -- is to do violence. Violence, of course, denotes violation. One violates a person when one deliberately takes his or her life or injures the bodies or spirits of human beings. The Commandment against violence, the pacifist believes, is about as close to an absolute as one can discover.

This is the negative side of the pacifist statement. The positive is equally important: not only should one refrain from political or individual violence but one should also do everything possible to help create conditions and establish institutions which will discourage any form of violence.

Utah Phillips also has some really great things to say about pacifism on The Past Didn't Go Anywhere.

Principles and Origins

Pacifism is the principled rejection of war and social violence. Prior to World War I, European advocates referred to the goal of replacing national wars with international law and organization as pacifism; since then, however, the term has come to mean an individual's complete renunciation of the act and actions of war. The following discussion will consider three major expressions of pacifism: conscientious objection, peacemaking, and nonviolent direct action for justice.

Religious and Philosophical Origins

While the modern terms of pacifism derive from Christian origins -- particularly the Protestant Reformation (the Mennonites); the Society of Friends (Quakerism) and Brethern beliefs -- the concept can be traced to Buddhism and Janist traditions of Hinduism. The Anabaptists, for example, withdraw from political life of the state due to its basis in and emphasis on military culture (see also nonresistance). Organizations encouraging pacifism through social involvement include: Fellowship of Reconciliation (f. 1915), American Friends Service Committee (1917), and the Mennonite Central Committee (1920).

Conscientious Objection

One of the most important conceptions of pacifism in the United States -- the principle of the War Resisters League (1913) -- has been conscientious objection to military service. During World War I, the governments of Britain and the United States exempted the conscientious objector (CO) whose religious beliefs limited participation in any war.

Individuals who fell outside of the accepted scope of conscientious objection included those: whose beliefs were not based on sectarian ideals; who objected to particular wars (see socialism), but not to war entirely; or who objected to the institution and practice of conscription (compulsory enrollment of persons especially for military service, the draft), particular in the form of anarchism (the rejection of centralized government and preference for direct democracy and voluntary assocations).

World War II brought with it a relatively liberal concept of pacifism within the government, though few changes in law or policy were enacted. A set of judicial decisions expanded the definition of pacifism; it became free of its religious limitation. Public support for the right of selective objection increased during the late 1960s due to the unpopularity of the Vietnam War. During this period, the Roman Catholic church sanctioned conscientious objection while many western European countries began to offer alternative service to qualifying enlistees.


The trauma of World War I moved a number of men and women to pacifism from a Social Gospel and Progressive position. Individuals involved from the peacemaking perspective - including Jane Addams, Emily Green Balch, Dorothy Detzer, Frederick Libby, A.J. Muste, Kirby Page, and Nevin Sayre - played leading roles in movements associated with internationalism; challenging the intervention and involvement in World War II; protesting the nuclear arms race, and the Cold War; and resisting the Vietnam War. Mennonite and Brethren designed active modes of pacifism such as humanitarian service for war victims.

Direct Action

Progressive pacifists after World War I developed anti-war resistance techniques inspired by Mahatma Gandhi; these became known as nonviolent direct action for justice. In the area of race relations - which concealed an indirect war against hatred and prejudice - the Fellowship of Reconciliation, for example, counseled Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders in tactics of direct action. The protest movement against the war in Vietnam and the campaign against nuclear weaponry employed nonviolent direct action, especially in their earliest stages.

Pacifism has gradually diversified its practioners; its discourse includes those from both secular and sacred perspectives, its techniques range from humanitarian service and nonviolent approaches to direct action.

Brock, Peter. Pacifism In The United States, 1968.
Dyck, Harvey. The Pacifist Impulse In Historical Perspective, 1996.

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