Some Famous Examples Of Pacifism

A pacifist is somebody who opposes war and refuses to kill.

There are different levels of pacifism.

• Absolute pacifists – Someone who refuses to kill whatever the circumstances. Even in self-defence.

• Conditional pacifists – Someone who generally opposes war, but may accept there are times when it is necessary, for example, when you’re country is invaded and you are defending your family and country.

• Selective pacifists – Someone who will decide whether a war is morally justified or not. For example, they may refuse to fight for their country if they feel that their country is engaging in an unjust war. Selective pacifists may particularly oppose war using weapons of mass-destruction, e.g. nuclear weapons, biological weapons.

These are a list of people who have actively promoted pacificism or refused to fight for their country. They are not all absolute pacifists, but they share some or all of the basic pacifist principles. A few examples of people who sought to promote peace through the embodiment of peaceful and spiritual values.

Buddha – (563-483 BC) Siddhartha was born a Prince in India, but he forsook the comforts of the palace to seek enlightenment. After attaining Nirvana he spent many years teaching his philosophy of inner peace, detachment and how to attain liberation from earthly suffering.

Mahavira (540 BCE–468 BCE) Mahavira was an important propagator and reformer of Jainism. He helped to spread the Jain religion of non-violence across India. A key principle of Jainism is non-violence and Jains go out of their way to avoid hurting other sentient beings, even insects.

Jesus Christ. (2BC – 7 AD) Jesus taught a radical philosophy of love not only for our friends, but also for our enemies. He told his disciple to “lay down their swords“, advocating radical practical nonviolence, “turning the other cheek” not cursing, but “blessing their enemies”. “Blessed are the peacemakers” he said “ for they will inherit the earth.” His teaching became the basis of Christianity.

Martin of Tours (316 – 397) was conscripted into the Roman army. He believed war was incompatible with his Christian faith and became an early conscientious objector. He is best known for the account of his using his military sword to cut his cloak in two, to give half to a beggar clad only in rags in the depth of winter.

Aidan of Lindisfarne (? – 651) was an Irish monk who went to Northumbria. He founded a monastic cathedral on the island of Lindisfarne, and travelled ceaselessly, calling the Anglo-Saxon nobility to give up their devotion to warfare and work for the welfare of the disenfranchised and the freedom of the slaves.

St Francis of Assisi (1182 – 1226) – Italian saint of the Twelfth / Thirteenth century. St Francis started a new order of monks. The Franciscans were devoted to poverty and charity. They were also committed to nonviolence.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) – Author of War and Peace and committed to principles of non-violence. His literal interpretation of the ethical principles of Jesus Christ led to the creation of his non-violent philosophy. Tolstoy’s writing had a big impact on Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Swami Vivekananda (1863 – 1902) Vivekananda was a spiritual figure from India. He is best remembered for visiting the inaugural Parliament of World Religions, (1893) in Chicago. Vivekananda spoke eloquently about the underlying unity of religions and appealed to bring people together.

Émile Arnaud (1864–1921) Emile Arnaud was a militant pacifist who helped to coin the term pacifism in the late Nineteenth Century. Arnaud codified his beliefs into the ‘Code de la Paix’ in 1901. He advocated humanism, charity, tolerance and non-violent conflict resolution.

George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950) Irish playwright. On the eve of the Second World War he defended pacifism by quoting from the Sermon on the Mount.

James Keir Hardie (1856 – 1915) Union leader, pacifist and Parliamentarian socialist. During the first year of the First World War, Keir Hardie was an outspoken critic of the war.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948) Indian nationalist and politician. Gandhi advocated ahimsa – non-violent protest for Indian self-determination and independence.

Bertrand Russell. (1872 – 1970) British pacifist who campaigned against conscription. He was sent to jail for six months for speaking against America’s entry into the First World War in 1917. Russell did support the war against Nazi Germany, but after WWII he joined the campaign for nuclear disarmament.

Albert Einstein. (1879 – 1955) Revolutionised modern physics with his general theory of relativity. Einstein was a committed pacifist. “I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war. ”

Toyohiko Kagawa (1888 –1960) was a Japanese Christian pacifist, social reformer, and labour activist. Kagawa wrote, spoke, and worked at length on ways to employ Christian principles in the ordering of society and in cooperatives. His vocation to help the poor led him to live among them. He established schools, hospitals, and churches.

Ben Salmon (1889–1932) An American Catholic who refused to be drafted in the US army during the First World War. He was arrested and court marshalled. Initially sentenced to death, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. After the war, he was pardoned and released in 1920. He opposed the principle of a ‘just war’ citing Christian philosophy in opposing war

Abdul Ghaffār Khān (1890 – 1988) was a devout Muslim and lifelong pacifist. He was an independence activist against the rule of the British Raj, known for his nonviolent opposition. A close friend of Mahatma Gandhi, Khan was nicknamed the “Frontier Gandhi”. He founded the Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) movement. one the most effective groups in the struggle for independence.

Martin Niemöller (1892 – 1984) Lutheran pastor and anti-Nazi theologian. A founder of the Confessional church which sought to reject the Nazification of churches. He served in the German navy in the First World War, but after being imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps and the end of WWII, he became a committed pacifist and proponent of the Peace Movement.

Vera Brittain (1893 – 1970) – Nurse, poet and author of ‘Testament of Youth’. Devastated by the lose of her brother during the war, her book ‘Testament of Youth’, recently released as a film, marks her move towards pacificism.

Aldous Huxley (1894 – 1963) English writer, satirist and pacifist. He is best known for his dystopian work – Brave New World. His application for US citizenship was refused on the grounds he wouldn’t commit to taking up arms to defend the US, citing philosophical objection to war.

Dorothy Day (1897 – 1980) American journalist, social activist, and devout Catholic convert. In the 1930s, Day worked closely with fellow activist Peter Maurin to establish the Catholic Worker Movement, a pacifist movement that continues to combine direct aid for the poor with nonviolent direct action.

Franz Jägerstätter (1907 – 1943) Austrian conscientious objector. He refused to fight in the German army when drafted in 1943. He refused to fight for the forces of the evil side, despite knowing he would be executed. He was beheaded.

Sophie Scholl (1921-1943) As a student at the University of Munich, Scholl was arrested by the Gestapo for distributing anti-war leaflets. As a consequence, she was executed for ‘high treason’ in 1943. Motivated by her Christian faith, she opposed the Nazi ideology of Germany and was willing to risk her own life in standing up for her activities.

Thich Naht Hanh (1926 – )Vietnamese monk who inspired movement of engaged Buddhism. Hanh has been a prominent peace activist and has written extensively on incorporating Buddhist teachings into everyday life.

Martin Luther King (1929 – 1968) Non-violent civil rights leader. King promoted an end to discrimination through an inclusive philosophy of non-violent protest and mutual co-operation. He also spoke out against the Vietnam war.

Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007) Indian born spiritual teacher who founded the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run – a global relay spreading the ideal of peace. He also gave numerous Peace Concerts and wrote on the subject of peace. “World-peace can be achieved when the power of love replaces the love of power.”

Desmond Tutu (1931 – ) Campaigner against apartheid in South Africa. Since the end of apartheid he has campaigned on a wide range of humanitarian issues, seeking to overcome racism, sexism, homophobia, AIDS and poverty.

Dalai Lama 14th (1935 – ) Leader of Tibetans in exile. The Dalai Lama has sought to negotiate with the Chinese to respect traditions and culture of Tibetans. Believes in the practice of nonviolence and the use of non-violent protest.

Betty Williams (1943 -) – Williams along with Mairead Corrigan co-founded the Community of Peace People, an organisation dedicated to promoting a peaceful resolution to the Northern Ireland conflict. She was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Corrigan in 1976.

Aung San Suu Kyi (1945 – ) Burmese opposition leader. Awarded Nobel peace prize for opposition to military rule. Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest for many years due to her opposition.

Shirin Ebadi. (1947 – ) Iranian judge and lawyer. She fought for the right for women to purse a legal career in Iran. She has also defended opposition dissidents who have fallen foul of the Iranian judicial system.

Tegla Laroupe (1973 – ) – Kenya marathon runner and peace activist. Widely praised for promoting peace amongst African tribes. In 2003, Laroupe created an annual series of Peace Marathons sponsored by the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation.

Malala Yousafzai (1997 – ) Pakistani schoolgirl who overcame assassination attempt by Taliban and responded pro-actively to campaign for universal access to education. Youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

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