Debunking the Cliches of Pacifism

by | Oct 13, 2001 | Military

To the pacifist, attacker and victim are moral equals.

The philosophy of pacifism can be expressed in a single principle: “The use of force is morally wrong.” This means that ALL force – any kind of force – is out of the question and must be opposed.

If you spend any amount of time thinking about the issue (which most pacifists do not), you’ll very quickly be able to think of a number of situations in which the use of force is clearly not only not morally wrong, but clearly necessary – a woman fighting off a rapist, for example.

Take a few moments to come up with several such “exceptions,” then abstract their common element, and you’ll arrive at the ominous error at the root of the pacifist philosophy: pacifism makes no distinction between force which is initiated, and force which is used in self-defense.

Were a pacifist totally consistent in his philosophy, he’d have to say that the woman who fights off the rapist is wrong to do so – after all, she’s certainly committing an act of force. If the pacifist were also consistent in his use of clichés, he’d say that in fighting the rapist off, the woman has “sunk to the rapist’s level.” She has “resorted to violence,” and is now “just like him.”

This same thought process (or lack of it) is behind the pacifists’ opposition to war – specifically, in the case of our current situation, the opposition to a country fighting back when war has been initiated against it.

To the pacifist, attacker and victim are moral equals. Which side initiated the war is of no interest to him; his mind knows only the abstraction “war,” and that he’s against it.

Pacifism used to be known as “nonresistance,” which names the heart of the matter: total passivity and surrender when faced with any kind of threat. Of course, you never hear the position stated this way: today’s pacifists almost always make their case exclusively in terms of what they’re against, rarely what they’re for (except in the most general sense, such as “world peace,” etc.).

Full-fledged pacifists are relatively rare, yet their clichés are nevertheless having an effect on many minds, throwing monkey-wrenches into people’s convictions at a time when this country needs every ounce of moral certainty it can muster.

Over the past few weeks, I’m sure you’ve heard at least once, something to the effect of: “If we bomb our enemies, we’ll just be doing to them what they did to us. We’ll be sinking to their level!”

If you understand the pacifists’ basic error, you can see very clearly what’s wrong with this picture: the failure to differentiate between the force of an aggressor, and force used in retaliation against the aggressor in self-defense. No, it’s not morally wrong to fight back against someone who’s attacking you; if you value your life, it’s absolutely essential that you do.

The pacifists’ error is also behind the misplaced concern over foreign casualties which are certain to occur in any military act of retaliation – particularly, the high probability of civilian deaths if the U.S. uses the level of force which a crisis of this kind demands. The question of whether and how we should retaliate, when doing so will likely result in the deaths of many innocent people, is confounding many American minds, and may even be stalling our government and causing it to seek watered-down methods of warfare – two things we absolutely cannot afford now.

The answer is simple, but it only becomes clear once you’ve identified the error underlying it: When a foreign government openly declares war on the U.S., supports inconceivably heinous acts of destruction and murder against Americans, and promises a great deal more of the same in the future, anyone who dies – guilty or innocent – when the U.S. retaliates to demolish said government is the victim of said government. The government which initiated force is the aggressor, the guilty party, the killer – not the country which acts to defend itself.

You can illustrate the pacifists’ error in a different way by inserting it into an issue where, fortunately, it hasn’t yet been: Say that an airplane full of passengers has been hijacked and is headed at full speed toward a major city. You know with certainty that the hijackers are going to take it into the side of a building – and you have the means to shoot down the plane before it reaches the city, and crash it into an empty field. Do you do so, even though it will mean the death of everyone on board? Won’t doing so make you a mass murderer?

Of course not: the murderers are the hijackers; they are the initiators of force who, while not directly killing the passengers, have forced them into a situation where they are sure to be killed – by you, the moral person with the means of thwarting the hijackers’ scheme for mass destruction.

A consistent pacifist would have to oppose taking such an action – to which your logical response would be: “And what exactly do you suppose will happen if I don’t?”

The answer to this question, applied to the current world crisis, is too horrible to even think about.

— Excerpted from Kevin Delaney’s NOT MESSIN’ AROUND Newsletter. Kevin Delaney is a freelance writer in Los Angeles, California.

Kevin Delaney is a writer and actor who runs Captain Transistor Productions at

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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