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Pacifism and the New Violence: Ten Theses

"Radical pacifist conduct is the clearest alternative to military force.. Pacifist conduct is commanded in a special way at the end of the 20th century.. Pacifists can point out that war has been outlawed.. Military force proves to be the greater evil, not the lesser evil. Pacifist conduct presupposes a high measure of peace education.. and is the rejection of the double standard where individual killing is punished and collective killing in wars is justified."
Pacifism and the New Violence: Ten Theses

By Karlheinz Koppe

[This article originally published in: W & F (Wissenschaft und Frieden 1,95 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.uni-muenster.de/PeaCon/wuf/wf=95/951120/m.htm. Until his death in December 1994, Karlheinz Koppe was director of the Berlin Peace Research Institute.. Despite all predictions to the contrary, his idea and conviction of pacifism are still or could be very important for peace policy.]

(1) Radical pacifist conduct is the clearest alternative to military force. Since only the individual person can usually be committed to pacifist conduct in his or her conscience (religiously- or humanistically-motivated ethics), pacifist conduct to be politically relevant needs further rational substantiation and pragmatic treatment. In any case, pacifist conduct is the rejection of the double standard that punishes individual killing and justifies collective killing in wars.

(2) Pacifist conduct is commanded in a special way at the end of the twentieth century because technologies and human abilities that could destroy the whole civilization are increasing through the continued development of weapons of mass destruction even after the ending of the East-West confrontation. In addition, niches in which people could earlier withdraw in war times or times of need hardly exist.

(3) Whoever stands up for pacifist conduct must consider the factor "human failure" and the existence of aggressive states. There will always be a certain measure of individual and collective force with which we must learn to relate peacefully. Pacifists are not against criminal prosecution of offenses committed against other persons or groups of persons or against constitutional "authorities" (police).

(4) Pacifists champion safeguarding peace through political and international legal systems based on a just balance of burdens and duties. Containing violence without tackling the causes of violence is illusionary and cynical. Democracy alone isn't very filling. People need and expect food, housing, clothing, work and above all life perspectives.

(5) From a pacifist view, the military is unsuited for settling violent conflicts, even in the short-term or as a so-called ultima ratio. As a rule, military force proves to be the greater evil, not the lesser evil. Thinking in military categories alone impedes or even destroys non-military, political, civil chances of conflict settlement.

(6) Pacifists can point out that war has been outlawed. What are described today as "wars" are in reality ethno-national, social eruptions of violence in regions of political upheaval and/or regions of economic or ecological misery. Military interventions are senseless because they don't redress the causes of these eruptions of violence. Only economic and social measures can put things right.

(7) Pacifist conduct is also justified because the military as a rule defends politically outmoded orders. "Patriotism" has the same root as "patriarchy". The claims of rule and power are supported by the military. Like every large organization, the military indulges in a marked survival instinct. This traditional structural pattern curbs or prevents reforms and creative-critical public conduct. Instead civil courage and civil disobedience in borderline cases are urged.

(8) Pacifist action can rely on the peaceable conviction of large majorities of the populations. In crisis situations, these majorities are often manipulated and instrumentalized by a few power-crazed and corrupt actors and terrorized by irresponsible marauding troops. Therefore pacifists strive to explore what causes peace in order to prevent peaceableness capsizing into aggressiveness. Violent minorities can be put in their place. Principles of social defense are helpful.

(9) Preventive measures and mediation in concrete cases of conflict are instruments of pacifist conduct. Persons, institutions and humanitarian organizations have a claim to protection, guaranteed by international police forces who need special training (language, conflict knowledge, conflict response, administrative capacities and so forth). The concept of blue berets is discredited since the military intervention in Somalia. In the cases where blue berets were successful, that success was realized through international police, observer missions and civil peace service. In the cases where they weren't successful, their military potential was useless.

(10) Pacifist conduct presupposes a high measure of peace education. Peace education may not only be oriented in non-aggression or renunciation on force. Principles of the rule of law and justice must be included that are not realized by elections or the market economy alone. Peace is only possible with law and justice!

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Excellent article 12.Jun.2002 10:57


Excellent article -- Well articulated vision of why pacifist action is so needed in these times of war dreams.