Tiananmen Square protester facing down a tank.
1) Pacifists ignore justice.
You may have heard this famous Edmund Burke quote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” A misconception of pacifists is they are those good people doing nothing against evil. It is assumed that pacifism = passivism. However, consider two of the big names in pacifism: Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. When they saw injustice they did something about it, only, that something didn’t involve killing their enemies.
At its very core, pacifism is opposed to injustice. Simply because it resists evil nonviolently doesn’t make it passive, in fact, it requires even more hard work by not taking the easy road of violence. Pacifism seeks to redeem the perpetrator while AT THE SAME TIME defending the victim.
2) A pacifist would let a home-invader rape and kill their spouse and children.
You haven’t been a pacifist for long if someone hasn’t used this against you as some sort of trump card for defeating any pacifist argument. If they never have, count yourself blessed. It derives from the same sort of thinking as misconception #1. Many people seem to think pacifists care so much about not-doing-violence they would let their family members suffer before defending them with violence.
It is a false dichotomy: making the choice between only two, equally bad, options. Either kill the intruder or let that person kill your family. Situational problems like this often fall back on false dichotomies because the person using them is trying to force the answer they want to hear from their opponent. It is a cruel and manipulative thing to do, and this particular situation even more so because of its personal nature. Even if you’re not a pacifist, please consider how offensive this situational argument is and stop using it.
The reality is a pacifist would do everything they could to keep their family safe- short of killing the intruder. There is a range of beliefs within pacifism as to when ‘force’ becomes ‘violence.’ The shared guiding principle in any pacifist discussion is enemy-love aimed at redemption. ‘Violence’ is essentially defined as any use of force outside of that love. So is it force to tackle an intruder? Or is that violence? Is it force to Taser them? Or violence?
Join the discussion, become a pacifist!
3) Pacifists are cowards.
Nations are always going to war with their heroes on the front lines, mowing down the bad guys. The only people who stay behind are women, children, the sick and the elderly… right? So why are pacifists never on the front lines!? According to his misconception, they must be cowards.
For starters, a pacifist picks and chooses their battles differently than nations because pacifists don’t necessarily view other nations their enemy. A pacifist doesn’t view the world through means of violence; going to war simply isn’t in the pacifist vocabulary. Diplomacy is our front line, and standing in the path of bullets aimed at innocents is our end game.
A coward fears something, running and hiding instead of facing their fear. Bravery is facing fear, standing against it despite the odds. It is possible for both soldiers and pacifists to be brave or cowards. When a soldier stands and fights, despite the fear of pain and death, they are considered brave. They do so with a gun in their hands. When a pacifist stands and fights, despite the fear of pain and death, they are potentially even braver for they refuse the gun.
Brave soldiers and brave pacifists have quite a bit in common.
4) Pacifism is impractical.
Since a pacifist wouldn’t kill to stop a killer, drop a bomb on terrorist, or plant landmines in a battlefield, they will never overcome their enemies. They’ll get themselves killed and the bad guys will march right in, unopposed. They’ll never succeed at helping anyone because they’ll be killed off too quickly to make any difference.
This comes back to an essential worldview difference held by pacifists. Most folks are rather pragmatic, if it works then it’s justified. Pacifists have a different starting point where the means must reflect the ends. If the end goal is peace and justice, security and prosperity, then the means must reflect that goal. Using violence to end violence is like trying to build a better home by taking a sledge hammer to it.
To a pacifist, violence is the impractical solution! If violence could really establish peace and security, why hasn’t it? It’s the easy way out, the quick fix. Violence patches dams that will burst over again after only a short while. Pacifism, and the enemy-love aimed at redemption at its core, seeks long term solutions despite short term setbacks.
Pacifism is far from impractical, it’s simply outnumbered.