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Debate: Pacifism

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Is the rejection of all violence a valid principle by which to live?

Background and context

The debate between non-violent objection and the use of force to an end is an ancient one, encompassing questions such as morality vs. practicality, whether violence is ever constructive, and whether pacifism in the face of a threat serves to increase or diminish evil. It also contrasts the lives lost in war with the liberty that might be lost if war is avoided, and thus raises difficult questions about the value of life compared to a principle.

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Argument #1

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Yes

Violence is never justified by any circumstances whatsoever. Life is sacrosanct, and no cause or belief you may possess allows you to take the life of another.

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No

This side is not arguing that violence is of itself a good thing. We are, however, saying that sometimes, when others are using violence to endanger principles as fundamental as human rights themselves, this House has a duty to stand up against them. To not do so would merely allow evil to spread unchecked in the world.

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Argument #2

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Yes

Neither side emerges as a victor from a war. War rarely settles issues ( the First World War created the conditions that led directly to the Second World War ), but they create suffering for both sides concerned. Often the innocent suffer, as with the civilians of Dresden when it was firebombed by the Allies, or the people of Hiroshima when the USA dropped the atomic bomb.

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No

It is true that sometimes disputes persist after wars, but often wars can lead to the resolution of some issues, such as the Gulf War, which led to Saddam Hussain’s withdrawal from Kuwait, or the Second World War, which prevented fascism from taking over Europe. In these cases, the failure to act would have led to the oppression of millions, and shown an aggressor triumphing over right.

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Argument #3

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Yes

Pacifists do not have to retreat completely from affairs; pacifists are not cowards. The ‘conscientious objectors’ of the First World Wars stood up against the militarism and cynical diplomacy that had led to the conflict by refusing to fight in its name, and many of them were executed for their beliefs. Pacifism simply believes that violence begets violence.

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No

Pacifism is a luxury that some are only able to practise because others fight; they claim moral superiority whilst enjoying the liberty that others have died for. During the Second World War, there was a job to be done in combating an aggressor and maintaining justice. In this situation it is our moral duty to resist such tyranny.

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Argument #4

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Yes

When war is inevitable, pacifists can continue to protest against the cruelties of war, such as torture, attacks on civilians and other contraventions of the Geneva Convention, in an attempt to curb violence’s excesses.

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No

This is not the role of pacifism - the true pacifist rejects war outright. By admitting war can sometimes be inevitable, you are merely allowing that sometimes it is impossible to sit by and do nothing. The true pacifist rejects war outright.

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Argument #5

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Yes

Great religious leaders, such as Ghandi and Jesus have always advocated pacifism; and have said that ‘he who lives by the sword dies by the sword’. For thousands of years the wisest thinkers have believed that violence does not lead to an end to suffering, it merely increases it.

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No

In practice, most world religions have adopted violence, in the shape of crusades, or holy wars, to serve their ends. And does not the Bible advocate ‘an eye for an eye ?’. When an aggressor endangers liberty and freedom, violence must be used to combat them.

See also

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