How Compatible Are Just War and Pacifism?

Pacifists are people who oppose to any war and violence, they believe that killing and harming people is wrong and therefore all wars must be wrong too. They think war is unjust and that all conflicts should be settled in a peaceful manner. The Just War theory tries to judge whether it is ‘just’ to go to war and how the war should be fought. It tries to reconcile three things; taking a human life is seriously wrong. That states have a duty to defend their citizens and defend justice and thirdly protecting innocent human life and defending important moral values.

I believe that they are incompatible as Just War is just trying to make a war seem just by putting in the seven principles but at the end of the day they are just killing. Where as pacifism is a principle against this completely. However, there are four types of pacifism and to an extent you could argue that some of these fit the Just War theory. Selective pacifism is reconcilable with Just War as these pacifists believe that it is only a matter of degree and only oppose wars involving the use of weapons of mass destruction.

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They think that using these weapons cause devastating consequences on the civilians and soldiers. A selective pacifist refers to a person who selects carefully what he/she does and will only fight in just wars, not unjust wars. I think that this links in with the principle of controlled violence for the Just War theory. Controlled violence states that every effort must be used to ensure that as little violence is used to achieve victory. Methods should be put in place to avoid killing innocent civilians and soldiers.

Both of these principles are selecting carefully what they do in war in order to win and they are both saying that they won’t use weapons just methods. On the other hand Absolute pacifism completely rejects the idea of war and that it is never right to take part in war, even in self defence. The value of human life to them is so high that nothing can justify killing a person, even in defence of a murderer. This completely goes against the idea of Just War as the theory is still going to war and killing people, even if it’s with moderation.

This proves the two ideas are not compatible. There is one more type of pacifism which could coincide with Just War – Relative pacifism. They are against wars and violence in principle but accept that there may be certain circumstances when war won’t be as bad as the alternative options. Which is based on their moral codes and utilitarian principles, for example rule utilitarianism says that if doing the wrong thing is more likely to bring happiness than if you don’t then it is accepted.

A war is ‘just’ if it begun because of a last resort, this means every other way possible has been tried to solve the issue and there is nothing else left to try. In this case I think pacifism and Just War fit as they are saying war is ok if it’s the only and best possible way to resolve the conflict. Over all I don’t think pacifism and Just war are compatible. Pacifism as a whole clearly states they do not condemn any war and violence which goes against Just War, which tries to justify going to war.

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How Compatible Are Just War and Pacifism?. (2016, Nov 18). Retrieved from