Pacifism and World War Two

After the VE Day anniversary celebrations, can a pacifist argue that the second world war should not have been fought? Yes. It was not necessary.

WWII did not prevent the Holocaust. It killed sixty million human beings. It involved atrocities by the Allies, such as the fire-bombing of Dresden, Hamburg and Tokyo. Nuclear weapons were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, starting the nuclear arms race which continues today.

The world war is not clearly better than any imaginable alternative. It depends when you start: had Germany not been humiliated and impoverished by the Treaty of Versailles, it might have developed other leadership.

Well-prepared civil resistance in the countries Hitler occupied could have made his control extremely difficult. Norwegian teachers refused to teach the Nazi curriculum. Dutch and French citizens hid Jews. Do not dismiss the possibility that a well-prepared population could defend their rights and freedoms, and protect each other non-violently.

Gandhi wrote, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent”. How might a population resist?

One of the reasons for the death camps was that troops’ combat fitness is damaged by mass murder of unarmed civilians. The Nazis had already used gas to murder disabled people, before this was halted by protests from the German public. Oppressors, and particularly their lowest-ranking soldiers, lose the will to kill. The Solidarity union protested, and could not be put down. Eventually, the people took the Berlin Wall down, when the troops would no longer fire on them; though many were murdered before that day.

In the Occupied Territories, International Accompaniers witness life under occupation and give publicity to human rights abuses. While the English-speaking world was free, Nazi oppression of occupied countries would have come at a cost.

Here is the Berghof Handbook, continually updated articles and resources for those engaged in transforming violent ethnic conflict. Conflict may arise over scarce resources, quickly polarising different groups: here is the Wajir Story, of how inter-clan violence spread at a time of severe drought. A group of women, seeing that their market trading had become impossible, got together to ensure peaceful trading could be resumed. Inspired by this, clan elders agreed to prevent the violence of their own clans, and brought it to an end.Sword into Ploughshares

People flourish when we co-operate. People can be brought to see that. All this comes from the wonderful Swarthmore Lecture by Diana Francis, Faith, Power and Peace, also in a book.


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