Negative Pacifism Tropes
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(permanent link) added: 2012-08-31 07:27:54 sponsor: RUSirius (last reply: 2012-09-21 05:56:51)

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In many societies, particularly ones that place a high value on military service, being a pacifist often makes people question the pacifist's courage. Someone expresses a pacific view, and either the other characters start to wonder if the pacifist is a coward or their actions explicitly show that they are a coward, often to the detriment of their friends.

Tropes that follow this line often fall into one of three categories:

Straw Pacifist: The author wants to argue against pacifism, and so sets up a straw argument in favor of it. The straw pacifist is likely to be naive and/or foolish. They may be portrayed as a hippie or war protestor, and he may promote Suicidal Pacifism, up to and including Senseless Sacrifice. All the usual characteristics of straw arguments (oversimplified/faulty representation of pacifism, flawed logic) will apply. Often, pacifistic characters in such works will end up becoming Reluctant Warriors.

CowardlyPacifist: A character is a coward, and excuses their own cowardice by claiming to be a pacifist. They will be perfectly happy to let someone else fight on their behalf (a true pacifist will be opposed to violence being used for them as well as by them). They may freely admit that they are cowardly, in which case this is usually Played for Laughs, or they may deny it in order to look more moral and upright than they really are. In short, pacifism doesn't actually come into play at all, since the coward isn't actually pacifistic. Works that embrace this trope will often include examples of Straw Pacifists. Badass Pacifist and Martial Pacifist are aversions.

Pacifists Are Ignorant of the World: A pacifist is looked down on or labeled as cowardly by other characters. This trope is about the negative attitude of the characters towards pacifism. The work itself can side with either the pacifist upholding his beliefs in the face of adversity (in which case it usually sets up an Aesop), or with the other characters insisting that it is right and brave to fight, or it can remain ambiguous and let the reader decide which side is right. It may be a major focus of a work, or simply a throwaway joke at a pacifist's expense. Compare The So-Called Coward which is when the pacifist who has been degraded proves himself. Technical Pacifist sometimes falls under this trope, where the character is willing to use violence only as a last resort and still tries to avoid killing.

These tropes can range from an example of Author Tract to accidental Values Dissonance to Deliberate Values Dissonance.

The end result is usually one of the following: Compare-contrast:
  • Badass Pacifist: Being against violence is portrayed as very brave and awesome. Usually demonstrated by suffering for their beliefs or through nonviolent civil disobedience. Their strong stand on pacifism and ability to resolve problems without resorting to violence often earns them a really good reputation. Example: Mahatma Gandhi.
  • Martyr: The positive portrayal of Suicidal Pacifism sees the pacifist as a noble (and brave) man of principle. His sacrifice inspires others. Example: Jesus.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Any character involved in the military, or occasionally even being willing to fight in self-defense is portrayed as an Ax-Crazy lunatic.

Examples:

Film-Live Action:
  • Happens in Immortals: The leader of the greeks would rather find a diplomatic solution with Hyperion rather than prepare for war. He's treated by the hero as blind for attempting to find a solution other than war and he gets unceremoniously killed trying to talk down Hyperion.
  • Averted in The Patriot. The main character initially opposes the rebellion that grows into the American Revolution, and specifically says, "I will not fight. And because I will not fight, I will not send another to fight in my place."
  • In the film version of Maverick, the epynomous hero tries to talk his way out of fights specifically BECAUSE he's a coward. This is played for laughs.

Literature:
  • Many Robert A. Heinlein books invoke this trope. Whether it's played straight or used for subtle parody depends on which book.
    A "pacifist male" is a contradiction in terms. Most self-described "pacifists" are not pacific; they simply assume false colors. When the wind changes, they hoist the Jolly Roger.
  • The Posleen War Series treats anyone who doesn't go Ax-Crazy regarding the alien invaders as mentally or morally deficient.
    • "Watch on the Rhine" shows peace activists being perfectly willing to beat up fellow humans.
  • E Ecummings' poem "i sing of Olaf, glad and big" is about a conscientious objector who is first sadistically tortured by his fellow soldiers and is then imprisoned for his stance, and dies in prison.
  • "Naked Empire", from Terry Goodkind's Swordof Truth series, plays up both the cowardice and hypocrisy. A society that supposedly "rejects violence unconditionally" is willing to poison the Big Damn Hero to get him to do their fighting for them. When he tells them that they'll have to fight alongside him if they want their revolution to have any chance, they're terrified. They get over it, though.

Theater

TV-Live Action
  • Played with on M*A*S*H, which has a clear anti-war perspective. If you accuse Hawkeye of being a coward, he'll readily admit it.
  • Taxi: Jim was a countercultural peacenik during The Vietnam War, and Tony served in the military. This causes an argument in Jim's second appearance, as he reminices about his life.
    Jim: I marched in protest against that crummy war.
    Tony: Is that so? You know the only reason why guys like you got to stay home, protest, and get loaded is because guys like me were over in Nam doing your fighting for you! What do you say to that?
    Jim: Thank you.
    Tony: (unable to think of anything else to say) You're welcome.
In many shows set in the Wild West, Mormons are seen as like this by non-Mormons: They don't fight back when taunted, so they must be cowards.

Video Games
  • A major topic of discussion in the Metal Gear franchise.

Western Animation
  • Referenced on Futurama, "When Aliens Attack", when Bender declares himself a "conscientious objector... you know, a coward." Then his patriotism chip is activated and he becomes gung-ho against his will.
  • Family Guy: In a Manatee Gag taking place during a family trip to Amish country, Peter taunts an Amish man, putting his ice cream cones in the man's hair. Then the man's horse kicks Peter.

Real Life:
  • During the Vietnam War and again during the runup to Iraq II, many on the American right accused those with moral objections to the war of being cowards or hypocrites.
  • It's interesting to note that this trope is dying little by little, as our vision of peace has become more positive recently, but in ancient times (like in Greece), you were not considered a man until you had fought in the army, and war in general was common and expected. This is also true for modern societies in some violent parts of the world, like the Middle East.

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