Created By: RUSirius on August 31, 2012 Last Edited By: RUSirius on September 21, 2012

Negative Pacifism Tropes

Exactly What It Says On The Tin

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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.

Community Feedback Replies: 36
  • August 31, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In Time Enough For Love a time-travelling Lazarus Long is seen as cowardly for not wanting to go fight in World War One. So he enlists.
  • August 31, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    This certainly does happen a lot and I'm leaning towards this being Tropeworthy but it could also be too subjective because there would be many degrees to which it could be included in a work and it doesn't help that some people do actually believe this and would see it in any work containing pacifists. It might need to be written in a more concrete way so it will either be clearly present or not present.

    Examples: The historical White Feather women and any work that includes them - The Other Wiki has a few listed here. They also turn up in Discworld book Jingo.

    Also, the new Upstairs Downstairs has a Quaker character that served in the Quaker's ambulance corps in WWI but then left to be open about being a Conscientious Objector, which he was sent to prison for. When this is revealed to his love interest on the eve of WWII, she calls him a coward and leaves him.
  • August 31, 2012
    Damr1990
    might remember to use the Rule Of Cautious Editing Judgment here

    compare contrast
    • Badass Pacifist where their strong stand on pacifism and ability to resolve problems without resorting to violence earns them a really good reputation
    • Martial Pacifist where they are pacifist until their hand is really forced, but when it happens, a lot of asses will get kicked
    • Technical Pacifist who while is willing to kick ass if he feels like it, he won't go for the most extreme forms of it (and in a cynical setting will be called a fool or coward
    • This trope +Martial Pacifist= The So Called Coward , they won't fight, they get called cowards, something makes them fight, kickassery ensues
  • September 1, 2012
    Random888
    Played with on MASH, which has a clear anti-war perspective. If you accuse Hawkeye of being a coward, he'll readily admit it.
  • September 4, 2012
    Jordan
    • Garcin of No Exit presents himself as a Badass Pacifist, but is actually a Dirty Coward who was shot for desertion.

    • e.e. cummings' poem "i sing of Olaf, glad and big" (not sure about the (lack of) punctuation), 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.
  • September 4, 2012
    TonyG
    Referenced on Futurama, "When Aliens Attack", when Bender declares himself a "consientious objector... you know, a coward." Then his patriotism chip is activated and he becomes gung-ho against his will.
  • September 4, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    Some of the examples you've added aren't this trope (if we can call it a trope). The last two real life examples are just Conscientious Objectors treated poorly which isn't the same thing at all. 'Negative portrayals of pacifists' isn't a trope - it's a name-and-shame catalogue. 'Pacifists are Cowards' could possibly be a trope, I think, but it needs a clear definition and concrete examples.
  • September 4, 2012
    KageNara
    You should realize that there is an polar opposite of this where a pacifist treats a soldier as if Soldiers Are Crazy Murderers
  • September 4, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    I would modify the title so it's clear this is about war, not just any work that claims this of pacifists (like Left Behind).
  • September 4, 2012
    Damr1990
  • September 4, 2012
    randomsurfer
    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.
  • September 5, 2012
    ScanVisor
    • A major topic of discussion in the Metal Gear franchise.
  • September 5, 2012
    KageNara
    Yeah Sociopathic Soldier is probably the opposite of this in terms of description, which means this is probably already a trope under Straw Civilian. Though in terms of creator bias its..a bit different.
  • September 5, 2012
    doomberry
    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 more "backwards" countries (for lack of a better term) where pacifists are considered idiots.
  • September 6, 2012
    Arivne
    Literature
    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.
  • September 6, 2012
    Ghilz
    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.
  • September 6, 2012
    Sackett
    Badly written as it suggests the choice is between being Ax Crazy or being a pacifist. I think there are two tropes here.

    The first is a supertrope: Being a pacifist makes people question the pacifist's courage. This should be treated more as a starting point for a story. Someone expresses a pacifist view, and the other characters start to wonder if the pacifist is a coward. This can be the main theme of the story or it can be a subtheme.

    The end result can be:

    • Badass Pacifist: Being a pacifist is actually very brave and awesome. Usually demonstrated by suffering. Example:Gandhi.
    • Suicidal Pacifism: The pacifist is brave, to the point that he is willing to die rather then commit violence. This can be seen negatively or positively:
      • Senseless Sacrifice: The negative portrayal sees the pacifist as foolish (though brave) man who dies for a principle that is not worth dying for. His sacrifice changes nothing.
      • Martyr: The positive portrayal sees the pacifist as a noble (and brave) man of principle. His sacrifice inspires others. Example: Jesus.
    • Reluctant Warrior: The pacifist isn't a coward, he's just sheltered. Once exposed to real conflict he reluctantly violates his pacifism. Expect a lot of angst.
    • Hypocritical Pacifist: (The second new trope here). The pacifist really is a coward, and not really a pacifist either. He just espouses pacifism to justify his cowardice, and if in a position where he can safely use violence to advance his own end he will.
  • September 6, 2012
    RUSirius
    Thanks for all the feedback, everyone. I've edited in a lot of your suggestions and examples. What do you think? Are we getting closer?
  • September 7, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    Still needs a better name.
  • September 7, 2012
    jatay3
    How about Straw Pacifist?
  • September 10, 2012
    Dacilriel
    I'm confused by the title and description. When I read Straw Pacifist and the laconic I think of a character being set up deliberately to badly portray pacifism, ie "Bob is a naive idiot who would gladly stand by while his family is murdered by a burglar" in a work that is clearly opposed to pacifism.

    The description though, seems to be good or neutral pacifist characters who are viewed poorly by their companions due to prejudices or societal expectations.

    The examples in the bullet list range from negative portrayals (Hypocritical Pacifist) to positive portrayals (Badass Pacifist), so I'm really not sure how the list is an example of either a true Strawman or a character who is misunderstood.

    I think there are the makings of a real trope here, since there are often confusions and negative attitudes regarding pacifism, but it seems to me that the trope needs to be better defined and more clearly explained. Is this specifically about good pacifists who are looked down on by other characters? Is it about negative character portrayals being used by writers to make a point? Is the point of the trope that pacifism is being portrayed positively or negatively?

    It may be worth noting that in real life religions and philosophies there is a range of beliefs covering what is meant by pacifism. Some pacifists embrace absolute non-violence, while others accept the use of violence for necessary self-defense. This can lead to people having misconceptions and setting up straw arguments without fully understanding the position.
  • September 10, 2012
    randomsurfer
    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.
    • They Call Me Trinity: A man tries to run the Mormons off their land so he can graze his horses there.
    • Kung Fu: In one episode Caine joins up with a band of Mormons with the serial numbers filed off. They practice extreme non-violence. One is assaulted by townsfolk and they shave off his beard, which in the not-Mormon community is a sign of losing one's manhood. But they still don't fight back even when they're attacked on their own land.

    • 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.
  • September 11, 2012
    Waterlily
    "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."

    That sounds like a parody of the film Witness where local punks taunt the Amish knowing that they won't fight and one of them puts ice cream on an Amish man's face. What they don't realize is that a big city cop is posing as Amish and he then proceeds to kick his butt.

    So is this trope about pacifists who are seen as cowards, hypocrites, etc... by the show or just other characters? If it's the latter, then Witness would count. The punks also taunt the Amish about not fighting for their country.
  • September 11, 2012
    Routerie
    Don't name this "straw". A straw pacifist would be a character who acts as real pacifists do not so that the story can argue against pacifism.
  • September 11, 2012
    RUSirius
    Okay, I tried cleaning it up and making it a little clearer. Basically, this trope can be either/or...a deliberate Author Tract or a purely in-character opinion, usually setting up an Aesop.

    I think "Straw Pacifist" works as a title, because if it's a deliberate Author Tract they will portray pacifists as cowards or hypocrites, and if it's a purely in-character opinion...well, it's in character and will usually include their thoughts on it. If you can think of a better title, feel free.
  • September 11, 2012
    TheHandle
    Well, "Pacifists Strawmanned In Universe" lacks a certain je-ne-sais-quoi...
  • September 11, 2012
    Damr1990
    ^the previous tittle was Pacifists Are Cowards Hypocrites, basically about someone making said acusation, and then pointing out various posible portrayals about the pacifist in question. The Straw Pacifist name does not match in description with the other Strawman Tropes, and personally, i think doens't match the spirit of the trope either, (althoug Straw Pacifist , along with Hypocrital Pacifist may be tropes that we many need to create and add to the list,(hypocrital pacifist see the Sackett's comment, Straw pacifist, i think may be something between Straw Civilian, Wide Eyed Idealist and Stupid Good and maybe a pinch of Pothead,lazy and/or Hippie characterizations for flavor
  • September 11, 2012
    Dacilriel
    I think this could actually be made into three separate tropes:

    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 Senseless Sacrifice. All the usual characteristics of straw arguments (oversimplified/faulty representation of pacifism, flawed logic) will apply.

    Coward Pacifist: 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, and this is usually Played For Laughs. In short, pacifism doesn't actually come into play at all, since the coward isn't actually pacifistic. Badass Pacifist and Martial Pacifist are aversions.

    Pacifists Are Dumb (probably needs a better title): A pacifist is looked down on or labelled 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, 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.

    What do you think of splitting the current YKTTW into these three potential tropes?
  • September 12, 2012
    RUSirius
    Good idea, Dac. Done.
  • September 12, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    So this is going to be an index then?
  • September 12, 2012
    Damr1990
    nor sure if an index, but at least a Supertrope, i think.
  • September 12, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    ^ Well "Negative Pacifism Tropes" is certainly an index title - it implies a list of tropes and isn't a trope itself.

    That some works include a prejudiced character is not a trope. It is simply a fact of life that some people are prejudiced and therefore some characters are prejudiced. Prejudices that do have tropes are specific, concrete things a certain type of person is portrayed to be (like All Gays Are Promiscuous, Scary Black Man, Black Is Bigger In Bed). That's why "Pacifists are Cowards" borderline qualified as long as you were very careful with the examples and the definition was clear. "Negative Pacifism Tropes" might be an index but then it would have no examples of its own. Or it might just be a Trivia page.
  • September 13, 2012
    Dacilriel
    Perhaps it would be good to make each of them into a separate YKTTW entry, rather than having all of them right here.
  • September 15, 2012
    AgProv
    Music: the Kenny Rogers song Coward of the County

    ''Promise me, son, not to do the things I've done.
    Walk away from trouble if you can.
    Now it won't mean you're weak if you turn the other cheek.
    I hope you're old enough to understand:
    Son, you don't have to fight to be a man.''

    ''The Gatlin boys just laughed at him when he walked into the barroom.
    One of them got up and met him halfway 'cross the floor.
    When Tommy turned around they said, "Hey look! ol' yellow's leavin'."
    But you coulda heard a pin drop when Tommy stopped and locked the door.''

    ''Twenty years of crawlin' was bottled up inside him.
    He wasn't holdin' nothin' back; he let 'em have it all.
    When Tommy left the barroom not a Gatlin boy was standin'.
    He said, "This one's for Becky," as he watched the last one fall.
    And I heard him say,''

    ''I promised you, Dad, not to do the things you done.
    I've walked away from trouble when I can.
    Now please don't think I'm weak, I didn't turn the other cheek,
    And Papa, I sure hope you understand:
    Sometimes you gotta fight when you're a man.''

    Ev'ryone considered him the coward of the county.
  • September 15, 2012
    Earnest
    See also Reluctant Warrior, for someone who would like to be a pacifist, but will go to war or fight on principle and to protect others.
  • September 18, 2012
    TBeholder
    the proposed title is a bit of guess-that-trope right now
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=z2k8vu6qavikrmrryq69a05o