It has been stated many times, by many people, that non-violence without the ability to defend oneself is just wishful thinking. I think that history would indicate that something else entirely is required for non-violence, or pacifism. The practitioners of Gandhi's satyagraha had no martial skills. They were ordinary people from various walks of life yet few would deny that they were peaceful warriors of the first order. The Freedom Riders of the 1960's had no fighting skills nor would they have used them if they had had them.
What is required to be non-violent is depth of character. What is required to be a pacifist is the ability to over come the fear of death. The followers of Gandhi and King walked unhesitatingly into situations in which they KNEW they would be beaten, perhaps killed, and they marched anyway; without the back-up of great destructive martial skill or weaponry of any kind other than their moral force.
What George Ledyard sensei points out here are two very effective examples of non-violence that each had many realized goals, or morphed beyond dreams.
I don't understand pacifism as exactly equaling passive. If peace were on a spectrum, then, depending on the assault or injustice in question, it's possible that making a non-violent engagement does
mean making a concious choice to move further away from peace; maybe for however long is neccesary to achieve a more secure position toward it, maybe for the rest of your suddenly truncated life. In any case what's going on is that, rather than physicaly attempting to effect an oppressive or threatening entity, you alter yourself, and then your relationship with said entity must change if it choses to remain fixated... hmmm, this is beginning to sound alot like another thing I practice.
Pacifism is relevant as a way to carry ourselves within or outside of conflict, or as ways to achieve civil rights or oust an occupying military, the latter or which *can not* be done without suffering many many casualties. For personal protection of course it does absolutely nothing when a club is descending on you or for stopping bullets or protecting you from automobile injuries or losing your job but Aikido won't do any of these things either.
There was some discussion here about Ledyard sensie's blog http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?t=16795
There are counterarguments that certainly make me think, but I just like to bring up this whole point now when I hear the bit about pacifism and choice because it's a comment that gets around alot and I do think it's important for people to think about it.