How could a present-day to near-future United States that is overall pacifist be explained realistically?

Since predictions about the future are particularly hard and I don’t want this to be answered by some imaginary technology yet to be developed, I will accept any point of diversion (POD) from our time line (OTL) between the detonation of the first hydrogen bomb on 1 Nov. 1952 and the recent Paris assaults of 13 Nov. 2015. The pacifist state in the alternate time line (ATL) should be reached no later than 50 years after POD. The country must be free and independent (i.e. no USSR victory scenario), it should be stable (incl. Constitution still in effect) and remain undivided (incl. Alaska and Hawaii which joined in 1959 in OTL); the state of the rest of the world is of secondary concern.

Arbitrary criteria for a pacifist country or society

  • strictly regulated private possession of weaponry, especially firearms and ammunition
  • visual depiction of killing more of a taboo than sex in all mainstream media (movies, video games, TV, advertising, …)
  • legal system and prisons focussed on re-education instead of retribution and locking away
  • no death penalty, no torture; eventual police brutality not excusable
  • no or defensive-only voluntary army, strictly forbidden from engaging in interior affairs (as an auxiliary police, disaster relief okay)
  • no armed militias
  • hardly any armed robberies, hostage scenarios, mass shootings, police chases etc. (say, less than 1 per year per 10 million citizens)
  • high crime clearance rate, especially for homicides
  • prosecution of all capital crimes
  • public trust in and respect for the police, even among minorities
  • virtually no ethnic and gender discrimination, religious freedom
  • a general atmosphere of safety, peace and harmony, despite crime levels normal to OTL Western Europe today
  • no glorification of past wars (external and internal) or veterans
  • only strongly regulated and supervised intelligence agencies (CIA, NSA, …)
  • privacy and science highly valued
  • non-aggressive foreign politics

These bullet points do not show hard requirements. If they can reasonably explain why, answers may choose to not (yet) fulfill some of these criteria.

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    $\begingroup$ "no or defensive-only voluntary army" -- This would require world peace. Also, did you mean "persecution of capital crimes", or "prosecution"? $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 19:53
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    $\begingroup$ For reference, that "hardly any... crime" is a very hard metric to reach. I just pulled up Sweden as an exemplar to compare against. You want to see less than 1/yr-10 million citizens of "armed robberies, hostage scenarios, mass shootings, police chases." Sweeden has an estimate 200 murders per 10-million citizens, per year (based on wikipedia). No nation in the world meets the rates you mention, so the point of departure will have to be pretty significant $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ I take major issue with your list of criteria. I do not think that there could ever be a pacifist society with some of those situations. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 6:34
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    $\begingroup$ @AddyDaudrich I tried to picture a real-life Western European state, looking through just slightly tinted rose-colored glasses. Nothing sounds extraordinary to me. $\endgroup$
    – Crissov
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 8:12
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    $\begingroup$ Likewise presuming we always capture criminals is nearly impossible without a degree of big-brother police state I doubt you would like. In fact valuing privacy and successuflly prosecuting all crimes is pretty much impossible without introducing some magic technology, like an all-seeing AI that polices everything to avoid human faults. You can change culture; but this question requires changing the very instincts of human nature. It's just not possible to have such a utopia in the real world unless you rewrite our very DNA and evolution. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 18:16

11 Answers 11


The United States has several "strains" of political philosophy, and the closest to the one you are asking for is the "Jacksonian" one. This is essentially the idea that Americans cultivate American interests and leave other people alone, so long as this is a mutual arrangement (note this does not have to be formalized in treaties or anything, just people steer clear of Americans or American interests i.e. the Monroe Doctrine).

Of course there is a catch to this; Jacksonians believe in the "Terrible Swift Sword"; so if other nations begin to press against American interests, they will be told politely but firmly to stay out, and if they attack American interests then they can expect to see a sudden mobilization of American military, economic and industrial might to crush the incursion and ensure this does not happen again.

In American history, there have been multiple instances where the Americans raised massive armies and went to war, only to rapidly demobilize afterwards. (The US Navy came into being in 1805 to fight the Barbary Pirates, and was virtually extinct 20 years later. The Union Armies of the American Civil War evaporated after the war was over, and the 1,000,000 men under arms in WWI vanished in the aftermath of the Great War; rebuilding for WWII took a great deal of effort). The standing armies of the Cold War period are anomalies in American history, and the POD would then be the destruction of the USSR by Nazi Germany in WWII, followed by the Allied victory against Germany and Imperial Japan.

The post war Russia would be supine and devastated, but unlike OTL, there would not be a vicious communist dictatorship bent of occupying Europe and parts of Asia. America might actually collectively decide to "go home" and demobilize after WWII, and see no need to stay mobilized because there would be no perceived external threat. Of course there would probably not be a Marshall Plan either, as the disengaging Americans would go back to tending their own gardens. There would be a decade or so where American war heroes would still be in demand as political leaders or captains of industry, but following prevailing sentiment, they would be more interested in building a prosperous post war America, and not so much for foreign adventures.

While this does not fulfill all of your criteria, I would suggest that a satisfied America focused on internal matters rather than external threats would be a peaceful society, and considered pacifistic by most objective outside observers. However, should some external threat arise again, America in this timeline can still draw the "Terrible Swift Sword" and bring retribution to whoever is threatening American interests.

  • $\begingroup$ I think a mix of your answer with those from Mikey and Brythan should get me there. $\endgroup$
    – Crissov
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 23:24

Basically, what you ask is to accomplish in 50 years what has not been accomplished in 5,000 years or more of history. Not only that, but you wish to do so while keeping intact arbitrary boundaries like the USA's territorial interestest, despite the continued violence which arrives almost entirely from the concept of territory or ownership that has permeated society since it was... well.. society.

The challenge is that it is extremely difficult to do this without perfect agreement on everything we are doing and why. Perfect agreement is expensive. Accordingly there will be dissent. Dissent takes time to resolve. Solve this in 50 generations, rather than 50 years, and opportunities open up. Solving it in 50 years is going to require the use of force to force people to agree with you (which, ironically, is an act of violence by many definitions).

You could have a grassroots movement, but those are monumentally hard to predict, and as arbitrary as my example of aliens coming down from outer space that I provided in a different answer to this question. We never know when the next grassroots movement will occur, or what it will accomplish. Needless to say, what you are looking for would be the grassroots movement of grassroot movements, something akin to Jesus and Buddha doing a world tour, turning Water into Happiness, with opening acts by maybe a dozen major deities from other religions (if Rajin was in charge of lighting, I'd go see the show!). Personally, I go for the aliens as more likely.

So, the best answers remaining for this daunting challenge are the ones that form the horror behind the phrase "be careful what you wish for:"

  • Nuclear war kills everyone except 1 person in each state, right at the 50 year mark, so that for a few minutes at the critical threshold, there is peace.
  • Genetic modification causes all humans to forget... everything. Most die, but a few learn to enjoy living as children (until their forgetting of how to reproduce starts to matter)
  • Legal marijuana usage has an unexpected snowball effect as it becomes legal, removing everyone's desire to do all the bad things in a way which has never been proven scientifically but has all sorts of people afraid of it today.
  • Aliens... but these aren't the friendly ones from my first answer. They're ones which have a use for the USA, and pretty much everything else can be solved with application of heat rays.
  • 1984 (it's rather creepy that the date of that book fits within your range of valid points of departure...)

Pacifism is hard. It takes time, hard work, and a bit of luck to make it work. Take away the time part, and you're left with an unstable effort which may wilt at the first sign of a challenge (remember, the Zetas are still active, just across the border). There's a reason the truest pacifists are more than willing to bide their time as the world figures out what they've had figured out all along. They've figured out an even more powerful version of pacifism: one that works within a crazy violent world rather than one that starts by making the world do as they want. There's a reason the "pacifists" who are more impatient to have everyone see from their point of view are remembered in history as war mongers.

Better to start small, and give it time. Seek pacifism in your own little corner of the world. Don't expect world powers to give it to you on a silver platter. Recognize that 100% of humans are failable (give or take one, depending on your religion), and it may take some practice and some failures to get it right.

In the mean time, the best thing we can all do is contemplate what pacifism means. The question intentionally hand-waves away that definition, which is effective for WorldBuilding questions, but not so effective when actually applied. It turns out that its remarkably hard to define a useful definition of things like non-violence using the hard and sharp words required for legislation or mathematical proofs that can be used to provide such extreme velocities of change.

Arguably, one could claim this has been tried before. Someone tried to write down the way, though we don' all agree on what the first line was. Some believe it was "In the beginning..." though not everybody agrees on that, so we'll have to reach even further than that.

Still others look for it to this day, and put their search into a song. Maybe they know something we don't.


It will take a bottom-up revolution that changes the way violence is regarded and how humans should treat one another on a scale larger than the African-American Civil Rights Movement of 1954–68.

It will need a powerful philosophy as well as dedicated and charismatic protagonists and a handful of landmark happenings.

Although they did not (yet) have this influence on public thinking or caused any such changes in law afterwards, 9-11, Snowden and more recently Paris could have been such direction changing events.

What would it then take to cause such an urgent need to safeguard life and human dignity that society and law are changed so far to comply?

I'd say an army organisation to go rogue and victimize civilians, long-time prisoners without perspective to annihilate a whole community, young offenders to go berserk in such epidemic numbers after a particularly violent game comes out may be such events that cause society to have enough of violence on principle.

Maybe even to the scale that humanity could have gone extinct. It has to be a life-changing event for enough people to have real changes come about. Possibly a hostage taking of nuclear missiles that fizzles in the nick of time. A hero giving up life to save mankind, sending out a last message of love that is repeated in the media until the real point finally is driven home:

All life is precious. Violence in any form is harmful and cannot be allowed to influence our fate.

  • $\begingroup$ By any chance, did you get "All life is precious" from The Walking Dead? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 3:07
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    $\begingroup$ @erdekhayser: Nope. I was thinking Martin Luther King & Gandhi. $\endgroup$
    – Bookeater
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 7:09
  • $\begingroup$ @erdekhayser did the Walking Dead get "all life is precious" from Ghandi and Martin Luther King? Credit where its due.... $\endgroup$
    – gbjbaanb
    Commented Aug 5, 2018 at 14:47

It is impossible. The 2nd amendment of the US constitution protects the right to keep and bear arms. It is inconceivable the this amendment could be overturned in 50 years. 3/4 of the states are required to ratify such a change and that means only 13 states are required to prevent such a change. Pigs will fly before this happens.

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    $\begingroup$ Pigs do fly. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 21:06
  • $\begingroup$ I prefer the Simpsons version. youtube.com/watch?v=MWvevkE0kAI $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 21:08
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    $\begingroup$ Still, there were less than 50 years between the formal end of segregation laws (1964/5) and Obama becoming POTUS (2008/9). The legal process after Brown vs. Board of Education etc. was different of course and the mindsets of many people haven’t changed, but it shows that some developments that may seem impossible are actually just unlikely or not even that. I do understand that abolishing or undermining the 2nd Amendment would not be the first step, though. (I envision it to begin by ammunition control, e.g. deposit or mandatory documentation of use, but that’s but one puzzle piece.) $\endgroup$
    – Crissov
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 1:03
  • $\begingroup$ The 2nd amendment only states "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." I could easily see this as being read a bit closer to the letter and overemphasize "militia". $\endgroup$
    – Clearer
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 1:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Clearer Exactly. As far as I know, there were hardly any unanimous Supreme Court decisions in this regard, so if the right two or three judges came to a different conclusion at the right moment in the ATL, the 2nd Amendment wouldn’t justify as much as it does in OTL, and would be more likely to be overthrown completely. Same with death penalty, for instance. $\endgroup$
    – Crissov
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 19:16

Your criteria make little sense.
In your pacifist society there's no need for regulation and bans on weapons, as people have no interest in using them on each other so they're used exclusively for sports and hunting.
That situation can only arise if crime is just about non-existent, which in itself can only happen if there is no greed (note I don't speak about no poverty, there will always be a level of relative poverty where some people have more than others, it's just that in your ideal world people wouldn't mind others having more than them and people in real need will find charitable organisations and individuals eager to help them).
Armed forces are by their very nature capable of offensive operations. This stems from the truth that the best way to defeat an enemy is to take the fight to him. A purely defensive force would eventually be overwhelmed easily.
If there is no crime there's no need for police...
How are you going to deal with religions that by their very nature are discriminatory/exclusive and/or violent towards outsiders (which includes a lot of religions, including at least one of the major world religions we have today)? They'd either have to be forcibly banned from the country (so no religious freedom) or they'd find it a very easy target for forced conversion and the elimination of everyone else, ending your state of pacifism quickly.
Your atmosphere of safety and harmony can only exist if there is no crime.
If you forget about the struggles that brought about your current society you're rapidly going to lose the benefits of that society as people forget what sacrifices were needed to bring it about and become greedy for the wealth of their neighbours. The first wave of muggings and robbery/murders won't be far behind.
Privacy won't be valued, as people won't feel the need for it. And it can't exist as the only way to force people into being friendly and meek towards each other is constant highly invasive surveillance, cameras and microphones recording every conversation, censorship of all media (which you yourself already hinted at several times), police coming in the middle of the night to take away to "reeducation centers" those who so much as are suspected of harbouring thoughts that don't meet with approval of the government/ruling body/whatever you want to call it.

Your society would be extremely oppressive, seriously dystopian, and extremely weak. Outside threats would be ignored publicly while the government and military wage secret wars against both their own population and foreign countries, hiding the casualties through censorship of all media and instilling so much fear in the civilian population that the families of soldiers killed in battle won't so much as grieve for their lost ones.

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    $\begingroup$ Even in an overall peaceful society – which is different from a completely pacifist one – there is still violence and crime, but on a much lower level than in the actual US (especially as represented in mainstream media). No major religion actually promotes hate and discrimination, but each one has been used by people to excuse their views and justify their actions. The harmonic atmosphere comes from everyone’s feeling that it’s highly unlikely they’ll become the victim of a crime themselves, despite the knowledge that it’ll happen to someone. I see no need for censorship or a gestapo. $\endgroup$
    – Crissov
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Crissov OP explicitly mentions a pacifist society, then goes on about strict and oppressive punishment of any dissent and crime. And yes, secret police and censorship would be required to give people that sense of security in a society that (because of human nature) isn't peaceful and secure at all. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ I am the OP! Do you mean “high crime clearance rate, especially for homicides” and “prosecution of all capital crimes”? These are prerequisites for trust in police and courts. It means no suspect can sneak or buy themself out of a trial. Or do you mean “legal system and prisons focussed on re-education instead of retribution and locking away”? I meant reeducation in the most positive of senses: removing the causes for someone to become and stay a criminal. It’s more about avoiding future crimes than punishing for past ones. (I know, that’s a thought alien to the US prison industry in OTL.) $\endgroup$
    – Crissov
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Crissov in your described society there can be no crime, so no need for courts and prisons. In my variant, which is based on actual human nature, there'd be a need for them because crime would be rampant. And the only way to convince the general population that it isn't is strict censorship and "thought control" (iow the removal of any malcontents from society by locking them up in "reeducation camps". That society would be very close to what we have now in North Korea or what China was in the 1970s and '80s, or the USSR under Stalin. On the face of it it's a good place, but in reality... $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 7:07

One possible answer to these incredibly difficult constraints is an invasion and subjugation of the United States by a foreign power. This could trigger almost every one of your constraints for the definition of "peaceful" except of course the last one. No American citizen would have privacy in the case of this kind of occupation.

However, it would and could transform the country to fit every one of your criterion otherwise. For example with the military, simply see Germany post-WW2. What you have is a highly expansionist nation with a formidable, efficient military brought down to essentially nothing, over the span of a handful of years. After the war, Germany was/is not allowed to even have a military of the kind we imagine when we say the word. This would also immediately end the protection to bear arms under the American constitution, surely the most significant barrier to peace within fifty years.

After a generation or two of foreign occupiers, citizens could learn to trust the administrative machinery of the invaders, such as the police, courts, and legislative bodies. Couple this with an extremely harsh system of penalties for crimes that could reduce the overall criminal element. Also, as people begin to acclimate to being occupied, and in the face of extremely harsh repercussions for crimes, citizenry could adopt a culture of peaceful resolution to their civic problems. If you were forbidden from demonstrating or striking in order to affect change, and a riot would almost certainly cause you to lose your life as punishment, it might be that people begin to take up a pacifist means to get what they need or want from the governing invaders.


The first part is what you need; the second part is how to get there (it won't be pretty).

High Paying Jobs; Free Education, Healthcare & Housing; Benevolent Dictatorship; Regulated Borders; Redistribution of Wealth; Replace Immigration with Guest Workers; and Censorship

If you can provide these, then I can give you UAE as an example, remove their flaws and add extra protections to see if it fits your requirements for your story, although I will stress I do not find this a good way to live.

When we were living there, the Emiratis (citizens, representing 10% of the population) and the wealthy expatriates enjoyed a life of virtually no crime, sort-of gender non-discrimination, mostly gun-free, and public trust in the police & leadership.

Crime: Skilled expatriates like us were making 12k and more a month. Threat of breaking a serious law meant loss of job, loss of visa, deportation or desert-jail (that's what we called it). No way was I going to steal a car, because I could afford one, and I couldn't afford to lose such a sweet job.

Emiratis are guaranteed payment for any education they can attain. They (and we) enjoyed VIP Healthcare 100% covered, and they are given a government house (typically a 5-bedroom villa), or an allowance and plot of land to build their family home when they are married (or special circumstance). They are also given a plot of land for investment (maybe a residential or office tower, etc.). They will lose this for committing crimes.

Because of this, there was virtually no crime, and no need for it. Sure there was likely unreported crimes like domestic abuse, etc., but I mean, I accidentally left my Jeep running, with the top off for an entire day in busy Hamdan Street and nobody dared touch it. I also kept my bike out front day and night. I had a neighbor who was a single mother who did not want to return to the UK because she'd grown accustomed to feeling safe even late at night around even the busiest parts of town.

The remaining crimes are attributable to the unskilled laborer - a terrible institution that you should remove from your scenario, unless you want to have expatriate labor do your jobs for you.

Guns & Weapons: There is some limited firearms for sport and hunting, but because there is strong control of borders, drugs and illegal guns are few and far between.

Equality: While gender equality is very strong and promoted in the UAE, they fall short on homosexuality: it's only legal to be gay if you're a non-muslim and you don't practice it in the country. They also fall very short on the treatment of unskilled laborers and this is manifested culturally as well. But the latter two issues likely won't be a huge issue in the States in 50 years (hopefully). We should be focused on the thinly veiled sexism & racism in our country now - among other things.

Personal equality is done through cultural norm: professional clothing worn by the Emiratis are the same, humble kandora or the modest abaya from the highest sheikh to some guy in Fujeirah. That is until office hours are over and we go to the movies or a bar, then it's back to Western clothing. Weddings have a strict spending limit to avoid extravagence / showing off. Obviously there are ways to get by, driving this-or-that car, giving extravagant gifts to someone when you visit their home, etc.

Violence in Media: Sexuality and violence is censored from film, etc. unless it's artistic. Your America might never show it, but then someone is going to watch a Canadian or Mexican (or whatever) film and you're going to want to censor it.

The other qualifications are inherent, but it should be noted that the censorship of opinion is very strict - although not the most outrageous I've seen (ahem, Russia, Saudi, Qatar, Israel), and because the citizens are kept out of the truth and kept 'fat,' they're very complacent and full, unanimous support for leadership. The country has it's (major) flaws, but for the skilled expatriate and the Emirati, it meets your requirements.

So what would have to happen in the United States?

I'm not saying this is ever going to happen, but for a storyline it might be expanded on...

You have the simultaneous growth of a political party that has the same goals in mind as well as a like-minded media mogul.

Step 1: Get everyone to agree on leadership. This might be easier than you think. I have an aunt that is a Republican because she only listens to those crazy radio stations that use sound-bytes and propagation of lies. The Democrats have these, too, but many, many people get their opinions from main-stream media. Your media mogul buys influence and through censorship gets everybody to love your new politician(s). They amend the constitution, pass legislation, etc.

Step 2: Close the borders and replace migration to guest workers. If someone wants to have a better life and support their family in the United States, because there are better economic opportunities - fine - but they don't get the permanent status that those here enjoy; and there is zero tolerance for any crime. PS- I'm not saying I'm for this. Then close the borders: yes, you will have to post defensive security. PPS- I'm really not for this. Shipments and border crossings are going to be massively controlled - barring the influx of guns and illegal transport of persons. Where will all these guards come from?

Step 3: Ensure everyone who seeks a job gets a high-paying job. This means you even make up entire government agencies and pay people highly; sure you create a lot of lazy people, but they get fat and complacent, because they can buy their nice cars. The competition in the UAE was between which job the Emiratis had - would you rather be stamping passports all day at the border, or would you like to work in the sexy Development department, then you work harder? And to do the real work, there are your guest workers (see step 2) that are paid very well, just not as well as your Americans, and don't want to do anything wrong to lose their job. How do we afford to pay all these fake and real jobs?

Step 4: We have more oil & gas interest per citizen in the United States than the UAE. However, in the UAE, it is largely distributed to provide the benefits that their citizens have, while ours are locked away in ownership and profit by EXXON or whoever. A risky and unpopular claim on the ownership by the new political party is taken, and the profits are given to provide health, education, jobs, & even a home. For every law-abiding citizen.

Step 5: The rest is easy; you have mostly educated and healthy people who want to obey the law, because they so love their leadership and because to lose that would be bad. This is when you further the censorship and keep your tight hold on public opinion, but they're okay with that, because your leadership is flawless, kind, gentle, and generous ... as far as they know.

Step 6: Driverless cars, for God's sake. I'll be happy and sign any social contract for just that: and I mostly bike!

So yes, there are a lot of impossibilities and even unpleasantness in the above, but if you need to achieve something like what you propose, you're going to have to work hard at it :) Happy WorldBuilding!

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    $\begingroup$ My instinct is to translate this as a "post-scarcity" world. Is that an accurate phrasing to describe the path you are looking at? $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 21:59
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon - almost. I'm proposing a post-scarcity "country." It could exist, but logistically, it never will. $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon - That is to say, the lucky ones get to be in post-scarcity and the unlucky ones are from other countries, but not nationalized to receive the same benefits, but still better off than their home country. I'm NOT saying I promote this btw haha. $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 22:04

World War III

Since you specifically preclude the more likely scenarios, you need to make a major change as early as possible. So no Eisenhower as president. Someone else is president. We need this person to be both interventionist and more aggressive than Eisenhower. Basically we need someone who will end the Korean war by attacking China. In our time line, the Korean war ended with compromise. We need war.

The war needs to be long and bloody. The Soviet Union needs to support China. Who uses atomic weapons first? Not sure it matters, as the other soon follows suit. First China, and then both the US and USSR will be covered with radioactive craters. The US wins in the end. Not because it's obviously better, but because you specifically precluded losing and a tie doesn't lead to disarmament.

The US disarms the Soviet Union by coopting the Communist Party. It achieves the same success in disarming the populace as the Soviet Union does in our time line. Questionable but conceivable. The Soviet Union experiences low crime rates as a consequence of the resulting police state.

Without Eisenhower, there is less federal support for ending segregation. Perhaps Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka occurs later. The response to the race riots of the sixties is harsher, more like what the US is successfully doing in the Soviet Union. There are some obvious problems with that in the US. Without facing the powers of a police state, rioters can acquire firearms.

The natural response would be to divert resources from the China/USSR occupation to the domestic situation to implement a police state in the US. Instead of being a distraction from a troublesome war in Vietnam, it competes with the successful occupation. So instead of doing the minimum possible, the confident government suppresses the riots. The foreign policy successes give additional political credit to use domestically.

To end private sales of guns to the rioters, the government takes a series of steps that end with confiscation of guns. The Supreme Court rules that the government can limit arms to just "militias" which it defines as the police and national guard. When the fourth amendment gets in the way, the Court says that if something is found, then there was clearly probable cause. Also, warrants can only be challenged before the search is performed. Once the search is complete, the results are good. No more exclusionary rule. This seems unlikely in the current environment, but consider one where white gun owners are trying to keep guns out of the hands of rioting blacks. The government power precedents are set before it's seriously hitting hunters and other common gun owners.

Another reason why weapons might be regarded differently in this timeline is because of the wider use of nuclear weapons. In reaction, it's not unreasonable to think that the anti-nuclear response would be stronger and carry over to non-nuclear weapons.

Now, you might argue that a police state is the reverse of what you want. That's true, but you pretty much need it if you want to get where you'd like to go. The next step is that the police state needs to end. It may last twenty years, but it needs to be heavy-handed enough that everyone agrees it must go.

The first step is that someone decides that in parallel with the suppression of the riots, they need to make a government service color blind. As a result, private racism continues but racism in the federal government disappears. So it's easier for blacks to get ahead in government service than in the private sector. You can actually see this in action in the US military. There are a large number of black officers because the military pays for schooling. So we expand this to law enforcement with their own version of West Point or Annapolis. Remember that we got our law enforcement personnel from our foreign occupation forces, so this will feel natural to them.

Because a disproportionate number of federal police officers are black, blacks feel more comfortable with the police and whites less. The net result is that both feel about the same about police on average (in our timeline blacks are more distrustful of police than whites--on average).

Add in some exceptionally intelligent rebels. Instead of fighting the federal police, they join. They emphasize fair application of police power. So the well-to-do and powerful get arrested instead of being able to slide out of things. Who's their favorite target? The media. Arrest a newspaper columnist or talk show host and you get continuous anti-government propaganda.

Eventually a mediocre actor who used to be governor of California leads a transformative candidacy in favor of privacy rights. In our timeline he was a strong military guy, but in the new timeline the lack of enemies made that unimportant. Privacy went right along with his other anti-government views in the police state.

So at this point we have the following:

  • limited weapon ownership (left over from the police state)
  • commitment to privacy (new!)
  • low crime rates (left over from the police state)

If you want the anti-violence media, you could include that in the police state. For whatever reason, people felt more restricted by the rules on sex, so those got loosened more when the police state collapsed.

Note: I'm not terribly convinced by this. Personally I think that this views the European model through rose-colored glasses. But if the goal is to look more like Europe (and ignore whether Europe fits the bullet points), this gets us there.

The basic point is that many of our decisions were determined by the Cold War. In this scenario, the war went hot. The world is different as a result. The other big change is the police state. This allows us the accomplishments of the police state while still allowing us to have a more privacy respecting society later.

  • $\begingroup$ When the Korean War began in 1950, the USSR had just tested their first fission bomb and no country had yet successfully tested a fusion bomb (although the USA did during the war in 1952 and the USSR shortly afterwards in 1953). So it would probably have been the second and last war (involving the US) to go nuclear without causing a global catastrophe. I think the idea of a intermediate police state is the best explanation yet, but I’m not convinced a (very) hot war is required for it to have happened, so it could emerge (and diminish) at a later time as well. $\endgroup$
    – Crissov
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 20:01

During the Cuban Missile Crisis the situation escalated to a global nuclear war. Fifty years later, the only survivors are some dozens of Americans who met on a peace rally when the nuclear war happened. They are the only survivors due to the randomness of nuclear fallout which killed everybody. They are heavily traumatised by the destruction of the world and thus enforce a strict ban on any type of firearm (anyway they do not have any, and do not know how to construct one).

Since they are now the only human beings alive, they are the rulers of the whole world.

With that kind of scenario, it is easy to fulfil all of your bullets (generally because they just do not apply any more).

This is of course the most extreme possibility.

  • $\begingroup$ They wouldn't live very long in the fallout... But you're right, that's likely one of the only ways this could be achieved. For a few months haha. $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 21:58
  • $\begingroup$ indeed, for a few months. Until two of them get in a fight over who gets to be boss and lord it over the rest and one of them beats the other to death with a rock or stick. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 13:27
  • $\begingroup$ @jwenting You have to choose the group of people who survive very carefully to avoid that. $\endgroup$
    – Kolaru
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Kolaru I may be more cynical, but as I see it that situation would develop in any group of people of any size. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 7:08

So, from the answers we have already, its clear that perfect pacifism is not a realistic goal in 50 years without some serious kicks in the pants. For example, one major issue is that you will still have individuals alive after 50 years that were adults making adult decisions before whatever POD event occurs. Those individuals will need to be brought into the fold quickly to prevent them from "corrupting" the next generation.

One thing the US is very good at is taking. This can be thought of in the very negative way, but we're also really good at taking good things too. We can take just about anything and integrate it into our society with a marked degree of success.

So I'd say the best POD would be contact with aliens. Have a collective of post-scarcity aliens come down and point out an asteroid which is going to cause an extinction event in, say, 70 or 100 years (trajectory confirmed later by NASA). Have them demonstrate extraordinary sagacity as they explain that the presence of this asteroid permits them a path not otherwise available: accelerate our path towards post-scarcity by providing assistance in the form of a few million years of wisdom.

The result would be natural. We would begin trying to take as much as we can from them, but given their post-scarcity mindeset, this won't bother them much. Have them appear to give "freely," while actually subtly guiding us towards the kind of peace needed to incorporate into a post-scarcity culture within a handful of generations. Their "gifts" would have a curious tendency to lead us more and more towards peace, even as we attempt to use them for war.

Best way to beat a 50 year timeline? Bring in the guys who have been doing it for millions of years, and have a game plan for us.

  • $\begingroup$ Oh, I didn't even think about Aliens, or for that matter magic, etc. Good for thinking outside of the box, I'd be interested to see the gameplan! $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 22:07
  • $\begingroup$ Why does the solution to world chaos almost inevitably involve aliens? $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 0:26
  • $\begingroup$ Um, you did see the tiny but important word realistically right there at the end f the question? I thought it was obvious that that ruled out aliens and magic. I get your point about 50 years being a very ambitious time span for such changes. $\endgroup$
    – Crissov
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 0:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ When it comes to achieving in two generations what has not been achieved in millennia, despite the best efforts of wise individuals, aliens stops looking so unrealistic =) (I'll post a more somber answer, but I think this one is better) $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah I laughed when I read the "USA peaceful in 50 years". So far beyond the realm of "realistic" that aliens and magic are totally fine. $\endgroup$
    – L0j1k
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 1:42

Nuclear Armageddon (or similar worldwide catastrophe)

Seriously, there is no plausible scenario where such pacifism would occur and not be swiftly taken advantage of by other nations. I personally don't think there is a plausible scenario where the U.S. would want such a drastic change from the national identity.

To me, nuclear armageddon is the only vaguely plausible scenario. It was very plausible during the 50s through 80s. Once that occurs, the survivors could conceivably strike a very pacifist tone, not wanting to "repeat the mistakes of the past", or because of their need to focus on survival. But even then, you would need enough of civilization to remain so that the U.S. remains a cohesive state, with enough knowledge/leadership to maintain the Constitution. And you somehow need there to be enough resources that wars don't break out over food and the such.

Those added caveats are a big stretch to me, so I don't think there is a realistic way to achieve this in a single generation without resorting to something akin to magic.

  • $\begingroup$ Do you really expect that the remains of a post-apocalyptic US nation could be pacifist? I'd point to the fact that cemeteries are pretty quiet places, so if everyone's dead then we've arguably achieved the objective. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 8:55

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