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On Martin Luther King's birthday this year, I listened to a radio program about the legacy of ML King and heard nothing about nonviolence.  The word was not even mentioned.  Nor was there any discussion about his stand against war and poverty.  On the TV news, again, nobody talked about King's tactics of nonviolence as they remembered the man on his day.  This did not sit well with me.  I guess the idea that "a saint is less dangerous than a rebel" is correct.

Last week, I was browsing through the new books in the library and this book, Nonviolence, jumped out at me.  I picked it up and took it out, telling the librarian that such unexpected discoveries are why I love libraries.  Now I've read it and will share my notes, as is my custom, with those who decide to follow me over the flip.

Nonviolence:  Twenty-Five Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Kurlansky
NY:  The Modern Library, 2006
ISNB 0-679-64335-4

(6) If we lived in a world that had no word for war other than nonpeace, what kind of world would that be?  It would not necessarily be a world without war, but it would be a world that regarded war as an aberrant and insignificant activity.

(8)  The often repeated argument against nonviolence, that it is in our nature to be violent - no doubt why violence deserves its own word - lacks validity in light of the ubiquitous moral argument that it is our obligation to try to be better than we are.

(15)  ... a saint is less dangerous than a rebel.

(20)  Jesus was seen as dangerous because he rejected not only warfare and killing but any kind of force.  Those in authority saw this as a challenge.  How could there be authority without force?  

This may be the central question to answer for nonviolence.  We need to discover the center of authority that does not require force.

(34)  Central to the Quran is the building of communities with a just distribution of wealth.  Mohammed's approach shunned abstract debate and encouraged pragmatic solutions.  He always emphasized negotiating solutions, and by tradition there is tremendous emphasis on negotiation in Muslim history.  Mohammed's attempt at a perfect society in Mecca enforced a complete ban on violence, which made Mecca prosper as a center of trade.

(41)  ... a propaganda machine for hate always has a war waiting.  The adversary must first be made into a demon before people will accept the war.

(43)  In the thirteenth century, Muslims became the enemies of Island when Mongols, who had converted to Islan, invaded and sacked the Islamic cultural center, Baghdad, in 1258.  In the midst of the Mongol disaster, a brilliant young Sunni named Ibn Taymiyam, sometimes known as Shaykh-al-Islam, started writing the first of what was to be 350 works on Islamic law,  he completely rejected greater jihad.  To him jihad meant violent warfare, and he insisted that it was the obligation of all fit males to fight.  It is Ibn Taymiyah who is quoted today by Osama bin Laden and other "Islamic militants."

Petr Chelcicky, Taborite "warrior," ca 1420 Czechoslovakia:

(51)  "There can be no power without cruelty," he wrote.  "If power forgives, it prepares its own destruction, because none will fear it when they see that it uses love and not the force before which one trembles."

Checlcicky was one of the first to see that the cause of perpetual war lies not in the nature of man but in the nature of power.  To establish a world living in peace would require the abandonment of power politics, both on the grand scale - states trying to bend other states to their will - and on the small scale - legal systems coercing social behavior with the threat of prison.

(70)  Te Whiti died in November 1907 and was buried with a cloud of white feathers.  The Maori did not take back the land, and the half-million Maori today are only 20 percent of New Zealand's population.  But Te Whiti and his movement in Parihaka are credited with stopping a war of genocide that would have meant the end of the Maori people.

The War of 1812:  

(89) It was the first American war to spur a large antiwar movement, though like most effective antiwar movements this one drew as many objectors on economic grounds as it did on moral ones.

World War I:

(122)  In the United States the antiwar movement flourished until 1917.  When the Americans entered the war.  Suddenly laws were passed equating the expression of antiwar sentiments with espionage.  Those who denounced the war could be sentenced to as much as twenty-five years in prison, yet 142 were sentenced for life and 17 were sentenced to death, though the executions were never carried out.

One of those imprisoned was Eugene Victor Debbs, the Socialist leader.  He ran for President in 1920 from the federal prison in Atlanta and got about 6% of the vote.

(133)  During World War II, one in every six inmates in federal prisons was a conscientious objector.  While the fighting Allies remained silent about the Holocaust, some of the few who had been outspoken about the barbarism of the Fascists were languishing in American prison for refusing to fight the war.  They took on the cause of prison racial integration, and their strikes to integrate prison mess halls were among the first acts of the twentieth-century American civil rights movement....

The Nazis are often cited as an example of an enemy against whom nonviolence would be futile.  This is said despite the success of several nonviolent campaigns.  Amid some of the greatest violence the world has ever seen, it was little noted that more Jews were saved by nonviolence than by violence.

(134)  The Danish government had refused to enact any anti-Semitic measures, and on October 1, 1943, when the Germans announced their decision to deport Jews from Denmark, the Danes hid almost the entire Jewish population of 6,500, including about 1,500 refugees from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia.  The hidden Jews were then taken by boat to neutral Sweden. The Germans only succeeded in deporting four hundred to Theresienstadt.  The Danish government relentlessly inquired on their behalf and at one point managed to send representatives to visit them.  Becuase of this close attention by their government, no Danes were in the transports sent to Auschwitz.  Fifty-one died of sickness.  The rest of the Jewish population of Denmark survived.

(134-135)  Of the Jews who were saved from deportation to concentration camps, very few were saved through violence.  The government of Bulgaria, a German ally, save their Jewish population by refusing to cooperate.  Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish businessman saved an estimated 100,000 Hungarian Jews while serving as his country's ambassador to Hungary by either issuing Swedish passports or moving Jews to secret locations.  Andre and Magda Trocme, a Protestant minister and his wife, who in the 1930s had established a school to study nonviolence in southeastern France, during the occupation organized most of the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon to hide Jewish children and transport them across the Swiss border.  They had saved several thousand children.  World War II abounds with such tales of nonviolent resistance and noncooperation.  Hundreds of thousands of Jews were saved by individuals who risked their entire family to hide a Jew or a Jewish family.

For one example of the exercise of nonviolent soul-force within a death camp, read Unknown Auschwitz Satyagraha.

(139)  War resister Ralph DiGia said, "World War II reinforced my belief that in war one becomes what the enemy is accused of being."

(141)  War is always more popular with those who don't experience it.  In fact, polls also showed that the [Allied bombing] raids remained popular only because most of the population insisted on believing that they were really against military targets.

(146)  Gandhi believed that to defeat an enemy, the enemy must not feel defeated or humiliated.

Nonviolence defeats no one.  There is no victor and no defeated.  There is reconciliation and peace.


(147)   "Violence is any day preferable to impotence," he wrote.  "There is hope for a violent man to become nonviolent.  There is no such hope for the impotent."

(149)  Abdul Ghaffar Khan or Badshah Khan, Afghani Pathan and follower of Gandhi, built the world's first nonviolent army, the Khudai Khidmatgars, the Servants of God:
Any Pathan could join Khan's army by swearing an oath to renounce violence and vengeance, to forgive oppressors, and to embrace a simple life.  Khan quickly recruited five hundred soldiers who opened schools and maintained order at gatherings and demonstrations.  Khan went from town to town urging Pathans to rise up in civil disobedience.

Richard Gregg:

(151)  He became the leading American theorist of nonviolence, publishing The Power of Nonviolence in 1934, a book he dedicated to Gandhi.  For those accustomed to reading on nonviolence, this book had an oddly pragmatic tenor.  His main point was that nonviolence works, that it is an effective way to get things done.

AJ Muste:

(152)   "In a world built on violence," he wrote in a 1928 essay, "one must be a revolutionary before one can be a pacifist."

(154)  [Bayard] Rustin went on to gladly accept more beatings.  Marching against the Korean War in 1951, he was attacked with a stick by an angry spectator.  Rustin handed him a second stick and asked him if he wanted to use both.  The attacker threw both sticks down.

Bayard Rustin went on to become a close adviser of ML King.  He was also a homosexual.  Don't let anyone tell you that gender or sexual proclivity has anything to do with physical courage.

Adam Michnik, Polish dissident:  

(170)  "Taught by history, we suspect that by using force to storm the existing Bastilles we shall unwittingly build new ones."  He said, "In our reasoning, pragmatism is inseparably intertwined with idealism."


(172)  "No government can exist for a single moment without the cooperation of the people, willing or forced, and if people withdraw their cooperation in every detail, the government will come to a standstill."  This became the successful strategy of Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.

Perhaps the reason the world did not appreciate what was happening in these countries was that part of the strategy, especially in Czechoslovakia, was to focus on small victories of everyday life.  Vaclav Havel, the Czech dissident playwright and later president of the Czech Republic, called it "defending the aims of life."

(183-184)  The Twenty-Five Lessons

  1.  there is no proactive word for nonviolence.
  1.  Nations that build military forces as deterrents will eventually use them.
  1.  Practitioners of nonviolence are seen as enemies of the state.
  1.  Once a state takes over a religion, the religion loses its nonviolent teachings.
  1.  A rebel can be defanged and co-opted by making him a saint after he is dead.
  1.  Somewhere behind every war there are always a few founding lies.
  1.  A propaganda machine promoting hatred always has a war waiting in the wings.
  1.  People who go to war start to resemble their enemy.
  1.  A conflict between a violent and a nonviolent force is a moral argument.  If the violent side can provoke the nonviolent side into violence, the violent side has won.
  1.  The problem lies not in the nature of man but in the nature of power.
  1.  The longer a war lasts, the less popular it becomes.
  1.  The state imagines it is impotent without a military because it cannot conceive of power without force.
  1.  It is often not the largest but the best organized and most articulate group that prevails.
  1.  All debate momentarily ends with an "enforced silence" once the first shots are fired.
  1.  A shooting war is not necessary to overthrow an established power but is used to consolidate the revolution itself.
  1.  Vilence does not resolve.  It always leads to more violence.
  1.  Warfare produces peace activists.  A group of veterans is a likely place to find peace activists.
  1.  People motivated by fear do not act well.
  1.  While it is perfectly feasible to convince a people faced with brutal repression to rise up pin a suicidal attack on their oppressor, it is almost impossible to convince them to meet deadly violence with nonviolent resistance.
  1.  Wars do not have to be sold to the general public if they can be carried out by an all-volunteer professional military.
  1.  Once you start the business of killing, you just get "deeper and deeper," without limits.
  1.  Violence always comes with a supposedly rational explanation - which is only dismissed as irrational if the violence fails.
  1.  Violence is a virus that infects and takes over.
  1.  The miracle is that despite all of society's promotion of warfare, most soldiers find warfare to be a wrenching departure from their own moral values.
  1.  The hard work of beginning a movement to end war has already been done.

Originally posted to gmoke on Wed Feb 21, 2007 at 04:54 PM PST.


Is nonviolence more effective than warfare?

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| 36 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  It depends (0+ / 0-)

    on the situation.

    •  I agree. Take these examples.... (0+ / 0-)

      Non-violence would probably be more effective for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank than stone-throwing and suicide bombing.  However, non-violence would not have been a good response for dealing with al Qaeda in Afghanistan immediately after 9/11.  So yeah, I think it just depends.  

      To me, in getting people to come around to your way of thinking, non-violence is a tool, just like violence.  Both should be applied at different times, depending on the situation.

      •  that is debatable (0+ / 0-)

        yes, it makes sense from an american perspective, on that is ignorant of Jihad. but pakistan has been going through this struggle of engaging with the disenchanted community that have fallen prey to false leaders who promise heaven for jihad. (because these leaders have set themselves up against the clergy and Musharaf)

        such a community intervention would have been a great way to divert a lot of terrorism at its roots. and let the local people who understand it very well, work at it.

        but then who are we kidding here? its better to bomb the hell out of them.

        •  Badshah Khan (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RFK Lives, The Angry Rakkasan

          (149)  Abdul Ghaffar Khan or Badshah Khan, Afghani Pathan and follower of Gandhi, built the world's first nonviolent army, the Khudai Khidmatgars, the Servants of God:   Any Pathan could join Khan's army by swearing an oath to renounce violence and vengeance, to forgive oppressors, and to embrace a simple life.  Khan quickly recruited five hundred soldiers who opened schools and maintained order at gatherings and demonstrations.  Khan went from town to town urging Pathans to rise up in civil disobedience.

          I'd like to know more about this group and whether that tradition still exists in Afghanistan.

          US forces, I'm told, are handing out solar/dynamo AM/FM/SW radios in secured areas of Afghanistan.  Perhaps a solar rechargeable reading light and free secular literacy could be part of a nonviolent peace campaign.

          Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at

          by gmoke on Wed Feb 21, 2007 at 09:45:59 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  This was a good read. (0+ / 0-)

    Maybe you should send copies of this to all our Congress people.  They might just learn something.  You would think that in the 21st century war would be obsolete and yet here we are again.

    "Though the Mills of the Gods grind slowly,Yet they grind exceeding small."

    by Owllwoman on Wed Feb 21, 2007 at 05:17:26 PM PST

  •  A few of my favorite anti-war quotes (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tmo, Halcyon, gmoke, ActivistGuy, scoff0165

    A merely fallen enemy may rise again, but the reconciled one is truly vanquished.
    -- Johann Christoph Schiller

    War stirs in men's hearts the mud of their worst instincts. It puts a premium on violence, nourishes hatred, and gives free rein to cupidity. It crushes the weak, exalts the unworthy, and bolsters tyranny .. .Time and time again it has destroyed all ordered living, devastated hope, and put the prophets to death.
    -- Charles DeGaulle

    War does not determine who is right - only who is left
    -- Bertrand Russell

    Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind... War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.
    -- John F. Kennedy

    The point of nonviolence is to build a floor, a strong new floor, beneath which we can no longer sink. A platform which stands a few feet above napalm, torture, exploitation, poison gas, A and H bombs, the works. Give man a decent place to stand.
    -- Joan Baez

    And my favorite, because of its simplicity

    hatred bounces
    -- e.e. cummings

  •  How can we govern others (0+ / 0-)

    unless we learn to govern ourselves?

    "Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding." - Albert Einstein

    by scoff0165 on Wed Feb 21, 2007 at 06:02:58 PM PST

  •  I'm almost finished w/ it on CD... (0+ / 0-)

    It's read by Richard Dreyfuss, who's very good.  I've been listening to it on my evening commute.

    I'd give it 3 1/2 stars on a 4 star scale.  Its historical breadth and its consistent advocacy of a fundamental concept are its greatest strengths.  Its lack of detail about Gandhi's and King's campaigns and its occasional overselling of nonviolence are its weaknesses.

    The history of the Catholic Church in general and of the Crusades in particular is eye-opening.  The account of nonviolent revolutionary activities in the 13 Colonies before Lexington and Concord is thought-provoking.  The account of the abolitionist movement and of the Civil War is fascinating.

    I disagree w/ Kurlansky's contention that slavery could've been ended here through negotiations.  In early 1865, Lincoln met w/ a Confederate contingent to discuss means of ending the Civil War.  While the Confederacy was visibly on its last legs, and while Lincoln offered to provide compensation to slaveowners, his remarkably generous terms were rebuffed.  Historical fact clearly undercuts Kurlansky there.

    I would've liked to have heard some detail about Gandhi's Salt March and his other campaigns.  I would've liked to have heard about King's Birmingham campaign, about the march from Selma, or even about the failed Open Housing Campaign in Chicago.  There was a real paucity of information about the actions of the 2 great apostles of nonviolence of the 20th century.

    The closing chapters about the nonviolent overthrow of the totalitarian Warsaw Pact states is inspiring.  Kurlansky truly brings figures like Dubcek and Havel to life.  He undercuts the neocon argument that it was Reagan's acceleration of the arms race that led to the downfall of the Eastern Bloc.

    The book repeatedly reminds us of the cost and of the general futility of war.  Even the Civil War and WW II, the 2 American wars that arguably needed to be fought, had major downsides.  The account of the fire-bombing of Dresden, for example, reminds us of the carnage that is inexorably produced when the dogs of war are unleashed.

    The flaws I described above are visibly outnumbered by the book's strengths.  Nonviolence, as the book repeatedly reminds us, doesn't get nearly the press that war gets, so it's good to see it get a little attention.  I highly recommend this work.

    Some men see things as they are and ask why. I see things that never were and ask why not?

    by RFK Lives on Wed Feb 21, 2007 at 07:06:03 PM PST

    •  Kurlansky (0+ / 0-)

      Saw him speak about his book 1968 and believe he's a thoughtful guy.  

      I appreciated the Maori ploughing campaign as a response to colonial invasion and would like to know more about the Pathan nonviolent warriors.  

      Strategy and tactics apply both to violent and nonviolent campaigns.  Nonviolent tactics can be a sword that cuts both ways.  It has overthrown tyrants but can cut down an honest statesman just the same.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at

      by gmoke on Wed Feb 21, 2007 at 08:27:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I like this diary. Thank you. (0+ / 0-)

    I do feel that people have both the right, and the basic animal instinct to defend themselves, but in the best tradition of some martial arts, every reasonable effort should be made to resolve conflict without violence. I once knew a high-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, who said that he was willing to give up his money in a robbery, but not his life.

    I would suggest that there is a specific problem of human nature waiting to be adressed. Throughout recorded history people with certain predictable personality disorders, such as narcissism and sociopathy,  have felt compelled to abuse and kill others in order to have and hold power and wealth.

    This burden has been borne by the species for millenia spent under the rule of innumerable despotic leaders ranging in their control from a country to a family, but has never until now, threatened our ability to reproduce another generation.

    I would suggest that the species itself is now at risk from our failure to recognize this basic and age old pattern. Until we keep the sociopaths out of power, internationally and locally, we will not be able to work together in the commmon interest to stop the wars of the world or the destruction of our thin halo of life around the planet.

    Thanks again for your diary. Like you, I find it no accident that Martin Luther King's defining belief in non-violence is being scrubbed from his image.

    Formerly doing business as

    by respectisthehub on Wed Feb 21, 2007 at 07:20:00 PM PST

  •  Thanks for this diary. (0+ / 0-)

    The points you make are important.

    It bothers me quite a bit that we have been cowed into celebrating warriors as the highest of all professions.

    I think that is what the whole "support the troops" mentality comes to.

    I think it also reflects the fear of seeming "weak" if one promotes peaceful methods of resolving conflicts.

    And the observation that a warring nation tends to begin to resemble its enemy is certainly true this time around, isn't it?

    •  Support the Troops (0+ / 0-)

      I have friends serving in the military and know many veterans who will always suffer from the experience of war.  I have met senior military officers, generals and admirals, and found them to be extremely intelligent and serious.  Most if not all of them would prefer peaceful methods to warfare.  

      "Suppport the troops" is essential especially for those returning from battle.  Studies have shown that the length and severity of post traumatic stress are reduced when combatants return to a supportive community.  This is why I believe that any person saying "You can't support the troops without supporting the war" is not only divisive but doing our returning troops a fundamental disservice.

      (146)  Gandhi believed that to defeat an enemy, the enemy must not feel defeated or humiliated.

      Those who work for peace can't get caught up in winners or losers.  They have to value every single person, combatant or enemy, soldier or conscientious objector.  The assumption of weakness in those who refuse violence will have to be disproved only by examples of the strength of witness, over and over again.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at

      by gmoke on Wed Feb 21, 2007 at 11:49:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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