there may be some disagreement among us on the relative value of
violent and nonviolent* confrontation of the sanctions issue, study and experience cause
me to come down four-square on the side of nonviolence for the following reasons:
- Nonviolence maintains the moral/ethical "high ground". Our purpose is to persuade
the American public, and through them, the Congress/Administration. By
maintaining the moral/ethical "high ground", we are more likely to attract allies who
might be opposed to violent approaches.
- Since we are confronting a violent process (the sanctions), it makes no sense to me to
use analogous methods to confront the issue. If we use violent methods, we are likely
to loose support from those whom we need as allies, and we leave ourselves open to
charges of hypocrisy.
- Nonviolent confrontation is designed to persuade; violent confrontation is designed to
coerce. One goal of nonviolent confrontation is, through persuasion, to turn
adversaries into neutrals and neutral parties into allies. Violent confrontation can
only "succeed" when the balance of violent power is in your favor. In confronting the
government, this is clearly not the case.
- Nonviolent confrontation is much safer. Psychologically (putting on my hat as a
practicing clinical psychologist), it is quite difficult (though not impossible) to
respond violently to nonviolent confrontation. However, violent confrontation sends
a very strong psychological invitation to respond in kind.
- nonviolence, because it requires organization, training, emotional balance and
concentration, will not "get out of hand", as violent actions sometimes do.
- a personal observation: I've done both, and nonviolence feels stronger and more
* By "nonviolent confrontation", I mean assertive, even (polite) "in-your-face" actions,
not mute passivity. If you read Gandhi's statements, it is clear that
he employed quite confrontive actions, with the purpose of creating a moral tension
within the adversary. The purpose was to create conditions where the adversary,
through intense internal psychological dissonance, would change him/herself from
within. For a description of some of Gandhi's methods (mirrored by Martin Luther
King) see the movie "Gandhi", and/or read "Gandhi--Portrayal of a Friend" by E.
Stanley Jones, the book that MLK said had "triggered his decision to use the method
of...nonviolence in his civil rights movement for his people." In this book, Jones
succinctly summarized Gandhi's methods by stating, "...he [Gandhi] would match his
capacity to suffer against the others' capacity to inflict the suffering, his soul force
[satyagraha] against physical force; he would not hate, but he would not obey, and he
would wear down all resistance by an infinite capacity to take it." (p. 13)
Having said the above, let me note the arguments in favor of violence:
- it tends to be more dramatic and will often command immediate media attention (often
drawing media away from nonviolent actions). However, skillful and courageous
nonviolence actions can also be quite media intensive.
- violent actions (at least in our culture) require little training to implement.
- serious violence requires less courage than serious nonviolence.
- violence provides a temporary catharsis which can relieve emotional tension.
For training in nonviolent action, contact your local Friends Meeting (Quakers),
Mennonites or Brethren; or the War Resisters League (339 Lafayette St., NY, NY
10012, 212-228-0450, email@example.com), and ask for two of their most useful
publications, "War Resister's League Organizer's Manual" and "Handbook for
Nonviolent Action". From the latter publication, please study "Nonviolent Response
to Person Violence" (p.5) for a sample set of rules on