Sunday, November 19, 2006



The US says that it is necessary to have a war in Iraq to enhance our security and to bring democracy to Iraq. Israel said that it is necessary to have an ongoing war in
Gaza, The West Bank, and Lebanon for the safety of Israel. The problematic result of both wars has raised this question in many minds: Can a heavily armed nation ever “win” a war against determined individual guerrilla fighters? As additional justification for these wars, both the US and Israel demonize their opponents as having a religion of violence and as being less than civilized.

We in the United States have a relevant historical experience on the question of just wars and use of Federal armies to control and defeat guerrilla resistors. If ever there was a “just” war, our Civil War was one. It caused the abolition of slavery in the US and preserved the Union but at a tremendous cost. 620,000 soldiers died in the war and many more than that were wounded, many thousands with limbs amputated.

Was there no other way to abolish slavery? Slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1837; in France in 1794; in Russia in 1861; in Rumania in 1855; and in Brazil in 1888, all without a war.

In our Civil war, both sides saw themselves as civilized. Both sides were Caucasian. Both sides saw themselves as Christians and prayed to the same God for victory. Brothers fought against brothers. Military commanders on both sides were trained at West Point. Ship owners in the North had supplied the slaves for the South. Demonization of the opponent cannot have been much of a factor on either side.

Nicholas Lehman has written a new book, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War that is brilliantly reviewed by James M. McPherson, Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton, in the New York Review of Books dated November 30, 2006. This book shows that despite its great human cost, our Civil War did not end the virtual enslavement of Blacks or the intense hatred of Whites for Blacks or the White murders and lynchings of Blacks for over one hundred years after the Civil War. The book’s title, “Redemption” refers to the South’s successful guerrilla effort to redeem the South from “black and tan Negro-Carpet bagging rule.” Southern guerrillas, most of them former Confederate soldiers and officers conducted this war to redeem. Only a tiny fraction of these veterans had ever owned slaves. The non-slave owning poorer whites were induced to fight the Blacks because it gave them the status that they were “one up” on some group at least, even if they were being used and exploited. This guerrilla force killed and intimidated Negroes from voting starting immediately after Lee’s surrender, despite General Grant’s very generous surrender terms. These Confederate veterans did not consider themselves defeated. By 1877 all Federal troops were withdrawn from the South, and the Southern guerrillas had a total victory. Very few Negroes voted in the South for the succeeding 100 years.

Former slave owning Democratic Party politicians resumed their Congressional offices almost immediately, and by 1894 these Southern Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the Presidency. They had enough Justices on the Supreme Court to gut the 14th Amendment by 1876 so that it was no longer a Federal crime for Southerners to lynch Blacks. Southern White Supremacy over Blacks was guaranteed for more than a century after the Civil War had been “won.” These Southern Democrats blocked the enactment of a Federal law against lynching until 1968. These Southern Democrats, both the rich and the poor, have not given up to this day. After the enactment of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 they switched to the Republican Party that elects its candidates by sly code words that signal its racism. The poor white Southerners to this day are still voting against their own self-interest because of their own racism. So this “just” war has still not achieved justice or equality.

All of this raises the very serious question of whether national armed force can ever be successful against passionately determined guerrillas. This is relevant for the US in Iraq and for the Israelis in their war against the Muslims. It raises the question of whether a war can ever solve a serious social evil. It also raises the question of whether or not the Civil War made things worse for the Blacks and for the nation in the long run. Those nations that abolished slavery without war have not had the racial conflicts and the exploitation and manipulation of poor Whites and Blacks that plague the US to this day.

Most people would agree that war, even a just war, should be started only as a very last resort when all possible alternatives have been fairly tried and have failed. We see from our own Civil War history and the failed Reconstruction effort that the use of armed violence does not achieve victory over evil. War produces among the “defeated” hatred, resentment and a passionate determination to seek revenge. War and violence seem to perpetuate the evil that the war was intended to overcome. War creates unintended side effects such as the deaths of innocent civilians, trained killers and sadistic torturers among the fighters on the “good” side, maimed and amputated wounded, and post traumatic stress syndrome in both victor and vanquished. War requires the use of means and mental habits and attitudes that are counterproductive to those needed to achieve victory over evil, peace and reconciliation.

Let’s therefore give serious consideration to the successful alternative to War used by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. The use of nonviolence as a means to exercise power is not widely understood, so we shall examine the little book, Jesus and Nonviolence, A Third Way, by Walter Wink for the underlying theory and the book, From Violence to Wholeness, by Ken Bataan, for the training, preparation and discipline necessary to exercise nonviolent power effectively.

From these sources we derive the following:

Using the power of nonviolence does not mean doing nothing and it does not mean being passive. It does involve being fully aware of and accepting of one’s anger at an injustice so that if all else failed one might resort to violence. It involves the conscious overcoming of the fear that might lead to flight or doing nothing, and diverting the anger that would ordinarily result in violence. It involves advance personal orientation and training so that one can then utitilize nonviolent resistance as a creative means of most powerfully resisting the evil. There are at least 168 different ways of resisting evil in this way. Some recent examples that are etched in our memories are: Martin Luther King Jr. in the Birmingham jail when he violated an unjust law to demonstrate that he believed in and wanted the rule of law, but just laws, to implement his dream; Rosa Parks violating the bus seating law; MLK Jr leading the parade of Blacks facing Bull Connor’s dogs and whips.

Some of the ways of exercising nonviolent power among the 168 are:

Work stoppages and work slowdowns

Consumer boycotts

Intentionally violating an unjust law and accepting the punishment



Street Theater



Posters and Graffiti

Draft Resistance

Tax Resistance

The effective use of the power of nonviolence involves the following:

Seizing the moral initiative

Finding a creative alternative to violence

Asserting one’s own humanity and dignity as a person

Meeting force with ridicule or humor

Breaking the cycle of humiliation

Exposing the injustice of the system

Taking control of the power dynamic

Shaming the oppressor into change

Standing one’s ground

Forcing the oppressor to make a decision for which he is not prepared

Recognizing one’s own power

Being willing to suffer rather than retaliate

Depriving the oppressor of a situation where a show of force is effective

Being willing to accept punishment for breaking unjust laws

Avoiding tactics that arouse the fear of one’s oppressor

It is immediately apparent that the use of nonviolent power requires much psychological, emotional, and moral maturity. It requires much intelligence and creativity. It is not a normal human response. It requires much advance training to overcome the intuitive reaction of fleeing or fighting. It requires immense courage. It is not for the lazy. It requires much knowledge of one’s inner self, the recognition of one’s own dark side and capacity for evil and violence, and the control of one’s own violence.

The underlying theory is that one resists the evil acts of a person without demonizing the person. One must sincerely feel love for the person, or at least caring attention. One is trying to change his attitude and his behavior, with the full realization that this person is not going to evaporate and that one will have to live with him and relate to him whether the nonviolent confrontation is immediately successful or not. For religious persons, one fully recognizes that the other person was also created by God and equally loved by God, and therefore the non-violent resistor must also. One approaches the opponent with the hope and objective of changing his mind no matter how hopeless that may seem. One loves one’s enemy because it is in one’s long term self interest to do so.

Defenders of the use of violence usually argue that the exercise of nonviolent power is effective only against governments that have achieved a minimum moral level. That argument is based on the belief that every single person among one’s opponents is totally beyond any possibility of change and has not one shred of human feeling. The successful use of nonviolence in Eastern Europe and elsewhere shows that this argument is not true. To write off whole groups of people as intrinsically racist and violent is to accept the very same premise that upholds racist and oppressive regimes. The nonviolent use of power involves the assumption that every person, no matter how evil, is capable of future conversion. If one confronts a person with violence, lies, deceit and torture, one is denying one’s self and one’s opponent the possibility of change in the future, and one would be perpetuating the cycle of evil.

Nonviolent power is founded on the concept that the means used to confront evil must be consistent with one’s objective. The means used are at least as important as the objective. The means used give advance information about how things will be if one is successful in overcoming evil.

It is not an absolute moral law that one must always be non-violent. Violence is not an absolute evil to be avoided at all costs. It is not even the main problem, but only the presenting symptom of an unjust society. War is usually used to maintain and protect privileges and material wealth. All injustice, all inequality of power and wealth is maintained by violence. The nonviolent use of power involves reforming unjust situations long before the seeming need for violence arises. If one is himself accepting of the material benefits of an unjust system, one cannot then argue that a “just” war is necessary to quell those who seek to resist the injustice. Peace is not the highest good, but rather the outcome of a just social order. An example of all of this is WWII with Japan and Germany. In 1938 President Franklin Roosevelt caused oil companies to stop supplying Japan with oil. This created an injustice and hardship for the Japanese. Japan then invaded Southeast Asia in an effort to get oil. In Europe after WWI the Allies imposed harsh sanctions and reparations on Germany. These were not generous terms of surrender. It was inevitable that Germans would resist, and they did. The nonviolent use of power would have required fairer treatment of Germany in the 1920s and of Japan in 1938 and 1939.

Let us now take another look at our own Civil War. Was it just? Were all possible steps taken to try to deal with the evil of slavery short of war? Did the Civil War really solve the evils of slavery or its causes? Let’s ask the same questions of the Israelis and their ongoing wars against Muslims. Let’s ask the same questions of ourselves about the US war in Iraq and now possibly in Iran.

Dated: November 18, 2006

Douglas R. Page

This article and other articles by Doug Page may be accessed at Doug’s blog at

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