FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Worst Response to Injustice (Except For All the Rest)

Democracy, said Winston Churchill, is the worst form of government—except for all the rest.

This is also true for nonviolence. When people are victims of injustice, especially a violent injustice, a violent response is easy to justify. “I’m not going to sit still while someone attacks me,” is quite reasonable.

But the consequences of our actions are worth considering. If our violent self-defense or defense of others actually makes the outcomes worse, we should think it through. Almost invariably, nonviolence is the worst response—except for all the rest.

It is most instructive when analyzing this question to ask, “What is the goal? How did we fail to achieve it? How did we succeed in achieving it?” When we follow the trail to the eventual outcome, we learn that nonviolence is, by far, the superior and sustainable path.

Often it’s helpful to ask the counterfactual. What if Rosa Parks had punched the bus driver in the nose? She may have gotten a few others to also get physical and violent, but she never, ever would have generated nationwide sympathy and the public policy changes that ensued.

What if Cesar Chavez had approved when his migrant farmworkers fought back with fists after they were attacked by white members of the Teamsters union? They might have beaten down some bullies—and never generated the widespread direct support of mainstream Americans that enabled their victories.

One must wonder about the counterfactual operating in the other direction. What if Muslims opposed to US military aid to Egypt and to the Saudi royal family—two regimes who may be Muslim but who use US military aid to oppress their own people–had devised and conducted a purely nonviolent campaign to challenge that policy? Instead we saw Osama bin Laden declaring all through the 1990s and beyond that US support for corrupt Middle East regimes made him and his followers enemies of the US. We saw what they did on September 11, 2001.

And what if Hamas were completely nonviolent, staging peaceful demonstrations in opposition to Israeli domination and oppression? What if they made a special appeal to US citizens based upon their nonviolent suffering and resistance to Israeli injustice? What if they demonstrated the same fierce nonviolent discipline that African Americans did during the Civil Rights movement and asked the US citizens to oppose US military aid to Israel?

The research is clear, insofar as it goes. We have barely begun to perform massive, empirical studies of conflicts and the methods chosen to wage them, but again and again, researchers are finding that the record is clear. By the numbers, nonviolence is the best chance to achieve stated goals. It is also faster, and involves much lower costs. Much.

When we hear someone say that guns helped the Civil Rights movement to succeed, or that violent self-defense is justified, or that burning down buildings in riots is the best way to finally get attention, let us bear in mind the outcomes. The US Civil Rights movement achieved gain after gain for about 10 years, from Rosa Parks to the Voting Rights Act, 1955-1965. Then riots and armed black power self-defense began and the gains all screeched to a halt and stayed halted to this day.

Nonviolence is lousy for those whose emotional needs for bloody revenge and catharsis are higher than care for actual results. This is understandable. This is even justifiable in many cases in many philosophies. But it fails, generally speaking, again and again.

The best way to move our human rights, civil rights, justice and freedom desires forward is for good people to get involved, be both nonviolent and disciplined, and to insist on the public policy changes that will fix our various and serious problems, from racism to militarism. Is this easy? Nope. If it were, I would be reporting that it had all been worked out and solved. But is it possible? Yes. That is proven again and again in our US history. Our best hope is to reward nonviolence and to participate in it.

More articles by:

Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and founding director of PeaceVoice

January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
David Schultz
Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall
Paul Cochrane
Europe’s Strategic Humanitarian Aid: Yemen vs. Syria
Tom Clifford
China: An Ancient Country, Getting Older
Greg Grandin
How Not to Build a “Great, Great Wall”
Ted Rall
Our Pointless, Very American Culture of Shame
John G. Russell
Just Another Brick in the Wall of Lies
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers Strike: Black Smoke Pouring Out of LAUSD Headquarters
Patrick Walker
Referendum 2020: A Green New Deal vs. Racist, Classist Climate Genocide
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Uniting for a Green New Deal
Matt Johnson
The Wall Already Exists — In Our Hearts and Minds
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Flailing will get More Desperate and More Dangerous
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Three
January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail