Many Lutherans, perhaps a majority, feel uncomfortable with
all the talk about preemptive war with Iraq, but find it hard to
see beyond the two options of diplomacy and military action that
dominate both official and media commentary. As Christians, our
deep discomfort with violence is rooted in the repeated, explicit
teachings of our Lord: "You have heard it said, an eye for an eye,
but I say…"
 But what is the alternative, and can it be made to work on
 The alternative of which I speak has been almost completely
absent from the public debate about Iraq, at least in any clarity
or detail. Yet it is widely understood around the world as well as
in sizeable networks in the US. It goes by names like
satyagraha, firmeza permanente, "truth force," or active
nonviolence. The problem is that few people know much about it, and
most need to get past the myths and misconceptions of this
alternative before they can consider its possible utility to a
problem like "What might we do with Iraq?"
 Let's start with a reality check: A fifth of the world lives
in countries in which, since the mid-1980s, movements of everyday
people brought about major nonviolent change that was successful
beyond anyone's wildest expectations. They succeeded against some
of the most ruthless regimes of the 20th Century: Marcos in the
Philippines, Ceausescu in Romania, apartheid in South Africa. Most
were completely nonviolent on the part of the participants. If you
stretch the time frame back 50 years to include the liberation of
India, the anti-Nazi resistance in Denmark and Norway, and the U.S.
civil rights movement, the number of people affected rises to
two-thirds of the world's population. "All this in the teeth of the
assertion, endlessly repeated, that nonviolence doesn't work in the
'real' world," as Walter Wink puts it in his path-breaking book on
the subject, Engaging the Powers. Such efforts illustrate
a truth about nonviolence. As Desmond Tutu put it-and it became the
title of a powerful video series on the subject-nonviolence is "A
Force More Powerful. . . ."
 Our public discussion would be greatly enriched by seeing
past the misconceptions of nonviolence to its strength and
sophistication. To do so, most people need to question or suspend
some assumptions and spend time clearing away the remains of at
least a half dozen barriers to thinking more clearly about conflict
and violence in our world, particularly in relation to
WHAT OBSCURES THE POTENTIAL OF NONVIOLENCE?
1. Military power isn't the only kind of power, or the
most effective, or the most ethical.
 It is hard to pursue productive responses to current challenges
like Iraq or terrorism if our starting point is vengeance and our
only concept of power is military power. As in the interpersonal
and community arenas of life, nonviolence is not passivity, but an
entirely different way of struggling against injustice and
violence. It offers a markedly different way of approaching
conflict and a whole different grasp of the nature of power, a
difference that is hinted at in such phrases "power with" or "moral
power" or Gandhi's preferred term, satyagraha, which translates
literally as "truth force" or "soul force."
2. When your only tool is a hammer, you tend to redefine
every problem as a nail.
 The budget of the United States allocates over 200 times as
much money to military options and resources as it does to all our
nonviolent response to conflict combined-from State Department
conflict resolution efforts and U.S. contributions to peacekeeping
operations, to the research and training programs of the U.S.
Institute of Peace. Even if you add all the money the U.S. spends
to address the roots of conflict and violence in the world-programs
like the Peace Corps and development aid-the percent of the U.S.
budget devoted to nonviolent methods doesn't come to even two
percent of the money spent on military options!
3. It is an illusion that violence has worked to solve
problems in the past.
 Our national myth of the effectiveness of violence goes back to
the colonial period. In fact, a good case can be made that the
American Revolution was mostly won by nonviolent means before the
fighting even began. The colonists used many of the tactics later
refined by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., such as organizing
against oppressive British measures like the Stamp Act; holding
demonstrations focused on visible symbols of economic exploitation
and forced dependency like British cloth; building parallel
institutions to strengthen resistance, as sources of identity and
as precursors to self-government; developing independent sources of
information to build support; and the use of guerrilla theatre like
the Boston Tea Party to fire the imagination of the people and
spark additional efforts. While some of these are mentioned in the
history books, it was the war itself that was used to justify
military actions centuries afterwards. It was this propaganda 100,
115, and 150 years later which imbedded in the national psyche the
notion that war is an effective way, an American way.
4. War is often portrayed as patriotic or the product of
our highest democratic ideals when, in fact, it is profoundly
 It has often undermined progress toward democracy, one
of war's most dangerous features. Resistance to Britain by
nonviolent means in the middle part of the 18th Century was deeply
entwined with struggles of poor and working people for better
treatment and laws that would give them a better chance at sharing
in the American dream. Their power was growing and colonial elites
were getting nervous. In words that could have been written in
mid-1991 or late 2001, Howard Zinn concludes,
The military conflict
itself, by dominating everything in its time, diminished other
issues, made people choose sides in the one context that was
publicly important. . . . Ruling elites seem to have learned
through the generations-consciously or not-that war makes them more
secure against internal trouble (A People's History of the
United States, page 79).
5. War tends to foster and provide cover for
 While everyone predicted that the "war on terrorism" would
result in increased government surveillance, civil liberties
experts and citizens alike have been dismayed at the surprisingly
broad and intrusive new powers now in the hands of the military as
well as law enforcement.
6. Contrary to our rhetoric, U.S. military action has
been notably ineffective.
 Think of all the places where the U.S. has used its military
power directly, or by training and arming proxy forces to fight for
us: Iran, and Guatemala in the 1950s, Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia
in the 1960s, Chile, Cambodia, and Angola in the 1970s;
Afghanistan, Nicaragua, and El Salvador in the 1980s; Iraq,
Colombia, and Turkey in the 1990s. The results of such
interventions have so often been counterproductive that the CIA
coined a term for it-blowback-which became the title of the latest
in a stream of books to analyze the phenomenon, a book that
virtually predicted the 9-11 tragedy a year before it occurred.
Those cases that have been "successful" have often had unintended
consequences or laid the foundation for future problems.
7. There is an unconscious double standard in comparing
military action and nonviolence.
 When a few people are injured or killed or there are
complications in a nonviolent action, it is quickly asserted that
nonviolence doesn't work. Yet a war can kill tens of thousands of
people and produce horrendous entanglements and no one says, "this
proves violence doesn't work!"
8. Don't ask at the last minute.
 It isn't helpful to pose the question, "How would nonviolence
solve this problem?" when most of the opportunities to use it are
already gone. It is much less fruitful to ask, "How would
nonviolence deal with Hitler?" when you mean 1939 or 1940, than to
ask what might the world have done in 1931 and 1925 and 1918. And
when we have some mastery of the answers to those earlier periods,
we may be in a better position to come up with creative responses
to the much more difficult question of what to do when a Hitler has
already risen to power. Fortunately for us, despite the
similarities in personality or behavior one might find between
Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein, their relative ability to act in
the world of power couldn't be more different.
ACTIVE NONVIOLENCE IN THE INTERNATIONAL
 One can examine campaigns both large and small that shed
light on how nonviolence might function in a situation like we face
in Iraq. It helps to begin by remembering that nonviolence requires
many of the same qualities that make for military success: good
intelligence, organization, creativity, leadership, and
 Take, for example, the 1991 coup attempt in the shortly
after the collapse of communism in Russia. Coup leaders had control
over tens of thousands of tanks, planes, and artillery and four
million soldiers. Yet a hundred thousand unarmed citizens were able
to surround the White House (the Russian parliament building),
protect Boris Yeltsin, and prevent the coup from succeeding.
Similarly, unarmed civilians interposed themselves between
government forces and the Polisario guerrillas in the Western
Sahara in the 1970s and stopped a potentially disastrous
 The tradition of nonviolence offers many insights relevant
to a U.S. response to Iraq or terrorism:
- Excessive force backfires.
- Work to discover the roots of conflict and to craft ways to
interrupt, not feed, the "cycle of violence."
- Don't create enemies; in particular, don't make it any easier
for dictators or terrorists to recruit adherents or rally citizens
whose interest is in throwing off their shackles, not defending
- Seek broad international support (which it seems the U.S. did
only as a way to pave the way for military action).
- Utilize and work to strengthen international institutions to
give legitimacy to our response and to erode the sources of support
for dictators and terrorists.
- Make use of non-governmental resources through track two
diplomacy, third-party mediation, etc.
- Put more attention and resources into preventive than corrective
- Work to stop dangerous or criminal activity, not force a war
that creates more problems thanit solves.
 Such insights have been a part of strategies that have shown
success in the most challenging arenas of conflict today, from
school violence, domestic abuse, and prison reform, to
international violence. But these insights account for only part of
what the nonviolence perspective has to offer. There is also a
whole range of nonviolent strategies that have not been utilized by
governments, or only in part, such as human rights accompaniment
and nonviolent intervention. They are effective when by human
instinct or nonviolent analysis they grasp the dynamics of power in
the situation, understanding that political leaders, even
dictators, derive their power from the people and that there are
more ways to withdraw that power than to command it.
 Scores of movements and organizations around the world
(including at least a dozen in the United States) have used
nonviolent intervention in international conflicts. Many of these
groups have been active for several decades and have amassed
considerable expertise in the specifics of training for,
organizing, leading, and implementing effective nonviolent action.
Both scholarly and media reports have examined the effectiveness of
groups like the Christian Peacemaker Teams and Peace Brigades
International working in conflicts in the West Bank, Chiapis,
Colombia, and elsewhere. The ELCA's Lutheran Office for
Governmental Affairs has been in the news recently for its activity
in the new Ecumenical Monitoring Programme in Palestine and
 In addition, several groups in the U.S. have been working
in recent years to conceptualize and bring into being full-fledged
alternatives to military action along the lines of Gandhi's Shanti
Sena, or Badshah Khan's Peace Army. The most ambitious project of
this type is Nonviolent Peace Force which is well along with plans
to field a force of several hundred people (growing to several
thousand by 2010), fully trained in nonviolent intervention, with
full logistic support, able to intervene in conflicts anywhere in
 Few governments can be expected to take the lead in such
efforts. If citizens would support such experiments with even a
tiny fraction of our resources that pour into military coffers,
they would demonstrate what we've seen in virtually every part of
the globe, in every historical era, and in every arena of life:
citizen movements discussing, planning, training, and taking
effective nonviolent action for justice and reconciliation. In the
process, they demonstrate the practical and ethical superiority of
"A Force More Powerful. . . ."
 What has been lacking in most discussions of a possible war
with Iraq is any portrayal of the coherence of this perspective on
power and conflict that might help us imagine and craft responses
that offer the possibility of working, and working better than
violence. We Christians have the spiritual resources and moral
incentive to be at the forefront of such efforts.
Sources and Further Directions: A Bibliography
William Ackerman and Jack DuVall, A Force More Powerful
(St. Martin's, 2000) is the companion volume to the celebrated
six-part video series narrated by Academy Award winning actor Ben
Kingsley. In half hour segments, the PBS series examines six
large-scale, successful nonviolent movements on five continents.
The videos are available for $39.95 for all six parts from Films
for the Humanities and Sciences, 800-257-5126. The book examines a
number of additional case studies and provides useful background,
extensive analysis, and photos.
Building Peace: 35 Inspiring Stories from Around the
World (ECCP, IFOR, 1999, available at a discount from
Fellowship of Reconciliation, www.forusa.org) a very well produced
volume of case studies
Ken Butigan with Patricia Bruno, From Violence to
Wholeness (Pace e Bene Franciscan Nonviolence Center, 1999),
the best manual on the spirituality and practice of nonviolence
geared for congregation use. Distributed by LPF with a 60-page LPF
supplement of additional materials, in particular, resources from
the Lutheran tradition.
"Filling in the Missing Pieces…" (Lutheran Peace
Fellowship), a list with web addresses of several dozen outstanding
articles on war with Iraq, its implications, the Peace Pledge, and
other resources: www.LutheranPeace.org
Pam McAllister, You Can't Kill the Spirit and This
River of Courage (New Society, 1988, 1991), two collections of
terrific stories on women and nonviolence from all over the world.
McAllister also edited Reweaving the Web of Life (New
Society, 1982), a rich anthology of essays on women and
Michael Nagler, Is There No Other Way: The Search for a
Nonviolent Future (Berkeley Hills, 2001), a stimulating new
overview for the general reader
Gene Sharp, Politics of Nonviolent Action (3 volumes,
Porter Sargent, 1973), the magnum opus of a key figure in
nonviolence theory and practice; the middle volume consists largely
of a detailed elaboration of over 200 distinct tactics and
strategies of nonviolence while volumes 1 and 3 include many
stories of nonviolence in action
Donald Shriver, An Ethic for Enemies: Forgiveness in
Politics (Oxford, 1995), an exceptionally insightful, lucid,
and unpretentious study that features five extended case
Glen Stassen, ed., Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for
Abolishing War (Pilgrim, 1998), a wide-ranging anthology
covering from threat reduction and conflict resolution to direct
William Ury, ed., Must We Fight? From the Battlefield to the
Schoolyard - A New Perspective on Violent Conflict and Its
Prevention (Jossey-Bass, 2002) an thought-provoking, brief
collection of essays
William Vogele, eds., Protest, Power, and Change
(Garland, 1997), an encyclopedia of nonviolent action
The Wall of Hope, a Lutheran Peace Fellowship exhibit
in story and picture of more than a hundred nonviolent heroes and
movements throughout history. It has been a featured display at
scores of schools, Youth Gatherings, GMEs, and secular conferences.
A "how to" kit for a youth or group to put together their own Wall
including its full text, instructions, photos, and sources is free
from LPF: firstname.lastname@example.org,
(206) 720-0313, lutheranpeace.org.
Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers (AugsburgFortress,
1992), chapters 9-13 are especially relevant; in conversations with
Lutheran pastors and lay leaders in forty states over the past
eight years, no book has been mentioned more often as having had a
fundamental influence on their thinking and spirituality than
Engaging the Powers.
Walter Wink, The Powers that Be (Doubleday, 1998),
about half as long as Engaging the Powers, without the rich detail
of stories or footnotes and sources, but more accessible for the
Stanley Wolpert, Gandhi's Passion (Oxford, 2001), a
wonderful new full-length biography; Eknath Easwaran, Gandhi the
Man (Nilgiri, 1972, 1978, 1997), a fine brief biography emphasizing
Gandhi's spiritual roots. Especially useful collections: Thomas
Merton, ed., Gandhi on Nonviolence (New Directions, 1964); Homer
Jack, ed., The Gandhi Reader (Grove, 1994); web sites:
www.mkgandhi.org, www.GandhiInstitute.org, www.gandhiserve.com
Stephen Zunes et al, Nonviolent Social Movements
(Blackwell, 1999), an outstanding survey of examples from around
What obscures the potential of nonviolence?
"Budget Game" in PeaceNotes, Spring 2002 (LPF) and
available on its web site, lutheranpeace.org.
Figures are from the U.S. Budget, FY 2003, (U.S. Government
Printing Office), print and CD form, Office of Management and
Budget and at whitehouse.gov/omb. See
especially, "FY 2003 International Affairs Summary" and "DoD
Account Tables." For commentary and critiques see interaction.org, bread.org, nationalpriorities.org,
Chalmers Johnson, Blowback (Henry Holt, 2000). Using as
his title the CIA's own term for covert operations that harm more
than help, Johnson all but predicted a 9-11-type attack a year
before because of a U.S. foreign policy of "imperial overreach."
Makes a compelling case for military dominance of our foreign
policy with minimal attention to the real costs and benefits. His
follow-up article on 9-11 appeared in The Nation in Oct., 2001,
available at http://www.thenation.com/doc/20011015/johnson.
Jonathan Kwitney's Endless Enemies (Congdon and Weed,
1984) a credible survey of U.S. policy in the cold-war period; as a
Wall Street Journal reporter for over a decade, Kwitney's
credentials are unimpeachable.
Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States
(HarperCollins, 1980, 1995, 1999), a celebrated effort to
rediscover our country's history from the point of view and
experience of everyday people: "history from below." See also
Pauline Maier, From Resistance to Revolution (Knopf, 1972) on the
colonial and revolutionary period.
Stephen Zunes, Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the
Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press, 2002), the best of
the books combining historical background, policy analysis, and
Active nonviolence in the international arena
A sampling of articles relevant to the issues raised in this
section (links to all of them are on the LPF web site):
Peter Ackerman & Jack DuVall, "With weapons of the will: How
to topple Saddam Hussein, nonviolently," Sojourners, sojo.net.
David Cortright and George Lopez, "Disarming Iraq: Nonmilitary
Strategies…" Arms Control Today, 9-02,
David C. Korten, "From Empire to Earth Community," www.futurenet.org/iraq/kortenempire.htm.
Michael N. Nagler, "Building a New Force," YES!
magazine, fall 2002, nonviolentpeaceforce.org.
Kate Rope, "Marching in Gandhi's Footsteps," Bangkok
Gopal Krishna Siwakoti, "Armed conflict and non-violent
Jim Wallis, "Disarm Iraq without War," Sojourners, sojo.net.
Web sites of groups with significant programs of nonviolent
intervention of various types include:
Global Exchange: globalexchange.org.
Nonviolent Peace Force: nonviolentpeaceforce.org.
Peace Brigades International: peacebrigades.org
Other useful sites include:
Expecially useful book-length discussions
Robert J. Burrowes, The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense: A
Gandhian Approach (SUNY, 1996)
Eknath Easwaran, A Man to Match His Mountains (Nilgiri,
1986), on Badshah Khan, hero of nonviolence in Islam
John Paul Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable
Reconciliation in Divided Societies (USIP, 1997) and Journey
Toward Reconciliation (Herald Press, 1999)
Graeme MacQueen, ed., Unarmed Forces: Nonviolent Action in
Central America and the Middle East (Toronto: Science for
Liam Mahony and Luis Enrique Eguren, Unarmed Bodyguards
(Kumarian Press, 1997), on human rights accompaniment
Philip McManus and Gerald Schlabach, eds., Relentless
Persistence: Nonviolent Action in Latin America (New Society,
1991), a superb anthology
Yshua Moser-Puangsuwan and Thomas Webber, eds., Nonviolent
Intervention Across Borders (University of Hawaii, 2000)
perhaps the best overview of a wide range of nonviolent options
from accompaniment and humanitarian intervention to reconciliation
Thomas Weber, Gandhi's Peace Army: The Shanti Sena and
Unarmed Peacekeeping (Syracuse University Press, 1996), the
little-known story of Gandhi's efforts to address the issues raised
in this article
Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers (Augsburg Fortress,
1992) especially chapters 9-13.
More about the author: As national coordinator of Lutheran Peace
Fellowship, Glen Gersmehl directs LPF's Leadership Training in
Peacemaking program. He serves on the ELCA Inter-unit Task Force on
the Decade for Peace and on the NGO Steering Committee for the UN
Decade for Peace in the U.S. and Canada. His experience working on
these issues in the Lutheran Church led to his being invited to
serve as one of two dozen delegates from around the world meeting
in India to plan NGO participation in the UN Decade for Peace.
Glen's graduate degree in conflict and international security is
from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
© November 2002
Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE)
Volume 2, Issue 11