Published on Tuesday, May 29, 2001 in the Cape Cod Times
The Great Wrestling Match
by Sean Gonsalves
Yesterday - along with millions of other red-blooded Americans - I solemnly saluted this country's dead warriors, being the son of a former Marine who arrived at Marble Mountain in Vietnam on the same day the Tet offensive began, part of the Third Amtrac Battalion, First Marine Division, H&S Company, engineer-one platoon.
Yes, even a wanna-be satyagrahi (votary of nonviolence) salutes men who take up arms.
"Nonviolence does not admit of running away from danger and leaving dear ones unprotected. Between violence and cowardly flight, I can only prefer violence to cowardice," Gandhi said.
"Nonviolence is the summit of bravery," he goes on. "And in my own experience, I have had no difficulty in demonstrating to men trained in the school of violence the superiority of nonviolence. As a coward, which I was for years, I harboured violence. I began to prize nonviolence only when I began to shed cowardice."
So there it is. It is not unpatriotic to critique the military industry and the policies dreamed up by privileged men in air-conditioned offices with the aim of prying open (and keeping open) markets for the enrichment of U.S. investors. In a society whose civic religion glories in sacred violence, such truisms are hard to see.
I declare today Memorial Day II in honor of those souls who have participated in the great wrestling match "not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places," to borrow St. Paul's words.
There is no better description of war planners that I can think of than Paul's prophetic portrait of the "powers" - "rulers of the darkness of this world...spiritual wickedness in high places."
Today I honor those who have sought to bring forth what the Rev. Martin Luther King called "the beloved community;" those who have labored toward what theologian Walter Wink calls "a domination-free society."
Some conflicts cannot be solved through compromise and can only be resolved through struggle.
Yes, this is apparently true. However, it is not true that in situations where struggle is necessary, violence is also. The U.S. Marine Corps Book of Strategy says the purpose of war is to impose your political will on your "enemy" using violent force with maximum efficiency. Because that violates the moral sovereignty of its victims and poisons the spirit of the victors, war leads only to oppression or more violence.
Nonviolent warriors point to something that the "rulers of the darkness of this world" would like to hide; namely, that the source of all political power is obedience. If the subjects stop obeying, even the most vile dictator cannot rule.
If the participants are disciplined enough, nonviolent methods are indefensible. It's the ultimate weapon. Violent armies are designed, trained and equipped to fight armed enemies; not unarmed warriors. And as any war strategist from Sun Tzu to Clauswitz to Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf will tell you, attack your opponent's weakness; not his strengths.
Nonviolent action is similar to military war, actually.
"Nonviolent action is a means of combat, as is war. It involves the matching of forces and the waging of 'battles,' requires wise strategy and tactics, and demands of its 'soldiers' courage, discipline, and sacrifice," writes Gene Sharp, a nonviolent strategist.
Sharp continues: "This view of nonviolent action as a technique of active combat is diametrically opposed to the popular assumption that, at its strongest, nonviolent action relies on rational persuasion of the opponent, and that more commonly it consists simply of passive submission."
According to one e-mail respondent, commenting on last week's column, "there are times and circumstances when nonviolence does not work. Joe Stalin would've had Gandhi killed early on."
That all may be true. But violence doesn't always work either, and I'm not aware of any study that compares nonviolent campaigns to war campaigns to see which has been more successful and at what price in terms of destruction and lives lost.
As for Gandhi getting killed early on - imagine an army of Gandhis!
Utopian? When I was in Israel a few months ago, I was introduced to it - in reality - by a group called the Christian Peacemaker Team, or CPT. (Disclosure: Gonsalves' trip was partly funded by Global Exchange, A Jewish Voice for Peace, and The Middle East Children's Alliance.) CPT does nonviolent interventions, getting between Palestinian villagers and Israeli Defense Force soldiers and Jewish settlers.
Instead of the six CPT members they have working out of a tiny apartment in Hebron, imagine an army of them, led in platoons by the pope, Jimmy Carter, the Dalai Lama and other such leaders. I'd bet the violence over there would practically stop overnight or the situation would at least be radically altered in the direction of peace.
There's an important distinction to be made between those willing to die for freedom and those willing to kill for it. Today, I honor nonviolent freedom fighters.
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and syndicated columinist. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org