Wednesday, July 23, 2014

For huge losses and massive victimization of your people, use violence!

There is violence everywhere in the world. Obviously, there is no hope for nonviolence. Not now, not ever again. Give it up, get your guns, and get something done for once! It's working for Syrians. Um, well, it's working for Ukrainians. Hmmm--it's certainly working for Gazans.

OK, so maybe it's working for those who currently have the power and not working so hot for those fighting for freedom. That's it! If you are Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin, or the Israeli Defense Force, keep being violent--you're winning! See? Violence works Just Fine, thankyouverymuch. It all depends on who you are. Works well for everyone worth mentioning.

If you are the despot, stay the course and keep shooting. If you are the insurgency, well, man up and take your losses. Keep your dignity and your big guns. You will lose in most cases (Chenoweth & Stephan, 2014), but you'll show your cajones, and that's all that counts in the end, dead or alive.

On the other hand, if you are one of those wussies who likes to win and keep most of your people alive, alright, you can use strategic nonviolence, but don't expect to get on the cover of Ultimate MMA or 1st Freedom.
How can you worry about the costs? Hamas doesn't, and they've lost about 600 so far, including at least 125 children. Libyans didn't and about 20,000 of them died. The brilliant Free Syrian Army has made sure that the violence is constant and more than 150,000 are now dead, mostly civilian, including thousands of children.

The girly types in Tunisia did their revolution, toppled their dictator of 23 years using no violence at all and so only lost about 320 civilians, the Egyptians ended the 29-year rule of Mubarek using almost all nonviolence and approximately 900 civilians were killed. Ukrainians ousted Yanukovich and it only cost them about 100 dead. Where's the glory? Where's the chest-thumping testosterone in those measly body counts?

Stick with the manly way to resist. It's what we know and the costs are acceptable.

Reference List

Chenoweth, Erica, and Maria J. Stephan. 2014. "Drop Your Weapons." Foreign Affairs 93, no. 4: 94-106. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed July 23, 2014).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Making activists look better--or worse

What happens when a radical flank emerges from some campaign, some movement, or some organization? There are two stock answers.

One, the existence of a more radical element tends to make the formerly labeled extremists now seem moderate and they are better and more likely picked to be negotiating partners. Progress therefore was made possible more quickly by a radical flank and the threat it implied.

Two, existential threats or actual physical violence by a radical flank closes down negotiations, stiffens resolve, and increases brutality, even smearing it over onto the moderate majority of the campaign, leading to a failure, and a longer struggle toward smaller gains.

Which is true?

Much like we teach in conflict resolution, it's a both/and answer. It depends. 
Malcolm X claimed that his fiery rhetoric made Dr. King look like a good person with whom to negotiate. This is an interesting claim. There is no real test and evidence points in different directions. Yes, Malcolm X was scaring the white power structure and Dr. King looked much nicer. On the other hand, Dr. King's direct actions compelled public officials to negotiate and did not afford them any justification for refusing to deal. Dr. King was the one in the streets. Malcolm X was a powerful recruiter into the Nation of Islam and never dealt with public policy as Dr. King did. So it is less than clear but worth compiling thoughts and connections.

Israeli settlers beat up some Palestinian kids. Unknown Palestinians kidnap and kill three Israeli youth. Unknown Israeli radicals beat and burn a Palestinian youth to death. Hamas shoots rockets toward Israel. Israel bombs everything in sight. This is all the work of radical flanks on both sides capturing and controlling the narratives in their respective societies. No one wins and the day of peace is pushed further into the murky future. Radical flanks are a destructive waste of humankind and resources and tend to slow and even reverse progress toward freedom and justice.

Penn State researcher Mark Anner (2009) looks at transnational labor organizing and concludes that the left-wing labor organizers tend to be the Malcolm X factor to the more local conservative labor organizing goal of a local union. The left-wing radical flank tends to prompt the owner class to negotiate with the more conservative organizers who are willing to engage in cross-class collaboration. Anner did his field research in Honduras and El Salvador and used a robust methodology and strong analysis. Sadly, the unions in those two countries have not been any sort of panacea, as we now see tens of thousands of children fleeing unaccompanied toward and into the US, enough to prompt Rick "Radical Flank" Perry into calling up his Texas Republican Nationalist Guard. 

I'm going to suspect that when the actions of the radical flanks cross the line and become violent, all bets are off. Big buff intimidation is one thing. Rhetoric about taking over is one thing. Strident nationalism or any populist identity-thumping sloganeering is one thing. But killing children is atrocious. And when atrocities occur, that radical flank action is almost certain to intensify all negative, destructive aspects of the conflict, generalizing it, seizing the public narrative, driving the nonviolent elements to the margins or underground entirely, and drastically increasing all costs to everyone. Malcolm X was dignified and precise and never counseled anyone to do what the Black Panthers later urged, that is, to "kill pigs" (police) (as a young man I subscribed to the Black Panther Party paper and the violent rhetoric was truly intense). It is entirely possible that Malcolm X was indeed the exception, just as the apparel unions in Central America seemed to benefit from the radical flank leftist internationalist rhetoric, according to Anner. 

The mere threat of aggression or violence can diminish some movements quite surely. I have witnessed that directly, if anecdotally, as an organizer in my town, Portland Oregon. As long as the radical flank and the mainstream movement worked together and the radical flank only did its most rowdy (and I would argue reckless) actions at its own events and avoided such provocative behavior at our mainstream events, our numbers grew. When that dialog and collaboration ceased and the radical flank felt no constraints and acted out at all events, the movement shrank steadily. 

This is a complex question. For organizers, frankly, it seems most advisable to err on the side of caution. If the radical flank (which will always be with us) can be convinced to maintain a certain standard of agreed-upon behavior (or if they already do that by their own unilateral choice, as did Malcolm X), they can have either little effect or a positive effect. But sliding away from that in any way courts campaign failure and movement disintegration. At the least, organizers need to think quite carefully about how this figures into their decisions.

Reference List

Anner, Mark. 2009. "Two Logics of Labor Organizing in the Global Apparel Industry." International Studies Quarterly 53, no. 3: 545-570. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed July 22, 2014).

Friday, July 18, 2014

US Marine General: US military must buy Russian war machines. Seriously?

An alternative to violent force is nonviolent force. This can look like many things, but economic sanctions are a major category of compulsion by nonviolent means. Do they always work? This question is answered best with another question, does violence always work? In fact, no method of compulsion always works (with the possible exception of a crying baby).

When we consider trying to make an extremely powerful opponent behave in a certain way that we like, and to stop misbehaving in our estimation, economic sanctions are one of the only possible approaches. Flying to Russia with bombers and rolling into Russia with tanks is mutually assured suicide and clearly irrational at any level, no matter what Bill O'Reilly or Sean (Ins)Hannity might claim.

This leaves us with a few options, including global opprobrium, sanctions, and aid to Russian civil society opposition. Putin is nearly impervious to public embarrassment and scoffs at all such attempts. It is highly dangerous for Russian civil society to be branded as tools of the US or EU, so that limits support for their civil society dissidents, even if Russians come to know how much the West loves Pussy Riot. And so we look to sanctions.

By far the most screwed up approach to compelling an opponent to behave better is to be dependent on him. This is precisely what the US has done with Russia and most stupidly and astonishingly, with military contracts. It is beyond belief that the Pentagon should self-sabotage so utterly, but that seems to be their modus. A 17 July 2014 Reuters story details the missteps and the inevitable self-defeating outcomes.
President Obama announces more sanctions on Russia, including blocking new military contracts with them. His nominee for Commander DuJour in Afghanistan, Marine General Joseph Dunford, goes public and calls that "catastrophic." He says that "young Americans" will be exposed to increased attack in Afghanistan, primarily because the US won't be able to order spare parts for all 88  Russian Mi-17 helicopters it is gifting to the oh-so-democratic government we've installed in Afghanistan.

Are there words for the depths of corruption, incompetence, and inanity this situation reveals? I mean, I'm a pacifist but even I know how poorly it redounds on the US military to buy gear from the opponents, if not enemies. And Dunford even asserts that the US could not keep those helicopters in running order without Russian parts. Seriously? The US arms industry, by far the largest on Earth and in most respects the most advanced, cannot reverse engineer some spare parts?

It's one thing to buy some Russian ballet DVDs or Russian chess master instructional texts. Cutting off the supplies to those would not degrade anyone's security. But to seek out purchase of military hardware and then become so dependent on the adversary that Russian behavior toward Ukraine--possibly including providing the anti-aircraft missile that just shot down nearly 300 traveling people on Malaysian Flight MH17--is unanswerable by sanctions, that is by far the most short-sighted military policy imaginable, and the Pentagon imagines many of them on a daily basis.

Obama has tried sanctions to a greater degree than ever, but his White House team needs to replace many of the Pentagon team with those who can think a bit more clearly. Taking the Russian Mi-17 helicopters out of the equation, and never again purchasing a single military item from the Russians, would seem like a barebones basic first step. As it is, the US military knows it has zero military response to Russian aggression in Ukraine and the US military has now thus compromised the security of Ukrainians, Afghans, and US personnel. Brilliant.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Spiritual warriors or fear-based followers?

Analysts often note that resolve and resiliency are needed to prevail in nonviolent struggles for justice (Ackerman & DuVall, 2000; Sharp, 1973). Are these naturally occurring characteristics or can we identify some cultural factors that tend to produce more resolve and more resiliency?
Some cultures question those who fight, who make waves, who disrupt social harmony. These cultures tend to want peace at almost any price and at times are perhaps the most passive-aggressive in some ways, tending to gunnysack grievances until there is some explosion. When China explodes, it's devastating, and before that they seem to seek to maintain the appearance of harmony. France, on the other hand, is bubbling over all the time and only in the most marginalized neighborhoods (e.g. North Africa immigrants) are there paroxysms of social upheaval. Intercultural experts note that social harmony is a high value in some cultures and not so much in others. Resiliency is affected by the perceptions of conflict management styles and outcomes.

Another factor that tends toward more or less resiliency in a particular society is its intergenerational ties, strengths, or conflictual weaknesses (Seedsman, 2006). In cultures where great respect is shown for elders, resiliency tends to be greater. This is not necessarily because the elders have a corner on wisdom and certainly not because they are more talented than youth, but because this characteristic tends to make human resources more available to the community for all to share. These ties will weave a much stronger social fabric able to withstand setbacks, oppression from an external power, and even many years of apparent defeat.

We do not admire the warrior for her ability to kill, even in a violent military or quasi-military setting. We admire her because she is willing to die for us. This is why nonviolent warriors--those who imbue their preparation with a fighting but respectful spirit--are admired as much as soldiers. Name an African American Vietnam War hero (pretty silent......). Name a Civil Rights hero (MLK, Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, John Lewis, Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette, James Lawson and on and on). These were people who went nose-to-nose with terrorists using only their spiritual resources, and who grew their community bonds as well as building bridges to other communities through actions that were so obviously spiritually grounded in goodness. They didn't need to beg for support; their actions were seeds that grew the support organically and swiftly.

There is also a religious mandate for nonviolence in some traditions, usually quite tiny compared to the megachurches. This mandate can help intracommunal resilience if the mandate is systemic, as it is with Quakers, Amish, and the various religiously pacifist Anabaptists. But if the mandate is akin to Leo Tolstoy's paradigm--basically, "God says be nonviolent or go to hell," it may not contribute so much to the resiliency needed to endure long struggles for justice, for policy change, or for protection of some valued status quo.

In sum, gratitude, hope, and nonviolence arrived at by kindly persuasion and example will tend to have strategic value; nonviolence based on fear is not conducive to strategic development.


Ackerman, P., & DuVall, J. (2000). A force more powerful: A century of nonviolent conflict. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Seedsman, Terence A. 2006. "Keynote 2. Viewing Participants as Resources for One Another, Communities and Societies: Intergenerational Solidarity Toward a Better World." Journal Of Intergenerational Relationships 4, no. 1: 23-39. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed July 17, 2014).

Sharp, Gene (1973). The politics of nonviolent action: Part three. The dynamics of nonviolent action. Boston: Porter Sargent.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Fight them there if we want to eventually fight them here

"Bring the fight to them over there or they will bring it to us on our home soil." So say the (and I use this term with all due respect) warmongers whose rationale for bombing and shooting, possibly invading and occupying other peoples' lands is the all purpose fallback to those who know that they are recommending a disastrous policy.

Those are the two options, according to these people. Either we start strafing the enemy or we can hide like cowards and wait for them to sweep across the US. Seriously.

Facile false dichotomies like this are the building blocks for senseless violence, loss of life on all sides, a broken economy (except for war profiteers like Dick Cheney's Halliburton, which netted some $39.5 billion from our 2003-2011 imperial adventure, every cent of which came straight out of the pockets of working Americans), and another round of generating hatred toward the US.

Why do they hate us? Um...because we support their most corrupt leaders, like the Saudi Royals, the Bahraini Royals, and the Egyptian generals? You think? Because we invaded Iraq on two Big Lie pretexts (Saddam had WMD and was buds with bin Laden). Could be, eh?

As usual, the war profiteers--arguably the least patriotic of all Americans, since they routinely send thousands of Americans to their deaths and rob all other sectors of our economy of federal support--are calling for violence. As usual, they are wrong.

They would have us fear that those who are taking over the Sunni Triangle--the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria--have their sights set on the US next. In truth, the only way we can reliably be sure that ISIS will attack the US is to send troops there. They will then attack those US troops. Brilliant. They will do so using US weapons, since we gave so many of them to the Iraqis, stupidly.
Why do we leave so many weapons with troops who obviously have zero interest in fighting for the country that foreign invaders have tried to create in their own image? Again, it's profitable to an elite group of war profiteers. Waste is their friend; keep the assembly lines building more, suck more profit from the American taxpayer into the deep pockets of the weapons corporations. Use it all up, even if you have to turn it over to those who will use those weapons against Americans. The only Americans they will use them against--soldiers recruited from the poor and underemployed sectors of the US--will not be those who own the weapons manufacturing corporations, so who cares?

I am not even being cynical in my assertions; this is just reality. What history teaches us is that the Islamic jihadis have many legitimate grievances and eventually attack using terrorist, immoral methods. Why give them more grievances?

The elites in Congress will not change this reality until the citizenry changes Congress. Let's do that.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dear America: It's Over (Rulers of the World Era)

Reinvade, reoccupy, and redestroy Iraq. That is the solution to the inevitable civil war that happens when the US pulls out? Will we do it until either Iraq is remade in our image or until the US economy, political environment, and culture is also destroyed?

Eight years ago a group of Portland peace activists raised the funds to bring together a number of experts to produce an exit strategy from Iraq. Ours was done, as it turns out, at the same time that the Iraq Study Group did their work. We were just unaware that the government had finally at long last decided maybe it was time to think Exit Plan. Duh. I expect we were all simply inspired and challenged by the insightful and cogent strategy published shortly before in the widely cited peer-reviewed journal, The Onion with the supplementary promotion by Bill Maher.
Still, despite the obvious--and our group, which was informed by military experts and conflict transformation experts alike, noted well that no matter when the US left the Iraqis would have a bloody civil war and settle on a new autocratic government that shot its way to power and repressed its citizenry--it took the US three more years to begin to leave, longer to finish leaving, and now the correctly predicted violent settling-out process is happening in earnest.

Naturally, the US conflict industry is dismayed when the US isn't spending every last centavo on weaponry and other military profiteering contracts. Time to respond! Go bomb! Send in "advisers." No-fly attacks, hunt down insurgents with drones and war jets. Remobilize US troops because if there is one glaringly blatant truth, proxy troops no longer work in this post-Cold War era. They seemed to be Just Fine and a great way to drain the American taxpayer when their loyalty was fairly dependable. But the era of "he may be a son of a bitch but he's our son of a bitch" (ascribed a bit dubiously to FDR about our boy Somoza, the Nicaraguan dictator) is over. Our SOBs are now routinely driven from power by the ballot, the bullet, or the bodies--that is, by the elections we no longer control, by violent insurgencies, or by civil society nonviolent revolution.

Stop it. Stop interfering in other countries. Stop sending arms. Stop the drones. Just support civil society with helpful and requested aid, never guns or tanks or war jets or anti-insurgent helicopters or anti-government rocket-propelled grenade launchers. And for any chance of success, keep US troops at home. Let Iraqis work it through and then try to be a friend to their citizenry with our goods of life. It may not be as fast as the "I've got a gun to your head so go vote!" model of spreading "democracy" that is favored by our leaders and our military industrial congressional complex, but it is the only one that actually works. Can we please start now?

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Department of Ironic Defense

Like so many other US military bases overseas, the Okinawan locals who oppose the base are told that the US military is there to protect them. Indigenous opposition is brushed aside by the presumption of position--there is one way to protect people and the US military is the best at it.
Increasingly, Okinawans resist such arguments. Land usurpation,  sovereignty cancelation, foreigners with guns who commit crimes with legal and extralegal immunity, infernal jet and truck noise at all hours, clogged roads and traffic accidents, human trafficking and military personnel sexual crimes against locals, ruined coastline, contaminated air and water, military aircraft crashes, massive local resource consumption and the endless experience of living under occupation frustrate indigenous Okinawans and they are not alone. Who's watching the watchers? has now become protect us from the protectors.

The latest small but telling twist of profound irony is the discovery that a US Kadena Air Force base building used to screen children for developmental concerns has drinking fountains that have been delivering water-borne lead to those children for many years--even despite reports that the lead content was at unsafe levels in that building more than a decade ago.

A single incident like this is alarming to locals who want the foreigners to leave--isn't 69 years of foreign military occupation enough to assess and neutralize the Okinawans' desire to conquer the world? But this happened at similar buildings on two other US military bases last year in Okinawa. Thanks for your care for the children, US military! Please show even more care and leave, at long last.

It has never stopped hurting Okinawans that they have been repeatedly devastated by foreigners and many even regard Japanese as foreigners. As usual, the UN is far ahead of the US on this question, pointing to history of independence and national separation so profound that even the islands' (an arc of them some 683 miles long) have evolved unique flora and fauna--and human culture.

One of the four primary steps in principled negotiation is to insist on fair standards. This has been a failure at every level of this occupation for nearly 70 years. This small but telling issue of lead in the water (yes, the fountains have been ordered disconnected, presumably by a touchingly sensitive USAF public relations officer) is an example of abuse of those standards. The US Environmental Protection Agency found that there is no safe level of lead in drinking water. No lead at all is the only safe standard. So of course the USAF decided that 20 ppb is a safe standard. The child development buildings had levels even in excess of that manipulated 'safe' standard. This is a bit like the state legislature of Indiana almost declaring a new value for pi in 1897 (3.2, much simpler). Neither that legislature nor the USAF gets to change reality to suit their fancy.

The only thing worse than all the occupation for almost seven decades is the Asian Pivot, sending massive US military forces to that region, presumably to protect everyone from China. It is time to pivot home, to stand down, to close foreign bases and stop polluting everyone else's countries. There is enough remediation to do back here in the US. There are hundreds of US taxpayer $billions to be saved doing this, and a huge amount of goodwill we can generate by closing down, cleaning up, and coming home. It's time.