Friday, November 12, 2010

Nonviolence v Nazis: Occupation novel

Denmark rising is a first novel by Barry Clemson, a new writer from Virginia--new since retiring from a variegated work life that included such a variety of positions and jobs that his storytelling truth is assisted.

The point of the novel is to illustrate how strategic nonviolence works. Research done in the preparation of the book (and video series that premiered on PBS in 2000) A force more powerful tells the average student of nonviolence (all students of nonviolence should start with A force more powerful) that Clemson has done his homework and is writing an authentic historical novel. His purpose is to produce reading material that is entertaining and teaches us the possibilities. He uses the artistic license of fiction to put fictional detail and dialog into a historical episode that helps us learn something.

Is every detail correct? No, nor is it supposed to be. In some ways, that is the truth of fiction, much like the notion that the majority of messages we send and receive in our interpersonal daily lives are nonverbal, yet they are sent and received. In a historical novel, the dialog and details are fabricated to show us the deeper truths.

The deepest truth of Denmark rising is that nonviolence is a legitimate and effective method of a 'powerless' society using strategic nonviolence to resist occupation by the far more militarily powerful invader nation. Clemson has life experience understanding this in an entirely different geographical and chronological experience. He was a member of the cohort of American youth who went to the Deep South in 1964 as part of Freedom Summer. He and about 1,000 other youth--mostly college students--risked life and limb accompanying African Americans who were brutalized and denied their civil and human rights at that time. Applying the counterfactual to both situations provides a clear contrast.

What if the Danes had resisted militarily?

What if African Americans had resisted militarily?

It would have been quite bloody and quite lethal in both cases and the outcome would have been guaranteed. Danes would have been crushed. African Americans would have been slaughtered.

But Clemson was part of another approach and it worked. There were costs, but they were far lower than the costs of violent resistance would have been. Clemson's work on Denmark makes that point in an interesting and readable fashion.

My wish was that he would have provided a much more serious and involved Foreword or Afterword to explain his research and sources. It is impossible to tell what he made up and what was documented fact. To the student of nonviolence, this would be helpful.

As a historical novel, Denmark rising is very good, with a rich look at what a civilian-based defense would look like and why it might work. Clemson doesn't make extravagant or unrealistic claims, he doesn't soften the Nazi ruthlessness, and he explores the psychological aspects socially and individually of this unusual and instructive historical case.
(pictured: Dane King Christian X, who rode daily through Copenhagen and kept his people united and rallied around their independent Danish national identity, even though the Nazis wanted to showcase Denmark as a protectorate, as part of their new empire).

Pick up copies for your holiday stockings. They are the best book value in quite some time at $10.

Keep researching and writing, Barry. You have a lot to offer us and there are precious few novels that we can bring to the cabin or the beach and gain both enjoyment and knowledge about how to replace our dysfunctional social conflict management methods.

Clemson, Barry (2009). Denmark rising. Norfolk, VA: Cybernetica Press.

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