Sunday, August 05, 2012

Defeating the demon dictator

There is a puzzling paradox about war. As awful as it is, good people support it. 
--Kent Shifferd (2011, p. 5)
Research shows that nonviolence is the most efficient and most often successful method by which we can overthrow dictators. Can we also use mass strategic nonviolence to defeat the most demonic of all dictators, war? This is not an easy question.

When Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan devised a methodology to research civil resistance (mass nonviolence), they chose to only look at what they call maximal objective, that is, regime change. This was done to blunt validity threats. No one has questioned that they studied what would be the toughest challenge to any conflict management method.

But of course regime change isn't the maximal objective, is it?

When Johan Galtung identified structural violence, that is, the daily background violence inflicted on people because of the structure of their social system, he identified one enemy bigger than any dictator. People in dire poverty don't care about dictator v democracy. They want to feed their families.

Wars are fought with equal enthusiasm by dictatorships and democracies, slaughtering mostly civilians with demonic fury. Iraqis had Saddam throwing them at Iran and they had the US invade and occupy. Both wars cost them millions of civilian lives and combined to leave their infrastructure in toxic ruins. Polls revealed that they actually became nostalgic for Saddam after the US rampaged across their land and into their neighborhoods and homes.

Serious maximal goals much tougher than deposing dictators:

  • ending structural violence
  • stopping war

Just to think about the second one, can civil society stop war?

Yes, but the very first step is to get the masses to oppose war. Then mobilize them. Then develop the commitment and resilience to make sure that civil society makes stopping war a top priority and will not allow it to happen.

Gosh, that was easy to write.

Polls are interesting, but prioritizing issues is key. Gandhi got action because people began to prioritize the goals of his campaigns above even their material well being. He was strategic about it, but relentless. We can defeat war and structural violence only by getting much more serious about it than we have been. Demonstrations are groovy. We need commitment, and we need to identify war as the demon worthy of our maximal opposition. We need strategies that work.

All the principles Chenoweth and Stephan identified apply. Recruit. Build coalition. Encourage defections from warriors to peace activists. Erode the pillars of support for war.

Gosh, that was easy to write too.

As old friend nonviolent resister Barb Katt once said, "That's the problem with good ideas. They swiftly degenerate into a lot of hard work."

That hard work lies ahead of us if we want to depose the raging dictator of war.


Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Chenoweth, Erica, & Stephan, Maria J. (2011). Why civil resistance works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

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