Sunday, March 02, 2014

Veiled C & B--what are the hidden costs and benefits?

Is violence effective? Well, sure. Any schoolchild can tell you that. I remember my sister teasing me until I punched her in the upper arm. She would stop teasing me and start crying. I would not have to deal with the teasing for a minute--but that minute was spent trying to explain my frustration to my Mother. It was uncomfortable no matter what until I learned how to deal with her in a bit more mature fashion. Nonviolence worked much better, and was ultimately much faster because there was no period of escalation once my sister learned that I now was immune to her teasing.

But of course violence makes things happen. Sometimes they get much worse much faster, sometimes things get better over time, and there are times when violence seems to solve all problems instantly. However, there are almost always upcoming costs to the instant success of violence, whereas the hidden costs of pure nonviolence are, for the most part, nonexistent or negligible. Nonviolence can cause a crackdown of sorts but that actually diminishes in the face of nonviolence rather than increases. Some costs of violence are not so immediately apparent, nor are some benefits of nonviolence.

When, in 1996, the IRA broke its ceasefire and bombed Canary Wharf, that appeared to move the Brits off the dime and in a couple of years there was the 1998 Belfast Accords (Woodworth, 2007). Other IRA attacks included civilian areas in England, though warnings were given in order to claim that the targets were economic, not people. 
In March 1993, the IRA killed two children in Warrington, Cheshire- three-year-old Jonathan Ball and twelve-year-old Tim Parry after placing bombs inside several bins.
On the other hand, what if? Can we apply any number of counterfactuals to suggest alternatives to that bombing that might have also driven the UK to release IRA prisoners and sign an agreement?

What if:
  • the IRA permanentized its ceasefire in 1996 and swore to abjure violence unilaterally?
  • the IRA lobbied to apply the Sullivan Principles that had helped end apartheid to gain freedom for Northern Ireland?
  • the IRA had engaged in mass action recruitment that proved it could shut down Irish society for a day, or a week, or a month, and grind the economy to a halt until all IRA prisoners were released and a peace accord was signed?
  • the IRA had shown that beyond a civil society shutdown of Northern Ireland, it could convince a substantial portion of civil society in the rest of the island and in Scotland and in Britain itself to engage in work slowdowns, boycotts, and other economically punishing actions against British rule?
The costs of such nonviolent measures would be quite a bit lower than the draconian responses to bombings, even the bombings that sparked renewed interest in finding a solution. This is really the idea, isn't it?

One major problem for violent insurgents and terrorist separatists is that any violence is often assumed to be their work, even when there is no connection. Of course, this is true for any violent actors. Why is it so common and so easy to blame the CIA or Dick Cheney and his neocon buddies for 9.11.01 attacks? Why was it so easy to initially smear the Basque separatists with the Madrid train bombings?It's natural. Those people engage in sneaky violence, and sneaky violence just occurred, so of course the logic is to ascribe as much culpability as possible to known violent actors. Indeed, some factions in Spain still claim the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Freedom) (ETA) conspired with the Islamicists on that terrible attack. Any reputation for violence opens that vulnerable exposure.
That is lovely when it happens to us on the nonviolent side. "Oh, that labor strike is probably the work of those papist Catholic Workers and leftover United Farmworkers!" Sure, attribute away! That gives us a chance to highlight our nonviolence and explain it to others. Traducement by the authorities when we know we have the evidence and answers is a gift of a news peg on which to hang our story.

The really funny attributions are those that attempt to smear disciplined nonviolent actors and campaigns with violence. I've been called a terrorist on local TV in Minnesota and Wisconsin after engaging in a nonviolent act of dismantling a portion of a nuclear command facility. We laughed. Nonviolence gives that protection. The Serb kids paid a high price in spring of 2000 when they were called terrorists--there were beatings and arrests--but they overcame that quickly and decisively through discipline and humor. 

Peeling back the veils that can conceal all the costs and benefits of our chosen methods of conflict management can help us think through the choices with greater clarity and, we hope, some wisdom.

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

Woodworth, P. (2007). The Spanish-Basque Peace Process How to Get Things Wrong. World Policy Journal, 24(1), 65-73.

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