I Can’t Do Nothing Anymore: The Nonviolent Peaceforce May 20, 2008 | 11:48 am

I regularly pick up podcasts that take on wildly different viewpoints, because I regularly find that if you look at people fighting on opposite sides of nominally the same issue, you discover they they’re actually fighting different battles. The best example of this is evolutionary biologists and Creationists, who are arguing about wildly different things — the evolutionary biologists are presenting the conclusive science of evolution, while the Creationists are reacting to “social Darwinism” and their perception of encroaching secularism.

On this basis, I picked up Berkley’s PACS courses: 164A: Introduction to Nonviolence and 164B: Nonviolence Today. I figured that you wouldn’t get more extreme than a nonviolence class taught at Berkley. Turns out I was right, but what I didn’t realize is that there’s an extremist hanging out inside of me, just waiting to get out.

The astounding thing is how effective nonviolent campaigns can be. The Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights campaign here in the United States is such a well-trod example that it is hard to react to it. However, the example of Gandhi was so new to me that it really shocked my paradigm, and his thinking changed the way I thought.

If you think about it, Gandhi managed to drive the English out of India, but in such a way that the English didn’t begrudge the Indians their independence. That’s surreal when you consider the international violence necessary for the American independence from England. And Gandhi’s practical yet spiritually-based approach to the entire problem of conflict really resonates with my own Christian faith in a beneficent and personal Creator God who made humanity in His likeness. So there’s a definite theological/psychological affinity that I have for the cause of peace. That affinity really jarred my complacency: I had resigned myself to the Kingdom of God being something that was necessarily externally imposed at some indefinite point in the future, but here’s Gandhi and MLK, Jr. leading organizations that demonstrate that peace really can be reached through nonviolence.

More practically, the whole enterprise of war in America seems to have devolved more into political nonsense and overreaction than to any real concept of the country’s defense, and the idea that we’re outlaying insane proportions of our budget for politically-motivated military campaigns really infuriates the small-government conservative in me, particularly when there are proven-effective nonviolent means to resolve conflicts that are more cost-effective in the long run.

So, I’ve joined the Minneapolis chapter of the Nonviolent Peaceforce. It’s an impressive organization with significant successes (watch this blog for more on that), and I’d like to see its mission continued and spread. After the marches I’ve done, and the letters I’ve written, and the votes I’ve cast, this is the first time that I’ve really felt hopeful about accomplishing something in the cause of peace.

  • Bill

    One key difference between the USA and India, was that by the time of Indian independence, the British (not the English) were bankrupt from fighting two world wars and could no longer afford to maintain an empire. They really didn’t have the stomach for a fight, which is why most of their overseas territories were granted independence, reasonably peacefully, over the course of a few decades.

  • Marc

    @Bill:

    That’s not really any different than the US situation. They gave up because it became too costly to continue fighting. Adding to that, the French declared war on them (soon to be joined by Spain and the Dutch Republic) and they certainly didn’t have to worry about the US invading them. So giving up on America was cost effective for a nation that was being bled dry financially (hessians aren’t cheap).

  • http://www.ourtragicflaw.com Parke Burgess

    Congratulations! I am a big fan of the Peaceforce concept. In fact I just vlogged about it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDuPilgEWMw. I’ve just finished writing a book about nonviolence. In it, I am rather more critical of the India case than you seem to be, but I am no less of a devoted proponent of nonviolence for that!