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Failed Negotiations and Violence

When I was working against the war in Vietnam in Berkeley in 1965, persons from a prominent anti-violence organization dropped into the Vietnam Day headquarters to ally themselves with our movement. It was great that we could join with them in opposing the war. Now, forty-seven years later people against violence opposed to the Assad regime are unhappy that the Obama administration has chosen to support the military option against Assad. Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced US support for pay and communications equipment to the Free Syrian Army. This upsets those who are anti-Assad and for non-violence. The Syrian American academic Mohja Kahf tweets: "Syrian nonviolence advocates get killed twice: lit, by brutal regime, & fig, by ire of their pro-militarization colleagues in rev." I'm sorry about this. We both detest the Assad regime.

To better understand the non-violence philosophy I've looked at comments on book titled Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, by two university scholars, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan. The book has won the favor of Steven Pinker, whom I follow and agree with on some things.

A reviewer writes:

Their evidence is overwhelming... They analyzed an astonishing 323 campaigns over the past century... The most striking finding is that between 1900 and 2006, nonviolent resistance campaigns were nearly twice as likely to achieve full or partial success as their violent counterparts..."

Here is my take:

The study described above appears weak or narrow in that it does not include considerations as to whom the non-violent campaigns are appealing – a most important element in whether a non-violent campaign will work. (If you can correct me on this, please do: send feedback.)

Non-violence as a movement tactic to achieve social goals works when it appeals to those with political power who willing to have a peaceful settlement of issues. It worked for the civil rights movement in the US because the US public in general and those with political power at the federal level favored rights granted by law to those who didn't have it. At the same time, armed self-defense worked for those blacks in Mississippi who sent an invasion by the Ku Klux Klan into a retreat. There were no appeasl here to the Klan or negotiations hoped for. It wasn't the Klan that was being appealed to. (For verification do an online search for Griffin McLaurin.)

With Assad, negotiations have failed. Assad has promised and promised, keeping the military option at bay while continuing his military option. The failure of negotiations makes the armed resistance the only workable defense against Assad's aggressions. It's sad but that's the way it is.

There are those who pose the problem metaphysically – so abstract that it is removed from practicality, such as: "Harming somebody is harming ourselves, harming the whole life." Non-violence, they say, is truth. The truth is that non-violence can leave people overwhelmed and enslaved.

Copyright © 2012 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.