is non-violence more effective than violent means?

This is a semi-continuation of the violence and christianity thread that is going on. I always thought of Jesus as non-violent (I may be wrong however) and I always thought so b/c non-violence is so effective when facing an enemy that severely out-guns you.

In the Civil Rights movement, for example. I think they gained a lot of headway by being non-violent; by irrefutably being the people right in the situation. Even (some) people who came from racist backgrounds and saw blacks as inferior objected to teenaged protesters getting beaten down by billy clubs and firehoses. It forced those people to atleast give a somewhat understanding listen to the situation. It was effective. Sure it had to be painful. It had to be hard. In the short run it was a much more difficult path to traverse…but in the long run the goals that the SCLC and SNCC put forth were met.

Contrast that with the Black Panthers (who I respect greatly, don’t get me wrong). But by advocating armed resistance, the American public never really listened to what they had to say. They were crazy n***ers with machine guns for all they were concerned. And look what happened to the party. Their leaders were either imprisoned (on possibly phony charges) or shot. If they didn’t have guns, it would be very easy to spot the injustice. All in all, violence earned their party a disservice.

Another example: WWII. Poland resisted militarily and was defeated quickly. Same with France. The Nazi war machine was far superior (atleast in tactic, if not in arms) to these countries, and the Jews living in those countries more often than not ended up in concentration camps. Even Britain, who was among the “winners” of the war, suffered tremendous damage to its cities and people.

Contrast that with Norway, who when the Nazis came in feigned to “roll over.” Sure, take the country, it is yours. Occupy it, whatever the hell you want. But Norway, because it took a non-violent stance, was able to continue with a complex underground that was very successful in hiding Jews. If you believe WWII was to save the Jews, then that was a far more effective tactic. Sure, the Allies eventually won, but by that time 6 million at least were executed.

Bertold Brecht has a great fable that mirrors this point. It goes something like this. (sorry for the bastardization) :
A man was sitting in his home. All of a sudden he heard a knock on his door. It was a dictator. He said, “Submit to me.” The man said nothing and let him in. The man served the dictator for years, until the dictator died from food poisoning. The man picked up the dictator, threw him out the door, and said, “NO.”

I doubt the situation in India would have been as effective if Indians were taking arms against the British. It sure must have been hell taking beating after beating in proactive non-violence. But it worked.

I see non-violence as taking the moral high ground, undeniably. Either you take enough beatings that the world has to step in and stop it, or more probable (based on recent history) the perpetrators either find the country too radical to risk occupying, or the enemy is lulled into a false sense of security and lets their guard down.

It is more difficult in the short run. If someone hits you in public (embarassing you and causing pain to you) the easiest thing to do is let pride and anger step in and punch him back. But if a policeman comes up, it is hard for him to decipher who was right and who was wrong.
But if you swallow your pride and take your lickings, you are undeniably in the right. This will help you if you hold beliefs that run contrary to popular ideology (making you almost wrong from the get-go) or if you are weaker, and will lose the fight if a policeman doesn’t happen to come along.

If you are fighting for your country’s independence, or right to exist, I’d think you’d want to minimize casualties on your side (on account of your purpose- securing the livelihood of the citizens of the country). Entering armed conflict almost always leads to escalation which in turn leads to more death.

Thus, I’d aver that non-violence is the more effective than violence.
what do you guys think?

I would agree that non-violence is effective in two ways. In killing the least amount of people (generally) and in the long run.

However, nonviolence is not an easy policy to adopt, or maintain.

“Violence never solved anything.”

Hm. Well, who comes up with “truths” like that?

Fact is, someone like Gandhi wouldn’t last two seconds in a dictatorship or other oppressive regime. Nonviolent protest only works in modern societies that at least pay lip service to human rights and have a working justice system.


Non- violence can be pretty effective when you’re not dealing with someone who wants to kill you. On the other hand when you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about things like human rights then non-violent protest isn’t going to help you much. How many graves were filled in the USSR, China, and Cambodia by non-violent people?


The righteousness of the Civil Rights movement was not derivitive of any non-violent protest.


If you find non-violence to be so great then why do you respect the Black Panthers? At any rate nobody listened to what they had to say because they were a bunch of nuts.


A non-violent policy in Europe during WW II would have left Germany in control of the continent. You can’t seriously be argueing that England was worse off because they violently resisted Germany.


How successful was it at defeating Germans?


If you believe WWII was fought to save Jews then you need to read some more history books. And in fact the Germans would eventually been able to track down all the Jews in hiding. What, did you expect them to hide for 50+ years after the war? Without violence Germany would have won.


Fantastic. Of course while the dictator was in control he murdered my wife, raped my daughter, and has kept me in a perpetual state of famine, pestilence, and poverty. Hmmmm…maybe violent resistance would have been a better idea.


I agree. But then Ghandi was facing a government that really didn’t want to slaughter a bunch of unarmed people.


I don’t think there’s been any demonstratable proof that non-violence is always the most effective way to go in every case.


Well it really isn’t the officers job to figure out who was right and wrong. That’s what we have a judicial system for. I’m not to keen on the idea of letting someone beat my brains in.


There you go with that undeniable stuff again. What does non-violence have to do with being right and wrong?


There was an alternate-history short story published a few years back in which Hitler controlled India and Gandhi tried his non-violent protest. A bunch of solders lined up and started machine-gunning them all. End of non-violent protest.

That’s exactly what would happen, too. Non-violent protest is an appeal to the basic humanity of your enemy. You’d better hope that they have some.

“India’s Nationalist Leader Pummeled Senseless By Practitioners of British ‘Violence’ Movement”

While I am a great admirer of Ghandi (see sig quote) for his non-violent stance, there is no doubt that his tactics would probably not have worked in another time, another place, against another power…


Nonviolence can work, however, your target audience must:

  1. Be able to hear you. If Hitler’s stormtroopers machine gunned you, your sunk. You can’t talk and they control the media.

and also:

  1. Your opponent and/or your audience must have some respect for humanity. The British in India, for all their colonial infrastructure, were not evil people, and while they didn’t agree with Gandhi, couldn’t bring themselves to kill him or nothing. More over, Gandhi’s audience - in both the West and India, could not help but admire his courage.

  2. Hi Opal!

Adam Shapiro, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, gives his views here

His quote is alot more revealing than any opinion I may have;
The Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics – both nonviolent and violent. But most importantly it must develop a strategy involving both aspects. No other successful nonviolent movement was able to achieve what it did without a concurrent violent movement – in India militants attacked British outposts and interests while Gandhi conducted his campaign, while the Black Panther Movement and its earlier incarnations existed side-by-side with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

Why do you think Ghandi would lose!!!

The only rule of non-violence protest is no violence, if your postion is truely right then one does not need violence to convince people. Ghandi would soooo win, because he is right.

No one can control the Indian people if they don’t want them to.

I do hope you’re not serious.

I suppose if you maintain some metaphysical belief that justice for this world will be meted in the next, there might be solid reasoning for that position. For those of us who are not so certain of that, however, Ghandi’s execution and his people’s continued subjugation would have been viewed as utter defeat. Victims of the Holocaust held the moral high ground; unfortunately it doesn’t make the dead any less dead in this world, at least in objective reality. True, their memory will live on better terms and in more hearts than some common German soldier on the Eastern Front, but unless there are others alive to recognize that what happened to them was indeed evil, their sacrifices disappear into the dim mists of history.

1: I never claimed anything about a belief in an afterlife.

2: If that did happen Ghandi’s martyrdom would have some very good P.R. with the Indians.

3: Your right about the memories, after all is said and done, who would have won? Ghandi’s message or the Nazi’s.

4: Your sacrifice may disapear, but it’s effect will always live on. If by your sacrifice you effected one person (Your family, friends, strangers, or even your exicutioners) you made a difference.

5: This is all asuming that Ghandi would would go out like that. However, don’ t think just because a short story wrote it, that it would happen. Ghandi could have tried anything short of violence to free his people, why would he set himself up to be killed by NAZI’s in India. He could have protested in South Africa, created an underground resitance in India, set up organizations throughout the world in support of the Indian people, etc, etc. Not even Nazi’s could control the massive Indian population if they all said “no”.

Mathimaticly there weren’t that many Nazi’s, if your opinion was strong enough to convince the indian people that the Nazi’s should go (which wouldn’t be that hard, esplescaily for Ghandi) the Nazi’s would have to go or appease the people more so then Ghandi. Just because of Ghandi had a non-violent nature, doesn’t mean he was opposed to action, or wanted to be a martyr.

Hell if Ghandi was good enough Nazi’s themselves would be leaving, or changing their views on human rights. It might take time and hard work, but in the end Ghandi would win.

Satyagrahas kick ass (metaphorically).

Generally neither violence or nonviolence are anywhere near as effective as a combination of both.

Your reasoning is noble. Unfortunately, it is also utopian. As others have pointed out, it presupposes that your opponent will at some point see the error of his ways, that goodness and decency will necessarily win out merely because it is good and decent.

There is no empirically logical reason to believe that this is the case. (If you have one, by all means provide it.)

In the specific example, Nazis ruling India, Gandhi would have been killed. Period. Had his followers continued with non-violent protest they would have been killed too. Ad infinitum until there weren’t any more left to kill. His only chance would have been to flee, not protest. If you don’t understand this, then I don’t think you have fully grasped the brutality of the Nazi regime. Go watch a dozen reels of death camp footage. Do you think Gandhi could appeal to the humanity of people who did that? Irrational people don’t listen to reason–that’s why they’re called irrational. The Germans were intoxicated, first with hope that lead up from utter despair, then with victory, and finally with fear.

You might tell me the extinction of some forgotten Native American tribe worked out for good in the end, but I’d have a hard time believing it. How many people today remember the victims of the Armenian genocide? It was less than 90 years ago, and it’s estimated between 500,000 and 1.5 million people were killed. Now it’s barely a footnote. Rwanda and Kosovo won’t be humanity’s last examples of “ethnic cleansing”, I guarantee it.

When all is said and done, it is better to kill those who kill hordes of innocents rather than to allow the remaining innocents to continue to die.

Gandhi got a lot of flak while he was alive on WWII. He suggested that countries facing Nazi occupation refuse to cooperate and let themselves be slaughtered to the last man. They would die, of course, but they would not be mastered.

What I don’t think some people get about his definition of nonviolence is that is it is a philosophy of extreme self-sacrifice - more than the average human being can possibly withstand and still maintain sanity, really. He had impossibly high standards. I would not call them utopian because they recognize evil constantly exists.

The stated fable about the dictator is illustrative - not only would Gandhi endure the death of his family and all the suffering - but get this, he wouldn’t poison the guy, either.

One thing that should not be forgotten is that Germany has recovered from being under Hitler. It is quite concievable that the Nazis would have been overthrown by moderate Germans at some future point if the Allies had not been successful. It would have taken time, and perhaps tens of millions would die in the interim, of course, but there would be a cumulative effect similiar to what Gandhi counted on in the British. The sacrfice is simply on a scale few can handle or accept.

Why is “violence” an all or nothing thing? A no-violence strategy is garanteed to be as ineffective at achieving your goals as a strategy of total violence (say responding to every issue with hydrogen bombs).

There is nothing noble about dieing for your beliefs or letting others oppress you. If you feel your beliefs are worth fighting for, you should fight for them. Ghandis stratagy of passive resistance was effective against the British because their interests in India were mainly economic. You make it too expensive to do business there and they will eventually leave. Would this have worked for the American colonies? Who knows? It would have definitely not worked against a genocidal enemy like the Nazis.

Usually the best response lies somewhere in the middle. Take the Cold War for example. Yes, many people were killed in places like Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan and other places. But since nuclear weapons made direct violent confrontation too costly, the death toll was far less than it could have been.

So yes, non-violence is better when possible, but it doesn’t always work.

right. that is why non-violence must be cunningly planned. that is why it has to be unique to the situation. to answer those who gave the hypothetical Hitler vs. Gandhi scenario: yes, you are right in that those tactics wouldn’t have worked against Hitler. But non-violence isn’t just one tactic. It isn’t just lining up to take vicious beatings (read the history of the liberation of India for anyone who thinks that Britain wasn’t willing to do some damage to these people).

I gave the Norway example in WWII exactly b/c I knew Hitler would be brought up in this thread. Against someone like him, you have to be duplicitous. You have to be sneaky. Pay him lip service and do what you can behind his back. Like the Bertold Brecht fable.

creativity. not neandrathal retribution: you hit me, I hit you. you bomb me, I bomb you.

and for those who avered that Nazi Germany would have reigned forever if it weren’t for violence…I don’t know about that. Like Howard Zinn says in “Declarations of Independence:” Hundreds of thousands died trying to overthrow Franco. It never worked. He eventually died. Things were far from perfect in Spain after that, this is real life…but as soon as he died dialogue was opened again on what to do with the country. It was no longer a dictatorship. And Spain didn’t even have the added trouble of having several other occupied countries to deal with.

If Hitler took over all of Europe, do you think he would have the manpower and firepower to effectively police the entire continent? He couldn’t even do that in Norway. It is fitting he saw his movement as a reich. You get too big, you fall apart…

Hitler would have eventually died. His dictatorship would eventually fall apart, perhaps even before he died. And if no other country fought back (which fanned the flames of patriotism for many Germans) I’d aver that a German dissent party would eventually sprout up and gather enough support to overthrow Hitler.


*Originally posted by MGibson *

Non- violence can be pretty effective when you’re not dealing with someone who wants to kill you. On the other hand when you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about things like human rights then non-violent protest isn’t going to help you much. How many graves were filled in the USSR, China, and Cambodia by non-violent people? **


If there were no adversaries then there would be no reason for defiance- violent or non-violent. Civil Rights movement: firebombing churches, attacking buses filled with protesters…some of the southern whites did not give a rat’s ass about the human rights of black people… in fact, their insistence that everyone should have equal rights infuriated many of those people… As for the USSR, China, and Cambodia- depends on how active they were, how willing they were, what tactics they used. Non-violence has to be active, it has to be well planned and suitable for the situation.

**The righteousness of the Civil Rights movement was not derivitive of any non-violent protest. **


no, but many people were not willing to listen to that righteousness. if they took up arms it would only make matters worse in that respect. By being non-violent, it allowed many people to think differently about the situation, because it did not allow them to make up effective lies and propaganda about what the civil rights movement was about.

** If you find non-violence to be so great then why do you respect the Black Panthers? At any rate nobody listened to what they had to say because they were a bunch of nuts. **


I’m glad you have plenty of reasons to back that up. Do you know about their food and clothing drives for poor urban blacks? Do you know about their police accountability programs? Police brutality and poverty were not made up, which makes their reasons for being completely justified. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all of their actions.

** If you believe WWII was fought to save Jews then you need to read some more history books. And in fact the Germans would eventually been able to track down all the Jews in hiding. What, did you expect them to hide for 50+ years after the war? Without violence Germany would have won. **


Hey, we finally agree! Of course WWII wasn’t fought to save the Jews. Actually, Howard Zinn has a great essay called “Just and Un-Just War” in which he provides huge amounts of information on what WWII wasn’t fought for…this includes the Jews. That is why I phrased it “If you believe…”

And I’m glad you can throw something like “Without violence Germany would have won.” You must have a ‘hypothetical situation machine’ at your disposal. Can you not atleast imagine another outcome.

Wow Marc, you must be Bizarro Colin! :slight_smile:
But thanks for your reply.
I hope my remedial mb skills haven’t turned this quote/response post into muddle. All this bolding, quoting…I hope I did it right.


Both of these statements attempt to show that non-violence is the better way, but in fact show one of the greatest weaknesses of non-violence. Take the case of being beaten by a bully. The victim is simply hoping that there is a police officer nearby to save him from his agressor. Do you expect the police officer to use a non-violent approach to save him? Of course not! The police officer would use any and all reasonable force to stop the fight and apprehend the agressor. So the person who is being passive in this case may be taking the “moral high ground” for himself, but is still willing to allow somebody else to use violence to protect him. This is the exact same situation for Norway. Norway rolled over and allowed the Nazi’s to occupy them. In effect, they were waiting for stronger nations to come in and use violence to save them. In these situations, the non-violence may be the smarter way, especially if the victim is much weaker than their opponent and there is a stronger force nearby to assist them. But the OP seems to suggest that the non-violent choice is always the right choice. In these cases, what if there is no policeman nearby? What if Nazi Germany overran Norway and nobody came to help? Then the agressor will win every single time. The passive victim being attacked by a bully will very likely be killed. Is that better than fighting back? Suppose Germany had won the war and was looking for the last of the Jews for their “final solution.” Wouldn’t it be better for those who were protecting the Jews to fight rather than hand them over to certain death? Non violence certainly has its place, but to say that it is always superior to violence is vastly overstating the effectiveness of non violence. The fact is, there are very bad people and there are very bad countries out there. Given the ability, both would terrorize all the peoples of the world. Is it better for the world to roll over and submit to their will? Of course not! Whether dealing with violent dictator nations, or violent people the only recourse is often violence itself.