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David Swanson: Only Nonviolence Will End the War

Only Nonviolence Will End the War
By David Swanson

On March 17, a huge mass of people will gather at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., and march from there to the Pentagon for the cause of impeachment and peace.

A handful of pro-war people, some volunteer and some probably paid to be there, will stage a counter-demonstration. This relatively tiny pro-death contingent will garner 50 percent of the media coverage if those on the side of peace do everything right. If a single demonstrator for peace turns violent in any way, that story will take up far more than 50 percent of the news, and that news will hurt the cause of peace and justice.

This is not an uncontroversial point of view. There are those in the peace movement who believe that violence and the threat of violence, whatever effect they might have on average television viewers, can serve a more important purpose of frightening those in power. If Dick Cheney declares an end to the war following the recent assassination attempt made against him, I'll concede the point. Otherwise, I'm inclined to think that the sight of veterans for peace throwing stones and punches at veterans for war could only please a power structure that treats all veterans like refuse.

There are even those in the peace movement who believe it is hypocritical to oppose the use of violence in the struggle against the war, since the war-makers themselves are employing so much violence. But it is exactly that sort of thinking that allows for the creation of wars. If your violence justifies mine, and mine someone else's, there can never be an end to it until we've all destroyed each other. But if we stand for peace, the hypocritical decision would be to employ the tactics of war. Hypocritical and also ineffective. How many pro-war activists will you persuade to join the peace movement by hitting them or calling them names? You'll more likely persuade them that you are "with the terrorists."

But all of the members of Iraq Veterans Against the War once supported the war. Think how many vets who have never heard of IVAW will see a news report on their television about a march to the Pentagon for peace and impeachment, a march led by veterans, active duty soldiers, and military families, among others. And think about the 85 percent of the country that has never been in the military, doesn't know the horrors of war, but understands the danger of a kid with a black bandana on his face throwing a rock or burning a flag – especially if it's shown 30 times on TV.

Let's not hide our faces. Let's not allow them to dictate our clothing or our actions to us. And, by the same token, let's not back off from the plan to visit the Vietnam Memorial. This can be a free country with the right to freely assemble, if we insist on making it so. And it is our right to visit that memorial, whatever we may think of it. We should visit it with respect for the names it bears and their families and friends, and with dedication to avoid the need for additional walls of that size. And we should keep in our thoughts the further unbearable grief of a wall that could be imagined to include the names of the Vietnamese dead, a wall that might stretch the length of the walk to the Pentagon.

If the President had ended the Vietnam War when the peace movement pointed out that it was based on lies and destructive in every way, the Vietnam War Memorial would be much smaller. Many people would have lived who died. And the United States would be no less safe for having made fewer enemies in the world. President Bush has said for years now that he needs to kill more Americans in Iraq in order not to let down those he's already sent to their deaths. We can't ask the dead if they want that, but we have asked the living, and a strong majority of US troops serving in Iraq want the war ended – wanted it ended last year, in fact.

So do the majority of us here at home. But many of us do not know we are a majority. We can only inform each other that there is a majority for peace by creating public events that include everyone and do not unnecessarily drive people away. This does not mean giving up an inch. We are for immediate impeachment of Cheney and Bush and an immediate end to the war. We are not for nonbinding requests to properly train the troops before shipping them out. We are not for reauthorizing an illegal war. We are not for pretending this greatest of crimes has been a mistake or a well-intended accident. We are for upholding the rule of law and getting tough on crime. There are laws on the books that are just, but that are not being adhered to. We must lay down those laws. And we must restore international law if we are to prevent future wars of aggression.

Many people have been laying down the law in recent weeks by laying their bodies down in Congressional offices and refusing to leave unless arrested. These acts of civil disobedience have been nonviolent and have been aimed at motivating elected representatives to follow the wishes of, or at least acknowledge the existence of, their constituents. We need much more nonviolent civil disobedience of this sort, and to confuse it with unnecessary criminal acts of violence would be a terrible mistake.

But those engaging in violence at demonstrations and being labeled as "criminals" as a result, will make the absolute worst possible advocates for holding the Vice President and the President accountable to the rule of law.

To resort to violence would be a confession of our inability to organize sufficient numbers willing to engage in dedicated nonviolence. It would be an admission of defeat, and it would help prolong the war.


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