History Shows Pacifists Aren't Dreamers: In the Past 20 Years, Nonviolent Resistance Has Reshaped the World

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Those of us who are pacifists and who opposed the war against Iraq, as we oppose all violence anywhere for any reason, are now being chided and lectured. War works. George W. Bush and the U.S. military got it done. The beast of Baghdad is gone. Iraq is free. Saddam Hussein's statues are torn down and his henchmen rounded up.

Not so fast. No pacifist I know--whether a pragmatic pacifist or a principled pacifist, the two kinds--doubted the outcome of the onslaught that began in mid-March. On one side was a well-financed, well-fed, well-equipped, highly modernized military on the offensive, and with a near-limitless arsenal of bombs to be dropped by a near-limitless supply of pilots. On the other was an ill-fed, ill-equipped, poorly mechanized and often cowering military on the defensive, and lacking an air force to defend a helpless civilian population against bombing-at-will invaders.

It was Muhammad Ali in the ring against a 10-year-old schoolyard bully.

What we pacifists did doubt was the "last resort" argument put forth by the Bush war council, backed as it endlessly was by assertions that only warfare could bring on the heralded regime change and democracy.

The celerity of Hussein's fall sustains both the delusion that war making is necessary and the myth that violence creates peace. A look at history--fresh, in-this-lifetime history--refutes these lame claims.

On April 1, 2001, in Yugoslavia, Serbian police arrested Slobodan Milosevic for his crimes while in office. He was brought down nonviolently--by students, workers and a well-organized resistance movement. No resister was killed by the government during the two years its military and police might slowly eroded. It was citizen power, not NATO pilots bombing Serb civilians, that changed the regime. The tyrant is now on trial in The Hague getting due process.

On Aug. 24, 1989, in Poland, the Soviet puppet regime of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski fell. On that day it peacefully ceded power to a coalition government created by the Solidarity labor union that, for a decade, used nonviolent strategies to overthrow the communist dictator. Few resisters were killed by the Jaruzelski regime in the nine years leading to its overthrow. The example of Poland's nonviolence spread, with the Soviet Union's collapse soon coming.

On Oct. 5, 1988, Chile's despotic Gen. Augusto Pinochet was driven from office after five years of strikes, boycotts and other forms of nonviolent resistance. A Chilean organizer who led the demand for free elections said: "We didn't protest with arms. That gave us more power."

On the morning of Feb. 26, 1986, a frightened Ferdinand Marcos, once a ruthless ruler of the Philippines but now just another powerless dictator, fled to exile in Hawaii. A three-year nonviolent revolt--staged by nuns, students, merchants, workers--brought him down. …