Figuring out Exactly Why Nonviolence Works - or Fails Einstein Institution in Cambridge, Mass., Sifts through the Historical and Current Examples of Peaceful Tactics
Keith Henderson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
THE Albert Einstein Institution, near Harvard Square here, has just completed a decade as a clearinghouse for information on nonviolent action. It is named for the scientist because of his strong interest in finding means other than war to resolve differences.
Historically, nonviolent action has ranged from German refusal to cooperate with the French and Belgian occupiers of the Ruhr region in the early 1920s to the "people power" revolution that toppled Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. Many conflicts, such as the Palestinian intifadah and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, have had both nonviolent and violent facets. Einstein Institution scholars comb historical examples, and current events, in hopes of piecing together principles and definitions to form a clearer understanding of why nonviolence works or fails.
"I use the term `people power' because it's an evocative term, but it's not very precise," says Christopher Kruegler, the institution's president. " `Strategic nonviolent conflict' lends precision to what people mean when they say `people power.' " He and co-author Peter Ackerman have just completed a book on the subject (see review, below).
"Strategic" implies forethought, something often in short supply in a "nonviolent struggle," says Gene Sharp, a founder of the institution. A central mission of the institution is to disseminate findings that can help people arrive at a strategy of nonviolence.
Messrs. Kruegler and Sharp recently scanned some of the world's points of friction and commented on the role nonviolence could, or should, play. The former Yugosalvia
This situation brings to mind "the most common question in our field," Kruegler says: "What would you do about Hitler?" What they really mean, he says, is what would you do about Hitler in 1938. Before that date, perhaps, nonviolent action might have accomplished something. Likewise in the Balkans, if all parties had assessed their options five years ago, they might have made better decisions. The absence of nonviolent options in the Balkans underscores the importance of inculcating the concepts and methods of nonviolence, says Sharp. When the end of communism came in Poland, for example, the people already had a decade of training in those methods. The Baltic states
Sharp has spent considerable time in the Baltics talking to officials about nonviolence. More concerned than ever about resurgent Russian imperialism after the recent elections, Baltic defense officials are formalizing nonviolent tactics such as the mass mobilization of unarmed civilians, says Sharp. …