Published on Friday, December 18, 2009 by Foreign Policy in Focus
A Lesson on Nonviolence for the President
After quoting Martin Luther King Jr. and giving his respects to Gandhi — two figures that Obama has repeatedly called personal heroes — the new peace laureate argued that he "cannot be guided by their examples alone" in his role as a head of state.
"I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people," he continued. "For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."
Unfortunately, this key part of Obama's speech, which the media widely quoted in its coverage of the award ceremony, contains several logical inconsistencies and historical inaccuracies that tragically reveal Obama's profound ignorance of nonviolent alternatives to the use of military force.
The Power of Nonviolence
Almost immediately after acknowledging that there is "nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naïve — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King," Obama equated nonviolence with doing nothing.
To live and act nonviolently, however, never involves standing "idle in the face of threats." Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Dave Dellinger, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, and countless other genuine peacemakers have put their lives on the line in the struggle for a more just world. Advocates of nonviolence, like Gandhi, simply believe that means and ends are inseparable – that responding in kind to an aggressor will only continue the cycle of violence.
"Destructive means cannot bring constructive ends, because the means represent the ideal-in-the-making and the end-in-progress," Martin Luther King explains in his book Strength to Love. "Immoral means cannot bring moral ends, for the ends are pre-existent in the means."
Therefore, to put it bluntly, it's impossible to create a world that truly respects life with fists, guns, and bombs. As A.J. Muste, a longtime leader of the labor, civil rights, and antiwar movements, famously said: "There is no way to peace — peace is the way."
Using a broad array of tactics — including strikes, boycotts, sit-ins, and protests — nonviolent movements have not only gained important rights for millions of oppressed people around the world, they have confronted, and successfully brought down, some of the most ruthless regimes of the last 100 years.
The courageous, everyday citizens who spoke out and took to the streets to stop the murderous reigns of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, to name only a few examples from recent decades, were anything but passive in the face of evil.
Moreover, these incredible victories for nonviolence were not flukes. After analyzing 323 resistance campaigns over the last century, one important study  published last year in the journal International Security, found that "major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns."
Victories Against Hitler
Contrary to Obama's speech and the dominant narrative about World War II, nonviolent movements in several different European countries were also remarkably successful in thwarting the Nazis.
In 1943, for instance, when the order finally came to round up the nearly 8,000 Jews in
Alternatives to the War on Terror
Obama's rejection of negotiations as a possible solution to terrorism also doesn't square with the evidence. After analyzing hundreds of terrorist groups that have operated over the last 40 years, a
For his book, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,
"Since suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation and not Islamic fundamentalism," Pape said in an interview  with The American Conservative, "the use of heavy military force to transform Muslim societies over there, if you would, is only likely to increase the number of suicide terrorists coming at us."
Apart from pulling
Through interviews with 17 radical Islamic ex-jihadis over the course of a year, Hari discovered that they all told strikingly similar stories about what drew them to extremism, and what eventually got them out. They all felt alienated growing up in
As I silently carried a cardboard coffin from the UN headquarters in
Eric Stoner is a freelance writer based in
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs