LETTER: The Power of Nonviolence

I was challenged by Jerry Modisette, (‘LETTER: Non-Violent European Resistance?‘ October 4, 2017) for making mention, in my recent op-ed, of successful nonviolent resistance to the Nazi campaigns in Europe.

The respondent makes a straw man out of my presentation. I did not say that nonviolence always works, that violence should never be used, or any of the like.

What I did was anticipate the question, like I always receive it from students: “What can nonviolence do in the face of an enemy committed to the use of violence? What about against the Nazis?”

The Rosenstrasse Protest in Berlin is a fantastic example. During February and March of 1943 this protest successfully protected Jewish men from deportation. It was moral power and strategic pragmatism, and it worked. Had the resistance, in this case, tried to employ violent force they would have been crushed — nonviolence was the force more powerful.

It worked, and it was nonviolent, period.

It was not an isolated event.  The reader can examine the story of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, perhaps by reading Phillip Hallie’s Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There. Their use of nonviolence saved thousands of Jewish children and adults from death at the hands of Nazis.

These are not thought-exercises; they are not isolated examples.  Nonviolence works — and treating my presentation otherwise is dishonest.

Conversely the respondent offers evidence of the efficacy of violence, assassinations and violence in its forms. I could list off the ‘power vacuums’ left through assassinations, and in so many cases, the new leader is no more peaceful than the one he replaces.

But for Mr. Modisette to close with completely offensive points is too much. Nonviolence practiced by teh Jews in Germany did not “get them the Holocaust” — this is victim blaming of a level I’ve never seen before, and completely inaccurate.  And his reference to Quakers is an insult to that faith.

The reference to Gandhian practice in India making it impossible for colonizers to rule without force is laughable. Really, defending the colonial power? Please read about what motivated the Salt Marches.

More importantly, however, my original op-ed was actually about “looking for the helpers” and “being a helper” and remembering, in the wake of the shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday, that there is more good in the world than bad. So I invite Mr. Modisette to, please, send me a friend request on Facebook. We have lots to learn from each other.

With all thanks for publishing my opinion, and for allowing the dialogue. Please receive my reaction in peace,

Wim Laven
Acworth GA


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