View Electronic Edition

Force Without Firepower - Introduction

NONVIOLENT MILITARY FORCES may seem a preposterous contradiction in terms, but there are, in the U.S. military, components with such mottoes as: "Alone, Unarmed, Unafraid" (reconnaissance pilots); "That Others May Live" (air rescue); and "Strive to Save Lives" (medevac).

Decades ago. Major General Rondon founded the Brazilian Indian Protection Service and gave it the motto: "Die if You Must but Never Kill."

The 1948-49 Berlin Airlift is perhaps the most famous "unviolent" major campaign carried out by a military force.

Mao Zedong emphasized that "weapons are an important factor in war but not the decisive one; it is man and not material that counts."   Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall discovered that in World War II, 75 percent of infantry soldiers in combat did not fire their weapons.  Whereupon he wrote:

Any fighting man ... is sustained by his fellows primarily and by his weapons secondarily. Having to make a choice in the face of the enemy, he would rather be unarmed with comrades around him than altogether alone, though possessing the most perfect of quick-firing weapons.

To be sure, these notes are taken out of context. But they hint at an esprit de corps for a hypothetical military service that spurns all weapons but one: courage.

A working definition of "Unarmed Services" will be: Men and women effectives forming an entire military command without weapons; well-equipped for mobility and logistics; trained to accept casualties, never inflict them.
While many assumptions can be found in this article, these three are basic:

1    Killing people is the primary and residual duty of all armed forces.
2    There is conflict everywhere, often tending toward military "solutions."
3    All existing and would-be states have armed forces.

Likewise, I could state various premises, but here is the operative one: "Thou shalt not kill." Ever.  Pacifism? Perhaps. But the key distinction emphasized herein is not between war and peace, but between killing and dying.

Let us postulate "disarmies" that could provoke a war as well as prevent one, that could go to war as well as stop one. In all cases, the essential duty of these unarmed services would be: ever to give life, never to take it.

To imagine unarmed services across the board, consider three broad questions: What can they do? Whose are they? What do they defend?

Our main focus will be on what they can do — the military mission.  However, we should also bear in mind that any armed (or unarmed) force is established by a political parent and guided by a moral mandate.  The nominal purpose of any military force is national defense, but of course that's not the whole story. So we consider a wide range of missions through peace, conflict, and war.

There are hundreds of political/military possibilities. The United Nations is a logical birthplace for unarmed forces, but just for the sake of argument, we could depict them established by Costa Rica or Canada, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or the Nordic Council, the U.S. or Yugoslavia, the Irish Republican Army or Mongolia, Solidarity or Somalia. My intent is to sketch unarmed forces as a general proposition, adaptable anywhere, even to the most unexpected origin.

They would be a social invention, a political instrument in a world still afflicted by deadly power conflicts, occasional genocide, structural violence, natural disasters, ecological trauma, nuclear roulette, and the military habits of a millenium. Unarmed forces might well be acquired as a deliberate initiative, or through unforeseen mutation, by polities that had the vision or nerve or serendipity to do so.

The ideas in this article are grouped according to their military mission:
1    Rescue Action
2    Civic Action
3    Colossal Action
4    Friendly Persuasion   
5    Guerrilla Action         
6    Police Action                 
7    Buffer Action
8     Defense
9     Expeditionary Action
10   Invasion
and may be considered in terms of the political parent:
1    Non-state Organization
2    National Government
3    International Organization
4    The United Nations
5    A World Government