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Force Without Firepower - War, Defense

"This sight of marching, and probably uniformed, nonviolent brigades might give the citizens a sense of security.  To the average citizen a nonviolent army of professional resistance fighters would personify the will to resist and give him the assurance that they would in any event do their job and not leave him in the lurch.  The existence of a fearless nonviolent army, which would offer resistance to the last man, might act as a stronger warning to the potential invader than an invisible system of resistance cells. "

— Theodor Ebert, "Organizational Preparations for Nonviolent Gvilian Defense"; 1964; paper for Oxford Cvilian Defense Study Conference; quoted by permission of Adam Roberts; p. 10.

Definition: The assignment of unarmed maneuver elements to close with and resist invasion troops to the death without killing them; and the assignment of other unarmed land, sea, air, and civilian forces to active duty in accordance with national strategy for guarding political, cultural, and territorial integrity, public security, and civil liberty.

We now consider the military institutions on which might fall the responsibility for protecting a nation or people without killing a would-be foe. Sad to say, the quality and quantity of ideas for unarmed defense forces is not proportionate to the paramount role that armed defense forces occupy in most people's minds.

There is a developing theory oi civilian nonviolent resistance, which has received some official attention in Sweden, the Netherlands, and elsewhere. I am one of the exponents of this strategy, and Gene Sharp, its foremost analyst, uses the term civilian-based defense.  However, by definition, such a posture tends to neglect a military aspect of unarmed defense. While not ignoring the Pentagon or the like entirely, some civilian resistance proponents imply that the military would wither away except for those officers tapped to organize the modalities of political and economic noncooperation with an invading foe or homegrown Napoleon. I have long urged that civilian resistance doctrine effort might be vested in military organizations.

As stated in Reserve Officer Training Corps manuals, "Basic Army doctrine emphasizes mobility, flexibility, and staying power, so that the Army is maintained in a state of combat readiness for any war, anywhere, anytime, and in any manner."' (Emphasis in the original.) Let our unarmed forces adhere to all of these precepts, taking as their cue "in any manner." In the real world, the mission of an Army division is "the destruction or control of enemy military forces and the seizure or domination of critical land areas, and their population and resources." Substituting the word dysfunction for destruction, we could try to visualize, as a general concept, nonviolent ground forces who are assigned to cause the systematic dysfunction of an invading army: by occupying chokepoints; fraternizing with and demoralizing the opposing soldiers whenever possible; guarding strategic or symbolic sites with their lives; detaining quislings; operating or stalling transportation; restoring or disrupting communications; bivouacking on runways, railroads, and highways; and so forth.

These are only specimen tactics, and do not really show a Big Picture; excluded here are air, sea, civilian, poHtical, and diplomatic actions. I was simply trying to sketch a single aspect: main-force nonviolent combat (maneuver) units deployed as part of a grand strategy — the shock troops of a nation with strong preparedness for citizen defense against a wanton aggressor.

Preservation of national morale is the grand strategy of nonviolent common defense. If "nonviolent shock troops" do not reinforce this strategy, then other tactical modes must be developed, perhaps with more emphasis on Rescue Action or Guerrilla Action or Friendly Persuasion, or intelligence and communications. For example, the Danish Army was brushed aside within two hours when the Germans occupied Denmark in April 1940. But Danish Army Intelligence functioned throughout the war as an especially valuable source for the Allies.

Take another situation. A British-French plan to invade Sweden in March 1940 was squelched when the Swedes threatened to dismantle their railroads — which would literally have derailed that particular attempt under those particular conditions. The necessity did not arise. But let us speculate that in such a case, the Swedish Army could have been asked to rip out the rails and otherwise incapacitate the system. The point is that the tactics, whatever they are, must be adjusted to the general strategy and the particular circumstances.

Precedents: There are many improvisational examples of national nonviolent resistance to aggression — Gene Sharp covers a vast array of tactics and episodes in his work The Politics of Nonviolent Action. However, there are no cases of military nonviolent defense as set forth here. When Soviet forces invaded Czechoslovakia in
1968, it was the civilians who improvised dozens of ways to harass, slow down, and confound the invaders — for a full eight months. The Czechoslovakian military was helpless. The spontaneous nonviolent defense effort was a wonder to behold, but could not last indefinitely without long range advance planning and preparation. Likewise in Poland since 1980, the nonviolent struggle of Solidarity achieved over 16 months of astonishing gains for freedom of speech and independent unions, before the martial law crackdown.

The Czechoslovak and Polish experiences confirm again and again how essential it is that a given nation, and its military, prepare the public in advance for long-term unarmed resistance to alien or domestic power seizure. The fast track to failure in nonviolent defense is to use tactics without strategy, strategy without principle, and principle without tenacity. The slow track to success is problematic but manifestly the opposite. Above all, it requires extensive training and preparation to preserve morale and national integrity.

Ideas: There are few direct proposals as such for unarmed defense troops, although the idea has been raised without much elaboration in a variety of contexts. Gandhi denounced the Munich sellout in 1938, and exhorted Czechoslovakia to nonviolently resist Hitler's takeover. But it was not until the dark hour of June 1940 that Gandhi first seriously proposed that India — if independent — should gear for nonviolent defense against (Japanese) invasion. On June 21, there was a basic policy split when the Congress Party executive committee rejected Gandhi's proposal for nonviolent defense against external invasion, and instead offered to help the British war effort, conditional on independence. Gandhi had said that the Congress "should train themselves to defend their country with a nonviolent army," but could not dissuade his colleagues from the first step on a road which led to India's atomic bomb.29

Another military proponent of nonviolent defense is General Paris de Bollardier, a highly-decorated war hero, who was commander of the French paratroops in Indochina. (He resigned his commission in 1957 to protest French use of torture in Algeria.) He too has focused on a civilian approach to nonviolent defense, though he told an interviewer in 1972 that a military role need not be a contradiction, "if the army were trained in the technique of nonviolence."

One additional comment: Is it too much to expect that soldiers on active defense duty could give their lives, yet not kill? I argue that the military ethos of courage in facing death is not a function of killing people. To ask whether anyone could be expected to enhst in a front-line unarmed force is to ask why any soldiers anywhere go to war, volunteer for hazardous duty, or lay down their own lives that others may live.