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The myth of violence

One of the most popular – and dangerous – assumptions in the world is that violence keeps us safe. I live in the United States, a country where the more guns we have, the less safe we are. That helps me to notice irrational assumptions that prevent creative thought.

The Ukrainian government’s choice to use their military to defend against Russia reminds me of the stark contrast between the choices of the Danish and Norwegian governments when faced with threat from the Nazi German war machine. Like the Ukrainian government, the Norwegian government chose to fight militarily. Germany invaded and the Norwegian army resisted all the way to the Arctic Circle. There was widespread suffering and loss, and even after the end of World War II, it took many years for the Norwegians to recover. When I studied in Norway in 1959 rationing was still in effect.

The Danish government – knowing as certainly as the Norwegians that they would be defeated militarily – decided not to fight. As a result, they were able to minimize their losses compared with the Norwegians, politically and economically, as well as the immediate suffering of their people.

The flame of liberty continued to burn bright in both countries under occupation. Along with an underground movement that included violence, nonviolent struggles on multiple fronts broke out that did both countries proud. The Danes saved most of their Jews from the Holocaust; the Norwegians saved the integrity of their education system and the state church.

Both the Danes and the Norwegians faced overwhelming military might. The Danes chose not to use their army and relied largely on nonviolent struggle instead. The Norwegians used their military, paid a high price for it, and then turned largely to nonviolent struggle. In both cases, the nonviolence – unprepared, with improvised strategy and no training – delivered victories that sustained the integrity of their countries.

I am not arguing that the threat or use of violence never achieves a positive result. In this short article, I’m setting aside the larger philosophical discussion while recommending Aldous Huxley’s remarkable book “Ends and Means” to readers who want to delve more deeply. My point here is that a compelling belief in violence renders people irrational to the point of hurting ourselves, over and over again.

One way we’re hurt is diminished creativity. Why isn’t it automatic, when someone proposes violence, that others say “Let’s investigate and see if there’s a nonviolent way to get that done?”

In my own life, I’ve been faced with violence many times. I’ve been surrounded on a street late at night by a hostile gang, I’ve had a knife pulled on me three times, I’ve faced down a gun that was pulled on someone else, and I’ve been a nonviolent bodyguard for human rights activists threatened by hit squads.

Excerpted: ‘Debunking the Popular – But Dangerous – Assumption That Violence Keeps Us Safe’.

George Lakey, "The myth of violence," The News. 2022-03-01.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Norwegian army , Global politics , Nazi , Violence , Aldous Huxley , Ukraine , Germany , Russia