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Force Without Firepower - Conflict, Friendly Persuasion

"Here is a modest proposal for fighting the war in Indochina . . . : How about dropping goods on Southeast Asia, instead of bombs? . . . A thousand pairs of boots dropped daily for a week is cheaper than a single one-thousand pound bomb. . .. I would further propose that we hunt the enemy and bomb with goods first. Keep the communist soldiers busy opening their packages and meanwhile move swiftly in and dump a load on the villagers. . . ."

-Philip Roth, "A Modest Proposal"; in Look magazine, October 6, 1970.

Definition: The use or display of nonviolent military force during normal or crisis periods for such purposes as goodwill, deterrence, show of strength, propaganda, hostage deployment, and political, psychological or economic warfare; by means such as goodwill visits, public and joint maneuvers, and the delivery of messages, food, equipment, gifts, or hostages, whether requested or not.

The function of Friendly Persuasion could be an essential military mission for any nation which has chosen a strategic nonviolent defense posture. Political warfare was the term Commander Sir Stephen King-Hall used. Thus, besides nuclear disarmament, King-Hall had already been urging on Britain the twin posts of chief of staff for political warfare (on the Chiefs of Staff Committee), and a cabinet minister for the same.13  King-Hall viewed political warfare as a greatly neglected aspect of Britain's defenses; he believed that the Western democracies should have a sense of mission to rival the Communists'. His program entailed a poUtical-psychological-propaganda offensive by the U.K. or the West, amply funded and enthusiastically waged. Such an effort would have many phases; here we only consider the military aspects.

Leaflet bombings and loudspeaker planes are two minor tactics which might be greatly augmented in connection with others. Generating goodwill abroad would be another essential, which rescue action or civic action units would do by their very function. Other units trained (perhaps interchangeably with those two) for unarmed defense might want to amplify the traditional goodwill visits of navy ships by soliciting invitations from friend and foe countries alike. Their purpose would be a show of unarmed strength, an ostentatious parading of prowess, demonstratively weaponless: e.g., a visit by a helicopter carrier and unarmed marines.

In any grand design for a nonviolent defense posture there will have to be much attention to the Friendly Persuasion use of unarmed forces and to giving them high visibility. The strong spirit they would demonstrate would counter any false notion that to be unarmed is to be weak and afraid.  It would be a friendly caution to any potentially threatening power not to disparage an unarmed nation and assume it lacks the will for defense.

These remarks in effect are subsidiary to a main doctrine of nonviolent defense. It happens that two of the ideas for Friendly Persuasion by unarmed forces are in a somewhat different vein, and both in the form of satire. The precedent cited is yet an entirely different category and environment.

Precedent: The quotation from Philip Roth may sound far out, but General MarianoCandido da Silva Rondon in fact had a similar stock in trade. The career of Rondon (1865-1958) deserves further study; at this writing I have only located a scattering of anecdotes (and two non-EngUsh biographies) that suggest a bravery so outstanding it may be the exact prototype for organized nonviolent military defense.!  He is one of Brazil's national heroes, after whom the federal territory of Rondonia is named. Rondon's approaches to the most hostile kind of Indians in the Brazilian wilderness must be labeled Friendly Persuasion, but the lessons could be transposed to Defense, Buffer Action, or other categories, with soldiers at mortal risk to themselves but staunchly unarmed, dying without killing, as happened to scores of Rondon's men.

Rondon founded the Indian Protection Service (IPS) in 1910, to halt 19th-century atrocities against stone age tribes. The IPS courageously discharged its mission, under the motto "Die if Necessary, but Never Kill." Their task was to wan over Indians encountered in connection with surveys, telegraph lines, resource development, etc. The technique was to fly over the area dropping such gifts as pots, pans, mirrors, and pin-ups, or else have foot parties leave such offerings. One such campaign from 1943-46, at the behest of General George Marshall to explore Brazil's natural resources, claimed a hundred lives; Rondon refused to allow weapons for self-defense.  "This 'crazy notion' was termed suicidal . . ." wrote journalist Willard Price. "Criticism of General Rondon blazed in Rio, but he stood by his guns — or gunlessness. The Indians were to be won by kindness."15 The effort succeeded when the Chavantes agreed to a treaty in 1946.

But in 1968 half the personnel of the IPS were themselves implicated in "twenty years of shame," a long campaign of murder and sadism to terrorize Indians away from Brazil's advancing frontiers. The 700-member IPS was disbanded and replaced. It was as if the Red Cross had beeii found operating death camps.

Ideas: David Riesman's 1949 satire The Nylon War concerns a multi-billion-dollar U.S. effort to bombard the Russians with consumer goods, thereby causing them turmoil, economic dislocation, and increased demand for consumer rather than military production. Eventually Russia retaliates in kind: caviar, vodka, etc.16  It is a doleful reflection on these times that Riesman's piece is satire, while nuclear war scenarios and MX shell games are not.

In a similar vein was Philip Roth's caustic "Modest Proposal," quoted above. The sarcasm was thick; as Roth points out, we would have to run the risk that an innocent child might be killed if he were crushed under a bag of rice.

An American army officer. Lieutenant Colonel Channon, offers a remarkable concept he calls "The First Earth Battalion" or "The Natural Guard." More in the nature of prophecy than reality, his forthcoming book The First Earth Battalion advances themes similar to ones in this article. He mentions a "rescue company" for natural disaster, eco disaster, and human disaster; a "pioneer company" for space, eco, and urban environments; and a "counterforce company" to engage in "combat of the collective conscience" aimed at world opinion, with video-oriented humane tactics. Thus, I list the First Earth Battalion under Friendly Persuasion, though it could cover the gamut of missions we are discussing. Channon hopes to promote the First Earth Battalion into actual existence (see bibliography). Being a dreamer myself, I salute the attempt.

Another recent beginning is one called "Peace Brigades International" (PBI). In September 1981, eleven activists met at Grindstone Island, Ontario, and formed PBI to "undertake nonpartisan missions which may include peacemaking initiatives, peacekeeping under a discipline of nonviolence, and humanitarian service" (e.g., in Central America). This too I consider a species of Friendly Persuasion. Efforts such as PBI may aspire to Police Action or Buffer Action; as yet they are far too small for that. UN peacekeepers have much better logistics. The hope is that nongovernmental Peace Brigades might help in ways or places where the UN cannot. (Interested readers may contact Charles Walker, PBI Coordinator, P.O. Box 199, Cheyney, PA 19319.)

My emphasis tends to be on large-scale unarmed services, but that is not to disparage smaller vehicles. Historically, a single Friendly Persuader, such as Mohandas Gandhi, or Raoul Wallenberg, or Folke Bernadotte, has been the functional equivalent of several armored divisions. Abie Nathan of Israel has long been a one-man peace army; besides his relief flights to Biafra, he flew three illegal goodwill missions to Egypt a decade before Sadat's trip, and he operated the Peace Ship radio station along the Middle East coast from 1972-81.

So, among other things, the Friendly Persuasion function of unarmed forces would be Rondon and Channon and Nathan writ large.