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Force Without Firepower - Conflict, Guerrila Action

"Only in a world moving towards disarmament could we use effectively what might be called the unarmed services of the United States. .. [including] a nonviolent freedom force that could help activate the politically suppressed in countries like Paraguay, South Africa, Albania, etc. "

Arthur Waskow, Running Riot; 1970;

Definition: Aggressive and unconventional initiatives by irregular but disciplined unarmed forces waging a revolutionary and/or defensive struggle against a more powerful opponent.

Even violent guerilla warfare, however brutal and dirty, has its unviolent tactics. For instance, in South Vietnam, National Liberation Front cadres would infiltrate a movie theater, shut off the projector, lecture the crowd, sneak away; in Uruguay, Tupamaros would invade households to warn families about malefaction by fathers or husbands; in El Salvador, guerrillas would halt and board a bus for some campaign oratory.

Another instance of guerrilla nonviolence is to be found in a firsthand narrative by Dickey Chappelle. She tells how Castro forces consistently released all their POWs unharmed, after importuning them to join the struggle and promising them they would be returned again to the Red Cross unharmed even if recaptured a second or third time.

Precedents: Apart from anecdotes such as these, the subject of revolution and nonviolent revolution is too broad to limit to a few remarks about guerrilla tactics. The preeminent nonviolent liberation struggle is, of course, Gandhi's 30-year campaign to free India. It does not quite fit the category of Guerrilla Action but cannot be ignored in any discussion of liberation movements.

On another front: In recent years, Greenpeace International and its intrepid mariners have hastened the French into giving up atmospheric nuclear tests, and have taken terrible risks to place their boats between the harpoon and the whale. Paul Watson's extramilitant offshoot, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, pushed close to the dividing hne of nonviolence when his Sea Shepherd rammed and sank a notorious pirate whaler. And on land, various ad hoc "alliances" of eco-commandos have nonviolently stormed nuclear reactors in different countries.

Ideas: George Lakey has written well on the general theme of nonviolent revolution, but military-style unarmed guerrilla action is not its mechanism. Ideas for that approach are rather scarce. One of the only such notions was Arthur Waskow's recurrent proposal back in the 1960s that the U.S. should frankly announce its intention to aid indigenous forces in the overthrow of the South African government.

Waskow was always imaginative, but he was careless about the firebreak between violent and nonviolent tactics; he suggested guerrilla infiltrators could be trained in both methods.

I hardly suggest guerrilla action is the best way to embody nonviolent resistance; looser social forms seem more likely. For that matter, guerrilla violence is no magic bullet either. Sandino, Guevara, Mandela, the Huqs, the Afghans, the Tupamaros: all ruthlessly crushed, like so many others. Armed or unarmed, a guerrilla must face many defeats over the long haul; victory can require more than one generation.