A different path: Let’s try nonviolence

There is a little known peace group that has been working behind the scenes since the early 1980s. When you go to google them on the internet, you have to get past Pitney and Bowes and the Palm Beach International Airport and assorted other sites before you come to PBI (Peace Brigades International), on page six. 

It’s symbolic of our culture. Don’t look for peace groups or alternatives to violence on page one. You’ll be lucky to find these alternatives even in the small print at the end of the day.

PBI volunteers accompany human rights defenders in conflict situations around the globe. They provide a space for the peaceful resolve of conflict through the presence of non-partisan internationals, who bring with their bodies and their service, some persuasive power from the governments of their countries. These days they have teams in Colombia, Kenya, Guatemala,  Honduras and Mexico. In their almost 40 years in the field, they have saved countless lives and demonstrated the power of nonviolent presence as an alternative to violence.

There is a sister organization that is gradually gaining international recognition. Built on the early experience of PBI and founded with the help of some previous PBI volunteers, the Nonviolent Peace Force is now at work in Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Philippines, South Sudan and Iraq. They advocate for, and train people in, unarmed civilian protection.

In Myanmar for instance, local people are trained to monitor the ceasefire agreement. Since they are embedded in their own communities and have the trust of others, they can see the first signs of trouble and intervene, or report violations to the authorities. Although the U.N. has occasionally been open to exploring nonviolent intervention in conflict situations, for the first time this week, the U.S. Congress heard about unarmed civilian protection from Mel Duncan, one of the founders of the Nonviolent Peace Force.

Isn’t it time? Isn’t it past time? According to the Watson Institute at Brown University, the U.S. has spent $6 trillion on wars and killed half a million people since 9/11. We now have counter terrorism forces in seventy six countries around the globe; that’s 39% of the nations on the planet. The human cost since 9/11 is 6,951 troops, 21 civilians and 7,820 contractors. And how can you calculate the cost to civilians in war torn areas, alive, but without homes and sustainable infrastructure? Or how do you count the cost to our own military, except in suicides and PTSD back home. The Watson report concludes, “high costs in war and war-related spending pose a national security concern because they are unsustainable. The public would be better served by increased transparency and by the development of a comprehensive strategy to end the wars.”

The scholarship for nonviolent change is available, as well as the people in the field from groups like PBI and NPF. Gene Sharp and the Einstein Institute have provided the history of how nonviolent movements have changed oppressive systems throughout the globe. Their meticulous research into the hidden histories of nonviolent social change, shows us an alternative to war and violent conflict is at our fingertips, if only we put our faith and treasure into it.  

In the same way, Erica Chenoweth, professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and Maria J. Stephen, have written a 2011 “book of the year” called, “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.” It’s required reading for all those who doubt the reasonableness of winning a war without weapons.

If you still aren’t convinced we have a nonviolent alternative, try “A Force More Powerful.” You can access the visual version online or the book would be available from the library. Here are the stories of nonviolent resistance and change from India, Chile, Denmark, Poland, South Africa, the U.S. civil rights movement and several more. Or try the film “Bringing Down a Dictator” about how young people brought down the “Butcher of the Balkans,” Slobodan Milosevic, without a shot fired.

What if we were to put our national support behind the efforts of groups like PBI, on the ground in Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, instead of sending troops and razor wire to our southern border. Do we really think we can stop people from fleeing for their lives from oppressive situations, without changing the situations where they live?

The costs keep climbing. War spending is always a bi-partisan plan. President Eisenhower’s military industrial complex continues to reap the rewards. Many others pay the price. Isn’t it time for a demonstrated alternative?