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Synthesis/Regeneration 26   (Fall 2001)

Mercy Force: A Moral and Political Equivalent of War

The Myth of Green Party Nonviolence

by Gary Swing

I first became interested in the Greens back in 1984 when I read that Green parties in Europe and elsewhere were promoting the idea of national defense by nonviolent resistance as an alternative to war, an idea which I believe is essential for advancing freedom and justice.

The Greens claim to stand for ecological wisdom, social justice, nonviolence, and grassroots democracy.

Unfortunately, the best known Green Party, in Germany, abandoned its professed belief in nonviolence to further its quest for political power. As part of a coalition government, the German Greens supported military intervention in Kosovo. Among Greens in the United States, nonviolence is just an empty catchword.

No Green Party platform in the United States demonstrates a belief in nonviolence. Both the (non-binding) National Program of the Greens/Green Party USA and the Association of State Green Parties’ Green Platform 2000 reject pacifism. The ASGP’s platform even includes the statement, “We must maintain a viable American military force....” A political party that stood for nonviolence would never even consider putting such a statement in its platform. State Green Party platform statements on nonviolence range from weak to nonexistent.

I have examined campaign literature and websites from dozens of Green Party candidates for Congress and President from 1994-2000, but I have never seen a Green Party candidate in the United States use his or her campaign to advocate nonviolent alternatives to war. At most, candidates and platforms have proposed cutting the military budget from 50 percent (ASGP) to 75 percent (GPUSA), but a nonviolent, alternative vision has not been offered. Green “national security policy” in the United States is just less of the same militarism offered by the two major parties. The Green Party’s 1997 “Peace Conversion Plan” made no mention at all of nonviolence. This plan proposed to leave the United States with a genocidal arsenal of 240 nuclear weapons and “a military twice as big as any other country.” So much for nonviolence.

...the best known Green Party, in Germany, abandoned its professed belief in nonviolence to further its quest for political power.

War, and the military institutions which make war possible, are the foremost manifestations of violence in our society. At a minimum, a nonviolent political party would be one which explicitly renounces war, calls for the abolition of armed military forces, and advocates the resolution of international conflicts only by pacific means. This doesn’t mean just opposing particular wars. It means rejecting the very institution of war itself (hence, advocating pacifism). The Green Party should either stand for nonviolence, or else stop claiming that it does.

The power of nonviolence

Nonviolent action is rooted in a decentralized view of political power. Gene Sharp, the author of The Politics of Nonviolent Action, explains that no government can rule without the active cooperation or acquiescence of the governed. Political power depends upon sources within a society such as popular acceptance of a government’s authority, human and material resources, special skills and knowledge, psychological and ideological factors, and the availability of sanctions. These power sources can be denied through organized noncooperation and nonviolent resistance, providing a powerful force for overthrowing tyrannical governments or defending societies against attacks.

Green “national security policy” in the United States is just less of the same militarism offered by the two major parties.

Throughout history, ordinary people have resorted to nonviolent struggle not because they were religiously motivated pacifists, but because they felt it was their most effective weapon against social and political oppression. These historic struggles include Hungarian resistance against the Austrian Empire in the 1850s and 1860s, the Russian revolutions of 1905 and February 1917, India’s independence campaign, the Guatemalan and Salvadoran general strikes of 1944, and Czechoslovakian resistance to the Soviet invasion of 1968. Nonviolent resistance has been used to overthrow dictators in Iran, Hungary, Poland, East Germany, and Bulgaria. The Filipinos used “People Power” to oust dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. The Czechoslovakians called their peaceful 1989 liberation the “Velvet Revolution.” The people of Germany and the Soviet Union used nonviolent struggle to fend off military coups in 1920 and 1991 respectively. There were many cases of successful nonviolent opposition to the Nazis in the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and even in Berlin in 1943.

Civilian-based defense

There is ample historical and sociological evidence demonstrating that nonviolent struggle can be used effectively in conflict and defense. In his book, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Gene Sharp chronicles examples of 198 different types of nonviolent action, including tactics of protest and persuasion, social, economic and political noncooperation, and nonviolent intervention.

...strategic nonviolent defense retains nonviolent “military” forces with redefined roles.

Unfortunately, popular history virtually ignores the significance of nonviolent action. It is a history replete with impressive victories against great odds, despite the fact that nonviolent methods of struggle have never benefitted from the level of financing, training, strategy, and preparation that has been accorded to lethal military warfare.

There is an emerging school of thought advocating transarmament—prepared nonviolent citizen resistance as a defense against invasions, coup attempts, or other usurpations of constitutional government. This strategy of nonviolent popular defense is commonly known as civilian-based defense in the United States, or social defense in Europe. The term transarmament signifies a transition to a fundamentally different national security strategy.

Gene Sharp explains the concept of nonviolent national defense in several books, including National Security Through Civilian-Based Defense and Civilian-Based Defense: A Post-Military Weapons System.

Under a system of civilian-based defense, nonviolent resistance would be aimed at denying the enemy’s objectives, making illegitimate rule impossible, creating dissent within the enemy’s camp, making the costs of occupation untenable, and arousing international support. Tactics might include public speeches, use of symbols, removing or changing street names, hiding records, vigils, guerrilla theatre, ostracism of collaborators, strikes and boycotts, refusal to dissolve or co-opt existing institutions, dismantling key parts of machinery, and defiance of unjust commands.

The Mercy Force would be an unarmed service corps, engaged in humanitarian service and strategic nonviolent defense.

Like conventional warfare, a credible nonviolent defense system would require advance preparation, strategy, training, courage, and capacity to endure suffering.

Most advocates of civilian-based defense envision the gradual elimination of the military. In contrast, advocates of strategic nonviolent defense, such as myself, envision civilian-based defense as one component of a more comprehensive security system which retains nonviolent “military” forces with redefined roles.

The Mercy Force

We should forge a bold new moral and political equivalent of war by transforming our military forces into a Mercy Force. The Mercy Force would be an unarmed service corps, engaged in humanitarian service and strategic nonviolent defense.

In service to humanity

The Mercy Force would act as an international rescue command, prepared to respond to natural or human catastrophes. Mercy Force units would orchestrate medical aid, disaster relief, relocation and reconstruction in areas struck by earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and volcanic eruptions. Specially equipped teams could respond to chemical disasters and oil spills. Helicopters, hospital ships, and other military transport could be mobilized to save war victims and political refugees. The Mercy Force could help implement a food security program designed to eradicate world hunger by bringing food and medical supplies to areas affected by starvation and by aiding in development for self-sufficiency. Constructive social and ecological work should be regular functions for the Mercy Force. Civic missions might include literacy training, education, conservation, alternative energy development, health care clinics, and local construction.

Defending freedom

In areas of conflict or unrest, Mercy Force contingents might be invited to perform peacekeeping duties, such as occupying a buffer zone between hostile factions, observing elections, or monitoring truces. In the event of military aggression or coup attempts, the Mercy Force would conduct national defense campaigns. Shock troops would block and resist enemy forces. Soldiers might coordinate transportation and communication systems, occupy key positions, and send delegations to the enemy’s homeland to stir up dissent. Nationwide campaigns of nonviolent citizen resistance and noncooperation would be activated.

The new military

Transforming our military forces into a Mercy Force would preserve the jobs of military personnel, make good use of military facilities, transport, and non-lethal materiel, and change destructive institutions into agencies of reconstruction. The United States should take this course independently if necessary, but actively encourage as many other nations as possible to join in the initiative. As a political organization that claims to advocate nonviolence, the Green Party should be leading a movement to create this transformational security policy.

Gary Swing was a Green Party candidate for state representative in Denver in 1996 and a Pacifist Party candidate for US Senate in 1998. Gary has filed as a candidate for the Green Party’s presidential nomination in 2004. He has a campaign website at http://www.geocities.com/pacifistgreen/.

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