Only Nonviolence Will End the War
By David Swanson
On March 17, a huge mass of people will gather at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., and march from there to the
Pentagon for the cause of impeachment and peace.
A handful of pro-war people, some volunteer and some probably paid to be there, will stage a counter-demonstration. This
relatively tiny pro-death contingent will garner 50 percent of the media coverage if those on the side of peace do
everything right. If a single demonstrator for peace turns violent in any way, that story will take up far more than 50
percent of the news, and that news will hurt the cause of peace and justice.
This is not an uncontroversial point of view. There are those in the peace movement who believe that violence and the
threat of violence, whatever effect they might have on average television viewers, can serve a more important purpose of
frightening those in power. If Dick Cheney declares an end to the war following the recent assassination attempt made
against him, I'll concede the point. Otherwise, I'm inclined to think that the sight of veterans for peace throwing
stones and punches at veterans for war could only please a power structure that treats all veterans like refuse.
There are even those in the peace movement who believe it is hypocritical to oppose the use of violence in the struggle
against the war, since the war-makers themselves are employing so much violence. But it is exactly that sort of thinking
that allows for the creation of wars. If your violence justifies mine, and mine someone else's, there can never be an
end to it until we've all destroyed each other. But if we stand for peace, the hypocritical decision would be to employ
the tactics of war. Hypocritical and also ineffective. How many pro-war activists will you persuade to join the peace
movement by hitting them or calling them names? You'll more likely persuade them that you are "with the terrorists."
But all of the members of Iraq Veterans Against the War once supported the war. Think how many vets who have never heard
of IVAW will see a news report on their television about a march to the Pentagon for peace and impeachment, a march led
by veterans, active duty soldiers, and military families, among others. And think about the 85 percent of the country
that has never been in the military, doesn't know the horrors of war, but understands the danger of a kid with a black
bandana on his face throwing a rock or burning a flag – especially if it's shown 30 times on TV.
Let's not hide our faces. Let's not allow them to dictate our clothing or our actions to us. And, by the same token,
let's not back off from the plan to visit the Vietnam Memorial. This can be a free country with the right to freely
assemble, if we insist on making it so. And it is our right to visit that memorial, whatever we may think of it. We
should visit it with respect for the names it bears and their families and friends, and with dedication to avoid the
need for additional walls of that size. And we should keep in our thoughts the further unbearable grief of a wall that
could be imagined to include the names of the Vietnamese dead, a wall that might stretch the length of the walk to the
If the President had ended the Vietnam War when the peace movement pointed out that it was based on lies and destructive
in every way, the Vietnam War Memorial would be much smaller. Many people would have lived who died. And the United
States would be no less safe for having made fewer enemies in the world. President Bush has said for years now that he
needs to kill more Americans in Iraq in order not to let down those he's already sent to their deaths. We can't ask the
dead if they want that, but we have asked the living, and a strong majority of US troops serving in Iraq want the war
ended – wanted it ended last year, in fact.
So do the majority of us here at home. But many of us do not know we are a majority. We can only inform each other that
there is a majority for peace by creating public events that include everyone and do not unnecessarily drive people
away. This does not mean giving up an inch. We are for immediate impeachment of Cheney and Bush and an immediate end to
the war. We are not for nonbinding requests to properly train the troops before shipping them out. We are not for
reauthorizing an illegal war. We are not for pretending this greatest of crimes has been a mistake or a well-intended
accident. We are for upholding the rule of law and getting tough on crime. There are laws on the books that are just,
but that are not being adhered to. We must lay down those laws. And we must restore international law if we are to
prevent future wars of aggression.
Many people have been laying down the law in recent weeks by laying their bodies down in Congressional offices and
refusing to leave unless arrested. These acts of civil disobedience have been nonviolent and have been aimed at
motivating elected representatives to follow the wishes of, or at least acknowledge the existence of, their
constituents. We need much more nonviolent civil disobedience of this sort, and to confuse it with unnecessary criminal
acts of violence would be a terrible mistake.
But those engaging in violence at demonstrations and being labeled as "criminals" as a result, will make the absolute
worst possible advocates for holding the Vice President and the President accountable to the rule of law.
To resort to violence would be a confession of our inability to organize sufficient numbers willing to engage in
dedicated nonviolence. It would be an admission of defeat, and it would help prolong the war.