An article, by John-Paul Flintoff, in The New Statesman profiles one of the modern leaders of the non-violence or pacifist movement, Gene Sharp.
Gene Sharp is not a typical pacifist. “When I used to lecture, I would always get complaints from the pacifists,” says the academic, who turns 85 this month. “They would say I wasn’t pure. They said that what I was proposing was ‘still conflict’.” Military people often understood him better. A retired US army colonel, Robert Helvey, heard Sharp lecture 20 years ago and persuaded him to visit Burma, where rebels asked Sharp to give them advice.
He wrote a pamphlet. “I didn’t know Burma well,” he recalls. “So I had to write generically: if a movement wanted to bring a dictatorship to an end, how would they do it?” That pamphlet, From Dictatorship to Democracy(1993), contained the idea for which Sharp is now known all over the world – that power is held only by the consent of the people over whom it is exercised, and that consent can be withdrawn. All regimes depend on certain pillars of support and, with a proper strategy, resisters can remove those pillars non-violently.
The book was originally published in English and Burmese. “And I thought that was it,” Sharp says. But it went on display in a bookshop in Bangkok. From there, nobody knows exactly how it spread. But it did – everywhere. “I’m still amazed. It didn’t spread because of propaganda or some sales pitch but because people found it usable, and important.”Such explains much. There are in reality very few people who adore violence; most rational leaders see it as the only means to a just end, and as a necessity to restore law and order in a nation beset by instability. In many cases, this is undoubtedly true. For example, the tactics of non-violence will not work against fanatics, terrorists and other religiously inspired groups; these are unwavering in their beliefs and the rightness of their cause.
Yet, if time permits, non-violence can have success against authoritarian or military dictatorships, as was the case in Burma, but this often takes decades to bear fruit. Some will say this is the exception that proves the rule. Thus, it does not necessarily follow that violence, or war, is always necessary; it's only the case to quote an oft-cited expression, when, "if you have a hammer, everything seems like a nail."