The Bankruptcy of Violence

Jonathan Schell reviews the history of human warfare and concludes that raw power is no longer sufficient to change and rule the world, if indeed it ever was.

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So I think that this really is a bid for a kind of military domination over the earth. I think it's bound to fail, which doesn't mean that we don't have to take it seriously. On the contrary, it can bring unimaginable destruction and mayhem, depending on how

far it goes, including the use of nuclear weapons, either against the United States or by the United States or both. So it's an urgent matter to stop it sooner rather than later.

Along those lines, all the millions of people around the world and in the U.S. who opposed the war — how can we not lose the momentum of the peace movement in all its disparate parts, how can it become a viable force in U.S. politics?

You and I talked about this a little before [in Barcelona] and I think there are two aspects to it. We have to find the instrumentalities whereby we can exist in our own space; you're doing it here, with AlterNet. The development of independent media is not just key, it's absolutely essential, it's a condition of success. But just as this is going on, I think that in other spheres we need to create an activist base that can be sustained.

One idea that I've had is to gather something together that is quite visible and dramatic that puts the resistance movement on the map in an unmistakable way to the mainstream. One thought I have is to have a kind of American Porto Alegre: A conference that is a mass event, 100,000 people — or maybe two of them, one on each coast — that would consist of 1,000 seminars, 1,000 speeches, stalls, literature, networking like crazy, a huge scene. And maybe its theme would be against the empire and for democracy. Pro-democratic and anti-imperial. But above all, pro-democratic, that's the key. But real democracy — participation of the people, by the people, for the people. We have a tradition like this in the United States, it exists. There's a lot to draw on.

The second part is that we do have to go to the mainstream; we do have to persuade; we do have to get involved in electoral politics, and compromises will absolutely have to be made. We do have to make a noise in the mainstream media and change the mainstream media. So this is not a ghetto policy, I don't think there should be a sort of protest ghetto. The point is to exist in our own right so that we can influence the society at large.

It would be a mistake to choose between those two strategies; both are necessary, as I see it.

It's unfortunate that many on the left have rejected electoral politics.

Elections are a fabulous tool for bringing about change — if you use them! You have to infuse them with your energy. There's something tautological about rejecting elections. It's like an admission of defeat. It's very bad to admit defeat when you're in a movement. It's a big mistake. You should try to win! You may fail. There's no victory guaranteed in this world, in life. But you should aim to win and really change things.

I want to give you a chance to respond to critics who reject your vision of a nonviolent future and say that warfare is an essential tool in the foreign policy arsenal. In particular, this sentence from The Unconquerable World seems to have inflamed them: "The days when humanity can hope to save itself from force with force are over."

I don't want to be longwinded, but that sentence is the summation of a long argument that I make. There actually are situations when I think force would be justified, for instance to stop a crime against humanity that is in progress, such as the genocide in Rwanda. In that case, I would have favored international intervention. So, I'm not an absolute pacifist.

But what I meant was, throughout history, there has been a sort of system whereby people have attempted to stop war by building up military forces. You know, there's the old Roman saying, "If you want peace prepare for war." And at the heart of that idea is the concept of balance. Now, sometimes that worked; very often it failed. It worked until 1914 [when World War I broke out] and then it pushed the world into an abyss. Nevertheless, it was a kind of strategy.

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