Response to the war in Ukraine is not limited to a choice between pacifism and military might.
Nonviolence is much more than pacifism. Nonviolence is waged by grassroots campaigns around the world to resist oppression, defend human rights, and even overthrow tyrants—without lethal weapons.
You can find more than 300 different methods of nonviolent action and 1200+ popular campaigns in the Global Nonviolent Action Database. Add Nonviolence News and Waging Nonviolence to your weekly news feed and learn about nonviolent resistance all around the world.
Nonviolence is rooted in practices we use every day — cooperating, working problems out in families and organizations, confronting unjust policies, and creating alternative practices and institutions — using our own resources, engaging humanely.
The first step is to pay attention. Stop and feel impacts of violence. Grieve with Ukrainians and families of soldiers forced to fight and die in the war (The UN estimates 100,000 Russian soldiers and 8,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed).
Second, respond to humanitarian needs.
Third, learn from War Resisters International how to extend solidarity with those in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus who refuse to wage the war, who protest, endure prison, and flee.
Fourth, study the history of nonviolent resistance to oppression, invasion, and occupation. When foreign powers occupied Denmark, Norway (WW II), India (British colonialism), Poland, Estonia (Soviets), nonviolent resistance often worked better than violent insurgency.
Political responsibility goes further. Gandhi, political scientists Gene Sharp, Jamila Raqib, and Erica Chenoweth found that power really does depend on “the consent of the governed.” Power rises and falls on popular cooperation or noncooperation.
Most importantly, the methods don’t have to be open, suicidal defiance. The Indian people refused to cooperate, with strikes and boycotts, and asserted their own village-based economic power, defeating the British empire. Black South Africans tried violence but not until they boycotted and were joined in that boycott by the international community did they overthrow apartheid.
Dr. King warned that militarism, racism and economic exploitation are triple evils of violence that reinforce one another and threaten the soul of America. King was clear in his Beyond Vietnam speech that anti-militarism is more than anti-war. The whole system of military spending, military forces around the globe, weapons of mass destruction, and the culture of military honor led Americans to tolerate “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” King said.
Instead of learning lessons from the Vietnam War, the US answered 2,996 tragic deaths on 9/11 with wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and Pakistan, that led to 387,072 violent civilian deaths. The US supports tyrants around the world with arms sales, CIA coups, and defeat of democratic movements. The US is ready to destroy all human life with nuclear weapons.
Pacifism is refusal to fight in a war. Nonviolent resistance is the whole host of methods people use to resist military might.
In Ukraine, let us demand that our elected members of Congress make the President insist that Ukraine negotiate for a cease fire and cessation of warfare. The US should advocate for Ukraine to be a neutral nation. Let us support nonviolent civilian resistance and humanitarian aid.
Many justify violence in the name of peace. That sort of peace is what the ancient Roman Tacitus called “a desert.”
Those of us who live in the “superpower” United States of America can act for nonviolence by no longer justifying US military involvement in any conflict, cease arms transfers to others, defunding the devastating war machinery that we enable with our taxes and votes, and building true power founded on human skills and capacities, and the successes of nonviolent resistance practiced throughout the world.
Peter Klotz-Chamberlin is co-founder and board member of the Resource Center for Nonviolence.