The United States is a nation steeped in its love of violence. Our trust in weapons, large and small, has been and continues to be a national obsession. So we have both a reserve stockpile of nuclear devices, and missiles armed and ready to fire. The total official number released by the Obama Administration is 9,300. Half of them are now deployed in airplanes, submarines and on land. It would take a little more than 15 of these things to depopulate the earth—forever. Russia has about the same number we do. That accounts for 80% of what currently exists world-wide. The remaining are shared by the United Kingdom, China, France, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. So much for the big bombs. Since they really can never sanely be used, we must rely on less potent conventional weapons of which we have the world’s biggest supply.
The small non-military violent devices are handguns. Currently US civilians possess about 276 million of them, far more per capita than any other nation in the world. In 2013 11,419 individuals were killed with them. So much for guns making us safer. The more guns, the more deaths. It is just simple arithmetic.
But the core problem in not H-bombs or handguns, but our trust in violence as a way to solve problems. Internationally it is a losing strategy. Of the four millions deaths as a result of our war against Vietnam, 58,000 were Americans. And whether or not we like to face the truth, we didn’t even win that war. More recently we have believed the problems in the near east could be resolved if we just sent in a couple hundred thousand troops. The result? Iraq is a devastated nation more undemocratic then when we invaded it, and Afghanistan is in even worse shape. And we have been at these ill-advised debacles for more than a decade.
During these years when we have put our nation’s faith in violence, another counter-force has been at work. It has employed a variety of non-violent albeit forceful strategies. I bring as witnesses to the value of an alternative reality M.L. King, N. Mandela and M. Gandhi. All three radically reformed cultures without violence by them or by their followers. In fact, those who worked with them were all trained in non-violent techniques.
What they did have in place of violence was a moral imperative, a commitment to justice and equity. They marched across bridges, they sat in at lunch counters, they refused to ride in the back of the bus. They formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, they walked across India to illegally take salt from the sea. They formed coalitions with other groups. They confronted apartheid. They ended up in jail. And they radically changed history!
What violence universally failed to do these non-violent activists accomplished. While eschewing violence, their campaigns were forceful and even confrontational. M. L. King was told by pastors that they agreed with his goals but disliked his tactics. So from a Birmingham jail he mobilized thousands, generated political pressure, demanded negotiations and articulated demands. These actions were not passive. They demonstrated an aggressive response to injustice.
Years prior to the revolutionary work of this trio, Elizabeth Katie Stanton prepared the way for women's suffrage, and Eugene Debs got the AFL and the CIO together resulting in the Wagner Act which guaranteed the right of collective bargaining. FDR generated the beginnings of a social safety net. There were child labor laws. A vigorous peace movement, healthcare reforms and protection for the elderly.
These are not hypotheticals or shoulds. They are historic markers. They all relied on a moral imperative and all used community organization as the basis of support. M.L. King — quoting the abolitionist preacher, Theodore Parker — held that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’’ With these and other witnesses I too make that affirmation which may accomplish what all the military arsenals have almost universally failed to do. In the long run, violence cannot win, but moral suasion can and will.