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Excerpt from Endgame

Violence Accomplishes Nothing (p. 747)

From chapter "Pacifism, Part IV"

The final argument I’ve often heard from pacifists is that violence never accomplishes anything. This argument, even more than any of the others, reveals how completely, desperately, and arrogantly out of touch many dogmatic pacifists are with physical, emotional, and spiritual reality.

If violence accomplishes nothing, how do these people believe the civilized conquered North and South America and Africa, and before these Europe, and before that the Middle East, and since then the rest of the world? The indigenous did not and do not hand over their land because they recognize they’re faced with “a high stage of social and cultural development.” The land was (and is) seized and the people living there were (and are) slaughtered, terrorized, beaten into submission. The tens of millions of Africans killed in the slave trade would be surprised to learn their slavery was not the result of widespread violence. The same is true for the millions of women burned as witches in Europe. The same is true for the billions of passenger pigeons slaughtered to serve this economic system. The millions of prisoners stuck in gulags here in the U.S. and elsewhere would be astounded to discover that they can walk away anytime they want, that they are not in fact held there by force.

Do the pacifists who say this really believe that people all across the world hand over their resources to the wealthy because they enjoy being impoverished, enjoy seeing their lands and their lives stolen—sorry, I guess under this formulation they’re not stolen but received gracefully as gifts—by those they evidently must perceive as more deserving? Do they believe women submit to rape just for the hell of it, and not because of the use or threat of violence?

One reason violence is used so often by those in power is because it works. It works dreadfully well.

And it can work for liberation as well as subjugation. To say that violence never accomplishes anything not only degrades the suffering of those harmed by violence but it also devalues the triumphs of those who have fought their way out of abusive or exploitative situations. Abused women or children have killed their abusers, and become free of his abuse. (Of course, often then the same selective law enforcement agencies and courts that failed to stop the original abuse now step in to imprison those who sent violence the wrong way up the hierarchy.) And there have been many indigenous and other armed struggles for liberation that have succeeded for shorter or longer periods.

In order to maintain their fantasies, dogmatic pacifists must ignore the harmful and helpful efficacy of violence.Years ago I was asked by a publisher to review a book-length manuscript they had just received from a household-name pacifist activist. The document was a mess, and they said they might want me to help edit it. I was younger then, and far less assertive, so my comments were fairly minor throughout, until I came to a statement that made me curse and hurl my pen across the room, then get up and stalk outside for a long walk. The activist claimed that the American movement against the war in Vietnam was a triumph for pacifist resistance, and that it showed that if enough people were just dedicated enough to nonviolence they could bring about liberation in all parts of the globe. He mentioned the four dead at Kent State as martyrs to this nonviolent campaign, and also mentioned “our unfortunate soldiers who lost their lives fighting for this unjust cause,” but never once mentioned the millions of Vietnamese who outfought, outdied, and outlasted the invaders. My point is not to disparage or ignore the importance of nonviolent protests in the United States and elsewhere, but rather to point out what the pacifist pointedly ignored: the antiwar movement didn’t stop the U.S. invasion—it helped stop the invasion. The primary work—and primary suffering—was done by the Vietnamese.

Oddly enough, the publisher didn’t hire me to edit it.