If you’ve ever been in a debate with someone insisting that Nonviolence is impotent, it’s almost a given that they’ll raise this question when all others have been answered, “What about Hitler?” It’s the fall-back question. Hitler was “bad,” right? Can’t use Nonviolence because you have to appeal to an opponent’s inner “goodness,” right? Ha, there is such a thing as a “just war” – World War 2 proves it!
First, I have yet to meet someone arguing against Nonviolence who really understands Nonviolence. That isn’t meant to sound mean or condescending; in fact, I completely understand why most people don’t understand Nonviolence – we are immersed in violence. Nonviolence has been written out of our history and even out of our language. So, I try not to dismiss the questions (even if the questions are dismissive) because Nonviolence is very difficult to hear and understand when there is an ongoing deafening din of violence all around us.
So, here’s just a start of the answer to “What about Hitler?”
No, social advances through active Nonviolence do *NOT* rely on the “goodness within an opponent.” “Goodness” doesn’t even have to come into the equation.
First, there were plenty of examples where Nonviolence was working against Hitler (see examples of Norway and many more – please explore the work of Gene Sharp who’s spent a lifetime documenting successes of Nonviolence around the world). There were so many Nonviolent means not even explored during WWII because “when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
More importantly (and painfully for most), Nonviolence requires us to look at what role *we* play in the violence…
In the case of Hitler – his war machine could have been stopped and he should have been stopped before it even started. We (the US and the world community) knew what he was up to and we did nothing, in fact we BANKROLLED him! Before *and* during the war. Even after we were “doing something” (WW II), we (American investors and corporate profiteers) continued to bankroll the Nazi regime. Germany didn’t have the technology or the vast natural resources (oil) to run a war, so with the help of wealthy Americans, giant corporations and all the folks investing in the stock market to bankroll those corporations, the Nazi war machine kept storming forward. From Standard Oil to Ford to General Motors to ITT and IBM (which helped make it more efficient to exterminate Jewish people, homosexuals, Slavs, Black people, communists, political dissidents, and so many others on a mass scale); American/western hands are bloody.
We could have stepped in and stopped Hitler virtually overnight – by cutting the purse strings. But we didn’t because war is a money-making enterprise (not for the little folks who suffer and die, but for those bankrolling the evil venture). It continues today with our direct and very public investments.
The violence of WWII was unnecessary. Nonviolence was simply not widely considered and executed. Perhaps because it would’ve worked.
So, don’t be discouraged by arguments against Nonviolence. More often than not, they are simply misunderstandings and should be seen as opportunities. And remember how deeply immersed in and influenced by violence we all are – I liken it to being in a swimming pool surrounded by water. We don’t even think about being wet; but when we pull ourselves out of the water (violence) even for a minute, we suddenly realize just how wet we were/are and want to dry off and sit in the sun. Nonviolence offers that warmth and relief. Keep practicing.
Nonviolence is the weapon of the strong. It takes a lot of practice, deep understanding, commitment, courage, strategy, and planning. I know it’s difficult.
I’m so glad you’re on the path.
You might enjoy learning more about Nonviolence in our ongoing Nonviolence Guide.
Thank you for all that you do!