Liberation Without War

When the Romans imprisoned the apostle Paul and he was taken to be whipped, Paul asked his captors, "Is it lawful for you to whip a Roman citizen?" So a captain asked him: "Are you a Roman?" Paul answered, "Yes." The captain replied, "It took me a great deal of money to buy my freedom," showing skepticism that Paul—who probably looked like a penniless slave—was a Roman, and therefore free. Paul declared: "I was free born."

Represented in that exchange was a fundamental division in human thinking: between those who believe that only an external agency—money, personal influence, violence—can deliver people from oppression, and those who understand that each individual has the innate right to be free and the ability to become free.

Che Guevara, the violent revolutionary, once said: "I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves." Unfortunately, what the people can do to liberate themselves from tyranny or injustice has received far less attention than what terrorists, conquerors, or charismatic leaders have tried to do.

In many historical cases—such as the emancipation of American slaves during the Civil War, defeating Nazism in World War II, the Cold War with the Soviet Union—leaders saw no alternative to using or threatening military force against armed adversaries. When hostilities ended, relative freedom and peace ensued. And so armed might has been seen as the means of liberation.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2004
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