Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall ("With Weapons of the Will," September-October 2002) have done an excellent job in clearly demonstrating the power of strategic nonviolent action in overthrowing oppressive regimes such as that of Saddam Hussein. The 20th century was marked by the growing understanding of the theory of nonviolent action as well as the practice of it in country after country.
Despite these historically significant developments, there is still woefully little understanding of both the power and relevance of strategic nonviolent action in dealing with situations of conflict and oppression. The foreign policy of the Bush administration is predicated on a belief in the efficacy of overwhelming military force, used pre-emptively and unilaterally, in dealing with regimes such as Hussein's. As Ackerman and DuVall point out, our government ignores the power of the Iraqi people themselves and how they could topple Saddam through civilian-based nonviolent resistance.
My problem with Ackerman and DuVall, however, is their insistence that strategic nonviolent action should be carried out without any principled considerations. They reject the idea that it should be weighed down by "moral preference" or even as "a form of ethical behavior." They blame such ideas in large part for the refusal of hard-headed pragmatists to take seriously the power of nonviolence to bring down oppressors. They caricature those committed to principled nonviolence as preaching being "nice to your oppressor."