A Different Kind of Force

When one cares deeply about something or someone it is impossible to sit passively and let that thing or person be hurt or destroyed. It is natural to respond when something that is important to us is attacked, and, unfortunately, the most natural defense is to respond in kind; when we are hit we often hit back, even before we have thought about what we are doing. Pacifism and nonviolence teach us that this response cannot solve our problems. The person that we hit back will retaliate and the cycle continues.

Yet, there are many people in this world who grew up being taught that it is OK to hit back. They and their families do not have time, in their struggle to survive, to think about the other, more peaceable options. But even those of us who have time to think and who have been taught, conversely, by our parents not to hit have mostly been taught, conversely, to defend ourselves and those we love. I remember that my 12th grade English teacher once told our class that, "I am not a violent person, but if someone hurt my son, I’d kill them." When faced with the option of doing something or doing nothing, many people cannot stand by and watch the destruction of that which means more to them than probably even their own existence. After all, love is about caring that much.

"You cannot replace something with nothing," noted the psychologist Diane Perlman, in the discussion following a talk entitled "Report on the Global Nonviolent Peace Force" given at Friends Center in Philadelphia last June by David Hartsough, a Quaker activist and executive director of Peaceworkers in San Francisco. The psychology of violence interests me greatly because I have found that violence occupies an important place in the minds of many people. It is often the chosen response to defend something one cares about. Even those who seem to use violence offensively are often actually trying to defend something. A suicide pilot believes that he is protecting his country, his religion, his family, and the future of his descendants when he kills himself and thousands of innocent people. In his own eyes he is not the aggressor, but the victim.

If you take away violence as a means of defense, you interfere with the natural instinct to care for one’s own, and you leave people feeling exposed and vulnerable. The strongest people are those who can turn the other cheek. These people realize that they are exposed, but they are strong enough and confident enough in themselves to remain calm. Most people, however, if you try to take away their defense, will be led by their fear to respond violently.

Nothing does not replace something. Although most people will agree with you when you tell them that you want to eliminate violence on the street, many people will become scared when you try to convince them that in order to stop wars they must stop supporting those who build weapons. Even if they feel very strongly that violence is wrong, they may refuse to be left without any way to defend those they care about. You may find them willing to sacrifice themselves, but they may not trust other countries with the futures of their children. People need something to replace violence.

This is where Diane Perlman’s newly coined term metaforce comes in. In a paper, "Metaforce: New Ways to End Terrorism," Perlman writes, "In making a case against violent retaliation, we need an active strategy, and to be clear that we are not suggesting doing nothing, or only negotiating and diplomacy. These are intolerable ideas to the American viscera and will be dismissed. Words like nonviolence and disarmament are the absence of something. They don’t play well or give us a vision of what could work.

The word peace is also problematic, as it is perceived as doing nothing." She explains that she has been inspired by the work of Richard Wendell Fogg of the Center for the Study of Conflict, located in Baltimore, Maryland. Fogg’s many years of studying conflict have led him to understand the strength of nonviolent force, "including complex strategies using combinations of forms of force, [which are] economic, political, psychological, educational, moral, spiritual, intellectual, social, [and] physical." Examples of these strategies include "reducing the opponent’s fear, avoiding retaliating, satisfying just grievances, understanding the meaning of their attack, removing pressure, using mediators, designing win-win solutions." A force other than violence is available, but in many ways it does not exist yet as a known or understood concept in our society or even in our consciousness. "I realized," writes Perlman, "that we have no word to describe nonviolent force, so I made one up, ‘Metaforce’; it is force and satisfies the need to address evil actively, but bloodlessly. It is also accurate; we must meet evil with great force and power, just not violence. We need a new paradigm, beyond the two choices of doing nothing or attacking." Metaforce is, therefore, a force beyond violence that will become the vision of the postmilitary world. By creating a term to describe it, Perlman forces the idea into our consciousness; it is no longer abstract and unobtainable, but a part of our arsenal of understandable and describable defenses. We are more likely to depend on a concept that we can call by name. Although conflict is a part of life, metaforce could help us overcome violence by filling the void that is left when we stop using violence as our defense.

In his talk at Friends Center, David Hartsough described his vision of a Global Nonviolent Peace Force of, initially, 200 trained, full-time peace soldiers. These peace workers would not force their presence onto others, but would go where they were called to help those who were attempting to resolve conflicts nonviolently. He hopes that at least half of the Peace Force will be from countries that are located in the global South and that the peace workers will include people of all nationalities and religions. Eventually, as it grows and is successful, the Peace Force could be taken on by the United Nations. The goal of the Global Nonviolent Peace Force will be to use metaforce to overcome violence and to act as the "international eyes, ears, and conscience."

During the talk, Hartsough gave many examples of the ways in which nonviolence has already been used successfully. One story that he shared took place in India. Hearing that a group of Hindus was planning to kill Muslim families, a group of Gandhi’s followers recruited Hindu women to nonviolently protect the threatened people. The women stood in the doorways of the Muslim families’ homes and told the attackers to treat these families as their brothers. They protested that whatever was done to the Muslims would also have to be done to them. Not one of the Muslim families was hurt.

This type of work intrigues me because it is filled with hope. It does not leave people defenseless, but instead gives them something to satisfy the need to feel protected that was formerly fulfilled through violence. It gives us hope that there is an even stronger power, a metaforce, that can be used to protect those we love. Hopefully, with the introduction of the concept of metaforce and the development of this Global Nonviolent Peace Force, nonviolent peacemaking can become a guiding principle in world affairs.

Elizabeth Markham

Elizabeth Markham, a senior at Haverford College, was an intern for Friends Journal during the summer of 2002.