Monday, November 14, 2011

Author Interview — Nonviolence Stops Oppression

Barry Clemson takes us for a ride though the imagination of how nonviolent resistance can change events. His alternative history novel, Denmark Rising, shows how the Danish population forestall and confuse Nazi occupiers during World War II.

In reality, the Danish resistance did decide that nonviolent resistance worked better than a violent struggle. Yet that occurred midway through the occupation. Clemson’s work shows how planning could have developed from the outset of the invasion.

Clemson shows through the characters of the Danish teen Arne, the major organizer professor Hal Koch, Prime Minister Thorvald and several German officers, the ways nonviolence stymied and frustrated the Nazis.

The Nazi Army wanted key resources from Denmark, and in the beginning of the war, craved world wide acceptance that its invasion was desired by the Danish people.

Yet nonviolent tactics are powerful weapons. Massive crowds kept Nazi actions in the light. Links to major news networks with camera shots exposed torture. Work slowdowns, deliberate mistakes and general strikes…these and other tactics slowed train deliveries and weapon buildups. And the refusal to do violence so divided the enemy that some officers and entire units refused to move against the Danes.

The following is an interview with Barry Clemson on his thoughts about the novel and the concepts of nonviolence.

Daring to ask: Your novel, Denmark Rising, speculates on how nonviolent passive resistance could have countered the Nazi occupational threat during World War II.

A few questions on writing prior to asking about the concept of nonviolence. You setup some key characters that represented various factions in the story. Did you consciously use those characters to describe those factions?

Barry: Yes, the story is fairly big and complex. In order to keep the book to a manageable size, I spent some time thinking about what sort of characters could show which parts of the story.

Daring to ask: Why did you decide to focus the protagonist as the teen Arne rather than the professor Hal Koch, the team organizer?

Barry: I don't know, it just worked out that way.

Daring to ask: Is Arne symbolic of the student dissident?

Barry: Yes, I guess so … although I didn't really think of him that way.

Daring to ask: Arne seems to flow easily into the spirit of nonviolent resistance, yet that comes right after he appeared confused by the entire process at the beginning of the story. He wanted to fight in the traditional way and he only witnessed the massive appearance of the crowd before he became a nonviolent advocate. How did he understand the importance of the technique so quickly?

Barry: Arne is a fast learner? Seriously, the way I thought about Arne is that he wanted to do something that would make a difference. Because he was so young, he had not been through the training on strategic nonviolence so the only thing he knew at the beginning was the traditional way to fight. Given that the entire nation was prepared to fight nonviolently, Arne understood that violence would undermine the cause and he was then able to fall in line with the strategic nonviolence.

Daring to ask: How did you plan on the pace you used for the plot?

Barry: I don't know. This was my first novel and there was a lot of trying things and then revising them. In general, I wanted the story to move along as fast as possible while still showing what I thought were the key points in the overall conflict.

Daring to ask: You showed the confrontation between the Nazis and the resistance by examining the way the occupiers wanted food and war material to be sent to Germany. What type of research did you have to locate to describe the food distribution or train transport systems?

Barry: I bought good maps of Copenhagen and Denmark and studied them a lot.

Daring to ask: Since the concept of nonviolence is so crucial, please sum up in a couple of sentences the major ideas of using nonviolent resistance.

Barry: Ouch! 1. Historically, nonviolent movement are about twice as likely to succeed against dictators as are violent revolts. 2. Nonviolent movements often win over the armies and police to their side but violent revolts do not. 3. Nonviolent movements are vastly cheaper (in lives and property) than are violent campaigns. 4. Violent campaigns that “succeed” usually replace one tyrant with another but nonviolent movements generally move a society toward greater democracy, fairness, etc. To sum up, nonviolence is both cheaper and more likely to succeed than is violence and is morally superior.

Daring to ask: In showing the effectiveness of the nonviolent strategies, you describe how political leaders, middle management, and the average citizen planned in advance to withhold cooperation from the oppressor. However, one question could be posed that this type of unified reaction would require much training and internal cooperation. How would a society develop such a unified agreement on how to proceed?

Barry: You already said it … much training, lots of training. I pretended Denmark had seriously prepared for strategic nonviolence, i.e., every person over 18 had at least some training and managers, government officials, etc. had quite a bit of training. The military does massive amounts of training, including war games. There is no reason to think that a nation could pull off strategic nonviolence for national defense without extensive training.

Daring to ask: While each case of nonviolent resistance is different, your scenario differs from the cases of the Civil Rights Movement and the Gay Community with Harvey Milk in San Francisco. Your character of Arne divides the German SS from the average German soldier by showing a cultural link between the Danes and the Germans. That link was not available in the South with Civil Rights or the general public in San Francisco with Gay Rights. In the South, the average person did not feel a shared link with the African American and the average San Franciscan did not feel a connection with the Gay person. How does the protester educate the public to move to the stage where he can operate like Arne?

Barry: I can't really speak to the San Francisco situation, but I was part of the voter registration effort in Mississippi 1964-65. Almost all of our effort took part in the black community. We had a small handful of Southern whites who were attempting to work within the Mississippi white community but I don't think they ever made any headway. So, basically we were ignoring the white community in Mississippi and the rest of the South. We were paying close attention to the rest of the world and were constantly working with the media from around the world to portray what was going on in Mississippi and places like Birmingham. The Klansmen who murdered Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman at the beginning of the summer ensured that the entire world would be closely watching and in that sense did our work for us. Similarly, the bombings and the brutality of Bull Connor in Birmingham convinced the world that the racists had to be stopped. So we ignored the white community except in terms of what the world's press was telling them. And one of the things that happened is that the decent people of the South could no long pretend that “our nigras” were happy and that everything was OK except for the work of a few “outside agitators”. The businessmen and the decent people of the South were pretty much forced into opposing the extremists by the reaction of the rest of the world.

Daring to ask: Nonviolent strategies depend on media presentations to reveal the false claims of propaganda. Were the Nazis in Denmark less effective in media control than the state in North Korea? The North Korean machine has almost placed the entire population under a rock. How does the present state of technology fit into the ways media is needed to aid the cause of a nonviolent resistance?

Barry: Both in my novel and in real life, the Nazis were pretty unsuccessful in managing the news in Denmark. Numerous underground newspapers sprang up all over the country almost immediately and the authorities were very inept in shutting them down. I suspect this was another case where the Werhmacht didn't really try very hard or they would have been more successful. The question of modern technology is a critical one and one that I wish I was clearer on. The research so far on this question is sort of mixed. The internet and cell phones seemed to be critical to the movement in Egypt. In other cases, the state has managed to largely shut down these tools. In general, it seems to me that the internet and cell phone use, particularly the disposable-pay-for-minutes-in-advance type, provides tremendous assets for any sort of people's movement. The downside is that the government can very easily monitor email traffic and cell phone conversations, especially with computer programs that look for key words. As always, technology is a two-edged sword.

Daring to ask: What is the significance of the African European figures on the cover of the novel since no mention is made of such people in the story?

Barry: The people on the cover are actually my blonde daughter and one of her sons. I hadn't noticed that they look sort of dark.

Daring to ask: When the SS resorted to crime to intimidate the population, you show how neighborhood watch groups lay in wait for the SS to stop that activity. In today’s world, how would such neighborhood groups counter the increased specialization that the oppressor uses — like Blackwater Opps assassins?

Barry: It took the Danes a while to adjust to the Nazi assassinations. When they did, they chose tactics designed to counter the specific methods the Nazis were using. If the assassins were Blackwater Opps or some sort of special forces using different methods, then the movement would have to come up with tactics specifically tailored to counter those methods.

Daring to ask: The Danish population became unified with the goal of aiding the Jewish community to escape. But those Danish supporters performed that way because they were not susceptible to Nazi propaganda. How could nonviolent groups in Poland or France have acted to engage those populations to help them counter the propaganda they faced?

Barry: Good question, but I can't answer it because I do not have detailed knowledge of those situations.

Daring to ask: How do you see the size of the country affecting the abilities of nonviolent tactics? Denmark is a smaller place than India and Gandhi had to deal with a landmass several times larger, making it perhaps more difficult to share his beliefs with his supporters.

Barry: Size of course matters, both in that it makes preparation more difficult, but also it confers advantages for an actual campaign. Gandhi's situation was very different from my alternate history in that he did not have the luxury of adequate preparation ahead of time nor did he have a government providing training for millions of people. So Gandhi's situation was totally different, but I do not think size of the country was the important difference.

Daring to ask: In your novel, Arne confronts a Danish youth who wants to use violence. While Arne dissuades the youth, don’t nonviolent tactics run into extra problems when the population is larger and crowd control requires extra training?

Barry: I don't see this. Both the committed nonviolent group and the group wanting to use violence will be larger in big countries. The important question is the relative number in the two groups.

Daring to ask: What lessons of nonviolent use can we learn from the April 6th Movement in Egypt?

Barry: I have not made a detailed study of the Egyptian movement, but it seems almost a textbook example of a nonviolent campaign. They did at least some study of Gene Sharp, the main theorist of nonviolence, ahead of time. So, at least a core group knew what they were doing. By remaining nonviolent, they quickly gained the support of the army who early on protected the demonstrators from the police. With the army standing with the people, Mubarak didn't have a chance.

Daring to ask: One principle of nonviolent resistance is to discover a need the oppressor has and to withhold cooperation from supplying that need. What method of this process helps find the key need of the oppressor when several might stand out?

Barry: An excellent question but again, I don't know. The best nonviolent strategists are just like any political or military strategist in this sense: they need a deep understanding of their culture, what moves people, and what will motivate them, etc. Successful strategies are always those which are exquisitely tailored to their specific culture, economy, power-structure, etc. etc. This is why very few of us are good strategists.

Daring to ask: The SS in the submarine facility struggled for over a year with management supervision while only one submarine was produced. The SS then began flogging workers, which weakened the resistance. How does a resistance operate if the oppressor reacts quicker than the example you list?

Barry: A nonviolent campaign against a ruthless enemy is a deadly chess game. At every point, both sides are trying to find a move that will put the other side in trouble while gaining some advantage for themselves. And every campaign is unique: there are no standard answers. Just like generals, we can study past campaigns for ideas, but any general or nonviolent strategist who slavishly tried to copy the tactics of a Rommel or Sun Tzu or Gandhi would most likely find himself dead.

Daring to ask: When the Libyan resistance confronted violence, they turned to guns to protect themselves. Would the deaths of many at that moment have led to a quicker defeat of the oppressor when the world saw violence coming only from Kadafi?

Barry: We can't be sure, but it seems likely that taking up arms was a mistake for the Libyans. A favorite tactic of tyrants is to provoke a people's movement into violence because they know that will cause the army to support the regime and it also alienates much of the general public.

Daring to ask: What is the message about Arne’s sense of guilt in leading a team when death hits some members? Does this call for a psychological preparation within the protest community so they are ready to deal with this element?

Barry: Arne, who was a bit arrogant, was devastated by the death of his teammates and went from being arrogant to blaming himself. I think that deaths of comrades will always traumatize people, just as it traumatizes soldiers in combat. I don't know whether there is any training that would help with this.

Daring to ask: What is the link between nonviolent resistance and conflict resolution? In South Africa the concept of Ubuntu meant that everyone in society was linked, despite any hurt done by a guilty party. That means the process had to re-incorporate those guilty parties back into the community. If Arne could influence the average German soldier, does that mean that the next step could become that of reaching out to the entire wider public of the enemy to show them the problems with the extremists in their society?

Barry: I firmly believe in Ubuntu, the connections among all of us. Further, forgiveness of those who have hurt us is necessary for our own health. Now, I don't know if reaching out to the wider public of the enemy is the next step, but it certainly is something that would help heal everybody concerned.

Daring to ask: Your book uses the imagination in developing nonviolent tactics to face a multitude of scenarios. Could this application of the imagination help devise tools so others might become aware of the importance of nonviolence? Tools like computer games or role playing games?

Barry: Role playing has been used in nonviolent training for a long time, since the 1950s that I know of and probably much longer than that. Computer games certainly seem possible and desirable. Peter Ackerman and his associates have a nonviolence computer game but it only runs on Windows so I haven't had a chance to play it.

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