Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Sept. 6, 2000 / 5 Elul, 5760

Nat Hentoff

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Debbie Schlussel
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

The power of nonviolence -- ON SUNDAY NIGHTS, September 18 and 25, the Public Broadcasting System will air a remarkable, historic documentary, "A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict." Narrated by Ben Kingsley, who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Mohandas Gandhi in 1982, the program covers the courageous, perilous careers of Gandhi; the Rev. James Lawson, an American civil rights leader and teacher; and Mkhuseli Jack, a South African leader of nonviolent anti-apartheid actions.

Another part of "A Force More Powerful" focuses on Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa; Sergio Bitar, a key force in Chilean opposition to the murderous regime of Augusto Pinochet; and the extraordinarily brave Danish resistance to Nazi occupation.

I know something about the often-misunderstood subject of direct-action nonviolence. It is not passive pacifism, as the examples of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King have so compellingly demonstrated. My own knowledge comes from having written a biography -- and edited the letters -- of A.J. Muste, a Christian minister who was a key strategist of the anti-Vietnam-War movement and also advised Dr. Martin Luther King in his nonviolent but very direct-action campaigns.

Dr. King told me that he became interested in the strategy of nonviolence when he heard A.J. Muste lecture at the Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, where King was a student.

As A.J. Muste used to say -- and as this television documentary makes dramatically and reverberatingly clear -- "Peaceableness does not mean trying to disturb nothing or glossing over realities. It is the most profound kind of disturbance we seek to achieve. Nonviolence is not apathy or cowardice or passivity." Steve York, who produced and wrote this two-part, three-hour documentary, points out: "Nonviolent movements often form in response to out-and-out tyranny; but rather than subduing people, repression often energizes them. It rouses public sentiment from the center, the core. The moderate middle won't act until the extremes are cast into dramatic relief.

"The tide turned in Nashville, for example," York goes on, "when the home of a prominent black lawyer was bombed. Such acts fueled the nonviolent ranks of the civil rights movement, rallied the African-American community, engaged the white community, and caught the attention of media and government because the contrast was devastating."

The contrast is between violent hatred and the nonviolence of determined resistance to that hatred. During the Vietnam War -- influenced by A.J. Muste; Dorothy Day, the Catholic speaker of truth to power; and others -- I committed civil disobedience in front of a draft registration center, along with hundreds of others that day.

Based on my knowledge of American leaders of nonviolent direct action -- including A.J. Muste and Martin Luther King -- Peter Ackerman, editor of this television series, is exactly right when he says that "leaders in these conflicts themselves are often reluctant leaders and even more reluctant heroes. They're not power-mad; they're not looking for glory. Some of them don't especially want to be leaders; they just want to stop the tyranny or the inequity."

There is a companion book to this documentary, published by St. Martin's Press. The title is the same: "A Force More Powerful." Sen. John McCain, who is well-experienced in direct action that is not nonviolent, says of the book: "I recommend it to anyone who believes that power only flows from the barrel of a gun."

There are added values to a PBS series like this one. The television program will be distributed to libraries and schools, and videos can be purchased for home use. Moreover, the Albert Einstein Institution will see to worldwide dissemination of videocassettes and study guides for classrooms and libraries.

In a time when there are so few authentic heroes (none of whom are currently running for president on the major-party tickets), "A Force More Powerful" shows all of us -- young and old alike -- people who take principled risks far beyond their own self-interest.

JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


08/28/00: Should Dr. Laura be silenced?
08/22/00: Trashing the Bill of Rights in Philly
08/14/00: The repressive hand of China
08/07/00: A racial incident on a train
07/31/00: Attention Jesse Jackson: Sudanese children are still branded and enslaved
07/24/00: Open up the presidential debates!
07/17/00: A stealth attack on privacy
07/03/00: Plea to the Congressional Black Caucus
06/26/00: Burning 'bad' ideas at college
06/19/00: Affirmative action beyond race
06/12/00: Students discover the Constitution
06/06/00: The Liar's legacy and America's delusions
05/30/00: Reining in the majority's will
05/23/00: Press swoons for a bunco artist
05/15/00: The China that tourists don't see
05/08/00: The coverage of Reno's lawless raid
05/01/00: In Clinton and Castro's best interests
04/24/00: Elian's human rights
04/17/00: Crime's down, but arrests keep rising
04/10/00: Teacher brings Constitution to life
04/03/00: The Americans who keep disappearing
03/27/00: The censoring of feminist history
03/20/00: Should there be a chaplain in Congress?
03/13/00: Big labor, big China, spinning Gore
03/03/00: The ACLU violates its principles --- yet again!
02/28/00: Still two nations?
02/11/00: You bet we should disbar Bubba
01/31/00: Where was Jesse?
01/24/00: Is suing church for sexual harassment an entanglement?
01/18/00: Will Miranda make it?
01/11/00: ACLU: Guilty until presumed innocent?
01/03/00: Liberty lion should be Man of Century
12/28/99: Drug tests that tear families apart
12/20/99: Get ready for decisive ruling on school vouchers for religious schools
12/13/99: Guess who is taking the lead in anti-slavery movement? Hint: It ain't Rev. Jesse
12/06/99: When we refuse to buy the 'otherly-challenged' excuse
11/29/99: Expelling 'Huck Finn'
11/22/99: Pleading the First
11/16/99: Goal of diversity needs rethinking?
11/08/99: Prosecution in darkness
11/02/99: The accuracy that's owed to readers
10/26/99: Disappeared Americans
10/18/99: The blue wall of silence
10/11/99: Bill Bradley's speech tax
10/04/99: 'Technicalities' that keep us free
09/27/99: Our 'Americanism'-ignorant generation
09/20/99: ACLU better clean up its act
09/13/99: A professor of infanticide at Princeton
09/07/99: The Big Apple's Rotten Policing
08/23/99: Lawyerly ethics
08/16/99: To Get a Supreme Court Seat
08/02/99: What are the poor people doing tonight?
07/26/99: Lady Hillary and the press

© 2000, NEA