Recent History of Nonviolent Responses to Conflict

  • Daniel M. MaytonII
Part of the Peace Psychology Book Series book series (PPBS)


Sharp (1973) noted that a considerable amount of nonviolent actions throughout history have been poorly documented, if documented at all, because of a lack of interest to do so. Wars and the outcomes of war are carefully described in our history books. Historians describe the winners and the losers in wars in great detail along with the causes and the implications of their outcomes. Nonviolent struggles are not recorded or recounted with the same regularity and vividness, as are wars and violent interchanges. Despite this propensity, hundreds of nonviolent struggles can be identified throughout recorded history (e.g., Lynd & Lynd, 1995; Sharp). Sharp in fact traces nonviolent action back to 494 B.C. when lower and middle class Romans refused to perform their usual functions until the leadership agreed to make improvement in the conditions of their lives and their status. The ancient Greek playwright, Aristophanes (1944), depicts an effective nonviolent action by Spartan women in his play, Lysistrata. In his play the women agree to withhold sex from their husbands to end the Peloponnesian War and to secure peace.

Some have referred to the twentieth century as the century of war (e.g., Kolko, 1995). The twentieth century has also been called the bloodiest century in human history, marked by the loss of more than 100 million lives in war. Besides its bloody legacy, a story that is less often told about the twentieth century is the success of nonviolent people power movements. Actually, during the twentieth century, dozens of major examples of nonviolent campaigns were initiated across the globe (e.g., Ackerman & Duval, 2000; Ackerman & Kruegler, 1994; Holmes & Gan, 2005; Lynd & Lynd, 1995; Sharp, 1973; Zunes, Kurtz, & Asher, 1999). In fact the twentieth was the first century in human history in which many large-scale nonviolent movements successfully toppled oppressive regimes, often in the face of overwhelming military power. However, even into the early part of the twenty-first century, violent human encounters capture our attention and eclipse the many and varied nonviolent social movements that are taking place around the world.


Gaza Strip Civil Disobedience Drug Dealer African National Congress Israeli Defense Force 

Recommended Readings

  1. Ackerman, P., & Duvall, J. (2000). A force more powerful: A century of nonviolent conflict. New York: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  2. Ackerman, an authority on nonviolent strategy, and DuVall, a veteran writer, tell how popular movements have used nonviolent weapons to overthrow dictators, obstruct military invaders, and secure human rights in country after country over the past century. The book depicts how nonviolent sanctions—such as noncooperation, strikes, boycotts, and civil disobedience—can separate brutal regimes from their means of control. It also includes inside stories of how ordinary people take extraordinary action to end oppression, and historical photographs of nonviolent leaders and events from the last century.Google Scholar
  3. Ackerman, P., & Kruegler, C. (1994). Strategic nonviolent conflict: The dynamics of people power in the twentieth century. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.Google Scholar
  4. Ackerman and Kruegler present a comprehensive interpretation of nonviolence as political strategy. The authors describe six historical episodes including the Russian Revolution of 1904–1906, the Ruhrkampf in 1923 Germany, the 1930–1931 Indian independence movement, Denmark’s resistance to Nazi occupation, the 1944 civil strike in El Salvador, and the Polish Solidarity Movement in 1980–1981.Google Scholar
  5. Bondurant, J. V. (1965). Conquest of violence: The Gandhian philosophy of conflict (Rev. ed.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  6. This is a classic text summarizing the philosophy and the political strategy of Mohandas K. Gandhi. Bondurant’s analysis is based on her travel to India to meet with Gandhi and to discuss his work first hand. Excellent discussion of the components of a satyagraha in general and of the Salt Satyagraha specifically.Google Scholar
  7. Cortright, D. (2006). Gandhi and beyond: Nonviolence for the age of terrorism. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Books.Google Scholar
  8. Cortright provides a detailed analysis of the people involved in many nonviolent actions. His analyses focus extensively on Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Day, and Barbara Deming. The discussion does not describe the specific actions of each person in detail but looks to help the reader understand the personality of each person and the implications of their actions for the twenty-first century. The final chapters provide specific and practical guidance as to how nonviolence might best be applied in the age of terrorism.Google Scholar
  9. Holmes, R. L., & Gan, B. L. (Eds.) (2005). Nonviolence in theory and practice (2nd ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.Google Scholar
  10. Holmes and Gan carefully examine the work of Tolstoy, Gandhi, and King and the impact of women in the field of nonviolence. This book also describes a wide range of nonviolent actions that have been used in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe, as well as, North America.Google Scholar
  11. Hunt, S. C. (2002). The future of peace: On the front lines with the world’s great peacemakers. San Francisco: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  12. Hunt traveled the world to meet and interview many people who have been at the forefront of making the world a more peaceful place through nonviolent actions. He writes about three Nobel Laureates: Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Oscar Arias. He also writes about Thich Quang Do from Vietnam, Maha Ghosananda from Cambodia, and Jane Goodall.Google Scholar
  13. Sharp, G. (1973). The politics of nonviolent action. Boston, MA: Porter Sargent Books.Google Scholar
  14. This book by Gene Sharp is the classic treatise on nonviolence and a must read for anyone interested in nonviolence. Sharp provides a careful analysis of power and relates this discussion to nonviolent actions. He also outlines a taxonomic view of nonviolent action. His account is peppered with a myriad of detailed historical examples of nonviolence.Google Scholar
  15. Zinn, H. (Ed.) (2002). The power of nonviolence: Writings of advocates of peace. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  16. Zinn, a famous nonviolent activist in his own right, has compiled a volume of short entries from many writers about nonviolence and many leaders in nonviolent movements from Buddha to Thoreau to Gandhi to King and many in between. Lesser-known contributors to the nonviolent literature include William Penn, Ralph Waldo Emerson, A. J. Muste, and Arunhati Roy. Zinn organizes the writings according to time periods with pretwentieth century entries, early twentieth century to the cold war, the cold war and Vietnam, and post Vietnam eras.Google Scholar
  17. Zunes, S., Kurtz, L. R., & Asher, S. B. (Eds.) (1999). Nonviolent social movements: A geographical perspective. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.Google Scholar
  18. This book summarizes a large number of nonviolent social movements that took place during the twentieth century with a geographical organization. Following an summative introductory chapter by Kenneth Boulding, the editors discuss nonviolent movements that have taken place in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and North America.Google Scholar

Recommended Films and Videos

  1. A Force More Powerful – Documentary Television SeriesGoogle Scholar
  2. This is an award winning and critically acclaimed 3-h film series that was shown on PBS. It parallels the examples cited in the Ackerman and Duvall (2000) book of the same name. Historical footage is accompanied by great narration to make eight separate nonviolent examples come to life. Information for ordering may be found at
  3. Gandhi – Feature FilmGoogle Scholar
  4. This 1982 biographical film directed by Richard Attenborough won the Academy Award for best picture. Attenborough took great pains to make this an accurate depiction on Gandhi and his life by finding old photographs and using them to recreate the settings in his films. Highly recommended.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel M. MaytonII
    • 1
  1. 1.Lewis-Clark State CollegeLewistonUSA

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