Outline of a Successful Presentation on Civilian-Based Defense

Last month I made a presentation on CBD to the Western Washington Fellowship of Reconciliation's annual retreat in Olympia, WA. Since it was well-received and generated some interesting ideas, I offer the outline I used as a springboard for others' thoughts. Feel free to make use of any or all of the following as it serves your needs.

Introduction Having met much of the audience at the potluck dinner before my presentation, and since the attendees all knew each other, I did not take time for general introductions. After a few preliminaries, I asked the group "what is nonviolent CBD?" Their responses revealed that only a few had a clear idea of what CBD is.

Two Case Histories Leaving aside the niceties of CBD vs. social defense, etc. I presented two case histories, making the following points about them:

Czechoslovakia, 1968

Czech collaboration with the Soviet invasion was prevented by mass support for the resistance. The Czech Communist Party was nearly unanimous in resisting the invasion. Clandestine radio networks evolved from preparations previously made for war with the west.

When these got word that the Soviets were going to arrest party delegates, the meeting place was changed and the changes passed along. When they got word that arrests of journalists and activists were planned, people took down house numbers and street signs, which was very confusing to the invaders. When police got hold of the license numbers of cars the Soviets were using for arrests, these were broadcast so the cars could be easily spotted. People watched for the cars and wrote the numbers on posters and walls. When cars were spotted, they were surrounded and the prisoners released. Within a day, more than twenty freedom newspapers appeared, all supporting A. Dubcek and the legitimate Czech government. All measures of resistance short of violence were urged. These papers may have reached as many as 400,000 people. No pro-Soviet newspapers were circulated. When some were air-dropped from a helicopter, they were immediately seized and burned. Distribution of papers was carried out right in front of Soviet soldiers. If they tried to interfere, crowds closed in around them and made way for the distributors to get away. More sophisticated Soviet efforts to interfere with distribution led the resistance to initiate distribution from police cars and ambulances. Resistance efforts were headquartered in the industrial district.

Without street and other signs, the Soviets couldn't find their way. Space to hold large meetings was available. Materials could be readily hidden in huge factories and warehouses.

Party delegates were not distinguishable from the tens of thousands of workers. Soviet morale was undermined.

At first people came out and dialoged with soldiers until they (the soldiers) couldn't stand it anymore. Later, people cold-shouldered the soldiers, even turning their backs when their cars were in the street. Soldiers had been told they were being sent to quell a counter-revolution. What they saw was people courageously going about their business, no violence and no evidence of subversion. Many foresaw the likelihood that their resistance would collapse just as it did, through a process of compromise and broken promises.

Moscow, 1991

In August 1991 thousands of tanks occupied Moscow to undermine the fledgling democracy.

People surrounded tanks and greeted crews with cakes, cigarettes, roses, dialog, questions, especially pointed questions like "Who are you going to shoot?" People asked soldiers not to kill their relatives.

Many people took up positions at barricades, which were made of anything handy, even though they thought it likely they would be killed. Demonstrators linked arms and created a human barricade to prevent soldiers from approaching the Russian White House. This came to be known as the "Living Ring." Women at the barricades constantly urged nonviolence and fearlessness.

The official policy was: no violence.

The head of the KGB said military force could clear away the resistance in thirty minutes, but when crack KGB soldiers learned they would have to kill hundreds or thousands of nonviolent civilians to fulfil their mission, they refused orders to carry out the attack. Some newspapers refused to cover the news as instructed. Others carried blank spaces where material had been censored. An underground paper came out on photocopiers and mimeo machines. These were posted on street corners and bus stops. People gathered to read them and discuss the situation.

Curfews were ignored. Public transportation ran despite them. Word of mouth was so effective that a gathering of 400,000 people was convened in twenty-four hours at the suggestion of the mayor, although he had no access to mass media. Although the coup leaders supposedly controlled a four million-person army, thousands of tanks and many other weapons, including nukes, the coup foundered and collapsed.

What Conditions Does CBD Require?

Having told these two stories of spontaneous nonviolent defense, I asked the group to brainstorm a list of factors that made them effective. I was especially looking for the following points, most of which were mentioned and recorded on newsprint. Other points were also mentioned, of course, and these provided worthwhile discussion material.

* The opponent has to be recognizable.

* Citizens must consider their society worth defending.

* Citizens must support their leaders.

* The defenders must undermine the opposition's morale.

What Are the Tactics of CBD?

Then I suggested that CBD could be a more organized and formal application of many of the tactics used in the examples, so I asked the group to identify the tactics they remembered, especially any the two cases had in common. Most of the following were among those identified and recorded on newsprint.

* Defenders refuse to collaborate.

* Defenders carry on with pre-invasion life.

* Peaceful demonstrations are held and exhibit disciplined nonviolence.

* Defenders struggle to retain control of the social instruments that can be used for domination.

* Defenders undermine occupiers' morale. Defenders make occupiers feel unwelcome.

* Defenders confront occupiers with the discrepancy between their self-image and their actions.

* Defenders provide a face-saving way out for the occupier.

What Would the Pluses and Minuses of CBD in the U.S. Be?

Then I asked the group to help me list the positive and negative aspects of applying a CBD model to the United States. These too were recorded on newsprint.

How Could We Apply CBD to the U.S. Situation?

The last step was to ask the group how CBD might be implemented in the U.S. These were among the interesting ideas suggested:

* Focus on defending the values we hold sacred, not the U.S. government.

* Find a way to make CBD profitable (privatize defense). CBD contractors could compete with military contractors to provide for national security.

* We need an issue to come together around.

* We need to humanize our adversaries.

* Start doing the training civilians would need and make detailed nonviolent defense plans. Include all interested people and groups in the process. Don't wait for government leadership (the people must lead).

* We must overcome society's violent mind set.

* We should begin to seek natural allies now.

The group was fully engaged throughout the presentation and seemed to greatly enjoy the discussions. I concluded by passing out back issues of CBD. The next day, when I was scheduled to conduct a short nonviolence training session, the group requested a training oriented specifically toward preparing for CBD.

Peter Bergel

Reprinted with permission from Civilian-Based Defense, volume 10, number 4, Winter 1995. Subscription information requuests to: CBDA, Box 92, Omaha, NE 68101, USA. Email for the editor . The editor requests contributions describing CBD presentation methods.

Civilian-Based Defense

is the twelve-page (approximately) quarterly newsletter of the Civilian-based Defense Association (CBDA): an organisation dedicated to providing information about civilian-based defence (CBD) 'as an alternative policy for national defense' as well as news, opinion and research about it. Each issue contains a variety of material. This includes reports on the Association's activities, theoretical articles, analyses of the efforts being made to introduce nonviolent forms of defence in different countries around the world and a list of recently received publications on nonviolent struggle and nonviolent forms of defence. Civilian-based Defense is edited by Paul Anders and published by the Civilian-Based Defense Association, 154 Auburn Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA. An annual subscription (about three issues) costs $US15 ($US25 for two years).

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