History has been replete with rhetoric justifying the bloodiness of wars that have littered its landscape. Just wars, self-defense, attacks supposedly done to defend the defenseless, and strategic alliances are uttered in some distant capitol while the young are sent to war. How effective has all this been? Many who are pro-military night cite some of this bloodletting as regrettable but necessary. Sometimes, a country is just pushed to the brink. It is imperative then to take up arms.

Not so, says Mark Kurlansky in his book, “Nonviolence”. The author runs through the history of the United States and the world events that paralleled it, promoting the idea that nonviolence would have worked in arenas where violent uprising has been justified or even lauded. From the American Revolution to uprisings against slavery, Kurlansky argues that nonviolent protest would have worked better, and given more moral credence to the protesters, than any violent exchange would. Kurlansky posits twenty five lessons that nonviolence has taught through the history of the modern world. Often, he interjects these lessons when describing the timeline of both violent and nonviolent protests, from nonviolent uprisings such as the Danish resistance of the Nazis in World War II, Solidarity and Dr. Martin Luther King, to violent ones such as the 1960’s Weathermen, the abolitionist John Brown, and the Palestinian intifada.

Kurlansky argues in his manifesto that he believes that nonviolence is the strategy that works every time, from the short run in a moral sense, to long term goals such as ultimate victory. It is not a how-to treatise in the sense of giving directives of how to nonviolently oppose specific military engagements, such as the Iraq War. He mostly limits his nonviolence stance to its extrinsic capacities towards state abuse, and does not focus on the internal state that Gandhi said was required for a protest to truly be nonviolent. For example, Gandhi believed that if you couldn’t restrain violence internally, then your nonviolent protest was anything but that. Kurlansky seems to brush by this, only determining nonviolence as a protest without using external force for any reason.

However, Kurlansky does show the difference between pacifism and nonviolence, citing the latter as the more active of the two. To him, one needs to take action in order to qualify as nonviolent, not simply refrain from joining the violence. To him, nonviolence stops the eye for an eye mentality before everyone becomes totally blind. But to him, nonviolence is more than just turning the other cheek. It is resistance without resorting to violent means.

Overall, “Nonviolence” is an interesting treatise on the concept of nonviolent resistance in the larger world. Kurlansky shows its durability throughout modern history, and makes a strong case for the method in dealing with brutality and injustice. For anyone who is interested in learning about this concept, I recommend Kurlansky’s book as a historical reference for what has worked, and what has not on the world’s stage.