March 24, 2009

Howard Zinn: “Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience.

American historian, professor, and long time social critic Howard Zinn once said, “Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that numbers of people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience . . . Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty.”
Resistance, such a meaningful word, with so many implications for so many people is the root of civil disobedience, resisting the injustice that society has put forth and resisting the system that requires change. Resistance comes in many forms. While non-violent resistance rarely makes headline news it is the most powerful force in affecting change in this world. Violent resistance on the other hand may shock the world in to paying attention, but will de-legitimize even the noblest of causes. Violent resistance strips people of their compassion and leaves both sides starved.
Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Gandhi are only a few examples of heroes who started these movements and while their actions lacked violence they certainly had a powerful force. I am fairly certain that their struggle was even greater than those wielding weapons and bombs, but somehow their message was much more powerful.
In society today with the lines so blurred between right and wrong it is hard to distinguish who the “real” heroes are. Is it the soldier returning from the war in Iraq? Is it the protester fighting for human rights? Or is it the “conscientious objector” who makes the brave decision to not fight at all? In a world where choosing not to fight can be more punishable than committing human rights violations while in service all of these individual acts of resistance are more important than ever. Groups like Courage to Resist, the Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Breaking the Silence lend the voices that society so desperately needs in order to critically reexamine ourselves and move forward. The conventional war heroes are exhibiting new levels of bravery by using their words to move society. While Mandela, King, and Gandhi are all appropriately credited for their movements their strength was only derived from the people who supported them.
For too long our greatest problem has been civil obedience and it’s time to stand behind those who resist.

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