Blogs > Liberty and Power > Mark Kurlansky: A Pen against the Sword

Nov 24, 2006 10:30 pm

Mark Kurlansky: A Pen against the Sword

Mark Kurlansky is the author of internationally bestselling micro-histories of Cod (1997) and Salt (2002). His most recent book, Nonviolence: Twenty-five Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea (New York: Modern Library; London: Jonathan Cape, 2006),"traces the history of non-violence movements throughout the world and argues that the state has always regarded those who oppose violence as a threat to society."

The Independent carries John Freeman's interesting interview with Mark Kurlansky.

The book" culls the past two millennia, examining moments when non-violence flourished [and] ends with a list of 25 pithy lessons, from 'Practitioners of nonviolence are seen as enemies of the state' to 'A propaganda machine promoting hatred always has a war waiting in the wings.'"

"'Europeans are far more anti-war than Americans,' Kurlansky observes mildly, 'they've had more wars and they really just don't believe in it any more. But Americans do.' It doesn't help that Kurlansky has taken on three of the most sacred 'just wars' in the pantheon of US history: the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and Second World War."

The book"attempts to dismantle the idea of these wars in particular by dismantling the myths - quite powerful in the US still - that keep them sacred. Namely, that the Revolutionary War was cleanly fought and force the only option at the time; that the Civil War was a dispute over slavery; and that America entered the Second World War to stop the Holocaust."

"Against the odds, whether it is in Vietnam or Afghanistan, Kurlansky says that governments conclude force will work where diplomacy has not. To justify their actions, they often lean on religion."

"For all its discussion of the abuse of religion, Non-violence is actually a remarkably sanguine book about faith. Kurlansky goes back to the beginnings of the three major religions and argues that all of them began in the spirit of non-violence."

"From the increasing uneasiness of evangelicals to talk of war, to the continued pressure of Quakers, there are signs that non-violent resistance to the current war in Iraq is growing in the religious communities. It's also being felt by the armed forces."

"The problem with non-violence has always been how to demonstrate it. Looking backwards, the questions are even thornier. Should Palestinians have resisted non-violently in 1948? If so, what does that mean? Kurlansky doesn't have entirely clear answers to these questions. But he points to successes as a reason why it should be considered for the future. 'It takes very little imagination to be violent,' he says, 'but it takes a great deal of imagination to be non-violent.'"

A note for British readers. Next Monday at 9:30 pm Matthew Sweet talks to Mark Kurlansky on BBC Radio 3. And next Tuesday at 7:45 pm Mark Kurlansky discusses his book with A. C. Grayling, author of Among the Dead Cities: Was the Allied Bombing of Civilians in WWII a Necessity or a Crime? at the South Bank's Purcell Room, London SE1 (08703 800 400).

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