by Marie Dennis, Pax Christi International
in National Catholic Reporter

Slowly emerging from the heartbreak of death, destruction and massive displacement caused by Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine are the inspiring demonstration of diverse nonviolent strategies that are upending the logic of war, and the recognition that if we are to avoid World War III, de-escalation, diplomacy and peace-building are the only route forward.

Agreement is widespread that the stories of creative, active nonviolence in Ukraine and Russia must be told. They are stories about dogged diplomacy, civil resistance, elements of civilian-based defense, symbolic action, non-cooperation, winning over enemy combatants, solidarity and accompaniment, music and art, acts of kindness and welcome, the use of digital tools to document war crimes and more.

They are about nonviolence — a way of life and a spectrum of realistic, effective strategies for preventing or interrupting violence, for protecting human life and the planet, for promoting a more just and peaceful world.

This is what nonviolence researcher Maria Stephan calls “a moment of profound moral clarity.” The war in Ukraine is not more important than the other wars destroying human lives and the Earth, but, as the British Catholic magazine The Tablet editorialized on March 19, it is “history-making, game-changing, paradigm-shifting.”

The perennial debate on just war criteria continues, but given the ongoing carnage and potentially catastrophic consequences, Pope Francis’ assertion that “there is no such thing as a just war” rings true.

The question is not whether to defend against a brutal military invasion, but how. The nonviolent strategies being used by Ukrainians in many different locations are vitally important and illustrate powerful and effective ways to defend their communities and to break the cycles of violence. Their courageous actions point to a future when nonviolence will be the universal ethic that humans, for the sake of survival, have finally embraced…

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PHOTO CREDIT: NCR photo/Teresa Malcolm

One thought on “Ukraine shows we must reject the possibility that war can be just

  1. Let’s continue our discussion about the possibility of a country using a Nonviolent Defense against a violent invasion:
    This is not something that is only rarely discussed in the literature of non-violence. I have a Non-violence book-self, filled with about 150 books. And I believe that at least 80% of them mention, give examples, or discuss this possibility.

    I would like to share some thoughts from: The Healing Power of Peace and Nonviolence, by the moral theologian, Bernard Harring C.S.R. St. Paul Publications, 1986

    Chap. 6. Away from self-destructive deterrence, towards a healing civilian defense. . . There is Hope

    The church has reached a new phase since popes and bishops’ conferences have called for serious consideration of the alternative of civilian defense, or “Nonviolent Popular Defense.” Once we recognize that the almost certain consequences of existing politics and strategies of war carry with them a very real threat to the existence of humankind itself, practical reason as well as spiritual faith demands that it be given serious consideration as an alternative course of action.

    Gandhi, by wholly moral means, succeeded in forcing the greatest world-power of that time to restore independence to India. This shows that popular (civilian) nonviolent defense can build bridges to world populations, bridges even to former colonial powers.

    At first, war-minded superpowers, and their citizens, might only be able to understand this model as a different mode of deterrence. But the full hope of a nation “transarmed” to absolute peaceful, nonviolent means is much more ambitious. It is to win over the people and government of the other side – the opponents -to the same approach to life and politics: to free everyone from the hell of violent deterrence.

    Pope John Paul II describes the situation: Thus the nuclear terror, which attacks our era, moves humanity by a very simple discovery, easily accessible: that war is the most barbarous and ineffective means to solve conflicts. It is an exciting “”Kairos” moment !

    Only through faith, or at least through insight into the healing power of nonviolence as a principle of life and politics, can the present catastrophic danger be transformed into a positive opportunity.

    As long as the talents and time of the most gifted people are used for the military – industrial complex, and it’s built-in system of arms race, arms sales, and deterrence, the general moral level of citizens, the educational system and public opinion will steadily deteriorate. Terrorism and general criminality does, and will increase with the gross national product. People who accept the given system for the defense of their “freedom” will not realize how bloated is their concern is for economic-competitive freedom and freedom for consumerism, to the detriment of psychological and spiritual freedom. I agree with Richard McSorley, who said “Until we squarely face the question of our consent to use nuclear weapons, any hope of large-scale improvement in public morality is doomed to failure. One of the main reasons for continuing global terror is to keep our privileged place in the world. At this crossroad of human history, a failure to give very serious consideration to the non violent alternative undermines the credibility of our faith in the Redeemer of the World

    The fact is that in the U.S. over 400,000 highly gifted scientists use their talents and time entirely for military research and production. This is, in itself, a pathological symptom.

    Chap 7. Strategies of transition towards Civilian nonviolent defense

    We would have to move from the actual, highly pathological defense system that we have now, to an unambiguous stance and politics of nonviolence, inseparably united with the firm purpose not to surrender our freedom and our basic human rights.

    It would be already a tremendous step forward. if all the forces flowing together in today’s strong peace movements would finally agree on this one alternative of “Civilian Nonviolence Defense.” (Comment – we, that is Pax Christi and the Meta Peace Team, need to create a common focus on this one goal for the United States, with all US peace groups. Jim) The goal is to create a majority of citizens in favor of non- violent defense. If we really want peace in this world, in our life-time, we must be ready for dialogue with everyone. Many people are disappointed to find so little idealism and generosity among Christians, and are shocked by the quite superficial concept of freedom held by many people in the West.

    Chap 8. The Church’s Role to Witness to the healing power of nonviolence.

    The Lord has entrusted to the Church a mission to heal and to reveal the healing power of peace and nonviolence, as an integral part of her mission for salvation and wholeness.

    This peace mission concerns the whole Church, the lay people of God and their clergy. A central task of the pastors of the Church is the integral and credible proclamation of the gospel of peace, including above all, healing nonviolence. At this juncture in history to neglect the message and practice of nonviolence could easily make the Church and her teachings seem irrelevant.

    Christians have to learn, as a most substantial part of their faith, that peace with God, peace in their hearts, peace with neighbors, love of enemies, and reconciliation cannot be separated; they are one indivisible gift from God, and a mission for all believers. “The degree to which a person will justify violence and war is in inverse proportion to the depth of their awareness of the bonds of the human family. “ In the long run nonviolence cannot work in those who have not a living faith in the God of love,” Gandhi.

    We believe that the time has come when Christians must unequivocally declare that the production and deployment, as well as the use of nuclear weapons, are a crime against humanity, and that such activities must be condemned on ethical and theological grounds.

    For the Church, the troublesome fact is that the only morally acceptable alternative – that of civilian defense – is not yet sufficiently taught and understood, and the church itself has not yet done its utmost.

    The Church is called to be a model of a healing, nonviolent community. Only the countenance of a Church configured with the nonviolent crucified God can begin to radiate from within. It will be good when when the Church as a whole and every Christian understands this mission and this ongoing conversion according to the model of the “wounded healer.”

    Church authorities have a right to, and a need of our absolute sincerity and frankness in our speaking up that “This is the Hour of the Laity.”

    Vatican II spoke eloquently of the responsibility of the laity in healing public life, in Lay women and men stand on the front line of this peace mission. Many bear immediate responsibility for peace in their nations and in the world, and many have the knowledge, experience, and particular competence that are seldom accessible to members of the clergy or the hierarchy. The laity have indispensable roles in peace research, peace education and training for action.

    What will matter most is that every baptized Christian be educated and trained to become peacemakers. This must happen at every level of the Church, in all religious education or formation programs, everywhere.

    Christians need to be active in all forms of peace , research, education, training programs, and particularly in forefront of nonviolence and nonviolent defence systems.

    Finely I would like to suggest that If you would like to continue researching this topic, I would suggest that you read: Making Europe Unconquerable, The Potential of Civillian-Based Deterence and Defence, by Gene Sharp, Ballinger Publishing Co.,1985.



    1. Meeting Europe’s Defence Needs

    2. Civilian-based Defence for Western Europe

    3. Transararmament

    4. Preventing Attack

    5. In Face of Attack

    6. Defeating Attack

    7. Accessing thr Potential

    – Deacon Jim Rauner

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