Mao, Tse Tung said that ‘political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’.
Hannah Arendt’s book On Violence explains why this idea needs to burn in a fire until it is dead* be powerfully rejected. Arendt is the brilliant mind that theorized the ‘banality of evil’ in her observation and analysis of the Nuremburg trials dealing with Nazis after WWII. On Violence discusses the difference between violence and power.
Arendt disagrees with Mao.
No matter how big your war chest is, no matter how many men with guns you put on the ground, drones you put in the air, or bases you set up to colonize foreign territories, you can’t kill power with violence (NB. America has over 600 military bases overseas.) Power rests in ideas. Governments that rely entirely on violence cease to have power.
Arendt uses the example of the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia to illustrate this point. No matter how much force Russia used, or how many implements they had at their disposal, the power of Czech and Slovakian ethnic sovereignty lived and multiplied in the hearts of even children, making the occupation ultimately unsustainable (and horrific for both sides). Alternately, the recent incursions of Russia into Ukraine are complicated by the large population of ethnically Russian people living in Ukraine.
According to Arendt, violence is ultimately controlled by the state through police, military and mechanisms like juridical process. Power lies in the consent and consensus of groups. Power comes not from crazy individual citizens or dictators acting alone, but an entire network of people energetically supportive of those crazy ideas, both good and evil, like a democratic revolution (good) or Hitler’s bureaucracy killing millions of Jews (evil). The horrifying secret of the death camps that Arendt revealed was that most of the racist population was complicit in the massacre.
Governments that rely entirely on violence cease to have power. So as the population funding the occupation (American taxpayers) gets tired of the war, more violence is needed to sustain it. “The loss of power leads to the temptation of violence” (Arendt). “68% of the American budget is devoted to the military machine , thus America acts simultaneously as a counter-revolutionary force around the world and bleeds America itself dry, preventing any real movement towards solving America’s own domestic problems of poverty, racism and decay of urban institutions” (Radford-Ruether, Liberation Theology).
There comes a time when no matter how rich America + allies is, the sheer power of the idea of people that they do not want to be colonized turns into refusing to be occupied, and nothing short of killing every last thinking breathing person alive will stop guerilla attacks in the colonizer’s homeland. Radford-Ruether writes that “power is participating in the making of one’s destiny.” Who are these individual guerilla soldiers but people desperate to make their own destiny? (So desperate they are committing atrocities against their own neighbours.)
Solutions to our global crisis need to reject Mao’s notion of violent responses, “from the barrel of a gun”. Step one is recognizing that violence is not power, and we will no longer waste money and human lives establishing and arming the rise and fall of regimes from across the world.
So thank you, Trudeau—although this will not solve the crisis, it represents the end of running in a well-worn circle and expecting to get somewhere new.