SUBJECTS — World/India, Poland, Denmark, Chile, South Africa; 1800s – the; Present; Civics/Government; U.S./1945 the Present; Civil Rights Movement, Tennessee;



AGE; 12+; No MPAA Rating;

Documentary; 1999; length: six sections each between 20 and 30 minutes in length; Color.  This film is available on a free download from the filmmakers directly translated into numerous languages.


One of the Best! This movie is on TWM’s short list of the best movies to supplement classes in United States History, High School Level.

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This documentary chronicles the rise of nonviolent direct action by large numbers of people as a force for political and social change. The movie provides six examples in which nonviolent direct action changed the history of the 20th century.

A Force More Powerful can serve as the basis for a two or three-week unit exploring nonviolent direct action as a force for political and social change. The movie comes in six separate sections. Teachers can select the sections that would provide the most assistance in their classes. For example, the first two sections, dealing with the Nashville sit-ins and the movement seeking independence in India, are an excellent supplement to a unit on the U.S. Civil Rights Movement or for a class in government/civics. The sections on the Indian independence movement, Solidarity’s challenge to Poland’s communist government, and the defeat of Pinochet in Chile are an excellent capstone for a contemporary World History class.


This documentary graphically demonstrates that as war has become more violent and the means of communication more effective, people have adapted by developing a new political force of immense power: nonviolent direct action (also called “civil disobedience,” and “non-violent resistance” or “civil resistance”). This film shows the modern origins of the new political/social force by Mohandas K. Gandhi in South Africa and India. It describes other examples of nonviolent direct action at work. Nonviolent direct action continues to be a major source of progressive political and social change throughout the world. TeachWithMovies.org believes that no student will have a good grasp of world or U.S. history without an understanding of this new tactic for social and political change.

A Force More Powerful provides its own historical background. Our independent research has confirmed many of the historical facts presented by the movie. This Learning Guide will provide an additional interesting background to the situations featured in the film.

The story of the Nashville sit-ins and Mr. James Lawson is particularly relevant to U.S. students. See We Were Warriors — Nashville 1960. Another important benefit of the film is that at least two of the major actors were relatively young when they served as leaders of nonviolent direct action campaigns. James Lawson was 30 years old and Mkhuseli Jack an activist in South Africa was 27.

Note: There is a very helpful website from the filmmakers with three lesson plans and other resources. The TWM Learning Guide to A Force More Powerful has been designed to supplement the lesson plans on the filmmakers’ website. For example, the filmmakers do not provide suggested answers to their proposed discussion questions. This Learning Guide recasts those discussion questions, supplements them, and provides suggested answers. The Historical Background contained in this Learning Guide does not duplicate the background provided by the movie or the filmmakers on their website, but adds important and interesting facts. For example, in Chile, Augusto Pinochet did not simply disappear after his defeat in the plebiscite described in the film. The section of this Learning Guide on Chile describes the extent to which Pinochet, the Chilean right wing, and the Chilean military continued to be a major force in Chile’s governance for decades after losing the election.


This is history but it is unique history. First, tell your kids that this is the story of us, of the people who are not powerful, acting together to change history. Second, these five examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Nonviolent direct action brought down the Soviet Union which was then a superpower that rivaled the United States. The people of many countries around the world have used nonviolent direct action to remove repressive regimes. In addition, nonviolent direct action was the major new political development of the 20th century.

This Learning Guide provides additional facts about each incident that children will find interesting. Check the Index to the Helpful Background section for information about any of the examples shown in this documentary that may interest your children.


A note about nomenclature. Civil disobedience has come to mean masses of powerless people acting nonviolently to change their situation. However, civil disobedience also has a more specific meaning: refusing to obey unjust laws or, in an effort to publicize injustice, breaking laws that would normally be obeyed, such as laws against trespass. In this Learning Guide, the term “civil disobedience” will be used in that more limited sense. The larger set of tactics, pioneered by Gandhi and used in countries all over the world, including boycotts, sit-ins, demonstrations, and marches will be referred to as “nonviolent direct action.”

Key Concepts Stressed in the Film

  • The 20th century saw the rise of a powerful new weapon for political and social change. It was used on every continent and in almost every decade. Sometimes called civil disobedience, but more correctly described as nonviolent direct action, this new way of forcing governments and societies to change was pioneered by Mohandas Gandhi, a leader of the movement for Indian independence. Gandhi was so revered by the Indian people that he was given the name “Mahatma,” a Hindu term meaning “Great Soul,” a person to be revered for wisdom and selflessness.
  • Nonviolent direct action is a tool of the underdog, used by powerless people to defeat those who control armies, governments, and economies.
  • Nonviolent direct action usually requires economic pressure to be successful.
  • Nonviolent direct action usually, but not always, is very open, honest and public about its goals and strategies. Good examples are the Nashville sit-ins of the 1960s and Gandhi’s march to the sea to make salt.
  • Nonviolent direct action must adapt to the particular situation and especially to the psychology of the oppressor. For example, Gandhi could use certain tactics against the British, who had a sense of fair play and who liked to view themselves as enlightened rulers. However, when the Danes were resisting the Nazis during World War II, tactics of making every protest open and public would not have worked. As a result, the Danes had to use secrecy and subterfuge.
  • Nonviolent direct action against a government is effective when the people withdraw their consent to be governed, thereby destroying the legitimacy of the government. When a government uses force to control its population, it has conceded that it has lost the people’s support and therefore its legitimacy.

Methods of Nonviolent Direct Action — Three Types

198 Methods of Nonviolent Action have been catalogued. They can be divided into three categories: protest, noncooperation, and direct intervention. In the paragraphs below some of the methods used in India, Nashville, and South Africa are discussed in relation to these categories.

India: protests: mass meetings and demonstrations publicized the activists’ demands and motivated supporters of the independence movement; noncooperation: refusal to pay the salt tax publicized the injustice of British rule and deprived the government of income; the boycott of cloth made in England dramatized the fact that Britain profited from its occupation of India and that every Indian was injured by British rule; the cloth boycott also put economic pressure on certain businessmen and divided the English; resignations of officials disrupted the British administration and provided publicity; direct intervention: the effort to take over the salt works attempted to disrupt British administration; by provoking an overreaction to demonstrate the brutality of British rule; it showed beyond doubt that British rule was imposed for the benefit of Britain, not to help ordinary Indians;

Nashville sit-ins: protests: mass meetings and the march on the Mayor’s office publicized the activists’ demands and motivated the activists’ supporters; noncooperation: the boycott of downtown stores that would not integrate their facilities put financial pressure on the business community and also led to publicity; it divided the oppressors by hurting businesses in a particular segment of the economy; direct intervention: sitting at the lunch counters in violation of store policy dramatized the injustice of blacks being denied service at a store’s lunch counter when the store was seeking to sell consumer goods to them; it also caused tremendous business disruption and put pressure on one segment of the oppressor community;

South Africa: protests: there were mass meetings which publicized the activists’ demands and motivated their supporters; noncooperation: the boycott of the merchants put financial pressure on one segment of the business community and divided the oppressors; direct intervention: None. (Direct intervention by the South African protesters would have led to brutal repression.)

Three Sources for the Power of
Nonviolent Direct Action

Nonviolent direct action forces change in three ways. It changes hearts and minds of the public and of the opponents of the protesters. Second, it hurts the pocketbook of those whose behavior it seeks to change. Third, it prevents those whose behavior it seeks to change from going about business as usual.

These are more fully described as follows: (1) Changing Hearts and Minds: nonviolent direct action works on the ethical perspective of the oppressor class by challenging the morality of their conduct. It points out contradictions between the values of the oppressors and their actions. When the hearts and minds of the oppressor class have been changed, modification of policies and actions will naturally follow. Even if the entrenched powers are not convinced, it is difficult for governments or ruling elites to enforce policies rejected by the general public. (2) Applying Economic Pressure: boycotts and disruption of businesses exert economic pressure on the ruling powers. This pressure generally hits some businesses harder than others and divides the ruling powers. (3) Preventing Business As Usual: Finally, by making the administration of the government or the functioning of businesses more difficult, nonviolent direct action pressures target groups to make concessions.

Other Examples of Nonviolent direct action
in the 20th Century

Examples of nonviolent direct action which achieved changes in regime or in policy that are not cited in the film include: (1) parts of the American suffrage movement led by Alice Paul; these women picketed the White House, were imprisoned on false charges, and were badly mistreated in prison; (see Learning Guide to Iron Jawed Angels); (2) the use of strikes and boycotts (although some strikes have been associated with violence on both sides, the vast majority were peaceful); this includes the grape boycott by the United Farm Worker’s Union, 1965 – 1970, led by Cesar Chavez; (3) the Russian revolution that toppled the Soviet Union in 1991; (4) the revolution that overthrew Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines in 1986; (5) a general strike that forced the El Salvadoran dictator General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez to relinquish power in 1944; (6) the protests of “Los Madres” (the mothers of the “disappeared”) which grew into massive street demonstrations that forced the Argentinean military dictatorship to relinquish power, 1977 – 1983; (7) the “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia that drove the Communists from power in 1989; (8) The pro-Western “Orange Revolution” in the Ukraine which installed Viktor Yushchenko as President in 2004; (9) the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia in 2003 which installed the populist regime of President Mikhail Saakashvili; and (10) Executive Order 8802 signed on June 25, 1941, by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt prohibiting discrimination against black Americans in defense industries and establishing a commission to investigate complaints of discrimination; the Executive Order was promulgated only after a credible threat by black leaders to hold a peaceful march on Washington by 100,000 people protesting discrimination in hiring in defense industries. (For the background behind Executive Order 8802, see Goodwin, 1994, pp. 246 – 253 and the filmmakers’ website Other Resistance Movements in the 20th Century.

Most of these examples of nonviolent direct action did not apply all of the principles of Satyagraha, the theory of promoting change through nonviolent direct action developed by Mahatma Gandhi. Instead, they modified the tactics of Satyagraha to fit the specific situation faced by the protesters.

Notes on Satyagraha

Satyagraha is not a movement to force social and political change by defeating an opponent. Instead, it seeks to convert the opponent so that in the end, there is no defeat and no victory but rather a new harmony. Satyagraha operates by attaining insight into the real nature of a situation in a spirit of peace and love. In so doing the Satyagrahi encounters absolute truth. (In Hindi Satyagraha means “the devotion to truth” or “truth force.”) Satyagraha seeks truth in a spirit of peace and love. A satyagrahi practices nonviolence always. The refusal to submit to the wrong, or to cooperate with it in any way, is an assertion of truth.

As part of the truth-telling process, Satyagraha requires that an actor warn others of his intentions and forbids any tactic suggesting the use of secrecy to advantage. Its full range of application includes more than civil disobedience and political action. It extends from the details of correct daily living to the construction of alternative political and economic institutions. Article on “Satyagraha” Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2005. See also The Complete Site on Mahatma Gandhi.

Protesters using nonviolent direct action often use civil disobedience and violate the law to which they object, such as laws enforcing segregation of the races. On occasion, in order to dramatize their arguments, protesters will violate other laws to which they have no objection and would, in normal situations, enforce themselves. Examples are trespass or traffic laws. Activists who perform civil disobedience must be scrupulously nonviolent and must willingly accept the legal consequences of their actions, such as fines or imprisonment. The purpose of civil disobedience can be to publicize an unjust law; to dramatize a just cause; to appeal to the conscience of the public; to force negotiation with recalcitrant officials; to “clog the machine” (in Thoreau’s phrase) with politically motivated prisoners; to get into court where they can challenge the constitutionality of a law; or to end personal complicity in the injustice which flows from obedience to an unjust law.

Classic Satyagraha uses the publicity from the events of nonviolent direct action to work on both the conscience of the larger community and public officials. In India, South Africa, Poland, and the U.S. economic forces were brought into play as well, through boycotts and disruption of business as usual.


Choose one of six sections each that are between 20 and 30 minutes in length, each section contains Helpful Background, Discussion Questions, and Links to the Internet.

We Were Warriors - Nashville 1960

We Were Warriors – Nashville 1960
(30 minutes with introduction; 25 minutes alone)


Segregation and Its Corrosive Effects

In the Southern United States, during the period of segregation (roughly before 1964), there were separate public facilities, such as schools and hospitals, for whites and for blacks. Business establishments, such as restaurants, hotels, laundromats, and theaters, had separate entrances and areas reserved for African Americans. Community institutions such as churches and museums, were also segregated. Black people had to sit at the back of buses or in separate sections of trains. There were separate restrooms and water fountains. The neighborhoods in which people lived were segregated as well. State and local governments enforced these restrictions through “Jim Crow” laws which mandated segregation.

Facilities provided for African Americans were almost always inferior to those provided for whites. Schools serving black children were funded at much lower levels than schools attended by whites. Often, black students were issued obsolete textbooks that had previously been used by white students. Black neighborhoods were usually less desirable and received fewer city services than white neighborhoods.

There was also racial discrimination and segregation in other parts of the U.S. but it was less pervasive and was not supported by laws mandating segregation. Racial discrimination and segregation continue to this day, particularly in housing and education, but increasingly the barriers have been broken down. Certainly, segregation is no longer enforced by the government in any state. Milestones on the road to rid the nation of segregation, in addition to the Nashville sit-ins, were the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, 1954, passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Segregation, particularly in education and employment, denied African Americans the opportunity to realize their full potential, to be paid as they deserved for their work, and to live the American Dream. Segregation sent a message to blacks that they were inferior to other Americans; it was a mark of inferiority that was devastating to the self-esteem for many. It was a constant and irritating reminder that blacks were considered second class citizens by their white compatriots.

The segregationist whites believed that they were entitled, because of their race, to the best facilities. However, segregation betrayed the political and cultural ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Relegating blacks to second-class citizenship because of their race, undercut basic ethical lessons taught at home and in the churches and temples attended by whites. Truth be told, it is harmful to live in a way that takes unfair advantage of others. This harm may be more subtle than the harm from segregation suffered by a black person but it is nonetheless real.

For the United States as a community, segregation divided people along artificial, that is racial, lines. In that it denied African Americans an equal opportunity to better themselves and contribute to society, it denied society the benefits of their work and talent.

James Lawson and
His Contributions to the United States:

James Lawson was a leading figure in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. He was born into a family of Methodist ministers in 1928 and started preaching in his own right when he graduated from high school in 1947. As a young man, Mr. Lawson became a committed pacifist. During the Korean War (1950-1953) he was eligible for both a student and a ministerial deferment. Mr. Lawson declined to apply for either of them, refusing to cooperate with a system that made war. As a result he served thirteen months in federal prison for refusing to cooperate with the draft law. Upon his release, Mr. Lawson served as a missionary, campus minister, and coach at Hislop College in Nagpur, India. There he studied Satyagraha, the principles of nonviolent civil disobedience developed by Mohandas Gandhi. Mr. Lawson returned to the United States in 1955 at which time he met Dr. Martin Luther King, who urged him to come south and get involved in the Civil Rights Movement. “Come now!” Dr. King said, “We don’t have anyone like you down there.”

Moving to Nashville, Tennessee, Mr. Lawson enrolled at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University and soon began conducting workshops in nonviolence for the organization led by Dr. King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). While in Nashville and throughout his career, Mr. Lawson trained many leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in the principles and tactics of nonviolent protest. Jesse Jackson and many others have called him the “teacher” of the Movement.

In 1959, student activists trained by Mr. Lawson launched a series of sit-ins that resulted in the integration, first of lunch counters and then of restaurants and other public facilities, in Nashville, Tennessee. (For an interview with Mr. Lawson, see Interview: Rev. James Lawson from NPR.) Dr. King called Mr. Lawson the foremost theorist of nonviolence in the world and cited the Nashville sit-ins as a model for a successful campaign of nonviolent direct action.

Mr. Lawson served with distinction in key roles in many of the most important efforts of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1960, he was one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He served as coordinator of the Freedom Rides in 1961. In 1962, Mr. Lawson became minister of the Centenary Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1968, when black sanitation workers in Memphis went on strike for higher wages and union recognition, Mr. Lawson served as chairman of the strategy committee. James Lawson issued the fateful invitation to his friend, Dr. King, requesting his presence in Memphis to support the garbage workers’ strike. Dr. King was assassinated while he was in Memphis.

People in authority have often been unhappy with James Lawson’s activities. In addition to incurring the ire of the federal government for resisting the draft, he was expelled from Vanderbilt University for his Civil Rights work. He has been jailed in nonviolent civil disobedience activities in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, California and Washington, D.C. He has objected to U.S. military involvement abroad, particularly to the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the wars in Iraq. He has opposed U.S. policy toward Cuba and U.S. policy in Central America. He has supported the rights of Palestinians, the demands of workers to increased wages and union representation, and the requests of gays and lesbians for equal treatment.

Mr. Lawson moved to Los Angeles in 1974 to become pastor of the Holman United Methodist church. He is now retired. The United States is a better place because James Lawson was one of its citizens.


The Audiences the Demonstrators
Were Trying to Reach

The sit-ins, the marches, and the boycott were designed to address many audiences. The following describes seven of these audiences and the reasons they were targeted by the protesters.

(1) the segregationists, because nonviolent direct action always seeks to change the minds of the opponents;

(2) the public officials, of Nashville, because they held the power of arrest and enforced laws supporting segregration;

(3) the Nashville business community, because these people had influence with the public officials; this group was particularly vulnerable to the sit-ins because the controversy disrupted business;

(4) the people of Nashville, because nonviolent direct action always appeals to the sense of justice of the people in the community who can pressure those in power to change the policy, especially in a democracy;

(5) the citizens of the nation, for the same reasons as the residents of Nashville; the sit-ins were a major factor in getting Congress to pass a public accommodations law that prohibited racial segregation in restaurants, including lunch counters;

(6) politicians outside of Memphis, particularly at the national level for the purpose of convincing them to pass laws banning discrimination; and

(7) the people of the world, because the people of the nation and public officials in the city and national governments would be embarrassed for the failure of the U.S. to live up to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Discussion Questions:

For the discussion questions in the form of a comprehension test, suitable to be printed and distributed to a class, see Comprehension Test — We Were Warriors — Nashville 1960. The test consists of the discussion questions slightly modified in some cases. The test is designed to be a learning experience itself. Allow 30 minutes for the test.

1. Segregation can be defined as the separation of black and white Americans in social, political and economic spheres of life. Describe: (a) the ways in which blacks were harmed by segregation, (b) the ways in which segregation harmed whites, and (c) the way in which the failure to give equal rights to black Americans harmed the nation.

Suggested Response:

(a) Segregation, particularly in education and employment, denied black Americans the opportunity to realize their full potential, to be paid as they deserved for their work, and to live the American Dream. Segregation sent a message to blacks that they were inferior to other Americans; it was a mark of inferiority that was devastating to the self-esteem of many. It was a constant and irritating reminder that blacks were considered second class citizens by their white compatriots.

(b) As to whites, segregation betrayed the political and cultural ideals of the Declaration of Independence. Relegating people to second-class citizenship because of their race undercut basic ethical lessons taught at home and in the churches and temples that whites attended. It is harmful to live in a way that takes unfair advantage of others. This harm may be more subtle than the harm from segregation suffered by a black person but it is nonetheless real.

(c) For the United States as a community, segregation betrayed the principles of the Declaration of Independence. By denying African Americans an equal opportunity to better themselves and contribute to society, segregation the denied country the full benefits of their talent.


2. What characteristics of population and tradition made Nashville a good place in which to mount a challenge to the segregation of department store lunch counters?

Suggested Response:

Nashville was generally thought to be an enlightened community with several colleges, black and white. Blacks had already been elected to the City Council and the School Board. There was a strong professional and middle-class component to the black community in Nashville. It was called the “Athens of the South” for its colleges and its reputation as being an enlightened community. There were many students from the black colleges to serve as volunteers. James Lawson, an expert in Gandhian nonviolence, was in Nashville and available to aid the students.


3. Explain the symbolic value of the lunch counters of downtown department stores targeted by the sit-in demonstrators.

Suggested Response:

Lunch counters were central and easy for the media to cover. It was particularly unjust for the department stores to sell merchandise to black people but not to allow them to eat at a lunch counter located in the store. The segregated lunch counters were a symbol that access to a place to eat, a basic human need, was being denied to the black community. The prospect of blacks eating next to whites would infuriate racists but also stress the humanity of the demonstrators and of all black people.


4. What happened on Big Saturday, February 27, 1960, the day the students labeled “Big Saturday”? Did it work to the advantage of the students or that of the segregationists? Explain the reasons for your answer.

Suggested Response:

Agitators attacked sit-in demonstrators on February 27, 1960. Then the police arrested 81 demonstrators for disturbing the peace despite the fact that they had done nothing illegal and had been passive during the entire incident. No agitators were arrested. James Lawson, a leader of the demonstrations, named February 27, 1960, as “Big Saturday.” It led to outrage nationwide and helped the protesters prevail.


5. What would have probably happened had the demonstrators fought back when they were attacked?

Suggested Response:

Fighting back would have sacrificed the students’ moral authority as nonviolent protesters. It would have made the goal of mobilizing public opinion for desegregation more difficult by changing the focus of the controversy. The story in the press would been about the fight, rather than about the protesters’ complaints, their demands for change, and the viciousness of the segregationists. In addition, fighting back would have given the segregationists an excuse to hurt the demonstrators and would have given the police a justification for arresting them.


6. What strategic advantage did the demonstrators gain by deciding to remain in jail rather than posting the $50 bail?

Suggested Response:

Their purpose was to clog the court system and the jails, thereby increasing the pressure on the government.


7. Mr. Lawson instructed the demonstrators to look their attackers in the eye. What was his purpose in giving this instruction?

Suggested Response:

It brought home to the attackers that they were hurting human beings.


8. The sit-ins, the marches and the boycott were designed to address many audiences. Describe some of the audiences and explain the demonstrators’ reasons for targeting them.

Suggested Response:

Seven of the audiences and the reasons for targeting them were: (1) the segregationists, because nonviolent mass action always seeks to change the minds of the opponents; (2) the public officials of Nashville, because they held the power of arrest and controlled the government; (3) the Nashville business community, because these people had a lot of influence with the public officials; this group was particularly vulnerable to the sit-ins because the controversy disrupted business; (4) the people of Nashville, because nonviolent mass action always appeals to the sense of justice of the community which can pressure those in power to change the policy, especially in a democracy; (5) the citizens of the nation, for the same reasons as the people of Nashville; the sit-ins were a major factor in getting Congress to pass a public accommodations law that prohibited racial segregation in restaurants, including lunch counters; (6) politicians outside of Memphis, particularly at the national level, for the purpose of convincing them to pass laws banning discrimination; and (7) the people of the world, because Americans and U.S. public officials would be embarrassed by the failure of the U.S. to live up to the principles of the Declaration of Independence.


9. The students considered the mass arrests to be a victory. What was their reasoning?

Suggested Response:

It meant that the government officials didn’t know how to deal with the protests. Arrests and imprisonment of many clean cut, well-dressed college students angered the larger community and demonstrated that something was going on in Nashville that people should pay attention to.


10. When he was a young man, Mr. Lawson went to jail rather than cooperate in any way with the United States military. People have very different opinions about whether this was a patriotic act. However, looking at the accomplishments of Mr. Lawson over his long career, do you think he was a patriotic American?

Suggested Response:

This is an opinion question for which there is no single correct answer. A good answer will mention most of the following facts: Mr. Lawson knew what he thought was right and what he believed was best for the country; he acted on those beliefs. Even when he went to jail for resisting the draft, he didn’t try to run away and he didn’t try to take the easy way out. He stood up for his principles and took the punishment that society required of him. It is clear that he always had the best interests of the country at heart. Standing up for your principles is a very patriotic thing to do. Mr. Lawson’s work in the Civil Rights Movement was definitely a benefit to the country.


Links to the Internet — Nashville

Sources for the short biography of Mr. James Lawson: This Far by Faith from PBS; and Wikipedia.

Defying the Crown - India 1930

Defying the Crown – India 1930
(25 minutes)

See Learning Guide to “Gandhi“.

Freedom in Our Lifetime - South Africa 1984

Freedom in Our Lifetime – South Africa 1984
(25 minutes)

After the end of apartheid, Mkhuseli Jack started a construction business in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He devoted a lot of time to his family and was appointed to the Consultative Advisory Forum for Marine Living Resources.

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is an excellent example of how a successful nonviolent reform movement treats its former opponents. The Commission was set up by the Government of National Unity to help heal the wounds of the apartheid era. The TRC had three committees: the Amnesty Committee, the Reparation, and Rehabilitation Committee, and the Human Rights Violations Committee. On October 26, 1996, the TRC submitted a final report to President Nelson Mandela.

People who had perpetrated political crimes during the apartheid era could obtain amnesty from the Commission if they made a full and truthful disclosure of their activities. Many white and black perpetrators confessed and were exonerated. See, e.g., the story of Amy Biel and the boy who murdered her in Learning Guide to Cry the Beloved Country. However, many would not comply with this requirement and were denied amnesty. One example was the security officer who tortured Mkhuseli Jack in August 1985. See TRC AMNESTY COMMITTEE DECISION REGARDING GERHARDUS JOHANNES NIEUWOUDT.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the chairman of the TRC. Below is a section of his forward to the Commission’s final report.

Those who brought to birth the TRC process also ought to be commended for their wisdom, which has recently been demonstrated no more clearly than by the trial [and acquittal] of Dr. Wouter Basson. Without making any judgment on the correctness of the judge’s decision, the case has shown clearly how inadequate the criminal justice system can be in exposing the full truth of, and establishing clear accountability for what happened in our country. More seriously, we have seen how unsuccessful prosecutions lead to bitterness and frustration in the community. Amnesty applicants often confessed to more gruesome crimes than were the subject of the Basson trial, yet their assumption of responsibility, and the sense that at least people were getting some measure of truth from the process, resulted in much less anger. For the sake of our stability, it is fortunate that the kind of details exposed by the Commission did not come out in a series of criminal trials, which — because of the difficulty of proving cases beyond reasonable doubt in the absence of witnesses other than co-conspirators — most likely would have ended in acquittals. …

It is something of a pity that, by and large, the white community failed to take advantage of the Truth and Reconciliation process. They were badly let down by their leadership. Many of them carry a burden of a guilt which would have been assuaged had they actively embraced the opportunities offered by the Commission; those who do not consciously acknowledge any sense of guilt are in a sense worse off than those who do. Apart from the hurt that it causes to those who suffered, the denial by so many white South Africans even that they benefited from apartheid is a crippling, self-inflicted blow to their capacity to enjoy and appropriate the fruits of change. But mercifully there have been glorious exceptions. All of us South Africans must know that reconciliation is a long haul and depends not on a commission for its achievement but on all of us making our contribution. It is a national project after all is said and done.

We have been privileged to help to heal a wounded people, though we ourselves have been, in Henri Nouwen’s profound and felicitous phrase, ‘wounded healers’. When we look around us at some of the conflict areas of the world, it becomes increasingly clear that there is not much of a future for them without forgiveness, without reconciliation. God has blessed us richly so that we might be a blessing to others. Quite improbably, we as South Africans have become a beacon of hope to others locked in deadly conflict that peace, that a just resolution, is possible. If it could happen in South Africa, then it can certainly happen anywhere else. Such is the exquisite divine sense of humor.


Discussion Questions:

For the discussion questions in the form of a comprehension test, suitable to be printed and distributed to a class, see Comprehension Test — Freedom in Our Lifetime — South Africa 1984. Note that the test assumes that the concepts underlying the answers to the questions have been discussed in class.

Question #1 has been adapted from Question #1 in the Discussion Questions suggested in the website from the filmmakers. The answers have been supplied by TWM.

1. How did activists in the Indian movement for independence, in the Nashville sit-ins, and in the opposition to apartheid in South Africa use the three forms of nonviolent mass action: protests (such as meetings, parades, and demonstrations), noncooperation (such as boycotts and resignations) and direct intervention (such as factory occupations, takeovers, and blockades)?

Suggested Response:

There are several correct answers. Some suggested good responses are: India: protests: mass meetings and demonstrations; noncooperation: the refusal to pay the salt tax; the boycott of cloth made in England, the resignations of village headmen and other officials; direct intervention: the effort to take over the salt works; Nashville sit-ins: protests: mass meetings and the march on the Mayor’s office; noncooperation: the boycott of downtown stores that would not integrate their facilities; direct intervention: sitting at the lunch counters; South Africa: protests: there were mass meetings, often limited to funerals, the only public forum that was permitted by the government; noncooperation: the boycott of white-owned stores; direct intervention: None.


2. For each use of the three forms of nonviolent action listed in your answer to the preceding question, briefly describe how each action contributed to the campaign of nonviolence.

Suggested Response:

There are several correct answers. Any answer that shows that the student is beginning to grapple with the way in which nonviolent mass action works should be given credit. Some suggested good responses are set out at Three Types of Methods Used in Nonviolent Mass Action.


3. What was the role of economics in the triumph of the blacks of South Africa?

Suggested Response:

As shown by this episode in the movie, it was essential. The international economic sanctions and internal resistance forced white South African businesses to recognize that an apartheid future was one of economic stagnation and eventual decline. This is not to denigrate the courage of de Klerk and his white supporters in releasing Mandela and engineering a turnover of power from the white minority to the black majority. But economic pressure was a major motivating factor.


4. What action by the South African government showed that it had lost the consent of the majority to govern them?

Suggested Response:

The fact that the government had to declare states of emergency and martial law to keep control.


5. Did the violent struggle by the ANC and other revolutionary groups have any hope of success against the apartheid government?

Suggested Response:

Not much. The apartheid government had well-trained troops that were armed with modern weapons. As a last resort, it had about six nuclear weapons.


Links to the Internet — South Africa

Living with the Enemy - Denmark 1940

Living with the Enemy – Denmark 1940
(General introduction 5 minutes; Section on Denmark 25 minutes)

Danish nonviolent mass resistance to the Nazi occupation during WWII did not fit the mold of classical nonviolent direct action in a number of ways. These differences were dictated by the ruthlessness of the oppressor and the fact that these events took place during a world war. They include: (1) the workers who slowed production did not make themselves known to the Germans; (2) there was no effort to use mass demonstrations or protests to mobilize national and worldwide public opinion to convince the Germans to leave Denmark; (3) the strike that forced the Germans to lift the curfew was accompanied by some violence; (3) the spontaneous national effort to rescue Denmark’s Jews was done in secret, without the involvement of the national and international press, in an effort to force the Germans to stop persecuting the Jews; and (4) the underground press was secret activity and was not directed at a single definable goal.

The Rescue of the Danish Jews — An Unusual Example of Spontaneous Nonviolent direct action: Virtually overnight, with no central planning or organization, a tiny nation hid 6,000 to 7,000 of their countrymen, and in the coming weeks, transported them to safety.

Unlike classic civil disobedience, this action was taken in secret except for a radio broadcast from Sweden stating that it would welcome Danish Jews. The press was not a factor in putting pressure on the Nazis. No effort was made to change the minds of the Nazis or to mobilize public opinion against them. Nor was the effort to save the Danish Jews the result of meticulous planning and training, which characterizes most nonviolent direct action. Usually nonviolent direct action requires extensive preparation, strategic vision, and extensive logistical planning: organizations are set up, resisters are trained, locations are secured, etc.

The resistance to the German effort to deport Danish Jews to concentration camps galvanized Danish society. The Lutheran Church was very active with about 90% of its pastors participating. Copenhagen University had a participation rate of 100%. Schools, hospitals, and other public institutions all over the country opened their doors to hide Jews and serve as collection points. One of the largest Copenhagen hospitals, the Bispebjerg, played an especially strong role. At one point, the German army surrounded the hospital while some 200 Jewish refugees were hidden in the nurses’ quarters. Fortunately the Germans made no move to search the hospital. The next morning a large funeral procession made its way from the hospital. In the cars were the 200 refugees. A Conspiracy of Decency — The Rescue of the Danish Jews During World War II by Emmy E. Werner, Westview Press, 2002, p. 48. A half-Jewish girl, whose Jewish father was active in the resistance stayed in Denmark with her mother. Her name was simply changed to her mother’s maiden name, and she went to live with her grandparents. She was re-registered with the City Clerk and with her school under her new name. Many people knew what had happened with this little girl and yet no one betrayed her for the entire duration of the war. When the Germans left Denmark she resumed living under her father’s name, and the school and city records were changed again. Werner pp. 123 – 124. For other incidents see Werner 48 et seq.

Some Germans made active efforts to capture Jews, and they succeeded in about 450 cases. However, some Germans simply looked the other way and allowed Jews to escape. Most of the German boats patrolling the waters between Denmark and Sweden were in dry dock during the time the Danes were transporting their Jewish countrymen to Sweden. (See story about George Ferdinand Duckwitz below.) However, there were still a few German boats on patrol. One story tells of a fishing boat with a hold full of refugees which was stopped by a German patrol boat. A German officer asked the captain of the fishing boat what was in the hold. The captain replied “fish.” The German officer then boarded the fishing boat, leaving his sailors on the patrol boat to cover him. He ordered the hatches opened and looked down on a dozen frightened Jewish refugees. He looked up at the fisherman and said, “Fish!”, got back on his patrol boat, and sailed away. Werner pp. 81 and 82.

When the Danish Jews abandoned their homes with no notice, friends and neighbors who remained kept the gardens and preserved the houses. The Danish government picked up the costs of electricity and water. Danish Jews returned home after the war to find their houses and apartments just as they had left them. Denmark was the only country in Europe which protected its Jewish citizens in this manner.

Note that the record, which overall was sterling, was not without failures. There were betrayals by a few Danes sympathetic to the Nazis and some fisherman overcharged for the journey to Sweden. Many people drowned on the way to Sweden. See anecdotes recounted in Darkness Over Denmark by Ellen Levine, pp 87- 90 and 98 – 100.

About 450 Danish Jews were captured and sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp. The Danish government helped them as much as it could. Sorely needed vitamins were shipped from Denmark to Theresienstadt along with food. The Danish Red Cross visited the camp but the Germans were able to hide many of the prisoners. Only approximately 50 of the 450 Danish Jews sent to the camp died. Ibid.

The German effort to send the Danish Jews to concentration camps offended the very basis of the Danes’ view of their national identity. The effort to help the Jews escape electrified the country and was an important milestone in the development of the Danish resistance. A month earlier, on August 29, 1943, the Danish government had resigned rather than agree to the latest and most unreasonable set of demands by the Germans. These two events solidified the hold of the resistance on the Danish populace. As one Dane put it, after the rescue of the Danish Jews “you could not be of any other opinion than that of the resistance.” Joergen Kieler, a Danish resistance fighter, quoted at Levine p. 102.

George Ferdinand Duckwitz — A man who put humanity over patriotism — One hero who played a key role in frustrating the operation to send the Danish Jews to concentration camps was a German diplomat and Nazi Party member, George Ferdinand Duckwitz. He had worked in Denmark for several years and during that time had made many Danish friends. When Mr. Duckwitz first heard about the operation to seize the Danish Jews and send them to concentration camps, he argued strongly against it. Then, at great personal risk, he went to Germany to attempt to head off the proposal. He was unsuccessful and on September 17, 1943 Hitler, who had been pushing for action against the Danish Jews, personally approved of the operation in principal, leaving the details to his subordinates.

Mr. Duckwitz, supported by his Swiss-born wife, was determined to stop the deportations. The German security police already considered Mr. Duckwitz unreliable and were looking for a chance to ship him back to Germany or worse. He carried on nonetheless. During this time, he wrote in his diary “I will assume full responsibility for everything I am going to do. I am consoled by my strong faith that good deeds can never be wrong. … There are, after all, higher laws [than patriotism]. I will submit to them.” Duckwitz diary entries for September 26 and 27, 1943, quoted at Werner, pg. 36.

After his trip to Germany, Mr. Duckwitz flew to Sweden, a country that had remained neutral during the war. He met with the Swedish Prime Minister and secured a commitment that the Swedish government would ask the Germans to allow the Danish Jews to be interred in Sweden. When the Swedes made this offer, the German government ignored it.

There weren’t enough police in Denmark to round up and deport all the Jews. German soldiers would be required to carry out the operation. This gave Mr. Duckwitz another opening to try to frustrate Hitler’s order. He contacted the German Army’s Danish headquarters and tried to convince them that the honor of the Wehrmacht (the German army) would not allow it to participate in the deportation of Jews to Germany. He was successful and the German commander in Denmark cabled his superiors in Germany complaining that: “the operation will place a heavy burden on the army … The benefits of the deportation strike me as doubtful. No cooperation can be expected afterward from the civil administration or from the Danish police. The supply of food will be adversely affected. The ‘willingness to supply’ the armaments industry will be undermined, disturbances requiring the use of military force must be expected.” Quoted at Werner, pp. 35 & 36. Despite this plea, the German army in Denmark was ordered to assist in the deportation of the Jews. Duckwitz received a friendly warning from his contact with the military to stop trying to interfere with Hitler’s orders. Duckwitz responded that he knew the price he might have to pay, but that he would do anything in his power to stop the operation. Werner, p. 36.

Mr. Duckwitz also persuaded local German Navy commanders that the operation would pose a strain on their resources. They also questioned the order in communications with their headquarters, but like their army counterparts, they were overruled. Werner, pp. 36 & 37.

Unable to influence the decision to deport the Danish Jews to concentration camps, Mr. Duckwitz resolved to prevent it from occurring. An associate who was a Swedish diplomat caused the Swedish embassy to issue a great number of Swedish passports to Danish Jews to permit them to travel legally to Sweden. But this would help only a small minority.

Mr. Duckwitz also contacted the German harbor masters for the ports of Copenhagen and Aarhus (the major port in Jutland) and convinced them to risk their careers and their lives to frustrate the deportation plan. As a result of his efforts, the patrol boats that usually plied the waters between Denmark and Sweden were in dry dock being repaired during the weeks after the attempted seizure of the Danish Jews. Due to Mr. Duckwitz’ efforts, a ship intended to take the Jews to Germany never arrived. The absence of German patrol boats was a key factor in permitting the rescue to go forward. Werner, pp. 36 – 39.

On the night before the operation, Mr. Duckwitz went to a meeting of the Danish Social Democratic party and informed its leaders that the next night, Denmark’s Jews were to be rounded up and sent to concentration camps. The Danes swiftly notified their Jewish countrymen to go into hiding and organized the exodus to Sweden. Renowned Danish nuclear physicist, Dr. Neils Bohr, went to Sweden and persuaded the Swedish government to broadcast a radio message to Denmark stating that Sweden would accept all Danish Jews who could make it to Sweden.

Without the efforts of Mr. Duckwitz, in all likelihood, thousands of Danish Jews would have perished in German concentration camps. Miraculously, Mr. Duckwitz was not arrested by the Gestapo. He returned to Denmark after the war as the ambassador of a new and democratic Germany. Mr. Duckwitz has been recognized by Vad Yashem (The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority).


Discussion Questions:

For the discussion questions in the form of a comprehension test, suitable to be printed and distributed to a class, see Comprehension Test — Living with the Enemy – Denmark 1940. Note that the test assumes that the concepts underlying the answers to the questions have been discussed in class.

1. What is Scandinavia and where is it located?

Suggested Response:

Scandinavia consists of the countries of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland. Norway, Sweden and Denmark are located in the northernmost part of Western Europe. Iceland is an island in the North Atlantic just south of Greenland.


2. Did the Danes do the right thing in not resisting the initial German invasion?

Suggested Response:

There is no one correct answer to this question. A good answer would consider the following issues: (1) any resistance would have been futile and would have resulted in needless deaths; (2) if a people allows another country to take away its freedom without resistance, the soul of that people will be destroyed. The Danes avoided this fate by mounting a resistance movement after there had been a few Allied victories and there was hope that eventually the Germans could be defeated. It would have been better had there been more resistance at the beginning but the resistance that occurred was enough to prevent injury to the Danish national spirit and sense of honor.


3. How far from Denmark is the country of Sweden?

Suggested Response:

A sail of just a few miles.


4. Sweden was a neutral country during the Second World War. What did that mean?

Suggested Response:

It didn’t take sides and maintained relations with the contending parties.


5. Why was the underground press a danger to the Nazi occupation of Denmark?

Suggested Response:

The Germans wanted to control the flow of information to the Danish people. This would allow the Germans more control over what the Danish people would do. For example, the Germans didn’t want the Danes to know that the tide of the war had changed or that they were trying to exterminate people, including Jews, in their concentration camps.


6. Describe two major nonviolent mass actions mounted by the Danes against the Nazi occupation during the Second World War.

Suggested Response:

Four are described in the film: (1) work slowdowns; (2) the general strike that forced the Germans to lift the curfew; (3) the rescue of the Danish Jews; and (4) the underground press.


7. For the two examples mentioned in your response to the last question, describe how they differed from classical nonviolent mass action.

Suggested Response:

(1) work slowdowns — the workers did not make themselves known to the Germans; there was no effort to use the slowdowns to motivate worldwide public opinion to convince the Germans to leave Denmark; this was passive resistance; (2) the strike was accompanied by some violence; (3) the rescue of the Danish Jews was done in secret; there was no effort to use the national and international press to force the Germans to stop persecuting Jews; (4) the underground press was secret activity and was not directed at a single definable goal.


8. What risk did the Danes take in not resisting the initial German invasion and in not mounting a strong resistance movement during the first year or so of the occupation?

Suggested Response:

The risk was that the Danes would lose their sense of self-respect and the respect of other nations.


9. Was Mr. Duckwitz a traitor to his country or a hero?

Suggested Response:

Mr. Duckwitz was not a traitor to Germany because he sought to prevent his country from committing a crime. He did act against the explicit desires and wishes of the rulers of his country; against law and established authority. Technically this was treason. However, he was responding to a higher obligation, his duty to humanity as a whole. Mr. Duckwitz was a hero because he exposed himself to great danger to save the lives of other people.


10. Compare the heroism of Mr. Duckwitz and that of Oscar Schindler and his wife, Emilie.

Suggested Response:

There is no one correct answer to this question. A good answer will include the following concepts: Mr. Schindler (and Mrs. Schindler; they were in it together) saved the lives of a little more than 1,100 people. Mr. Duckwitz’ action resulted in saving the lives of about 7,000 people. Mr. Schindler and his wife bore the whole burden of the effort while Mr. Duckwitz only started the ball rolling by trying to stop the German operation, alerting the Danes, and getting the patrol boats into dry dock. See Learning Guide to “Schindler’s List”. The Danes did the work of notifying their countrymen, hiding them, and transporting them out of the country. Both Mr. Duckwitz and the Schindlers took incredible risks and would have lost their lives had the German authorities discovered what they were doing. Both actions took great courage.


Links to the Internet — Section on Denmark


In addition to any websites and printed materials described in the text, we have consulted the following sources:

  • Darkness over Denmark — The Danish Resistance and the Rescue of the Jews by Ellen Levine, Holiday House, New York, 2000; particularly p. 79
  • The Sixth Floor — The Danish Resistance Movement and the RAF raid on Gestapo Headquarters, March 1945 by Robin Reilly, Cassell & Co, 1969, including pp. 47 – 62;

We've Caught God by the Arm - Poland 1980

We’ve Caught God by the Arm – Poland 1980
(25 minutes)

The rise of Solidarity was preceded by the experience of failed resistance movements in years past. The leaders of Solidarity learned from their failures.

“When movements are pragmatic enough to learn from their own experience, they often turn away from violence, and even from property destruction. The Solidarnosc labor movement in Poland, for example, was largely a youth movement for freedom from the military dictatorship of the Communist Party. In their early direct action campaigns they mixed some property destruction in with their strikes and occupations. As they evaluated, they realized that the property destruction only gave the dictator justification to come down hard on them and reduced the number of allies they could get. So they decided to give that up, broadened their movement, and went on to win. Of course the military state wanted to crush them, but wasn’t able to because people power is simply more powerful than military power. . . .

” . . . Bernard Lafayette, a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee staffer from the deep South, explained [the power of nonviolence] to me with a metaphor. Bernard said that a society is like a house. The foundation is the cooperation or compliance of the people. The roof is the state and its repressive apparatus. He asked me what happens to the house if the foundation gives way. He went on to ask: ‘How will it change what happens if more weapons are put on the roof, bigger tanks, more fancy technology? What will happen to the house then, if the foundation gives way?’

“I had to admit: if the foundation gives way, the roof will fall no matter how much money is invested in weapons.

“One way to test this is to look at a case like the fall of the Shah of Iran. He had not only one of the larger armies in the world and a completely ruthless secret police, but also the backing of the U.S.A. The opposition leadership chose to use a completely nonviolent strategy, which worked. …

“The foundation of the house of the Shah was the compliance of the people. When the foundation gave way, the house collapsed.”

George Lakey, Executive Director of Training for Change, in Nonviolent Action as the Sword that Heals — Can’t Governments Crush Nonviolent Movements?


Discussion Questions:

For the discussion questions in the form of a comprehension test, suitable to be printed and distributed to a class, see Comprehension Test — We’ve Caught God by the Arm – Poland 1980. Note that the test assumes that the concepts underlying the answers to the questions have been discussed in class.

Questions 3 & 4 have been adapted from Questions 6 & 8 respectively in the Discussion Questions suggested in the website from the filmmakers. The answers have been supplied by TWM.


1. Before Solidarity came to power in Poland, what was the relationship between the Polish government and the Soviet Union and between the Polish government and the U.S.?

Suggested Response:

The relationship between Poland and the Soviet Union can be described in a number of ways. Poland was a “puppet” regime of the Soviet Union. Soviet troops were stationed in Poland and the Polish government was Communist. Poland was a member of the Warsaw Pact, which the Russians had created to counter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Poland was behind the Iron Curtain. As for relations between the U.S. and the Polish government, Poland was an ally of the Cold War enemy of the U.S., the Soviet Union. Relations were not friendly.


2. Why was it ironic that a Communist government was brought down by a labor union?

Suggested Response:

The Communists claimed that they championed the rights of workers, yet it was dissatisfied workers who brought down Poland’s Communist government.


3. Early in the strike some workers called for expanding the list of demands to include free elections and an end to all censorship — direct and sweeping challenges to the Communist Party’s dictatorship. How might the conflict have turned out differently had the strike committee decided to include these political demands? Was dropping these demands a mistake, or was it a wise choice?

Suggested Response:

Limiting the demands at the outset was a wise choice. If the demands had been too broad they would have brought down the full force of the government and the Soviet Union. The most important factor in this consideration was the attitude of the Soviet Union, which had a large military presence in Poland. If the Soviets had thought that Solidarity would lead to the fall of the Polish Communist Party they would have crushed the union in its infancy. By the time the Communists realized that their entire system was in jeopardy, Solidarity had spread across the whole country and couldn’t be isolated and eliminated.


4. Industrial workers have played key roles in several of the stories presented in this series. Why have workers and their unions often been such effective vehicles for nonviolent action? What forms of leverage do workers possess that ordinary civilians do not?

Suggested Response:

Workers are concentrated in one area and have similar interests. This makes them easier to organize. Some groups of workers also have a history of organization.


5. In December 1981, the government of Communist Poland declared marshal law and arrested the leaders of Solidarity. As he was being led to prison Lech Walesa told his captors: “At this moment, you lost. We are arrested, but you have driven a nail into your communist coffin… You’ll come back to us on your knees.” What did he mean by this?

Suggested Response:

Marshal law was an admission by the Communist government that it had lost the consent of the people to govern. Once the people withdraw their consent, no government can last forever. It may take years (in the case of Poland, it took seven years) but eventually, the government will fall.


Links to the Internet — Section on Poland

Defeat of a Dictator - Chile 1983

The U.S. secretly helped Augusto Pinochet and the Chilean military depose a democratically elected Marxist-socialist government in 1973. Then, in 1988, the U.S. secretly helped the democratic opposition secure a “no” vote that forced Pinochet from power. The U.S. government was concerned that if Pinochet was returned to power in the referendum, his government would eventually be overthrown by a left wing revolt. It therefore convinced Chile’s center-left democratic opposition, the Concertación, that the election would be fair. The U.S. helped convince Pinochet to suspend censorship, allow exiles to return home, and permit foreign election observers. It also helped the Concertación by providing funds, expertise, and computer equipment for a parallel vote count. Victims of the Chilean Miracle — Workers and Neoliberalism in the Pinochet Era 1973 – 2002 Peter Winn, Ed., Duke University Press, 2004, pp. 45 & 46.

While the Pinochet government was defeated in the 1988 plebiscite, it is important to note that 42% of Chileans voted for it. In addition, Pinochet was backed by important sectors of Chilean society, including the military, business interests, and right wing political parties. In the U.S. and Great Britain, countries which pride themselves on their democratic traditions, governments have been elected with less than clear majorities in elections that were not always fair and free. See discussion below for further development of this topic.

Chilean democracy has prospered since the 1988 plebiscite. The Concertación, dominated by the center-left Christian Democratic party and the moderate Socialists, dominated Chilean politics from the next 20 years. As of the time of this writing, the Chilean democracy is alive and well.

However, it took time for the effects of the 1973 coup to be eliminated. the Chilean constitution had been written in the 1980s by Pinochet and his allies. It contained many anti-democratic provisions and protections for the military. For example, Pinochet and the military continued to rule the country for more than a year after the plebiscite. Pinochet had the power to appoint many senators for life-long terms. Constitutional amendments were extremely difficult to pass. The military still controlled important parts of the civilian government, including the National Security Council, which was a very powerful agency. The military was virtually autonomous and the elected government had little control over it. Finally, the constitution provided for a unique “binomial” system for electing senators. In this system each electoral district has two seats which are contested in the same election. People vote for parties, not for individual candidates. In each district, both the party that polls the most votes, and the party that comes in second, get a seat in the Senate. For a political party to win both seats, it has to poll more than double the votes of its opponents. Thus, if the Concertación received 59.9% of the vote in a district and the right wing coalition polled 30%, both would receive one seat in the senate and have equal power coming out of a very lopsided election.

After the plebiscite, but before the first democratic elections, the Concertación negotiated constitutional reforms that included a reduction in the number of life-long senators appointed by Pinochet, easing restrictions on future constitutional amendments, and securing an even balance between military and civilian members of the National Security Council. However, the amendments failed to make the military fully subservient to the civilian government and Pinochet retained the right to appoint nine Senators for life. Moreover, Pinochet and the right wing insisted upon maintaining the binomial system of electing members of congress. In practice, the binomial electoral process and the Pinochet appointed senators meant that despite strong electoral victories for the Concertación, the Senate would be controlled by right wing supporters of Pinochet.

What are the Real Difference Between A Democracy and a Dictatorship?

Elections in the U.S. have not always been fair and free, nor has the person who received the majority of the votes always been the victor. For decades blacks in the South were prevented from voting. The United States has had several Presidential elections in which the man who won the most votes wasn’t elected. While some of these elections occurred in the 19th century, the most recent occasion was in the 2000 Presidential election in which George W. Bush was elected but received 543,895 votes less than Al Gore. (See 2000 OFFICIAL PRESIDENTIAL GENERAL ELECTION RESULTS from the Federal Election Commission.) The vote in Florida, which made all the difference in the Electoral College was hotly disputed with many questionable practices by election officials who supported Mr. Bush. The election was finally decided by a U.S. Supreme Court dominated by Republican loyalists in a decision questioned by legal scholars. There have been other U.S. elections when the winner got more votes than the other candidates but didn’t receive an absolute majority. This has occurred several times, including the 1992 Presidential election, when Bill Clinton was first elected President. He received only 43% of the vote against 37.4% for President George H.W. Bush (the incumbent) and 18.7% for H. Ross Perot, a third party candidate. However, U.S. Presidential elections do not provide for a run-off and Mr. Clinton won a majority in the Electoral College. (Note that both Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton won re-election for their second terms with absolute majorities.) Electoral problems in the Western democracies are not confined to the United States. In 2005, British Prime minister Tony Blair was reelected with only about 35% of the vote. The rest was split between two political parties that opposed Mr. Blair: the Liberals and the Conservatives.

In Chile, General Pinochet had a lot of popular support. In 1980, the Constitution that legitimized his power was approved by 75% of the voters, although there are questions about whether the election was fair and free. Pinochet garnered 42% of the vote in the 1988 plebiscite (a higher percentage than Blair received in England and just 1% less than the percentage Clinton received in the 1992 election).

What are the differences between the victories of Pinochet, Bush and Clinton? In Chile, the government was changed at the point of a gun and it was maintained in power through a repressive government that committed massive human rights abuses. The electoral “victories” in the U.S. and Britain in which the majority of people opposed the “winners” occurred with the sanction of the constitutional procedures in each country. The battle in the U.S. and Britain was a matter of election tactics and vote getting.

Democracy is a process that, like all other human processes, is imperfect. In democratic countries, expressing the will of the people is only one purpose of the mechanism by which leaders are chosen and governmental decisions are made. Hopefully, it is the primary and overriding purpose. However, historical factors often force compromises. For example, because the U.S. began as a union of thirteen separate states, the small states insisted that the democratic principle be limited and that their power be increased. Thus, each of the states have two U.S. senators and at least one member of the house of representatives regardless of their population. In addition, the U.S. Constitution provides for an Electoral College which actually chooses the President. States are given one vote for each senator and one vote for each member of the House of Representatives from their state. Since all states have two senators and at least one representative, the small states have a stronger voice (per voter) than the more populous states. Thus, excluding the issue of Florida, George W. Bush received more electoral votes in the 2000 election than Al Gore because he won more small states than Gore. In England, the prime minister is elected by Parliament. The winner of a seat in Parliament is determined by who gets the most votes, and there is no runoff if one candidate doesn’t get a majority. Thus, in a race with three competitive parties, one party with a little over a third of the vote can win. This is exactly what happened in the 2005 election when Tony Blair’s Labor Party won only 35% of the vote. Because there were three competitive parties and no runoff, Labor has an absolute majority in Parliament in an election in which an amazing 64% of the people voted against it.

In addition, democracy doesn’t always work. There are vote frauds and efforts by certain factions to remove people’s names from voter registration lists. All the imperfections in democracy doesn’t mean that we should get rid of it. It just means that we have to work harder to make it work or change the process. For example, the U.S. could amend the Constitution to get rid of the electoral college and provide for the election of the president by popular vote of the entire country. The British could require runoffs if one candidate for parliament doesn’t get a majority. Interestingly, despite the recent elections in which the winner got less votes than his opponent (the 2000 U.S. Presidential election) and in which the winner did not receive close to an absolute majority (the 1992 U.S. Presidential election and the 2005 British election) there has been no serious movement for electoral reform in either country.

Discussion Questions

See a comprehension test suitable to be passed out to students.

1. In the 2000 U.S. Presidential election, Al Gore won 500,000 more votes than George W. Bush. However, Mr. Bush became President. In 1992, Bill Clinton, although he won more votes than any other candidate, became President when 57% of the voters wanted someone else. In 2005, Tony Blair was re-elected Prime Minister of Britain with only 36% of the vote. A whopping 64% of the British electorate wanted Blair out of office. Why were these election victories in democratic countries accepted (though grudgingly in some quarters) but the military coup by Pinochet was roundly condemned as anti-democratic?

Suggested Response:

The answer is that the victories of Bush, Clinton and Blair conformed to the constitutional process in their countries and were not secured at the point of a gun or maintained by police state measures.


2. (a) Where is Chile located? (b) The Chilean coastline borders on the _____________ ocean. (c) What is the most striking thing about the geography of Chile?

Suggested Response:

(a) Chile is located in South America along the western coast; (b) the Pacific Ocean; (c) Chile is very long and narrow.


3. Why did the U.S. support the 1983 coup by which General Pinochet came to power?

Suggested Response:

The elected Chilean government was led by a Communist and at the time the U.S. was engaged in a cold war against Communism, most particularly Russian Communism. The U.S. feared that the Chileans would align themselves with Russia and support Communist movements in other South American countries.


4. In the context of the Cold War, should the U.S. have permitted a Marxist/socialist government to remain in power in Chile in 1973? In 1987, while it was still fighting the Cold War, should the U.S. have allowed the plebiscite to follow its normal course and refrained from giving aid to the Concertación?

Suggested Response:

There is no one correct answer to this question. Large and powerful countries have been intervening in the politics of their smaller neighbors located near them for as long as there have been countries. The U.S. had a genuine fear that a Communist government in Chile would lead to Communist Russia-friendly governments in other South American countries. At that time, the U.S. was in a Cold War with Russian Communism. On the other hand, one country does not have a right to control the government of another country.


5. Was it a good result or a bad result that the Chilean dictator, Pinochet, and his right-wing and militarist allies retained an inordinate amount of power in the decades after they were defeated in the plebiscite?

Suggested Response:

There is no one correct answer to this question. Good answers will include a reference to the fact that the privileges granted to the right wing and the military kept them from mounting another coup but that it also prevented the will of the people from being expressed.


Links to the Internet — Section on Chile



The websites cited in the body of the Guide and the following:

  • SA features in major US documentary — an article based on an interview with Mkhuseli Jack from RSA-Overseas Newsletter Today, Sept. 24, 2000;
  • Tutu has harsh words for South Africa’s whites from Andrew Maykuth Online, The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 14, 1998;
  • “Solidarity.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 31 Dec. 2007 ;
  • “Walesa, Lech.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 31 Dec. 2007 ;
  • “15 years of restored democracy” by Peter Deshazo; Miami Herald, March 11, 2005, p. A/23;
  • No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin, 1994, Simon & Schuster, New York.


Click here for a comprehension test suitable to be passed out to students.


1. Early in his career, Gandhi described campaigns of nonviolent mass action as “passive resistance.” Later he had second thoughts about this description. Does the term “passive resistance” accurately describe a campaign of nonviolent mass action? Explain your answer, focusing on each of the two words of the phrase “passive resistance”.

Suggested Response:

The word “passive” is accurate in that nonviolent resisters don’t physically strike their opponents. However, “passive” is not accurate in the political, emotional, or moral sense. Persons involved in nonviolent mass action are seeking to change political or social reality, usually in a very aggressive way. They are making things very difficult emotionally for their opponents. Nonviolent mass action seeks to make people look at their actions or their beliefs with a new ethical perspective. It challenges long-held beliefs and established customs of behavior. In this sense, the word “passive” is incorrect. The word “resistance” is also both appropriate and inappropriate. A nonviolent protester “resists” the normal operation of the status quo in an effort to make it grind to a halt or in an effort to change it. At the same time, this “resistance” is very dynamic because it seeks to create change, often dramatic change. Thus Gandhi, in South Africa, “resisted” enforcement of the pass laws for the purpose of fundamentally changing society to improve treatment of people of Indian descent.


2. What benefits have the people of the United States derived from the influence of Mahatma Gandhi? Answer as to each group: (1) whites, (2) blacks, and (3) other minorities.

Suggested Response:

Gandhi provided tactics and a theory by which the black community in the U.S. could challenge the unethical practice of segregation and make the whites realize that it was wrong. It provided a means to force social change without violence. For whites, the Civil Rights Movement has enriched the ethics of the United States and made it less hypocritical. All Americans are its beneficiaries, for while black people obtained freedom from the restrictions of segregation, whites and other Americans (to the extent they learned from the Civil Rights Movement) freed themselves of the unethical conduct called segregation and brought their society more in line with the principles of the Declaration of Independence. The benefits were immense for both. As for other minorities, the prohibitions on racial segregation have also outlawed discrimination against them and they have benefitted from the understanding of the evils of racism that grew out of the Civil Rights Movement.


3. Methods of nonviolent mass action can be separated into three categories: protest, noncooperation, and direct intervention. Describe each category and give at least one example of each. Your examples do not need to be confined to the Indian independence movement.

Suggested Response:

They are (1) protests (such as petitions, meetings, parades, vigils, and demonstrations), (2) noncooperation (such as boycotts, resignations and work slowdowns) and (3) direct intervention (such as sit-ins, factory occupations, seizures of property, and blockades).


4. The three main ways in which nonviolent mass action forces political and social change are by: (1) changing hearts and minds; (2) applying economic pressure; and (3) preventing business as usual. Describe how each of these works to help protesters achieve their goals.

Suggested Response:

(1) Changing Hearts and Minds: Nonviolent mass action works on the ethical perspective of the majority and the powerful by challenging the morality of their conduct. It points out contradictions among the values of the powerful or of the majority. It highlights differences between their actions and the society’s values. When the hearts and minds of the majority are changed, modification of policies and actions will naturally follow. Even if the entrenched powers are not convinced, it is difficult for governments or ruling elites to enforce policies rejected by the general public. (2) Applying Economic Pressure: Nonviolent action by masses of people puts economic pressure on the ruling powers through boycotts or other economic sanctions that hurt some of the ruling elite economically. This pressures and divides the ruling powers. (3) Preventing Business As Usual: Finally, by making the administration of the government or the functioning of society more difficult, nonviolent mass action pressures target groups to make concessions.


5. Would the tactics of nonviolent mass action have worked against violent dictators such as Hitler, Stalin, and Saddam Hussein?

Suggested Response:

There is no one correct answer to this question. A good answer will show an understanding of the mechanics of nonviolent mass action and the difficulty that it has in operating against abject evil. Certainly, if nonviolent mass action is to work against a vicious dictatorship, it would have to be substantially modified. For example, the Danes, who used nonviolent mass resistance to fight the Nazi occupation of their country during WWII, modified Gandhi’s principles by using secrecy in spiriting their Jewish countrymen to Sweden, in their work slowdowns, and in their general strike. In addition, because of the nature of their oppressor and because the world was at war, the pressure of public opinion in other countries was not a weapon that would help them. However, the fact that the Nazis needed the goods produced in Denmark’s factories for the German war effort meant that the Germans would be somewhat restrained in their actions against masses of Danish workers.


6. One goal of practitioners of nonviolent mass action is to persuade their opponents of the justness of their cause. How do nonviolent protesters work on the minds of their opponents?

Suggested Response:

Practitioners of nonviolent mass action expose the abuses of the existing power structure and subject the beliefs and actions of their opponents to scrutiny. When the nonviolent mass action campaign is well conceived it, exposes contradictions between their opponents’ underlying values and their behavior. In a successful campaign, the opponents of the mass action campaign, often also responding to aroused public opinion and economic pressure, will change their policies. Thus, in the U.S., the black minority made the white majority face the contradictions between the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the practices and beliefs of racism. Faced with this contradiction, propelled by an aroused national public opinion, and harassed by economic pressures caused by boycotts, sit-ins and other economic tactics, enough segregationists changed their position so that both government policies and social practices were modified.


7. Was Gandhi correct when he said at the start of the march to the sea that the British were not in control, but the protesters were? Explain your answer and discuss how it applies to any nonviolent mass action against a government or its policies.

Suggested Response:

To a very real extent, Gandhi was correct. The British couldn’t stop the protesters except with acts of repression which would show the British to be brutal occupiers who had lost the consent of the governed. In the same way, nonviolent mass action which has been properly conceived and planned will run its course and make its point, unless the authorities repress it with force and violence. However, the repression and violence will arouse public opinion in support of the demonstrators and undermine the position of the government.


8. Compare and contrast the situation faced by Indians seeking independence from Great Britain and the situation faced by blacks in the U.S. seeking equal rights. Compare and contrast the responses of the Indians and of black Americans to their situations.

Suggested Response:

The Indians faced an empire with a long history of dividing and conquering countries with large populations. The British were foreigners in India, using its wealth to enrich Britain. Blacks in the U.S. were trying to change the practices of people who were their fellow countrymen. Americans, black and white, were tied together by bonds of a common culture developed through living in the same country for centuries. In addition, although white segregationists may have wanted to deny it, most “black” Americans had some white ancestors. Whites and blacks were related by blood more often in the South than in other parts of the country. The Indians produced a leader, Mohandas Gandhi who developed Satyagraha, a theory and set of tactics to change society. Led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Americans seeking an end to segregation and racism adopted Gandhi’s strategy and embraced his teachings. Another way to conceptualize the response is that the Indians sought to exclude the British who were, after all, foreigners. The blacks in the U.S. sought to participate in American society on the basis of equality. Both the Indians and black Americans sought to accomplish their goals through nonviolent mass action.


9. If nonviolent protesters are attacked by the police or other opponents what should they do?

Suggested Response:

They should not fight back. They should look their attackers in the eye whenever possible. Some strategies of nonviolent mass protest provide that the protesters should not even try to protect themselves from the blows; others permit them to move their bodies to protect vital organs but they cannot strike back.


10. When many people are peacefully protesting against a government, refusing to cooperate, or engaging in nonviolent direct action, and the government restores its authority through mass arrests, beatings, and tear gas, what have the protesters accomplished?

Suggested Response:

The protesters have shown that the government rules by force and not by the consent of the people. No government, whether it is a dictatorship or a democracy, can last if the people withdraw their consent to be governed and stop obeying government orders. As Gandhi said: “Authority enjoys power only to the extent that obedience is rendered by the population.”


11. When the British were resisting independence for India, they wanted Gandhi’s supporters to get angry and become violent. Why would that have hurt Gandhi’s campaign?

Suggested Response:

It would have denied Gandhi and his followers the advantage of the moral high ground and it would have given the British an excuse for their violent repression of the protests.


12. What is the role of the press, foreign and domestic, in a campaign of nonviolent mass action?

Suggested Response:

The press spreads the message of the protesters and distributes the news of the repressive and violent actions of those in power. This will hopefully mobilize public opinion to favor the goals of the protesters. It is difficult for any government to resist an aroused public opinion. Thus, even if those in power do not become convinced by the arguments of the protesters, they will at the least be influenced and perhaps compelled to give in by the force of public opinion. The foreign press is especially important when the domestic press is controlled by the government or when the government is not responsive to the people. The triumph of nonviolent mass action in India and South Africa are particularly good examples of the powerful role of the foreign press.


13. There are two major purposes for economic boycotts or other financial pressures in a campaign of nonviolent mass action. What are they?

Suggested Response:

The first is to compel the oppressive forces to give in, even if they are not convinced by the arguments of the protesters. The second is to divide the opponents. Usually, boycotts and economic measures hurt one segment of the power structure more than they hurt others. This divides and weakens the opponents. As the British taught the world, “divide and conquer” is an amazingly effective tactic. Nonviolent protesters use it, too.


14. How have changes in communication technology affected the kinds of power exercised by nonviolent movements and the regimes they oppose? What new tactics, for instance, might a present-day Gandhi employ in the era of the internet, cell phones, and email?

Suggested Response:

There is no single correct answer to this question. A good answer will mention the various changes in communications technology, computers, and the increased power of government to spy on its citizens (“big brother”). A good answer will point out how improved communications and computer technology will make it easier to mobilize masses of people and communicate with the press or, using the Internet, directly with the audience. A good answer will demonstrate some knowledge of the mechanics of nonviolent mass action when evaluating the new technologies.


15. Gandhi said that the only devils in the world are those running around in our hearts. What did he mean by this?

Suggested Response:

If people didn’t allow themselves to be possessed by hatred, greed, etc., there would be no evil in the world. Another interpretation is that if people didn’t allow evil to possess their souls and govern their actions, there would be no evil in the world.


16. What do you think would happened in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict if the Palestinians were to engage in nonviolent mass action rather than terrorism in their effort to secure an independent Palestinian state?

Suggested Response:

No one knows for sure but based upon the experience of the South African resistance to apartheid and other social/political movements that have rejected violence and gone on to secure their objectives, a strong argument can be made that the Palestinians would get their state in a very short time. Israel is a Western-style democracy. Even when it was faced with terrorism from the Palestinians, it had a strong peace movement. Several Israeli prime ministers Rabin, Barak, and most recently Sharon, have tried to make peace with the Palestinians. If the Palestinians renounce violence and convince the Israelis of their peaceful intentions, the Israelis will have no need to respond militarily. The Israeli government would be under great pressure from the peace movement in its own country to withdraw. In addition, Israel depends upon the U.S. for support in the international community, for billions in foreign aid, and for many of its weapons. If the Palestinians were not sending rockets over Israel and if they were not training suicide bombers, the U.S. and the Israeli public would demand that Israel stop any military response. The model here is South Africa. So long as the anti-apartheid efforts of the ANC and others were violent, the South African government could survive by being even more violent. It was only after South African blacks discovered nonviolent mass action, with its economic pressures and the mobilization of public opinion worldwide, that black South Africans were able to change the minds of white South Africans. There are obvious differences between the two situations but the similarities are very strong. The violence used by Fatah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations and by the Palestinian people in the Intifadas, justify a military response. The terrorism blunts criticism of the violence perpetrated by the Israeli army against the Palestinians. The decades of delay caused by the failure to employ nonviolent mass action have led to the deaths of thousands and economic impoverishment in Palestine. In addition, the damage that the Palestinians have done to their own society by honoring violent elements and permitting them to run free must be immense.


17. Which comes first in a democratic society, attempts to work through the democratic process or nonviolent mass action? As nonviolent mass action proceeds what, if anything, is the role of the democratic process?

Suggested Response:

First and continually, one should work through the democratic process. If the democratic process is not responsive, nonviolent mass action is a way to change the mind of the public or to exert the pressure needed to get the democratic process moving again.


18. Give examples of five social or political movements, not described in the film, that have made use of nonviolent mass action.

Suggested Response:

See listing above.


19. Is it fair to say that the mass media (newspapers, radio, and television) made nonviolent mass action an effective tactic?

Suggested Response:

Yes. The press and the media permit the protesters to spread their message and publicize the brutality of any attempts to suppress their activities.


20. During the 20th century, new technologies enhanced the ability of the state to repress dissent. Did this have any relation to the growth of nonviolent mass action as a tactic to overthrow governments and force social change?

Suggested Response:

There is no one correct answer. However, an argument can be made the as governments and their intelligence services became more and more powerful, armed insurrection became less and less of a realistic possibility. Nonviolent mass action was a tactic that was less vulnerable to repressive tactics of governments than armed insurrection.

This Snippet Lesson Plan was written by James Frieden. It was last revised on July 17, 2009.

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