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Honoring Our Dead

Spencer Graves1  

While visiting a small town in Austria, I was startled to see a life-size statue of a young man in a World War II German army helmet. I was raised in Kansas in the shadow of an uncle who didn't return from that war, and my visceral reaction was clearly different from that of my Austrian hosts: To me, that helmet represented the Nazi tyranny, including the holocaust. Many Austrians have a different interpretation, e.g., resistance to foreign invasion.

Similarly, there are active controversies in the US today over Confederate monuments.2 To African-Americans and "damn Yankees" like me, such monuments symbolize slavery. To Southerners, they more likely embody resentment over the depredations and humiliations of the war and the Reconstruction period that followed.3

I'm concerned, however, that we not use the memory of fallen soldiers to glorify and promote further use of violence, especially in situations where research suggests that there may be more effective means of achieving reasonable objectives in conflict situations. For example, recent research into the effectiveness of alternative reactions to injustice and depredations in the twentieth century determined that 26% of the violent change efforts as opposed to 53% of the nonviolent campaigns achieved some measure of success. Moreover, the nonviolent change efforts produced on average substantially greater increases in freedom and democracy. The successes of both violent and nonviolent campaigns were achieved in large part through defections among the establishment. This helps explain why nonviolence tends on average to be more effective, because people are more likely to defect if the challengers are nonviolent.4

Similar research into the use of air power has indicated that tactical air support of ground troops has been useful, but strategic bombing has on average been a waste of resources. One example is the London Blitz, which solidified the support of the British public behind their government to the detriment of Hitler, who ordered the Blitz.5

A more current example is use of drones by the US in Pakistan, which is allegedly "critical" to US operations in that region. Pakistan has disagreed vehemently, demanding that the US stop using drones in its air space. This Pakistani response suggests that US drone use there has done for the US what the Blitz did for Hitler.6

The memory of those who made the supreme sacrifice should motivate us to seek and support more careful research into the long-term impact of alternative responses to threats and attack.

May 29, 2012

Copyright 2012 under the Creative Commons Attribution, Share-Alike license.

1This article was inspired by the US Memorial Day observance.  See, e.g., Wikipedia, "Memorial Day", "Armistice Day", accessed 2012-05-29.

2Mitch Carr, "Reidsville protesters want confederate statue back",, May 23, 2012, " ", accessed 2012-05-28.

3The resentment of the Southern whites following the American War between the States seems consistent with the role-reversal theory of Roger D. Petersen, Understanding Ethnic Violence: Fear, Hatred, and Resentment in Twentieth-Century Eastern Europe, Cambridge U. Pr., 2002.

4Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works, Columbia U. Pr., 2011.

5Robert A. Pape, Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War, Cornell U. Pr., 1996. M. Horowitz and D. Reiter, “When Does Aerial Bombing Work? : Quantitative Empirical Tests, 1917-1999”, Journal of Conflict Resolution, 45: 147-173, 2001.

6Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, "Pakistan Ends Drone Strikes In Blow To U.S. War On Terror", Bloomberg, 2012-03-13 02:22:18Z., accessed 2012-05-28.