The 20th century was the bloodiest in human history. In Humanity: A Moral History of the 20th Century, Jonathan Glover estimates that 86,000,000 people died in wars fought from 1900 to 1989. That means 2,500 people every day, or 100 people every hour, for 90 years.
In addition to those killed in war, government-sponsored genocide and mass murder killed approximately 120,000,000 people in the 20th centuryperhaps more than 80,000,000 in the two Communist countries of China and the Soviet Union alone, according to R. J. Rummel's Statistics of Democide.
It is ironic, then, that the 20th century also produced numerous and stunningly successful examples of nonviolent victories over injustice and oppression. The best-known campaigns are probably those led by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. King's nonviolent marchers changed American history. (The fact that the police and National Guard sometimes guarded civil-rights marchers does not change the fact that King's movement was overwhelmingly nonviolent.) And Gandhi's nonviolent campaign defeated the British Empire and won India's independence. In contrast to Algeria's violent independence campaign, in which one in every 10 Algerians died, only one in every 400,000 Indians died in India's nonviolent struggle.
One of the most amazing components of Gandhi's campaign was a huge nonviolent "army" (eventually over 50,000) of Muslim Pathans in the northwestern section of India. These are the same people we now know as the Taliban in Afghanistan and along the Pakistan border! Even when the British humiliated them and slaughtered hundreds of them, they remained faithful to Gandhi's nonviolent vision.
There are other examples: In Poland, the nonviolent campaigns of Solidarity, an anti-Communist movement affiliated with the Catholic church, successfully defied and helped defeat the Soviet empire. In the Philippines, a million peaceful demonstrators overthrew the brutal dictatorship of president Ferdinand Marcos. The list of successful 20th century nonviolent campaigns is long.
Considering these successes, one wonders what might happen if the Christian world became serious about exploring the full possibilities of applying nonviolent methods of seeking peace to unjust, violent situations around the world. All Christians claim to believe Jesus when he says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Matt. 5:9). But we have not made much use of one demonstrably successful way of making peace.
Recently, the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), made famous by the kidnapping of four team members in Iraq in late 2005, have been working to apply the nonviolent techniques of Gandhi and King to conflict situations around the world. At Hebron in the West Bank, a few Jewish settlers live in the midst of the overwhelmingly Palestinian city of Hebron. Taunts, anger, violence, and deaths are frequent.
For 10 years, CPTers have lived in Hebron, seeking to befriend both sides, accompanying those oppressed by violence, sitting in houses threatened with illegal demolition, and walking children to school in neighborhoods where gunfire has too often struck down the wrong targets. CPT teams are defending the rights of native Canadians and Latin American peasants, as well.
The team's work made nightly news when four members were kidnapped by militants in Baghdad. Months later, three were released after the body of Tom Fox was found in the city. Last month marked the second anniversary of that kidnapping. One need not agree with all of CPT's political and theological ideas to conclude that now is the time for the entire Christian community to ask: Could we build on and vastly expand CPT's nonviolent approaches to peacemaking?