While dictators believe that power bursts from the barrel of a gun, millions have proven that nonviolent weapons can win out over oppression and brutality. "A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict (PBS, Sept. 18 and 25,
9 p.m., check local listings) is an important, carefully made, and fascinating documentary that investigates nonviolent resistance movements that have succeeded around the world.
The film, superbly narrated by Ben Kingsley, covers the triumphs of Mahatma Gandhi, the Nashville sit-ins of the 1960s, the consumer boycott campaign against apartheid in South Africa, the Danes' resistance to the Nazis, the Gdansk Shipyard strike and Solidarity in Poland, and the Chilean copper-mine strikes against Augusto Pinochet that led to the toppling of his military dictatorship.
Without ever sinking to manipulative emotionalism, the film intelligently opens up a world of action inspired by Gandhi and his concept of "holding to truth."
In a recent interview, filmmaker Steve York said, "Gandhi was driven by principle. You have to believe in the justice of your cause in order to succeed at nonviolent conflict.... Power does ultimately derive from the consent of the people. But it is action, and it requires great discipline, strategy, education, and cooperation - the kinds of things you have to do to build a civil society."
That's why where nonviolent conflict has succeeded, public order persists: There is less bloodshed - no bloody reprisals in South Africa, for example. York says, though, that non-violence doesn't necessarily work in every situation.
Still, the courage of ordinary people facing extraordinary hate or brutal force is an awe-inspiring spectacle. Interviews with many eyewitnesses keep the facts immediate, even urgent. We meet many heroes most of us will have never heard of before.
Finally, their often faith-based stories are uplifting, reminding us as former President Jimmy Carter put it, "These are powerful stories, about truth overcoming lies, love dissolving evil, and life eclipsing death."
*A series companion book by Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall is available.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society