Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Striking Difference Between Violence and Force

As Huck Finn used to remark, 'Sometimes it ain't easy to tell good from bad.'

Such is the case in extremely rare difficult ethical dilemmas. In those encounters, there is a blurry line between violence and force (and, of course, the third option, nonviolence).

But this article isn't about those very rare times.

In the vast majority of cases when we need to act--almost always--violence is readily recognized as strikingly different in intent and result contrasted to force.

Let's look at a few vivid examples from history.

The Seven Years War (usually called the "French and Indian War" in the United States, because that particular part of the Seven Years War occurred on the frontier of the British Colonies).

Violence means to violate others.

In the case of the Seven Years War, all the participants were self-centered, concerned with their own profit and their own people only. The belligerents included most of the Native Indian tribes of the North American continent and European powers (Britain and France) which had invaded. All fought and killed each other in order to steal land, control North America and gain power.

A British militia attacked the French in the Ohio region of North America--

"In 1753, Lieutenant Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia ordered a young, ambitious 21-year old George Washington on a mission deep into the Ohio Country to confront the French. Washington’s account of his journey to Fort Le Beouf and back made Major Washington a celebrity on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1754 Washington’s surprise attack upon a small French force at Jumonville Glen and his subsequent surrender to French forces at the Battle of Fort Necessity helped to spark the French & Indian War.

Tanacharison and his warriors led Washington to the French camp at the bottom of a deep glen, rimmed with rock. It was early in the morning, and the Frenchmen were just beginning to stir. It is unclear whether one of the French saw the British and Indians surrounding the glen’s rim and shot up or whether one of Washington’s men fired down first.

Regardless of who began the exchange, Washington’s force, shooting from the top of the glen down into the camp, quickly overcame the French."

The French expedition’s leader Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, after his capture, was executed by Tanacharison, Washington's ally! The Indians then slaughtered the wounded French soldiers and scalped them.

Here is a clear example of lethal violence.
Dictionary.com: 1400-50; late Middle English < Latin violātus, past participle of violāre to treat with violence, violate,
apparently derivative of violentus violent (taking viol- as base).

Merriam-Webster Dictionary: violence-- "the use of physical force to harm someone,
to damage property, etc.

Surviving French prisoners claimed they had been on diplomatic mission and showed their papers to Washington.

Whatever the nature of who was most to blame, this historical event was one of nationalism and lethal violence which started the devastating Seven Years War in North America.

Clearly, the Indian tribes allied with the French, and the ones allied with the British, and the French and British colonial soldiers violated other humans, killing or wounding them with the intent of taking over land which wasn't theirs to begin with.

#2 Vietnam.
The United States supported the French government in taking back control of Vietnam after World War ll. What were the French doing thousands of miles from their country in Europe? Why were they trying to rule the Vietnamese? Why did the United States get involved?

Again, there are complex reasons. The controversial war, regardless of all the ambiguity, wasn't a case of self-defense. At least 1,450,000 died in the war, maybe as many as 3.6 million! The vast majority of them were Vietnamese including many civilians. It was another horrific example of lethal violence, again over power and land.

The U.S. military used "search and destroy" missions to attack the Vietnamese opposed to the dictator we were supporting. Every day on the evening news, Walter Cronkite listed the daily "body count," which the U.S. government used as evidence it was winning.


In contrast, force is the application of physical restraint to stop theft, harm, violence, and killing.

A good example of this is the work of counselors, teachers, and police officers. For many years I worked with at-risk teenagers. In a hospital for emotionally disturbed teens and children, we had quiet room where we took kids when they lost self-control and were attempting to hurt others or themselves.

Clearly our use of restraining force wasn't violence. It was designed to stop violence, to restrain destructive behavior.

In one high school where I taught literature, there were 11 gangs. It was tough. On one particular day, around a hundred youths were fighting with their fists and baseball bats, etc. Many police cars came to stop the violence.

On another day, a 200-pound student attacked a 100-pound student, threw her to the classroom floor and beat at her. There was no time for me to call security, so I took a hold of the back of the attacking student and pulled her up. She tried to turn and attack me, knocking over desks.

This is another example of the difference between violence and force. The student violently attacked another person. In response I used force to stop this violence.

Notice, the attacker's intent was to harm, maybe even kill the other student.

My intent was to restrain the attacker. I had no desire to hurt the attacker, but to stop the violence.

To be continued

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox


Kelley Danahy said...

This is an excellent post. Thanks for writing it.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Much appreciated.

Daniel Wilcox