Forgotten Resistance

Threefold Denial of Civil Resistance:

  • That has been part of any important historical processes
    • Violence is thought to be a dominant method of struggle in conflicts
    • Collective memory immersed within victimhood and martyrology 
    • Civil resistance tends not to leave historical records
    • Structural processes, charismatic leaders or elite class drive political change
  • That is a legitimate means of struggle
    • Civil resistance is unpatriotic, or too conciliatory. It “is a disguised form of surrender...” (M. Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, p.332)
    • Civil resistance is not courageous or masculine enough
    • Resolving a conflict rather than waging nonviolent conflict is a way to achieve a political solution
  • That is an effective tool to wield political power 
    • Ordinary people are no holders of political power
    • Civil resistance is doomed to failure if faced with brutal oppression
    • Planning or strategizing for civil resistance remains invisible in contrast to military training and preparation for war

This book reveals little-known, but important, histories of civil resistance in national struggles for independence and against foreign domination throughout the world in the past 200 years. Often, these histories have been misinterpreted or erased altogether from collective memory, buried beneath nationally eulogized violence, commemorative rituals of glorified death, martyred heroes, and romanticized violent insurrections. In recovering hidden stories of civil resistance that involve diverse types of direct defiance and more subtle forms of everyday, relentless endurance and refusal to submit, this book shows how the actions of ordinary people have undermined the authority and control of foreign hegemons—colonizers and occupiers—  and their domestic surrogates. Despite extreme oppression, the repertoire of nonviolent action has often helped societies survive and strengthen their social and cultural fabric, build economic and political institutions, shape national identities, and pave the way to independence. The narrative of the book contains a heuristic inquiry into forgotten or ignored accounts of civil resistance, showing how knowledge about historical events and processes is generated, distorted, and even ideologized in favor of violence-driven, structure-based, or powerholder-centric interpretations.


Glorified violence in the annals of nations, the gendered nature of violence wielded by men, state independence that is seen as having been founded largely on violence (the view reinforced by a state monopoly on violence as a way to maintain that independence), and human attention and media focus (both centered on dramatic and spectacular stories of violence and heroic achievements of single individuals) all dim the light on the quiet, nonviolent resistance of millions. This type of struggle neither captures the headlines nor sinks into people’s memories unless it provokes the regime’s response and, more often than not, a violent one.


The outcomes of seemingly violent struggles with foreign adversaries have depended to a large degree on the use of political—nonviolent— means rather than arms. Materially and militarily powerful empires and states have been defeated by poorly armed or even completely unarmed opponents not because they met irresistibly violent force, but because the nations found another source of strength—a total mobilization of the population via political, administrative, and ideological tools. Thus, political organizing has been the key ingredient in the people’s revolutions that have helped the militarily weaker successfully challenge powerful enemies. Examples include, among others, the Spanish insurrectionists against Napoleon, the Chinese revolutionaries against the Japanese Army, and the North Vietnamese against the United States and its South Vietnamese allies. In all of these supposedly violence-dominated conflicts, military tools were subordinated to a broader political struggle for the “hearts and minds” of ordinary people. By recovering the stories of nonviolent actions, this book goes against a tide of prevailing views about struggles against foreign domination that fail to recognize and take into account the role and contribution of civil resistance.