The 5 Most Incredibly Badass Acts of Nonviolence
Blessed are the peacemakers, right? The people who experience violence up close and personal and, rather than dole it back out, somehow find an alternative solution. Sure, these types of people don't usually get blockbuster movie franchises made about them, but we'll sure as hell stop to applaud them here. So here's to the ones who, whether by Jedi mind trick or just pure audacity, resolved violent conflicts while using their indoor voices.
John Rabe: The Living Buddha of Nanking
In popular culture, the roster of surprisingly awesome Nazis pretty much begins and ends with Schindler's List. In reality, there were no doubt lots of compassionate people who just got swept up in Hitlermania; it's just that it's hard to do a list of "5 Nazis We Admire" without upsetting the advertisers. But that shouldn't stop us from talking about John Rabe, who, during World War II, turned up in a place where somebody with compassion was badly needed.
Which was actually "most of the planet" at that point.
In 1937, Japan invaded China and captured Nanking, the capital. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians were at the mercy of the invaders. What started thereafter was an inconceivable slaughter of a type so sanctioned that competitive civilian murder received news coverage back home, along with other atrocities so horrifying that a Cracked article has no place even hinting at what they are. But there was an organization called the Nanking Safety Zone, run by 22 Westerners from around the world, that was supposed to function as a haven.
One of these people would be credited with patrolling the streets and personally intervening to stop murders and prevent rapes. And rather than being some trained super soldier, he was just a guy who worked for the phone company and had been a member of the Red Cross. Soldiers naturally didn't take too well to this, and more than once Rabe found himself looking down a gun barrel. But what Rabe had to protect him was an armband with a swastika on it (oh, and he looked like an Indiana Jones villain):
This guy actually wrote letters to Adolf Hitler requesting aid in stopping the atrocities being committed against the Chinese, which shows that even though he was with the party, he wasn't so much with the program. Who knows how this guy reconciled being a compassionate humanitarian with belonging to the most monstrous political party the world has ever known. Maybe he just liked the uniform? It probably did bring out his eyes.
"Swastikas make my ass look incredible."
After the war, the Nanking Safety Zone organization was credited with preventing the deaths of an estimated 250,000 Chinese people through personal intervention, sheltering, and international pressure. Rabe himself went home to Germany in 1938 to do lectures and presentations about Japanese atrocities until the Gestapo arrested him for that, marking him as probably one of history's most oblivious heroes.
After the war, Rabe was denounced as a Nazi and became impoverished. But for many years, he and his family survived on care packages from the very Chinese citizens he'd helped to save and who'd given him the nickname "the Living Buddha of Nanking."
Nope, the hat doesn't help.
Dr. Hawa Abdi Makes a Somali Militia Apologize
Somalia is infamous in the West for being one of those hellholes where gruesome misogyny and brutal violence are the national pastimes. It's so bad, in fact, that aid workers won't even go there. That did not stop Dr. Hawa Abdi, however, who became the first female gynecologist in the country and found herself in charge of a refugee center with 90,000 people in it. Inevitably, some militia decided such a thing just would not do.
On May 5, 2010, a group of 750 militia members invaded the refugee center. Shocked and offended at the fact that a group of over 90,000 people was led by a woman, they took Abdi prisoner and ransacked her hospital, emptying clips into medical equipment, smashing windows, and making threats.
Abdi stuck to her belief that she shouldn't be intimidated by insane people with guns, even if the odds were 750 to 1. She stood up to the militia commanders imprisoning her, berating one of them with "I will lead my society. You are young and you are a man, but what have you done for your society?"
Typical hostage gynecologist, making this all about gender.
After five days, she was released unharmed, but still pissed. So pissed, in fact, that she demanded an apology from the armed thugs who had been holding her and her staff at gunpoint.
And she got one. In writing.
That's right -- instead of, say, many bullets to the face, Abdi got a sheepish letter saying "We apologize to every hospital patient who suffered from the attack. We apologize to the entire Somali community." Note: We cannot guarantee the same results if you ever find yourself in that situation.
Wade Watts Takes on the Klan With the Magic of Friendship
Reverend Wade Watts was a representative of the NAACP in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when he did a radio debate with Grand Dragon of the KKK John Lee Clary in 1976. After Watts threw his opponent off his game with the novel tactic of telling him that he wouldn't hate him, Clary insisted to Watts that he'd made a personal enemy, although Watts didn't seem to agree.
"Look, can't we just try to see eye to eye here? Oh ... right ... never mind."
Clary's Klansmen started off small: They burned a cross on Watts' lawn. Watts' response to the sight of a bunch of costumed men making death threats was to point out to them that Halloween wasn't for a few more months and to leave it at that. Their next attempt to scare him was to burn down his church. When Clary called him up to rub the threat in over the phone, the first thing Watts said was "Hello, Johnny" (we like to think Clary must have said "Uh, hi" in response).
The final stroke was when Clary saw Watts in a restaurant eating chicken. He got together a group of 30 Klansmen and surrounded him. Then Clary told Watts that he and his buddies would do to Watts what Watts was doing to that chicken he was eating. Knowing a good setup when he heard it, Watts took the bit of chicken and gently kissed it.
Then he kissed it again, and things started to get kinda weird.
There are a lot of places the story could go from there -- maybe Clary flies into a rage and starts a riot, or quietly plans to destroy Watts behind the scenes. Instead, the Klansman Clary slowly started to realize that maybe he and his white-robed peers were the bad guys.
Good guys are less prone to posing with brass knuckles and daggers.
So in 1981, Clary left the Klan. And, when being a former Grand Dragon hurt his career prospects like hell, he eventually decided to call up Watts. Watts offered to let him come speak at his church (against his own congregation's wishes), saying, "You know where it is, you burned it."
Clary ended up becoming a preacher at that very institution, and one day used his Klan robe to shine a black man's shoes on national television. Clary also started a program that helped former anti-racial-group members start anew after leaving their organizations. It just goes to show that while it sure helps to have (figurative) balls in the face of violence, having a heart is important, too.
World War II Conscientious Objectors Find (Insane) Ways to Get in on the Action
During World War II, American support for the war was through the roof (well, after Pearl Harbor, anyway). At the same time, a relatively new designation for citizens called "conscientious objectors" was coming into being. Some people who were strongly opposed to Axis powers taking lives naturally had an aversion to themselves taking lives, and they refused to fight.
"I'll pee on Hitler's shoes, but that's it."
Since Nazis weren't going to kill themselves, these objectors were not exactly highly thought of. It was very easy to see "conscientious objector" as a fancy term for "coward" in the eyes of those who saw the war as our only chance to stop world domination at the hands of psychotic supervillains. But the COs weren't just going to sit that shit out -- they found other ways to contribute that wound up putting their lives on the line. For instance, 500 of them volunteered for a vital mission: human experimentation.
For the men who'd rather shoot up unpatented drugs than shoot Nazis.
We aren't talking your typical "three of you take this placebo while three of you take this other thing that may give you an upset stomach" experiments. We're talking shit intended to find out what kills people in wartime conditions. We're talking being exposed to extreme heights, food deprivation, and life-threatening weather conditions. Many of these COs were injected with malaria, pneumonia, hepatitis, typhus, and other diseases that, in previous wars, took more lives than bullets. Some were covered with lice and sprayed with DDT.
But the ones who arguably had it the worst were the 36 COs who agreed to be starved nearly to death. Meaning they got half the minimum rations needed to sustain a human life while being expected to continue regular activities. The results of what these people allowed to be done to themselves were significant enough to influence the Marshall Plan, the program by which the nations devastated by the war were repaired.
We're assuming Captain America fits in around this point.
So, yeah, these guys proved that being a conscientious objector wasn't about fearing for their own safety -- they appeared to not give a shit about that. They just wanted to be nuts in a way that didn't kill anybody else.
Chaplain Emil Kapaun: The Saint?
Hey, remember the Korean War? Apparently most of us don't, since it's now often called "the forgotten war," and you don't even see M*A*S*H reruns any more. But forgotten war or not, Captain Emil Kapaun deserves to be famous, damn it. And apparently some in the Catholic church agree, since they want to make the man a saint.
Kapaun had already won a Bronze Star for going out into gunfire to retrieve wounded soldiers by the time the Battle of Unsan happened in 1950. Since the battle was basically about the Chinese surprising and stomping the U.N. army, the order of the day for Kapaun's unit was "RUN!" Kapaun instead chose the option of walking through gunfire to provide medical aid and comfort to the dying, as he tended to do. Normal Kapaun stuff so far.
"Bite me, bullets."
But then the Chinese overran the position ... and Kapaun continued to provide aid to his comrades. The enemy was mopping up, his own army was gone, and he just didn't give a shit -- there were still wounded behind. When Kapaun saw one Herbert Miller about to be shot in the head by an enemy soldier (because he was wounded), he ran over, unarmed, and pushed the attacking soldier's gun away. He picked up Miller and kept carrying him as the Chinese soldiers ordered the survivors on a forced march that would last 75 freaking miles.
Throughout the march, other POWs keeled over from their wounds, and Kapaun had to prop them up and support them to prevent them from being shot or left behind to die.
He also kept their bicycles in good working order.
Things got even worse once they arrived at the POW camp, but Kapaun didn't let up. Through the winter, soldiers were dying from cold, and Kapaun would provide clothing. When other soldiers were wounded, he continued tending them. When his guards abused him to try to dissuade him from holding religious services, he just took punishments that included being left out in the cold or beaten, and kept right at it until guards gave up trying to stop him. As soldiers starved, he would sneak out of camp and go steal some grain, garnering the nickname "the good thief."
And here's where we find out that confronting violence with nonviolence doesn't always have a happy ending -- that's why most of us don't do it. Kapaun was eventually taken to "the hospital," which the other prisoners knew meant that he was going to die. But he sure as hell lived in the memories of the hundreds of other soldiers he saved -- Kapaun earned a posthumous Medal of Honor in 2013, and there is a campaign to get him sainthood. On top of that, there's the fact that he wins the "awesomest looking guy giving a sermon" award for this photo of him preachin' it from a Jeep:
You can't tell, but the Jeep is going 70 miles an hour -- he just screamed blessings at people as he flew past.