Book Review: The Riddle of Violence, by Kenneth Kaunda
For the Course: War and Pacifism Book Review:
The Riddle of Violence, by Kenneth Kaunda, ed. Colin Morris, San Fran, Haper & Row, 1980.
by Jefferis Kent Peterson, I
Kenneth Kaunda, a Black citizen of Zambia under White colonial rule, brought about a peaceful transfer of power to majority Black government by following Gandhi’s concept of non-violent resistance. He led the people in civil, non-violent disobedience against the minority British-backed colonial rulers. This non-violent “revolution” was successful. After the transfer of power, Kaunda became the first president of the country.
This book deals with the irony of a Christian who helped bring about peaceful change to his country through the suffering of injustice, but who must now use the instruments of government (the police and the military) to establish justice and govern the nation. Recognizing the fallen character of any human institution, Kaunda views even the best attempts of Christian government will fall short of the ideals of scripture. Such imperfection will cause agonizing dilemmas of conscience for earthly rulers. The prophet may show the perfect will of God, but the politician must weigh the practical application of God’s guidance, so to establish the best possible form of government under a fallen creation. In this way, the politician works for a concrete “social and political and economic expression to love for others...” (p.44).
On his successful strategy of reform, Kaunda believes both forms of resistance (non-violent or violent) have consequences that create human suffering. Human freedom is only sustained by political structures and those structures require the use of force expressed through law. Without the law, human freedom is an illusion. Such political realities show that no choice is without evil consequence. As the president of Zambia, Kaunda was given the responsibility of protecting the people, many of whom were not Christians. If he refused to use the police force at his disposal, in hopes of establishing a non-violent society, he would have created a situation where criminals would use force and violence against innocent citizens to take whatever they wanted because they had no fear of punishment. Murders would still take place, people would die, but instead of criminals dying at the hands of police, citizens would die at the hands of criminals. Kaunda therefore sees the use of the police as a necessary evil, but not necessarily sin. War may be evil, because of the loss of life and the destruction it causes, but it may still be just. While the aggressor may be sinful, the defender may only be forced to use the necessary evil of armies.
Indeed, Kaunda had to use the military to prevent one tribe from slaughtering another. By the use of force, or at least the willingness to use force, he prevented a bloodbath and further violence. Kaunda asked, how could he have not used the military? Could he just let one group of people slaughter another? Would he then be justified because he personally had not authorized the use of force? Or would he then be guilty because he watched one group slaughter another and did nothing to stop it, even though he had the God given authority and power? (Contemporary events in Rwanda show how violent and senseless the slaughter can be in a nation that was 80% Christian.)
Many people would like to wash their hands of responsibility for violent deeds and deaths, but just because they refuse to authorize the use of force, it does not make sinless. Kaunda shows that the illusion of pacifism has its own violent consequences. When British Prime Minister Wilson refused to interfere in neighboring Rhodesia as it changed from majority White rule to Black majority rule, Wilson only maintained an “illusion of innocence” (p.63). Rather than reduce the level of violence and lessen injustice and suffering by his inaction, Wilson actually increased it as the White minority, free of the fear of the law, ransacked the country, killing thousands of people who might be involved with attempting to change the government. Their crime? They happened to be Black and want equal freedoms. Wilson had the authority to act, as Rhodesia was a British colony, but he failed to do so. Rather than use legitimate force to ensure justice, he became guilty of the bloodshed by his refusal to be involved. He washed his hands, but that did not make hm free of blood. Kaunda points out that even Mr. Wilson’s pacificistic stand had its own violent consequence in the deaths of thousands of innocent people who would not have died, if he had acted.
Rhodesia also became an interesting laboratory for the ethics of just revolution. The white government of Rhodesia was not a legitimate government, but was in rebellion against British authority. In that case, were the guerrillas who fought against the white rulers in rebellion or were they in the service of the true and God-ordained government of the country? Were they simply terrorists or where they patriots? Kaunda makes no attempt to justify violence or sugar coat it. All uses of it stand in need of radical forgiveness and is sometimes the choice of those driven to despair as a last alternative. There is however good that come from this evil: the humanizing of oppressor and oppressed alike through confrontation.
Finally, behind all Kaunda’s theology is the sincere belief that God is on the “side” of the oppressed and is working for their liberation from inhuman structures and sin. He also recognizes that the oppressed are not without sin and also are in need of forgiveness. But he also recognizes that what brings about social justice in these situations is not the good conscience of those in power, but their recognition of the final result if the oppressed are denied justice too long: bloody revolution or government turmoil leading to the loss of social stability and income.
Kaunda often describes his dilemma as one of the Cross: between the ideal of perfect love expressed as sacrificial suffering and the reality of Christian government and Christian use of force. Indeed, he seems to be impaled upon the Cross of Conscience, trying to do his best in the complex, fallen, and imperfect world where the choices are not between perfect love and evil, but between various degrees of good and evil, all of which stand under the judgement of Almighty God.