Nonviolence: The powerful antidote to youth recruitment to gangs, terrorists, and the US Military

bYoung people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Author: Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

by Alice LoCicero

Terrorists, gangs, and the US military recruit youth and train them to be violent. Each time a young person is recruited to violence, one or more adults benefit, but the youth and their families pay the price.[1]

The US military, for example, recruits in high schools—typically high schools serving poor families. The myth perpetrated is that the youth have no other options—or that this is their best option.

However, even the distant benefits that may accrue after the youth have put themselves in harm’s way with one or more deployments to one of the current wars, the rosy picture presented by recruiters is often not fulfilled. About 21% of those discharged from the military in recent years did not receive honorable discharges[2], leaving them at risk of not getting all of the veterans’ benefits expected.[3]

Many communities and organizations work against youth being recruited to violence.[4] While these organizations hold a moral high ground in their respect and advocacy for youth, they lack the power and financial resources of the US military. That power and those resources enhance recruitment through formal advertising and informal infiltration of schools, video games, and community events– including family and sports events.[5]

Perhaps the most powerful antidote to recruitment to violence is not resisting recruitment, but instead welcoming recruitment to non-violence. This became clear to me recently during several days at the Standing Rock encampment.

Hearing young people speak about their experiences there, I reflected on the power of nonviolence in a variety of 20th and 21st century movements: The US civil rights and anti-war movements, the nonviolent civil disobedience by Gandhi and his followers, and now the nonviolent actions at Standing Rock.

To fully understand this alternative, one must realize that nonviolence is not simply the absence of violence, which might seem to be associated with weakness. Rather nonviolence is a positive approach, requiring strength, training, and discipline based on a positive philosophy of resistance to injustice and insistence on change.

What would it be like if non-Native communities in the US followed the lead of the Water Protectors at Standing Rock?

 What if there were groups recruiting youth to set things right with society through active non-violence? Surely there are youth all over this country who are well-aware of the injustices in their own communities. What if there were elders from those communities who were prepared to lead resistance groups?

Let’s start a discussion about this.


[1] LoCicero, A. (2010) The hidden economics of youth violence. The New Renaissance.


[3] (The Department of Defense has recently recognized that some of the veterans who received less than honorable discharges had behavioral infractions associated with PTSD, and has proactively reached out to those veterans and others to inform them of the possibility of review of status.)

[4] For example, the American Friends Service Committee and the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth.

[5] LoCicero, A. (2016) Resisting Recruitment, Unpublished presentation to the American Psychological Assocation.

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4 Responses to Nonviolence: The powerful antidote to youth recruitment to gangs, terrorists, and the US Military

  1. Gold Dust Twin says:

    The phrase “active non-violence” could prove to be the Golden Key to creating and maintaining a peaceful world. Isn’t that the doorway through which We The People want those in power to lead us? Down with the insanity of countries bombing each other into the Stone Age! Violence is never a tactic to embrace when differences arise between nations and neighbors. Peaceful co-existence is the obvious goal every one of us should strive for, directing our fiercest passions toward unity and harmony.

  2. LB says:

    I’m always amazed and inspired by stories of courageous young people trying to make a difference through peaceful efforts as a response to injustice. Rachel Corrie, Kayla Mueller and Malala Yousafzaiand are three that come to mind.

    I think one of the most powerful antidotes to violence is to give young people the necessary tools to think deeply and critically by teaching them how to use these same critical thinking skills to identify, understand, regulate and *safely channel* their own strong emotional reactions to issues (emotional intelligence) while respecting the needs of others.

    Self-aware, informed and reflective individuals (of all ages) are less likely to unconsciously *project* or engage in similar behaviors to those they’re resisting:

    “Psychological projection is a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.[1] For example, a person who is habitually rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude. It incorporates blame shifting.”

  3. Ed Agro says:

    Alice LoCicero’s article on the desirability of nonviolent training & recruitment, as all of Kathie’s and of her friends and colleagues, is excellent and to the point. As a matter of fact the suggestions that LoCicero makes have been tried out one way or another since the sixties, by groups coming from all sorts of progressive starting points, not only pacifism. And unfortunately, nonviolence of one sort or another is often employed by those whose aims are decidedly regressive. (Israeli fundamentalist settlers in the Palestinian Territories, for example.) Nonetheless there has been steady if uneven progress, not only amongst those who are already inclined toward nonviolence but even among some to whom it was hitherto alien.The problem is that the proponents of violence, more tied into American (which is now world) culture have a much greater audience in much greater means of propaganda. The violence-prone have the luxury of declaring that their solutions are “obvious” because they are already ubiquitous.

    So, without meaning to be tendentious, my feeling is that Engaging Peace is pretty much talking to the choir. I wonder if there’s some way to introduce the site to those knowing nothing about nonviolence and even to those who oppose it. Maybe participants here who are comfortable with Facebook or twitter (and similar venues) can campaign therein to introduce Engaging Peace by way of summarizing and pointing to particular articles so as to actually engage these outsiders. Other groups have tried this, and though I’m told that it’s difficult to keep to keep up such social-media campaigns without losing one’s sense of humor and compassion, it’s worth it. And of course social-media “likes” don’t correlate with commitment. – ed

    • kathiemm says:

      Thanks, Ed. I appreciate your comments to Alice LoCicero’s post and your suggestion for expanding our audience beyond the choir. that is certainly one of our goals this year, and we welcome all the advice we can get,,

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