Peace and Contemporary Resistance: Cédric Herrou, and Us

As you may have seen in Schindler’s List, it is customary to leave a rock to mark your visit to a grave. It would seem that this grave has been visited quite a few times. Picture taken at Tiberias (Israel) cemetery. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Author: James Emery from Douglasville, United States.

by Alice LoCicero

In a tiny village in southern France, in 2017, lives a courageous contemporary resister: Cédric Herrou [1].

Herrou is a farmer who has helped African refugees along the treacherous route to Europe through Italy and France.  He has done this openly, publicly, in violation of the law, and despite much criticism. He has been tried in court and could be jailed for it, although he has not, so far.

Which of us would resist convention and law in order to help others who desperately need help in just to survive? How many of us have taken the safe, self-protective route, and advised others to do so as well? Are there ways we can increase the likelihood that we, or others, will be resisters? How can we teach selective obedience and selective disobedience? What does it take to disobey civil law, and comply with  moral, spiritual, and ethical mandates?

When we look back into history and consider well known Holocaust resisters and rescuers, such as Oskar Schindler, we celebrate them, and we are sure they made the right choice.[2]  But at the time they were making those choices, they were not celebrated; they were either doing so in secret, or were criticized harshly. They were disobeying the law and defying their governments. They were doing what they did at grave risk.

If we were to make the right choice today, we would face the same risks. We could be jailed. We could lose our jobs and standing. We could lose professional respect. We could be sued. We could be killed. What does it take to disobey?

Every psychology student and professor knows about Milgram’s studies of obedience and later partial replications of those studies—partial because contemporary research ethics would not allow researchers to put participants through what turned out to be an emotionally wrenching  experience. Most of the participants in most of these studies obey the person they see as an authority, even when it means applying what they are led to believe are painful and—in the early studies—what they believed were deadly–shocks to a stranger.

Most, but not all. What are the qualities common to those few participants who disobey? Some recent studies by Burger [3] answer that question. Those who resist in obedience studies are no more compassionate or empathic than those who continue to shock. That is not the common theme.

The common theme is that they believe themselves to be personally responsible for their actions. They do not, in other words, attribute responsibility to others. They take responsibility. This finding is consistent with a finding reported by Kelman and Hamilton in their classic text On Obedience. [4]

At the same time, we know from a well-supported principle of social psychology, that one person who breaks with convention is likely to lead to others doing so as well. And the more who do so the more likely others will join.

Honoring Resisters, Becoming Resisters

In Oslo, there is a museum dedicated to Norway’s many resisters during World War II. [5] Most of their names will never be well-known. Most of them died without anyone thanking them or giving them glory. Without their courage—had everyone taken the safe route, and had there been no resisters to the Nazi regime–we might already be living in a tyrannical, authoritarian society.

We face a very similar challenge today.  If we do not resist the anti-humanitarian, pro-war, xenophobic, white supremacist forces rampant in American society and its leadership in 2017, we will very likely be seen by future generations as complicit in the establishment of authoritarian and tyrannical rule and genocide. Silently standing by will not be seen, by future generations, as having been sufficient or acceptable.

Can we teach ourselves to take responsibility for our own behavior? Mentor others to do so as well?  How can we and others be prepared to resist and disobey when given unethical orders?

Had we done a better job of teaching psychology students to take responsibility and not obey unethical orders, psychologists might have put a stop to torture at Guantanamo and in black box sites during the Bush era. Had they publicly and openly refused, their actions might have inspired others.

If we teach current psychology students to disobey, we might have more humane treatment of those with mental illnesses who are currently detained in hospitals and prisons. We might have a system of incarceration that focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment. And we might have a chance to prevent authoritarianism in the US.


Burger, J. M., Girgis, Z. M., & Manning, C. C. (2011) In their own words: Explaining obedience    to authority through an examination of participants’ comments.  Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2(5), 460-468.

Burger, J.M. (2014). Situational factors in Milgram’s experiment that kept his participants shocking. Journal of Social Issues, 70 (3), 489-500. doi:10.1111/josi.12073

Dr. Alice LoCicero is currently a visiting scholar at The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California, and president-elect of the Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict (Division 48 of the American Psychological Association.) Dr. LoCicero was the first president of the Society for Terrorism Research. She is author of two books and several peer-reviewed articles on terrorism. Her recent scholarship has documented the costs of the US counterterrorism policies, focusing on the flawed Countering Violent Extremism programs, and the American Psychological Association’s actions that supported torture of detainees at Guantanamo and other sites. Dr. LoCicero was shocked to see water protectors at Standing Rock, who were committed to non-violence, being treated as if they posed a threat equivalent to terrorists.

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4 Responses to Peace and Contemporary Resistance: Cédric Herrou, and Us

  1. LB says:

    I think the question, “What does it take to disobey?” is worthwhile. We might also consider what it means to disobey. For instance, what would it take for Americans to begin to question and turn away from both neoliberal and conservative news sources, to question the legitimacy of our entire system, way of life and cultural conditioning?

    What would it take to understand and acknowledge the gross injustices committed by our capitalistic system from the beginning, under both Democratic and Republican leadership, and to finally refuse to participate by choosing the one small freedom still legally available to us all ~ which is to refuse to support this system with our vote?

    We’re not compelled by any law to vote, let alone to vote for those who, particularly on a national level, support our imperialistic system of endless war and regime change for power and profit, and the ongoing murder, exploitation, oppression and destruction of innocent lives around the globe ~ yet many of us do.

    The only thing we risk by not voting is the censure of our social or political group, our friendships and sense of belonging. Maybe the greatest obstacles to love and peace aren’t our fears of authority, but are instead our greater fears of loneliness and social isolation, the loss of illusion if we were to face the harsh realities of our system and conditioning.

    Yesterday morning I read how Hillary (a political figure known for her support of U.S. war, imperialism, unfettered and unregulated corporate capitalism, exploitation and oppression) received a standing ovation in a New York theater ~ most likely from well-meaning, self-described “liberals” who likely imagine her (and their) more polite and evolved political positions on certain issues take precedence over (or somehow cancel out) all of the other unnamed evils perpetuated by Hillary in support of the capitalistic system she serves ~ which isn’t meant to single her out as being unique in this respect.

    Right now many ‘liberal’ Democrats are fighting to preserve corporate-sponsored Obamacare, instead of seizing the opportunity to work to establish Expanded and Improved Medicare For All.

    I share these examples because I think they tell us something important. Maybe we also fear what it would mean to no longer believe in or rely upon the sovereign authority of our human leaders, and to withdraw with discernment our blind allegiance to any person or president, political party, government or ideology.

    I often wonder how much longer people of good conscience will continue to justify their support for the very same system of violence and exploitation they hope to protest and resist?

  2. Dot Walsh says:

    I found LB ‘s comments to strike me deeply. I have moved away from watching any news lately and find that I still have some idea of what is going on in the world. I am at a loss to decide how to best use my energy and focus my interests. I enjoyed the June newsletter with the beautiful story by Kathie taming the wild horse with patience, love and compassion. It reminds me of my son who lives in the mountains of Utah with his partner and three dogs they have rescued locally. They have become minimalists and although they have work as a park ranger and aborist they live without television and modern conveniences. I just sent them the victrola that long ago he rescued from a neighbor’s rubbish pile. A gifted Russian immigrant painstakingly restored it and I kept it until now. I recently read about a program that teaches people to fix things rather than throw them out. I wonder if there is a way to fix our government without a major revolution. Many people are trying in many different ways and I especially honor Engaging Peace for all its disturbing and enlightening articles.

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