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WRI statement on the massacre in Beijing: Brute force will never gain the victory

Article in The Broken Rifle No 13, June/July 1989

War Resisters' International is horrified by the massacre of unarmed Chinese people around Tienanmen square and condemns it utterly. Only a leadership without the support and confidence of the people can order soldiers "by any means" to suppress nonviolent demonstrations for democratic rights and freedoms.

The first soldiers sent in to disperse the demonstrators were well aware of the death penalty for deserting. Yet, in the face of ordinary people demanding democracy, many refused to obey orders - some even joining the protests movement - while others returned demoralised and disarmed to contemplate the shameful actions they had been ordered to take.

Our hope lies with those who dare to refuse orders, with the defiant students and workers and their autonomous organisations, and with the brave soldiers who followed their hearts and handed over their rifles. Those other troops - the ones who have obediently slaughtered civilians, who have mown down rows of unarmed people standing with their arms linked, who have shot at random into crowds, who have driven their tanks oer tents and their human occupants - will take their place in the dark history of obedience to inhuman orders. The units of the 27th Army which led the attack have joined the ranks of the butchers in the football stadium in Santiago, Chile, in 1973, the ranks of those who obeyed the orders to build gas chambers, to drop nuclear bombs, to use chemical weapons and to torture in the service of repressive regimes throughout the world.

It is not suprising that it is possible to shoot or drive down peaceful protest. What surprises us it the lack of wisdom of the people who give the orders. In the long term, brute force will never gain the victory. There have been other massacres of unarmed people demanding freedom. As a pacifist international in the tradition of Gandhi, we especially remember the British massacre at Amristar in 1919 when General Dyer and his soldiers killed hundreds  and wounded over a thousand people to enforce a ban on public meetings. The army of the British Raj, however, made no pretence to be a "People's Liberation Army". The Indian Independence movement maintained its commitment to nonviolent non-co-operation and, as a result, India became one of the first colonies to achieve freedom.

The military violence we have seen in Beijing will never be forgotten and cannot be excused. The wall cannot any longer prevent other peoples from seeing what is happening in China - both the brutality ordered by the Chinese government and the courage of the students and workers. In the face of such violence, we marvel at the nonviolence of those students shown on TV rescuing a soldier being beaten by an angry crowd. Witnessing these events gives us the duty to react, to show our disgust with the Chinese Government and our support to the demands of the students and workers.

WRI fully supports our Chinese sisters and brothers in their struggle for a just and democratic society. Their nonviolence and openness have introduced a new element into Chinese political life, these means reflect the ends they seek to attain. We call on the Chinese Government to abandon its efforts to stamp out the movement for democracy, to  stop the house raids, to release those detained, and to recognise the just demands raised by the students and workers.

Issued on 5 June, 1989.