As a weapon, prayer has mostly saints and martyrs to speak for its power: The language of faith says that no weapon is more effective. Now there are the followers of Corazon Aquino.
On the Sunday before the collapse of the Marcos regime, thousands of Filipinos knelt in a field before the tanks of the government's armed forces. They recited the rosary. Flowers -- symbols of God's beauty -- were passed to the soldiers. The military, revving the engines of the tanks, ordered the people to clear a path. They refused to move.
In the Manila field, the spiritual force of the people proved stronger than the military force of the army. The armored column, which had been on its way to attack a camp of dissident leaders, was turned around by the rosaries. It rolled back to the barracks instead of rolling over the citizens.
News accounts of this extraordinary display of nonviolent power neglected to say what organizational strategy was behind the citizens' protest. It appears to have been spontaneous. The marines, their access blocked one way, had tried another by crashing their tanks through a wall at the edge of the field. The crowd closed around the soldiers. With no training, the people were disciplined. With no instructions, they were calm.
The history of nonviolence, which remains largely untaught in our schools and unheeded by our leaders, runs deep with successes like the one in Manila. The Danish resistance to the Nazis, the early Christian defiance of the Roman army, Gandhi's salt march and Martin Luther King Jr.'s protests in the 1960s are among the best known examples of moral force turning back armed force. Buddha believed that a "true brahmin . . . fears neither jail nor death: He has the power of love no army can defeat." St. Teresa of Avila, the 16th-century Spaniard, wrote that "love has more power than a besieging army."
The army of Ferdinand Marcos was not defeated by the praying crowd that knelt before the tanks. It was converted.
History's great teachers of nonviolence never used terms like winning and losing. "Through nonviolence," King said, "we avoid the temptation of taking on the psychology of victors." In Manila, this was understood. A man in the anti-Marcos crowd called out, "We are all Filipinos -- there is no fight here." A nun walked among the marines, asking them to "pray with us. If you cannot do it aloud, you can do it through your heart and mind." A businessman said, "Look at the faces of the soldiers. They are not the faces of people who want to fight."
The person eager to fight that day was the holed-up Marcos. He was warning his opponents not to say that he was without power: "They repeat that once more and I will sic the tanks and the artillery on them. We'll wipe them out. If they think I am sick, I may even want to lead the troops . . . I am just like an old war horse smelling powder and getting stronger."
No nuns were near enough to Marcos to hand him a rosary, flower or other offering of reconciliation. It was only after Marcos was in Hawaii a few days later that Corazon Aquino appealed to him: "The time now is to make amends, and so whatever you can do to discourage your loyalists from inflicting more harm on our people should be your concern." Language like this represents the grace of refusing to fight fire with fire. Fight it, instead, with water, so that the flames of hate can be doused.
Aquino followed one of the classic tenets of nonviolence: Never dehumanize the enemy. Her husband had been murdered -- apparently by Marcos' agents -- and she herself had been victimized by Marcos' election fraud. Yet she resisted vengeance. She saw Marcos as a human being, not a monster. He made a mistake, he can redeem it.
Simplistic? Not according to Martin Luther King Jr. In "Loving Your Enemies," he wrote that "we must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy-neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy . . . When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies."
Aquino's gesture toward Marcos was based on the same impulse of the crowd before the tanks: believing the adversary is capable of good will. Such a belief is more than a way of thinking. It is a way of exerting force. Every conflict, whether among individuals or nations, is resolved either violently or nonviolently. Force is used in both solutions: the force of fists, guns or armies or, as in Manila, the force of prayer, organized resistance and hateless negotiation.
Corazon Aquino and her followers gave the world an inspired lesson in unarmed revolution. For once, the headlines were not about terrorists, assassins or violence. They were about power -- the nonviolent kind that only the brave have the daring to use.