Snapshots

How Empires Fall (Including the American One) | World | AlterNet

When Jonathan Schell’s The Unconquerable World, a meditation on the history and power of nonviolent action, was published in 2003, the timing could not have been worse. Americans were at war -- and success was in the air. U.S. troops had invaded Iraq and taken Baghdad (“mission accomplished”) only months earlier, and had already spent more than a year fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Schell's book earned a handful of glowing reviews, and then vanished from the public debate as the bombs scorched Iraq and the body count began to mount.

Now, The Unconquerable World’s animating message — that, in the age of nuclear weaponry, nonviolent action is the mightiest of forces, one capable of toppling even the greatest of empires — has undergone a renaissance of sorts. In December 2010, the self-immolation of a young Tunisian street vendortriggered a wave of popular and, in many cases, nonviolent uprisings across the Middle East, felling such autocrats as Tunisia’s Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak in mere weeks. Occupations, marches, and protests of all sorts spread like brushfire across Europe, from England to Spain to Greece, and later Moscow, and even as far as Madison, Wisconsin. And then, of course, there were the artists, students, and activists who, last September, heard the call to “occupy Wall Street” and ignited a national movement with little more than tents, signs, and voices on a strip of stone and earth in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park.

You might say that Schell, a former New Yorker staff writer renowned for his work on nuclear weapons and disarmament (his 1981 book The Fate of the Earth was a best-seller and instant classic), prophesied Occupy and the Arab Spring — without even knowing it. He admits to being as surprised as anyone about the wave of nonviolent action that swept the world in 2011, but those who had read Unconquerable World would have found themselves uncannily well prepared for the birth of a planet of protest whenever it happened.

FULL ARTICLE: How Empires Fall (Including the American One) | World | AlterNet.

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