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  • Mary L. Hanna

Reflections on A Force More Powerful: Danish Resistance to the Nazi Occupation

This post will discuss the vignette on Denmark in A Force More Powerful. Again, as with the other vignettes, I thought the film did a good job of providing a comprehensive overview of the scope of protest and nonviolence in Denmark during the Nazi occupation. Obviously, with the limited available video time, it would have been difficult for the film to provide more specific details, but I feel that it provides a basic working knowledge of the events that occurred. This vignette, as well as any of the other sections of the documentary, could serve as a great starting point for those interested in specific case studies of active nonviolence.

To start, it seems to have been a shrewd decision for Denmark to avoid initially resisting the occupation with military force. Though the policy of the occupiers would become increasingly strict and eventually lead to heavy-handed regulations and curfews, the film shows how there was a relatively long period of time in the meanwhile for a social movement to incubate.

Also interesting in this clip was how Danish nationalism manifested itself in a relatively nonviolent way. People in the film discussed how celebrating the Danish king became a way of resisting the occupation, and had nothing to do, necessarily, with supporting a dictatorship or monarchy. So, pre-existing identities and traditions proved themselves important to building a movement in new contexts, as people gathered in parks to sing their national anthem.

In many of the vignettes in A Force More Powerful, we see that the power holders do not initially “take seriously” the actions of those movements that end up making a big difference. The case of the Nazi occupation largely ignoring gatherings of Danish nationalism is another instance of this. By the time the Danish government was asked to stop the sabotage and strikes that were being continually organized through the underground press, it turned out that the “official” Danish government really did not have much control any more. As the film pointed out, the “authority” over the people had moved underground, away from any easily targeted central cohort of individuals or institutions. I wonder if this type of decentralized authority allows for more community based, durable, “people-powered” politics.

The section where the vignette discussed the Danish populace’s response to Nazi persecution of Danish Jews was especially interesting, because it revealed how a popular non-obedience was able to circumvent attempts at repression. After all, many discussions of the Nazi occupation of various countries in Europe and Eastern Europe include arguments that pre-existing anti-Semitism, while not directly precipitating the Holocaust, facilitated the Nazis’ genocidal acts due to indirect or direct cooperation with repression. It was therefore important to see that in the case of Denmark, according to the film, widespread disobedience of Nazi forces by non-Jewish Danes allowed many Jewish people to escape the country – to Sweden, for example – rather than face repression and genocide.

Overall, this vignette on Danish resistance to Nazi rule was reassuring. It showed how widespread nonviolent resistance, even in the face of a vastly more “powerful” military occupying force, has the potential to overcome repression and promote long-term survival through decentralized non-cooperation.

-Ansel Courant, MPT Intern

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