Most people don't desire to be violent. Most people do not plan on being violent. Most people dislike and try to avoid violence. In my experience, most people say "I'm not a violent person, but I'll use it as a last resort if I have to."
I used to say the same thing. I want to address the misconception that those of us who leave violence as a last resort don't value violence highly. I also want to explain why I think this philosophy is misleading to the people who hold it, making them victims of their own philosophies (usually taught to them by the communities that raised and currently nurture them). Perhaps a lot of this is a reflection of who I've been but from what I have encountered I believe this may be true of a great many other people as well.
Anytime we say we'll use violence "...if I have to" we make the assumption that we have a deep need for violence. This is ultimately untrue. Such a perspective holds within it a false view of reality. For we do not truly need violence or else we would cease to progress or exist without it. That is, if violence were eliminated, we would go along with it into all that which is not. Unlike oxygen, this is not the case.* When looking at the problem with greater honesty we must admit that such a statement is only made under the knowledge that violence already exists in this world and is often a great problem. Even scripture makes this fact clear (Genesis 6:11-13, Proverbs 16:29). Let us then continue under this premise.
Depending upon what we value, we may find violence to be a very helpful means towards keeping our values safe. For instance, if we care about not dying then there will be times when violence will be the most effective option for saving our skin, as it were. If we desire peace on earth, violence won't achieve that goal because peace requires far more than the absence of war or violence. So really, this issue comes down to the matter of values and not merely means. Our values and goals will help to determine our means.
If I value the gospel of Christ over my own life, then dying is not something I fear or feel the need to fight against with certain tactics, such as violence, because the gospel of Christ holds within it a mandate to love my neighbor and endure suffering just as Christ Jesus did. If, however, I value my own ability to breathe another day more than the gospel or more than anything that may call me away from the use of violence, then I am wise to employ violent tactics when they would be most helpful for they aid me in upholding my values and reaching my goals.**
The point being made is that the only way we have some type of "need" for violence is if we are so persuaded within our own minds that we have such a need. Even then, in reality, it is a desire for violence and not a need. It is a view and not a fact. Reality and our perspective say two different things about what we need. We are merely convinced. In our persuasion we identify our desire as our need. This is in no way uncommon to mankind. Violence is merely a tactic we reserve as a means of upholding our own values and achieving our own goals. It may be an effective tool, even the most effective, in such pursuits but that still does not make it a true need but rather a relative need, that is, not a need at all but a decision (or secondary value).
Up to this point we have looked at how we view violence in the realm of values and needs. We have kept the discussion predominantly in the realm of language. Therefor, let us move forward by looking at the affects of violence as being held in the category of "last resort."
Again, most people don't desire to employ violence to achieve their goals or uphold their values. At least, they don't think or claim that they desire this. I tend to believe them. As a result many people hold violence as a "last resort" without recognizing the problems that come with such a perspective.
To have an identified last resort may actually increases the odds that such a tactic will be employed than if it were unnamed. For naming the tactic, giving it a place (when other tactics simply float in the headspace), makes such a tactic unique and more thought about.
When one has a last resort strategy that they believe is an end-all or some sort of reliable trump card, the person becomes far more likely to become lazy in their development of other tactics. If I buy a handgun and keep it under my pillow, I will be less likely to learn about tactics which are aimed more at an assailants psychological state. It would be easier to go to my gun than to try and discover the motives of my assailant and then meet their needs (sacrificing my safety for their well-being). One strategy might keep me safe at best but another might begin a relationship that keeps me safe and heals the assailant at best.
A last resort tempts us to use it before it's time. This is the greatest danger a last resort tactic such as violence can have when it comes to conflict resolution (especially for the Christian who must embrace reconciliation and restoration of others above self preservation). When we panic or when fear finds us, the temptation to skip straight to our last resort (usually a tactic we don't desire to use most of the time because we put it low on our value scale for some reason) finds us as well.
If we do not work hard to develop creative strategies, that are not violent, to help us achieve our goals and uphold our values in times when those values and goals are threatened then we will more quickly rush to our last resort for we will not know what else to do. We have made our last resort a dependable foundation. Because we've reminded ourselves it is available to us for so long (and probably neglected to develop other strategies and thus made them unavailable to ourselves) we will find it the most attractive of options. In this situation, our last resort is no longer a last resort at all.
The reason that our last resort creates such a temptation is because a last resort is also a commitment. Though we often wish to view last resorts as unlikely possibilities they are actually more like unfortunate commitments. We don't desire to employ them but we're committed to doing so, that's why we've deemed them the "last resort", because we will use them if we deem it necessary. If the conditional arises, we've made a commitment to a specific strategy. This can be dangerous as I've shared before.
Violence is too easy. To have a gun under the pillow, to bring damage to our enemy, these things are too easy. We think bad people bring violence upon others and so we don't want to be violent, but we say we shall be violent against violent people because it makes sense to us, because we've told ourselves it will work, because it's working for the enemy, because everyone has told us to, and because it's been done for so long in our human history we can't conceive how a vulnerable strategy could bring a valuable result (If we know the gospel then this becomes more difficult for it was the weak God who conquered the strong death).
We have valued violence. We value our last resort more than the resorts we refuse to develop for we have named it and in so doing kept it as a constant reminder. We have made ourselves faithful to our last result by making it a commitment while we have often never named other tactics and only assumed their presence, never committing to them at all. We've assumed we'll know what to do in crisis but when crisis comes we soon learn we've not valued the development of tactics and skills that could help both us and the enemy and we run back to our faithfulness last resort, the only tactic we've ever truly valued with consistency.
I'm painting with a broad brush. Many people develop various crisis strategies but I'm willing to bet that more don't. I'm willing to bet that most of us who keep violence in our back pocket or under our pillow don't have many other tactics in our hands ready to be deployed. The reason? If we're honest? ...We don't need them. Our last resort has our faithfulness, our trust, our heart. Deep down, we want our violence. We don't want to let it go because once that backdoor is closed we are forced to be creative and actually work hard to develop other strategies, possibly risky and vulnerable strategies. It's easier to run out the door than jump out a window or hide under floorboards.
If we let go of violence we will have to begin thinking more about our enemy, thinking about ways to stop them and protect them (maybe not in that order). We will start seeing our enemy differently because we will have declared they are too valuable for us to bring violence against them. When we enter that space the struggle becomes greater because we now have more values to uphold, more goals to reach, and very few strategies already made ready for us because nobody has taught us the way of nonviolence. We've not yet been armed and this scares us. As we've learned from Kung Fu movies, the training will take a lot from us and this is scary.
Violence is easy. It's been around. We've been told we can trust it. It's been put upon us our entire lives. We've been told it's a need and not merely a desire. We see it in the hands of our enemies and we think that if we have the weapons they have then we'll have a fighting chance.
When we keep violence as a last resort we make it clear than we value violence far more than we ever admit. Whether we can see it or not (I never could), we desire violence to be in our hands because we trust it and we value it. If we did not respect it, trust it, and think it a blessing in times of crisis then we would not make it an option, not even a "last resort." We would then seek other ways. Even when we call it a necessary evil we claim we need it. We choose to need what we call an evil, a thing we despise others for. We value it, but only when it is within our own hands and for the sake of what we value.
I believe we keep violence as a last resort because another way has not been modeled for us enough. We have been taught to trust violence. Maybe we're scared of a life in which we can't access violence, maybe we're too lazy to develop other strategies, maybe we never gave it any thought, or maybe we're convinced the love of Christ looks like a handgun under a pillow.
I can't say what the case is for everyone. For me, I was trained in violence and trusted it, not knowing how much of my heart it had. Nonviolence and the way of Christ (who suffers for the sake of his enemies) scared me. That lifestyle threatened my values and unveiled my fears. It horrified me. It still horrifies me. Yet I've been taught by the God who saves his people, who delivers the enemies of his people into their hands, who becomes weak and still overcomes, that faith in his way is best and that he demonstrated a life void of violence and asked me to live as he did.
Proverbs 3:31-32: "Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways, for the devious person is an abomination to the Lord, but the upright are in his confidence" [emphasis mine].
*This, is seen as a strange notion even more so when we think about the point of violence. Violence is employed to bring harm or a type of damage or destruction. If it does not totally destroy then it impairs, damages, or brings the object which receives the violence to a less productive and healthy state. How we could need such a damaging thing to progress makes little sense. While true, there are times when pain is a part of progress and unwanted procedures must be employed to bring about healing, such as surgeries, dental work, and the like, we must remember that there is a great difference between the shooting or stabbing of a man and the removing of one's appendix. We don't put our doctors in jail for minor surgery. We don't tend to call force that helps a person violence but rather force that does the opposite.
**Perhaps it seems unfair that I make the claim that the gospel calls us to a lifestyle of nonviolence. I can see that perspective. What I mean is that Jesus never employs violence against another person and we are called to model our lives after his, and in that simplification we have a call to a type of nonviolence.