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) poses with his Bren gun at Chateaudun - 1944]] A resistance movement is a group or collection of individual groups, dedicated to fighting an invader in an occupied country or the government of a sovereign nation through either the use of physical force, or nonviolence. The term resistance is generally used to designate movement considered legitimate (from speaker's point of view).

Organizations and individuals critical of foreign intervention and supporting forms of organized movement (particularly where citizens are affected) tend to favor the term. When such a resistance movement uses violence, those favorably disposed to it may also speak of freedom fighters.

There has been a dispute between states since the laws of war were first codified in 1899. The Martens Clause was introduced as a compromise wording for the dispute between the Great Powers who considered francs-tireurs to be unlawful combatants subject to execution on capture and smaller states who maintained that they should be considered lawful combatants.[1][2] More recently the 1977 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, recognised in Article 1. Paragraph 4 "... in which peoples are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes..." contains many ambiguities that cloud the issue of who is or is not a legitimate combatant.[3] Hence depending on the perspective of a state's government, a resistance movement may or may not be labelled terrorist group based on whether the members of a resistance movement are considered lawful or unlawful combatants and their right to resist occupation is recognized.[4] Ultimately, the distinction is a political judgment.



Term "Resistance" originates from the French Resistance during World War II self designation. It has become a generic term that has been used to designate underground resistance movements from any country. While the concept of Resistance may have existed prior to WWII, using the term "resistance" to designate a movement meeting the definition prior WWII might be considered an anachronism[5]. While non exclusive, the term is also strongly coined to WWII context.


Resistance movements can include any irregular armed force that rises up against an enforced or established authority, government, or administration. This frequently includes groups that consider themselves to be resisting tyranny. Some resistance movements are underground organizations engaged in a struggle for national liberation in a country under military occupation or totalitarian domination.

Tactics of resistance movements against a constituted authority range from nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience, to industrial sabotage and guerrilla warfare, or even conventional warfare if the resistance movement is strong enough. Any government facing violent acts from a resistance movement usually condemns such acts as terrorism, even when such attacks target only the military or security forces.

Resistance during World War II was mainly dedicated to fighting the Axis invaders. Germany itself also had an anti-Nazi German resistance movement in this period. Although the United Kingdom did not suffer invasion in World War II, preparations were made for a British resistance movement in the event of a German invasion.

US government definition

According to Joint Publication 1-02, The United States Department of Defense defines a resistance movement as: An organized effort by some portion of the civil population of a country to resist the legally established government or an occupying power and to disrupt civil order and stability.

In strict military terminology, a resistance movement is simply that; it seeks to resist (change) the policies of a government or occupying power. This may be accomplished though violent or non-violent means. A resistance movement is specifically limited to changing the nature of current power, not to overthrow it. The correct military term for removing or overthrowing a government is an insurgency.

Common Weapons

Partisans often use captured weapons taken from their enemies. They also may use improvised weapons such as Molotov cocktails or IEDs.

Examples of resistance movements

Pre-20th century

  • Sons of Liberty - - Revolutionary patriot group that embraced Republicanism in the United States during the 1760s and 1770's and routinely engaged in acts of violent resistance against British government officials and prominent loyalist sympathizers. The Boston branch of the Sons of Liberty met under the Liberty Tree, from which they would post messages or hang and burn effigies of their enemies.

Pre-World War II

World War II

See also Resistance during World War II

Planned resistance movements:

  • The Auxiliary Units, organized by Colonel Colin Gubbins as a potential British resistance movement against a possible invasion of the British Isles by Nazi forces, note that it was the only resistance movement established prior to invasion, albeit the invasion never came.
  • Volunteer Fighting Corps (Japan)

Lack of Large Scale Resistance in World War II

Fascist governments are largely able to prevent civil revolt through the consistent use of violence, the utilization of paranoia to prevent the formation of enemy groups and the control of citizens by means of restricting their rights as workers. According to Walter Laqueur, “Violence has always played a central part in fascist philosophy” (50). The utilization of paranoia is arguably the most important factor in the continuation of fascist governments. Stories of children being targeted by Nazi- influenced teachers and other authority figures have been widely publicized as anti- fascist propaganda. Fascist governments have used to prevent civil revolt is by means of controlling their citizens through their jobs. This method was put into practice in both Italy and Germany, though Italy was the heavier user of it. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Until he instituted a war economy in the mid-1930s, Mussolini allowed industrialists to run their companies with a minimum of government interference.” (Common characteristics of fascist movements section paragraph 29).

Post-World War II

Notable individuals in resistance movements

World War II (anti-Nazi, anti-Fascist)

Other resistance movements

See also


  1. ^ Rupert Ticehurst (references) in hist footnote 1 cites The life and works of Martens are detailed by V. Pustogarov, "Fyodor Fyodorovich Martens (1845-1909) — A Humanist of Modern Times", International Review of the Red Cross (IRRC), No. 312, May-June 1996, pp. 300-314.
  2. ^ Rupert Ticehurst (references) in hist footnote 2 cites F. Kalshoven, Constraints on the Waging of War, Martinus Nijhoff, Dordrecht, 1987, p. 14.
  3. ^ Gardam p. 91
  4. ^ Khan, Ali (Washburn University - School of Law). A Theory of International Terrorism, Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 19, p. 945, 1987
  5. ^ Alain Rey, Dictionary historic de la language french


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