Resistance movement

Resistance movement

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 has political overtones, as people have used it, along with similar terms, to bring support to opposition groups.

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. Both phrases -- resistance movement and freedom fighters -- can become contentious terms for what other observers might describe as terrorists, though this is controversial as terrorists are often criticized and seen as morally wrong, whereas many see Resistance Movements as legitimate. The popular saying "One person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter" encapsulates this dichotomy, without clarifying the distinction that freedom fighters must, by definition, be fighting for freedom. Terrorists, as a modern appellation, are not seen as fighting for freedom, whereas Resistance Movements are. Thus, Resistance Movements may employ terror tactics, but not all who use terror tactics are called a Resistance movement.


Term "Resistance" originates from the French Resistance during WWII self designation. It has become a generic term that may be used to designate underground resistance movement 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. 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 dedicated to fighting the Axis invaders. Germany itself also had an anti-Nazi German resistance movement in this period. Although mainland Britain did not suffer invasion in World War II, the British made preparations 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.

Examples of resistance movements

post-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.

Pre-World War II

Pre-20th century

  • Carbonari - 19th century Italian movement resisting Austrian or Bourbon rule.
  • Sons of Liberty - Revolutionary terror group that embraced Republicanism in the United States during the 1760s and 1770's and routinely engaged in acts of violent terror 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.
  • The Underground Railroad - The pre American Civil War slave escape network consisting of volunteers who were dedicated to secretly helping escaping slave reach free states or Canada.

Notable individuals in resistance movements

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

Other resistance movements

See also

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