To what degree can resistance activities be justified?

This may be more a question of morality and justice rather than history, but one of the questions I’ve been wondering about recently is how and what activities of resistance and partisan groups can be justified?

To give a bit of explanation; resistance groups are often remembered mostly as heroes and while some acts such as hiding jews and other people from persecution are more obviously so, there are also acts of terror and murder, the assasination of Heydrich comes to mind, but lesser German officers also found themselves at the receiving end of these. While the oppressed hail these as justified acts of resistance against unjustified oppressors, from the occupiers perspective these are acts of terrorism.

Against a body of evil nazis one can justify anything, but what about less but still oppressive regimes? Is it only justified if ordered by the right government and isn’t that then mere state terrorism?

While resisting the nazis and their crimes itself was a good thing, I am not so sure if we can always justify the means. What are your views on this?


Welcome to the forum! Excellent post.

My first reaction is that during a state of war or occupation by an outside enemy, generally different rules seem to be in effect……essentially no rules. Not on Germans were targets, so were collaborators.

Of course like you said, the Germans deserved and got much more violent treatment. But partisan wars are often considered terrorism. I think the side you are on determines what you think of it. I’m from the US where the right to rebel has been tested before. Our founders believed in fighting for rights. Other nations have different histories.

Do some of these go to far? Probably and we could probably given dozens of examples. I guess at what point are you morally obligated to fight oppression? I seriously doubt there is one right answer.


I think morally obligated is a step further than what I was thinking. My question focused more on the right to use violence. Certainly there won’t be a right answer, but it cannot be that your view is justified based on the side you are on. That would be winners justice, much like the Soviet and Allied war crimes that were never brought to court.

The right to rebel is an interesting one because it assumes the act of rebelling itself is not punishable, but even then it does not specify which rights that grants you. Is only non-violence tolerable or are certain acts of violence juustified against an authoritarian government?


I guess that in WW2 airpower meant that the civil population became involved in wars in a new way, and thus a kind of irregular fighting erupted and have continued to this day.

I just spent the day here in Denmark visiting the memorials for danish civilans and saboteurs that was executed by the Germans. They recieved weapons and agents from SOE by airdrop, and with the explosives an ingenier and 6 Young men blew up 3 railway bridges in november 1943 and paralyzed the rail way traffic to Norway for a month.

So it was the british military suppling danish civilans with weapons. I think that kind up mix up, means that the ansewr to your question will come down to the single situation. In Denmark there were a general strike after the executions, so the Germans stopped executions but went to counterterroism eg killing a well known priest - which again dident broke public moral. So again - a new way of involving civilians in resistance and wars had arrived

Let me try this another way. I think you are trying to see this as an objective outsider. In a conflict like this there are three sides. One side, the oppressor, another side, the resistance and the third side are those trying to live as best they can.

Both of the first 2 sides have to believe they are in the right. That they have the right to either repress or to resist. If they don’t believe this, they are merely anarchists out for chaos and death or personal gain. Therefore morality does come into play and I damm well better believe the bomb I placed which might kill woman and children as well as enemy is the right thing to do.

I’m going this direction because you seemed to want a broad discussion not just a world war 2 answer which we both agree is much simpler. Germans and Japanese were BAD and anything you did to hurt them was considered acceptable on the whole although many bystanders were killed.

Winners justice as you call it is Important. If you are being oppressed and denied liberty then the oppressor has lost the right to rule over you. In that case you have the right to self determination. So whose rights are more important? Peaceful resistance can work but so can armed resistance.

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