Duty In The Midst Of World Wars
His Attitude during the First World War
501. Not only did I offer my services at the time of the Zulu revolt but before that at the time of the Boer war, and not only did I raise recruits in India during the late war, but I raised an ambulance corps in 1914 in London. If therefore I have sinned, the cup of my sins is full to the brim. I lost no occasion for serving the Government at all times. Two questions presented themselves to me during all these crises. What was my duty as a citizen of the empire as I then believed my self to be, and what was my duty as an out-and-out believer in the religion of ahimsanon-violence?
I know now, that I was wrong in thinking that I was a citizen of the empire. But on those four occasions I did honestly believe that in spite of the many disabilities that my country was labouring under, it was making its way towards freedom, and that on the whole the Government from the popular standpoint was not wholly bad and that the British administrators were honest though insular and dense. Holding that view, I set about doing what an ordinary Englishman would do in the circumstances. I was not wise or important enough to take independent action. I had no business to judge or scrutinize ministerial decisions with the solemnity of a tribunal. I did not impute malice to the ministers either at the time of the Boer war, the Zulu revolt or the late war. I did not consider Englishmen nor do I now consider them as particularly bad or worse than other human beings.
I considered and still consider them as capable of high motives and actions as any other body of men and equally capable of making mistakes. I therefore felt that I sufficiently discharged my duty as a man and a citizen by offering my humble services to the empire in the hour of its need whether local or general. That is how I would expect every Indian to act by his country under Swaraj. I would be deeply distressed, if on every conceivable occasion every one of us were to be a law unto oneself and to scrutinize in golden scales every action of our future National Assemble. I would surrender my judgment in most matters to national representatives, taking particular car in making my choice of such representatives. I know that in no other manner would a democratic government be possible for one single day.
The whole situation is now changed for me. My eyes, I fancy, are opened. Experience has made me wiser. I consider the existing system of Government to be wholly bad and requiring special national effort to end or mend it. It does not possess within itself any capacity for self-improvement. That I still believe many English administrators to be honest does not assist me, because I consider them to be as blind and deluded as I was myself. Therefore I can take no pride in calling the empire mine or describing myself as a citizen. On the contrary, I fully realize that I am a pariah, untouchable of the empire. I must therefore constantly pray for its radical reconstruction or total destruction, even as a Hindu pariah would be fully justified in so praying about Hinduism or Hindu society.
The next point, that of ahimsa, is more abstruse. My conception of ahimsa impels me always to dissociate my soul refuses to be satisfied so long as it is a helpless witness of a single wrong or a single misery. But it is not possible for me, a weak, frail, miserable being, to mend every wrong or to hold myself free of blame for all the wrong I see. The spirit in me pulls one way, the flesh in me pulls in the opposite direction. There is freedom from the action of these two forces, but that freedom is attainable only by slow and painful stages. I cannot attain freedom by a mechanical refusal to act, but only by intelligent action in a detached manner. This struggle resolves itself into an incessant crucifixion of the flesh so that the spirit may become entirely free.
I was again an ordinary citizen no wiser than my fellows, myself believing in ahimsa and the rest not believing in it at all but refusing to do their duty of assisting the Government because they were actuated by anger and malice. They were refusing out of their ignorance and weakness. As a fellow worker, it became my duty to guide them aright. I therefore placed before them their clear duty, explained the doctrine of ahimsa to them and let them make their choice which they did. I do not repent of my action in terms of ahimsa. For under Swaraj too I would not hesitate to advise those who would bear arms to do so and fight for the country.
That brings to me the second question. Under Swaraj of my dream there is no necessity for arms at all. But I do not expect that dream to materialize in its fullness as a result of the present effort, first because the present effort is not directed to that end as an immediate goal and secondly because I do not consider myself advanced enough to be able to prescribe a detailed course of conduct to the nation for such preparation. I am still myself too full of passion and other frailties of human nature to feel the call or the capacity. All I claim for myself is. That I am incessantly trying to overcome every one of my weaknesses. I have attained great capacity, I believe, for suppressing and curbing my senses, but I have not become incapable of sin, i.e. of being acted upon by my senses. I believe it to be possible for every human being to attain that blessed and indescribable sinless state in which he feels within himself the presence of God to the exclusion of everything else. It is, I must confess, as yet a distant scene. And therefore, it is not possible for me to show the nation a present way to complete non-violence, in practice.YI, 17-11-21, 367.
502. Q. Were you not helping the cause of war when you, both while in Africa and here, enlisted men for field service? How does it tally with your principle of ahimsa?
A. By enlisting men for ambulance work in south Africa and in England, and recruits for field service in India, I helped not the cause of war, but I helped the institution called the British Empire in whose ultimate beneficial character I then believed. My repugnance to war was as strong then as it is today; and I could not then have and would not have shouldered a rifle. But ones life is not a single line; it is a bundle of duties very often conflicting. And one is called upon continually to make ones between one duty and another. As a citizen not then, and not even now, are former leading an agitation against the institution of war, I had to advise and lead men who believed in war but who from cowardice or from base motives, or from anger against the British Government refrained from enlisting. I did not hesitate to advise them that so long as they believed in war and professed loyalty to the British constitution they were in duty bound to support it by enlistment. Though I do not believe in the use of arms, and though it is contrary to the religion of ahimsa which I profess, I should not hesitate to join an agitation for a repeal of the debasing Arms Act which I have considered amongst the blackest crimes of the British Government against India. I do not believe in retaliation, but I did not hesitate to tell the villagers near Bettie four years ago that they who knew nothing of ahimsa were guilty of cowardice in failing to defend the honour of their womenfolk and their property by force of arms. And I have not hesitated, as the correspondent should know, only recently to tell the Hindus that if they do not believe in out-and-out ahimsa and cannot practiced it they will be guilty of a crime against their religion and humanity if they failed to defend by force of arms the honour of their women against any kidnapper who chooses to take away their women. And all this advice and my previous practice I hold to be not only consistent with my profession of the religion of ahimsa out-and-out, but a direct result of it. To state that noble doctrine is simple enough; to know it and to practise it in the midst of a world full of strife, turmoil and passions is a task whose difficulty I realize more and more day by day. And yet the conviction too that without it life is not worth living is growing daily deeper.YI, 5-11-25, 379.
503. There is no defense for my conduct weighed only in the scales of ahimsa. I draw no distinction between those who wield the weapons of destruction and those who do red-cross work. Both participate in war and advance its cause. Both are guilty of the crime of war. But even after introspection during all these years, I feel that I the circumstances in which I found my-self I was bound to adopt the course I did both during the Boer war and the Great European War and for that matter the so called Zulu Rebellion of Natal in 1906.
Life is governed by a multitude of forces. It would be smooth sailing, if one could determine the course of one actions only by one general principle whose application at a given moment was too obvious to need even a moments reflection. But I cannot recall a single act which could be so easily determined.
Being a confirmed war resister I have never given myself training in the use of destructive weapons in spite of opportunities to take such training. It was perhaps thus that I escaped direct destruction of human life. But so long as I live under a system of government based on force and voluntarily partook of the many facilities and privileges it created for me, I was bound to help that government to the extent of my ability when it was engaged in a war unless I non-co-operated with that government and renounced to the utmost of my capacity the privileges it offered me.*
Let me take an illustration. I am member of an institution that holds a few acres of land whose crop are in imminent peril from monkeys. I believe in the sacredness of all life and hence I regard it a breach of ahimsa to inflict any injury on the monkeys. But I do not hesitate to instigate and direct an attack on the monkeys in order to save the crops. I would like to avoid this evil. I can avoid it by leaving or breaking up the institution. I do not do so because I do not expect to be able to find a society where there will be no agriculture and therefore no destruction of some life. In fear and trembling, in humility and penance, I therefore participate in the injury inflicted on the monkeys. Hoping some day to find a way out.
Even so did I participate in the three acts of war. I could not, it would be madness for me to sever my connection with the society to which I belong. And on those three occasions I had no thought of non-co-operating with the British Government.
My position regarding the Government is totally different today and hence I should not voluntarily participate in its wars and I should risk imprisonment and even the gallows if I was forced to take up arms or otherwise take part in its military operations.
But that still does not solve the riddle. If there was a national government, whilst I should not take any direct part in any war I can conceive occasions when it would be my duty to vote for the military training of those who wish to take it. For I know that all its members do not believe in nonviolence to the extent I do. It is not possible to make a person or a society non-violent by compulsion.
Non-violence works in a most mysterious manner. Often a man’s actions defy analysis in terms of non-violence; equally often his actions may wear the appearance of violence when he is absolutely non-violent in the highest sense of the term and is subsequently found so to be. All I can then claim for my conduct is that it was, in the instances cited, actuated in the interests of nonviolence. There was no thought of sordid national or other interest. I do not believe in the promotion of national or any other interest at the sacrifice of some other interest.
I may not carry my argument any further. Language at best is but a poor vehicle for expressing ones thoughts in full. For me nonviolence is not a mere philosophical principle. It is the rule and the breath of my life. I know I fail often, sometimes consciously, more often unconsciously. It is a matter not of the intellect but of the heart. True guidance comes by constant waiting upon God, by utmost humility, Self-abnegation, by being ever ready to sacrifice ones self. Its practice requires fearlessness and courage of the highest order. I am painfully aware of my failings.
But the Light within me is steady and clear. There is no escape for any of us save through truth and non-violence. I know that war is wrong, is an unmitigated evil. I know too that it has got to go. I firmly believe that freedom won through bloodshed or fraud is no freedom. Would that all acts alleged against me were found to be wholly indefensible rather than that by any act of mine non-violence was held to be compromised or that I was ever thought to be in favour of violence or untruth in any shape or form! Not violence, not untruth but non-violence, Truth is the law of our being.YI, 13-9-28, 308.
In Relation to the Second World War
(A) SYMPATHY WITH THE ALLIES
And yet, strange as it may appear, my sympathies are wholly with the Allies. Willy-nilly this war is resolving itself into one between such democracy as the west has evolved and totalitarianism as it is typified in Herr Hitler.H, 30-9-39, 288.
505. Both are fighting for their existence and for the furtherance of their policies. There is, however, this great difference between the two: However incomplete or equivocal the declarations of the Allies are, the world has interpreted them to mean that they are fighting for saving democracy. Herr Hitler is fighting for the extension of the German boundaries, although he was told that he should allow his claims to be submitted to an impartial tribunal for examination. He contemptuously rejected the way of peace or persuasion and chose that of the sword. Hence my sympathy for the cause of the Allies. But my sympathy must not be interpreted to mean endorsement, in any shape or form, of the doctrine of the sword for the defense of even proved right. Proved right should be capable of being vindicated by right means as against the rude. i.e. sanguinary, means.H,14-10-39, 301.
506. One more question of the writer remains to be answered. If war is itself a wrong act, how can it be worthy of moral support or blessings? I believe all war to be worthy wrong. But if we scrutinize the motives of two warring parties, we may find one to be in the right and the other in the wrong. For instance if A wishes to seize Bs country, B is obviously the wronged one. Both fight with arms. I do not believe in violent warfare, but all the same B, whose cause is just, deserves my moral help and blessings.H, 18-8-40, 250.
507. The writer cavils at my sympathy with the Allies. I have shown it as an out-and-out believer in non-violence, even because of my belief. Whilst all violence is bad and must be condemned in the abstract, it is permissible for, it is even the duty of, a believer in ahimsa to distinguish between the aggressor and the defender. Having done so, he will side with the defender in a non-violent manner, i.e. give his life in saving him. His inter-vention is likely to bring a speedier end to the duel and may even result in bringing about peace between the combatants.H, 2I-I0-39, 309.
508. My British friends should have no difficulty in understanding my position. Of course, it is open to them to argue that as a war resister I could not even give moral support. I have already said in these columns that I do not hold such a view. It is open to a war resister to judge between two combatants and wish success to the one who has justice on his side. By so judging he is more spectator.—H, 4-9-39, 327.
509. I do not want England to be defeated or humiliated It hurts me to find St. Pauls Cathedral damaged. It hurts me as much as I would be hurt if I heard that the Kashi Vishvanath temple or the Juma Masjid was damaged. I would like to defend both the Kashi Vishvanath temple and the Juma Masjid and even St. Pauls with my life, but would not take a single life for their defense. That is my life fundamental difference with the British people. My sympathy is there with them nevertheless. Let there be no mistake on the part of Englishmen, Congressmen, or others whom my voice reaches, as to where my sympathy lies. It is not because I love the British nation and hate the German. I do not think that the Germans as a nation are any worse than the English, or the Italians are any worse. We are all tarred with the same brush; we are all members of the vast human family. I decline to draw any distinctions. I cannot claim any superiority for Indians. We have the same virtues and the same vices. Humanity is not divided into watertight compartments so that we cannot go from one to another. They may occupy one thousand rooms, but they are all related to one another. I would not say, India should be all in all, let the whole world perish. That is not my message. India should be all in all, consistently with the wellbeing of other nations of the world. I can keep India intact and its freedom also intact only if I have goodwill towards the whole of the human family and not merely for the human family which inhabits this little spot of the earth called India. It is big enough compared to other smaller nations, but what is India in the wide world or in the universe?H, 29-9-40, 304.
(B) Need Of India's Freedom
Letter to Chiang Kai-Shek
510. Dear Generalissimo,
Our proffered help has repeatedly been rejected by the British Government, and the British Government, and the recent failure of the
His Appeal to Every Japanese
511. The end and aim of the movement for British withdrawal is to prepare India, by making her free for resisting all militarist and imperialist ambition, whether it is called British Imperialism, German Nazism, or your pattern. If we do not, we shall have been ignoble spectators of the militarization of the world in spite of our belief that in non-violence we have the only solvent of the militarist spirit and ambition. Personally I fear that without declaring the Independence of India the Allied powers sill not be able to beat the Axis combination which has raised violence to the dignity of a religion. The allies cannot beat you and your partners unless they beat you n your ruthless and skilled warfare. If they copy it, their declaration that they will save the world for democracy and individual freedom must come to naught. I feel that they can only gain strength to avoid copying your ruthlessness by declaring and recognizing now the freedom of India, and turning sullen Indias forced co-operation into freed Indias voluntary co-operation.
(C) PRESENCE OF FOREIGN TROOPS
512. Q. You consider it a vital necessity in terms of non-violence to allow the Allied troops to remain in India. You also say that, as you cannot present a foolproof non-violent method to prevent Japanese occupation of India, you cannot throw the Allies overboard. But, dont you consider that the non-violent force created by your action which will be sufficient to force the English to withdraw will be sufficiently strong to prevent Japanese occupation also? And is it not the duty of a non-violent resister to equally consider it a vital necessity to see that his country, his home and his all are not destroyed by allowing two foreign mad bulls to fight a deadly war on his soil?
513. I have to pay a heavy price for having drawn up an entrancing picture of a free India without a single British soldier. Friends are confounded now to discover that my proposal admits of the presence of British and even American troops under any circumstance at all.
(D) MEANING OF WITHDRAWAL
514. Q. What is the meaning of your appeal to the British power to withdraw from India? You have written much recently on the subject. But there seems to be confusion in the public mind about your meaning.
H, 21-6-42, 197.
(E) NON-VIOLENT NON-CO-OPERATION
515. Q. There is a report about some new scheme that you want to propound in one of your Harijan articles about non-violent non-co-operation if any invader came to India. Could you give us an idea?
Q. But unadulterated non-violent non-co-operation has not been successful against Great Britain. How will it succeed against a new aggressor?
516. The fact is that non-violence does not work in the same way as violence. It works in the opposite way. An armed man naturally relies upon his arms. A man who is intentionally unarmed relies upon the unseen force called God by poets, but called the unknown by scientists. But that which is unknown is not necessarily non-existent. God is the Force among all forces known and unknown. Non-violence without reliance upon that Force is poor stuff to be thrown in the dust.
(F) WHAT WOULD FREE INDIA DO?
517. Gandhiji had over and over again said that an orderly withdrawal would result in a sullen India becoming a friend and ally. These American friends now explored the implications of that possible friendship: Would a free India declare war against Japan?
518. You desire to have Indias freedom in order to help the Allies?, was Mr. Edgar Snows question, and the last question. Will Free India carry out total mobilization and adopt the methods of total war?
(G) WHAT ABOUT NON-VIOLENCE?
519. Q. But what about your non-violence? To what extent will you carry out your policy after freedom is gained?
H, 21-6-42, I97.
* What do you say to my recruiting campaign? It is for me a religious activity undertaken for the sacred doctrine of ahimsa. I have made the discovery that India has lost power to fight- not the inclination. she must regain the power and then, if she will, deliver to a groaning world the doctrine of ahimsa. She must give abundantly out of her strength, not out of her weakness. She may never do it. That to me would mean her effacement. She would lose her Individuality and would be like the other nations-a worshipper of brute-force. This recruiting work id perhaps the hardest task yet undertaken by me. I may fail to gain recruits. I shall still have given the best political education to the people.- Letter to H. S. Polak quoted in Incidents of Gandhiji's Life, edited by Chandrashankar Shukla, Bombay, 1949, p. 245.
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