September 28th, 2005

The varieties of pacifism: (Part I)–Gandhi’s absolutism

While researching this post on the phrase “speaking truth to power,” I discovered that it originated among Quakers, and I promised that I’d write something soon about Quaker pacifism. I had planned that this post would be that “something.”

But my Quaker post will have to wait a little longer, because I got sidetracked when doing my research–one of the perils of Google. There are many varieties of pacifism, and although the Quaker version is an interesting, complex, and multifaceted one, today I’m going to write about a more absolute and extreme form of pacifism, that of Gandhi.

I had grown up hating and fearing war. As a woman, I knew I’d never be forced to fight one. But at the same time I certainly knew that I would and could (and, during the Vietnam War, did) have loved ones who would probably eventually fight in one.

The dilemmas inherent in deciding whether a war was just or not became familiar to me, both in the abstract and personally. How did I resolve them? You might say that, originally, when quite young, I had a sort of pacifist ideal; I just wanted us to “all get along.”

But even back then I realized there was a flaw; I hadn’t a clue as to how that might actually happen. The United Nations of my early youth was an early hope, but I soon began to realize that it was at best impotent (and later, at worst, counterproductive). It could not prevent conflict after conflict from happening. I was a post-WWII child, and it seemed clear to me that Hitler could not have been deterred by any human forces known to me–whether it be the power of love or that of the international courts–and those who thought otherwise seemed hopelessly, naively, and dangerously foolish.

Absolute pacifism–the most extreme form–eschews war in any guise. And what would absolute pacifism have suggested as a response to the Holocaust? Many years later I came across Gandhi’s answer, in an essay he wrote in 1938 advising the Jews on the subject of what to do about Hitler. In it, he sets out the case in unequivocal terms; and clearly, he understands that the Jews face grave dangers:

…the German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history. The tyrants of old never went so mad as Hitler seems to have gone. And he is doing it with religious zeal. For he is propounding a new religion of exclusive and militant nationalism in the name of which any inhumanity becomes an act of humanity to be rewarded here and hereafter. The crime of an obviously mad but intrepid youth is being visited upon his whole race with unbelievable ferocity. If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified.

So, Gandhi recognizes that, if ever a war would be justified, this is the war. And here is the Gandhian pacifist answer, that of the absolute pacifist–a non-negotiable and rigid faith that makes such justification impossible:

But I do not believe in any war. A discussion of the pros and cons of such a war is therefore outside my horizon or province.

So for Gandhi, whatever the question, “war is not the answer.”

And what is? He wrote:

Germany is showing to the world how efficiently violence can be worked when it is not hampered by any hypocrisy or weakness masquerading as humanitarianism. It is also showing how hideous, terrible and terrifying it looks in its nakedness.

Can the Jews resist this organized and shameless persecution? Is there a way to preserve their self-respect, and not to feel helpless, neglected and forlorn? I submit there is…If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German may, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. And for doing this, I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance but would have confidence that in the end the rest are bound to follow my example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy which no number of resolutions of sympathy passed in the world outside Germany can. Indeed, even if Britain, France and America were to declare hostilities against Germany, they can bring no inner joy, no inner strength. The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For to the godfearing death has no terror. It is a joyful sleep to be followed by a waking that would be all the more refreshing for the long sleep.

When I read this passage of Gandhi’s, I experience a profound weariness. I have long felt that religions focusing on the transient nature of life on earth and emphasizing instead the glory of the world to come, although giving much comfort and joy to their adherents, run the risk of exhibiting just this sort of thing: a callous disregard of suffering in the here and now (not that they inevitably fall into that trap, of course).

Here Gandhi, with what I believe were the best intentions, does just that. He is casually suggesting the Jews use his method of satyagraha (which he developed and honed against the far milder British) against the Nazis, an example of an attitude that can at best be called naive, and at worst, fatally flawed. The transformative power of nonviolent non-cooperation was something Gandhi had, quite literally, staked his life on, and it was an article of faith to him that it could (and should!) be applied universally. If it could save the Jews, fine. But if not, then at least they would be massacred while doing the right thing. It almost sounds as though, to Gandhi, one result would be nearly as good as the other,and that makes me shudder.

A belief that powerful can’t be argued with; it simply is. This is the case with absolute pacifism; it lies beyond the realm of logic and argument, and is an article of faith. But if one tries to imagine that somehow, all six million Jews–men, women, and children–had somehow complied with what Gandhi suggested, what would have been the result? He says their action would either have wakened the respect of the Germans and they would have been spared, or it would have stirred up German anger and they would have been killed on the spot. My guess is that German reaction would have resembled the latter far more than the former, although there is no way to know for certain.

However, it’s a moot question, and not just because the Holocaust is over and done with. It’s a moot question because no people on the face of the earth could be expected to sustain that sort of response in the face of such danger. So Gandhi’s premise would be impossible to test. His suggestion shows a profound lack of understanding of human nature, and is an example of where idealism can take us–to what appears to be an absurdity, and a dangerous one at that, well-meaning though it may be.

All great visionaries are extremists, and Gandhi was no exception. By the sheer force of his personality he managed to hold together a movement against the British that ended up with a measure of success in terms of winning Indian independence. But that initial success was followed by the unleashing of internal forces of violence of such an extreme nature that they dwarfed any outrages the British had committed in India. When partition (which Gandhi had opposed) occurred, the country was already on the brink of a turmoil that erupted into a series of massacres which killed at least a million or more, although the true figures will never be known. Gandhi’s methods were utterly powerless against the violence between Moslem and Hindu, as opposed to his relative success against the British colonial authorities.

Gandhi was not only extremist, he was utterly consistent as well. I was shocked to learn that what he had earlier recommended for the Jews in the face of Hitler, he also applied to his own people on partition: that they surrender themselves to death. In this article by Dr. Koenraad Elst, a Belgian scholar on India, the author discusses a number of mistakes he feels Gandhi made. Elst writes:

Gandhi refused to see the realities of human nature; of Islamic doctrine with its ambition of domination; of the modern mentality with its resentment of autocratic impositions; of people’s daily needs making them willing to collaborate with the rulers in exchange for career and business opportunities; of the nationalism of the Hindus who would oppose the partition of their Motherland tooth and nail; of the nature of the Pakistani state as intrinsically anti-India and anti-Hindu.

In most of these cases, Gandhi’s mistake was not his pacifism per se…The Khilafat pogroms revealed one of the real problems with his pacifism: all while riding a high horse and imposing strict conformity with the pacifist principle, he indirectly provoked far more violence than was in his power to control. Other leaders of the freedom movement, such as Annie Besant and Lala Lajpat Rai, had warned him that he was playing with fire, but he preferred to obey his suprarational “inner voice”.

The fundamental problem with Gandhi’s pacifism, not in the initial stages but when he had become the world-famous leader of India’s freedom movement (1920-47), was his increasing extremism. All sense of proportion had vanished when he advocated non-violence not as a technique of moral pressure by a weaker on a stronger party, but as a form of masochistic surrender…

During his prayer meeting on 1 May 1947, he prepared the Hindus and Sikhs for the anticipated massacres of their kind in the upcoming state of Pakistan with these words: “I would tell the Hindus to face death cheerfully if the Muslims are out to kill them. I would be a real sinner if after being stabbed I wished in my last moment that my son should seek revenge. I must die without rancour. You may turn round and ask whether all Hindus and all Sikhs should die. Yes, I would say. Such martyrdom will not be in vain.” (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol.LXXXVII, p.394-5) It is left unexplained what purpose would be served by this senseless and avoidable surrender to murder.

Even when the killing had started, Gandhi refused to take pity on the Hindu victims, much less to point fingers at the Pakistani aggressors. More importantly for the principle of non-violence, he failed to offer them a non-violent technique of countering and dissuading the murderers. Instead, he told the Hindu refugees from Pakistan to go back and die. On 6 August 1947, Gandhiji commented to Congress workers on the incipient communal conflagration in Lahore thus: “I am grieved to learn that people are running away from the West Punjab and I am told that Lahore is being evacuated by the non-Muslims. I must say that this is what it should not be. If you think Lahore is dead or is dying, do not run away from it, but die with what you think is the dying Lahore…”

This is absolute pacifism run amok; as Elst writes, “a form of masochistic surrender.” There is an ancient Talmudic saying: “He who is kind to the cruel ends up being cruel to the kind.” The fact that in Gandhi’s efforts to stop violence “he indirectly provoked far more violence than was in his power to control” is a good example of that principle in action.

Gandhi is venerated by peace activists worldwide. I wonder whether they have studied his actual words, or the real-world consequences of his actions. If they did, would they still emulate and revere him?

[ADDENDUM: I decided to move this passage of mine up from the comments section. I wrote it in response to a commenter who asked what would have happened had the Jews resisted the Nazi roundups:

If you study the history of what the Nazis actually did, they practiced all sorts of clever deceptions to make sure the people they were rounding up did not know what was happening. There were told they were being relocated, and to pack bags, and many believed them. The entire roundup apparatus was geared to maintaining the deception to the bitter end, including the false showers at the death camps, in order to forestall any chance of rebellion. In additon, as many have pointed out, there were many women, children, and old people involved, and the populace, unlike that of the US, was not armed. Furthermore--and this is also of the utmost importance to remember--where would they have gone, even if they had been successful? Remember that Jews who managed to flee were turned back in droves, into the arms of the Nazis. Most of Europe would not accept them, nor would the US, and they were not even able to go to Israel (see the film "Exodus," which contains a fictionalized version of some real incidents of this nature where ships were turned back to certain death). This fact is one of the main reasons the world later allowed the founding of Israel.

One likes to think there was a way out. It would have required 20/20 hindsight, perfect organization, knowledge, arms, and a safe haven--none of which were possible. As for awakening the German conscience--another nice dream, I'm afraid. Although the Germans (like the Jews) were not especially aware of death camps at the time, they witnessed and participated in terrible persecutions of Jews on a daily basis, mostly with no pangs of conscience whatsoever. It is hard and painful to look back and see how truly evil the behavior was, even without the death camps, but it was.]

[ADDENDUM II] Go here for the next post in the series, Part IIA, about the Quakers.]

62 Responses to “The varieties of pacifism: (Part I)–Gandhi’s absolutism”

  1. Ahimsa Network Says:

    Gandhi’s nonviolence extended
    to animals. He did not eat them.
    He tried to be a complete fruitarian
    but was a lacto fruitarian, drinking
    goats’ milk.

    Universal nonviolence includes
    thoughts, words as well as actions
    and includes opposition to war,
    to execution, to the mowing
    down of plants, the slaughter of
    animals in laboratories or for
    consumption.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    In discussing the myth of Gandhi, people ignore one salient fact.

    Gandhi only enjoyed some measure of success because British India did not have a large, indigenous, white settler population. No large body of white people who remember that two generations ago they were white trash scum. Now they are landed lords. But if they lose they will be white trash scum again. For them the socioeconomic stakes are too high to allow for sentiment.

    Gandhian methods were used in Algeria by Ferhat Abbas in the 1940s and by Mohandas Gandhi in South Africa in the 1950′s. They failed completely and utterly. They failed because the white settlers had no problem with using as much violence as they had to to preserve their privileged status quo. A British mother would be reluctant to send her son to fight in India to preserve the Raj. A white settler mother will sternly bury her fifth son to protect her way of life.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I’d never heard that Talmudic saying you quoted – “He who is kind to the cruel ends up being cruel to the kind” but I have heard a simpler version of it – “Kindness to wolves is cruelty to sheep”

  4. Anonymous Says:

    I’d never heard that Talmudic saying you quoted – “He who is kind to the cruel ends up being cruel to the kind” but I have heard a simpler version of it – “Kindness to wolves is cruelty to sheep”

  5. Paul L Says:

    Thanks for one of the better discussions of these issues than is usually found on the internet. The thoughtfulness of neo-con sets a good tone.

    What is missing from this discussion, though, are the many examples, large scale and small, where an unarmed population used methods of ahisma (nonviolence) or satyagraha (soul-force) to resist tyranny, and not only against pansies like the British occupiers of India (he said ironically).

    I wonder, for example, why no one has mentioned the nonviolent resistance of the Danes? Denmark was occupied, but never conquered, and almost all of the Danish Jews were protected and escaped the Nazis.

    Or places like la Chambon in southeastern France, a Protestant village that protected and saved hundreds of Jews while being occupied by the Germans. There is considerable evidence there that the Chambonais’ courage and the social solidarity and cohesion in the area acted as a brake on the viciousness of the German occupiers. If the pacifism-doesn’t-work position is correct, the Germans should have — and would have — simply killed everyone, Protestant, Jew, and Catholic alike, until they got their way. But they didn’t. Why? Is it impossible to believe that the courage and solidarity of the Chambonais touched a place deep in the dark heart of the German occupiers that made it impossible for them to do what they were ordered to do?

    Have these examples (and there are hundreds of others throughout history) brought about the Peaceable Kingdom on Earth once and for all? No. But neither has war.

    If neither method — war or non-violence — has produced Paradise Restored, I ask: In which direction is each heading?

    Has war (or preparation for war)made the need for war any less? I don’t think so. The war in Iraq, for example, has resulted in more violence than there was originally, just as the attacks of 9/11 created more violence than before, etc. Is there anyone who really thinks that war will ever end war?

    What has the effect of nonviolence been on the injustices it was aimed at? On balance it has a better track record than war does. Because of the disciplined, mass use of nonviolent methods, there’s less need for nonviolent resistence — that is, less tyranny, more justice — in places like the Czech Republic or Slovakia; the Ukraine; South Africa; Birmingham or Selma.

    So if we grant the obvious that neither war nor nonviolence has ended injustice or oppression on Earth, which method holds the most promise?

    For me, I see much more promise in nonviolence than I do in war, acknowledging that each carries with it suffering. The difference is that with war the intention is to inflict suffering on others, while with nonviolence the intention is to take the suffering onto oneself. As Camus (Satre?) said, neither victim nor executioner.

    It indeed takes courage whose source resides outside the mortal human experience to take the non-violent path. Sometimes you have to lose your life to find it.

  6. Dr Zen Says:

    “and recalled that when we left Vietnam thousands of innocent Vietnamese were murdered by the communist regime.”

    Ignoring of course the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of innocent Vietnamese murdered by the brave Yankee nonpacifists.

    The Vietnam War simply put off the reckoning among the Vietnamese people. Gandhi’s point, right there. Still, he was speaking to a smarter crowd than we have here.

  7. Prahalathan Says:

    I don’t think Gandhi’s ahimsa can work anymore. But then No one thought it would work 8 decades earlier either;)
    Nice post…. But u should try to keep ‘em more short and crisp

  8. Knemon Says:

    “Could HItler have even created the concentration camps had the Jews taken their stuggle to the public court of German opinion?”

    Yep. In fact, I’ll take it further: Himmler And Company were only able to create the concentration camps because Jews had *already* been tried, and found guilty, in that same court.

    They knew. Not the specifics, maybe – gas? fire? – but they knew.

  9. MD Says:

    You’re kidding me right, Pastorius? Jeez, this thread is as bad as a thread on an Indian-American blog I read that argued that Churchill was just like Hitler because he didn’t favor Indian independence and because of the Bengal famine (that one beats out even the Partition for death, doesn’t it? I had a little bit of trouble with the part of your post where you say Partition beat out anything the Brits did to the Indians. I once asked my mother if it would have been better if the British stayed in India if it meant no bloody Partition: she looked at me like I was crazy. No matter how ‘benevolent’ the British raj may have been, the essence of the thing was this: one group of men tried to rule another. That was the essence, and I’m surprised those that supported the liberation of Iraq don’t get that).

    And now I come hear and find that it’s Gandhi who is more like Hitler. Honestly. Look, Gandhi was a man, a flawed man, as all men are. Man is inherently fallible.

    Gandhi’s comments regarding Hitler and the Jews are ridiculous, but that doesn’t change the fact that he served as the emotional and spiritual head of a movement whose cause was just. Ignoring that is like leftists willing to throw Jefferson to the wind because of owning slaves. And the Indians know full well independence was a complicated matter. Don’t turn men into gods; they won’t disappoint you as much then.

  10. Ymarsakar Says:

    Many of the comments seem to focus on the “suicidal” aspect of Ghandi’s advice. His intent, however, was not that they commit suicide, but that they choose a course of action that was both non-violent and a refusal to surrender personal, national, and ethnic dignity.

    That’s very despicable, to tell people to keep on fighting, taking other people’s lives with them, instead of just killing themselves if they like dieing with nobility so much.

    Death is death, it shouldn’t matter if you died by the enemy’s blades or by your own. All that matters is what you have accomplished on this planet before your departure.

    If you want to die, go ahead, but leave the rest of us out of the nihilism party.

    Not that I defend Ghandi. Nor do I vilify him. As a firmly convinced follower of Jesus Christ I understand that Ghandi was a sinful man in the very same sense that all of humanity is sinful, and therefore his life is not to be defended – nor accused.

    That’s one of the reasons why I never subscribed to any religion, cause there’s just too much mumbo jumbo stuff about sin this, absolute state of conscience that, and none of it makes sense or is applicable in the real world.

    Sin is not a justification of why someone’s actions favor some things over others.

    But let’s look at it in a religious way. Religion teaches that there is an afterlife, hell and heaven, karma and reincarnation. And what exactly does religion teach about the temporal world?

    They teach that you have to do certain things in this world, to get this reward in the other world.

    Look, that sounds like a damn con to me, and I don’t tend to fall for cons.

    I have nothing against the very HUMAN aspect of faith and spirituality, but the idea that you should work your ass off here and now, for a reward somewhere down the future, is a human fallibility, not a Deism product.

    Historically, the Catholic Church took over the reigns of power from the Roman Empire. And one way they controlled things was to give hope, true or false, to the people who were growing the food and selling it in bazaars.

    That’s a human teaching, it was a method to maintain temporal power. All the spiritualism came after, in the Renaissance and Reformation.

    Ghandi’s problem was that he was using religion to control people, and that he did wonderfully. What’s the problem with that? Because religion was not designed to give people rewards in the temporal world, it was designed to give them the promise of a reward.

    Without the institution of pacifism built to control the mob, human nature will take over. That means that much death, destruction, and Evil will be loosed upon the world. And this world has seen enough of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, it needs no more from Ghandi or anyone else.

    This is an inherently flawed design for an institution that is supposed to control the desires and actions of humanity.

    This is why I favor the building from scratch or reengineering model.

    Which says that the way to control people is to give them control over the principles that have always controlled them before. Instead of shunning anger, rage, violence, and whatever sins they may fall into, (with the result of an exposion of hate unchecked) we harness them and purify them. (With the result that it will result in useful work done)

    Instead of creating a sense of fear/greed to control people’s actions in the temporal world, we create a set of individual controls and discipline and standards that allow a person to control his own actions of his own will regardless of whether a reward is offered or not.

    Hence, people will do what they really want to do, rather than what they are forced into doing by greed, fear, or whatever.

    Instead of using a reward system as in the carrot and the donkey, we use a humanism model.

    Ghandi was not using a humanism model, he was treating humans as animals. That might have been justified after the Roman Empire collapsed and barbarian hordes were everywhere, and you needed a central figure of authority like the Pope to hold civilization, what was left of it, together.

    But in the 20th century, that excuse is no longer even plausible.

    Ghandhi’s problem is that he sought to reshape humanity into something inhumane, something impossible and unworkable, unnatural and disfigured.

    He transmuted God’s grace into the rage of the animal and the violence of the hawk, instinctual and emotional, never rational and heartfelt.

    I am interested in achieving paradise on Earth, not reaching paradise in the afterlife. Anyone who is motivated to do harm in this world because of a reward in the afterlife, must be sent to the afterlife as soon as possible, to mitigate the damage on the human condition.

    That includes not only intentions of violence, but the actual manifestion,through causality, of violence. In the afterlife, intentions may be the only things that matter, of nobility and Goodness. But in the real world, there are real consequences, whether you intended it or not on the road to Hell.

  11. Matthew Beal Says:

    Many of the comments seem to focus on the “suicidal” aspect of Ghandi’s advice. His intent, however, was not that they commit suicide, but that they choose a course of action that was both non-violent and a refusal to surrender personal, national, and ethnic dignity.

    Not that I defend Ghandi. Nor do I vilify him. As a firmly convinced follower of Jesus Christ I understand that Ghandi was a sinful man in the very same sense that all of humanity is sinful, and therefore his life is not to be defended – nor accused.

    Instead let us look again at Christ and the call of discipleship. Paul understood that this call was, in a similar sense to which I allude in my first paragraph, suicidal. Following Jesus meant taking up a cross, and when Christ first taught that concept, the context would have given them a gruesome picture for pondering, and the focus of that picture would not have been Christ’s sacrificial death on the believer’s behalf but the more general picture of a criminal carrying a cross-beam to his own place of execution.

    Paul said that we are as sheep for the slaughter, and he delighted in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions. He willingly laid down his physical life even while calling his churches to submit to the very government that killed him.

    The call to follow Christ is a call to suicidal allegiance by virtue of the fact that the path of discipeship puts one in grave danger from the forces of evil, and the only forms of defense it allows are faith in the sovereign hand of God and anointed common sense.

    Any phrase involving a word such as “suicide” makes itself vulnerable because of the emotional connotations that cannot be avoided. Nevertheless, let us understand what is meant and realize that even the call to discipleship was phrased in very vulnerable terms when Christ said things like “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, and children, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Jesus did not mind using language that made his teachings vulnerable to accusation, for He knew that those with ears to hear would appreciate the true message. Nor did He mind calling His disciples to a path of non-violence which made them vulnerable to physical aggression. He knew that they had a greater defense than any earthly weapon could offer.

  12. Ymarsakar Says:

    Ghandi seemed to like suicide a lot. I tend to like my life.

    I hope everyone who likes suicide, will go ahead and do it, at least that way they get the Darwin Award and I get to keep on living.

  13. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    I continue to be grateful for the high level of informative discussion exploring Gandhi’s pacifism and non-violent action. I eagerly await the post and discussion of other strains of pacifism. What I imagine could be said will be far exceeded in content and thoughtfulness here. I seldom acknowledge that others know more than I do, but several of you qualify.

    I recall that Ho Chi Minh observed that “if Gandhi had lived in a French colony, he would long since have departed this world.” (quote inexact).

    Culture clearly influences one’s approach to the use of force. If there are Muslim clerics who are advocating Gandhi’s methods, as some Christian and Jewish clerics are, I have yet to hear of it. Pacifism of any sort does not even appear as an option in most times and places.* I am wondering if there are personality factors that influence whether someone embraces the pacifisms of various sorts. I have no hard data, and can only approach the question through observation and remembering what I used to think myself. Certainly the desire for a type of spiritual purity, to have my own hands blameless whatever the consequences, figured prominently in my own mind. That strikes me as shallow and self-centered now.

    The “Not In My Name” movement seems to scream this by its very title. Perhaps those who believe that “society” equals “government” feel a special pressure to disassociate themselves from government actions they dislike. Those of us who regard the government as only a portion of what a nation is may feel less need to publicly distance ourselves.

    As to the paperboy’s comment, I would essentially agree but add that two Hinduisms exist in India — the beliefs he mentions, running parallel to an ancient, bloody polytheism. While the two are not thoroughly incompatible, they are largely so. Individuals dip into each in different measure, but it is impossible to fully embrace both.

    *A Viking or Mongol pacifist would make an excellent Monty Python bit.

  14. Jeff Says:

    Someone smarter than me (Kyle Baker, I think) put it best:

    Gandhi’s strategy wasn’t to just get beaten up, it was to get beaten up in front of the media

  15. MP Martin Says:

    This is an excellent article that had me thinking about all of the points from beginning to end. I didn’t take the time to read through all of the preceding comments, so I don’t know if I’m repeating anything. But let me swerve slightly to the left and explain what I know.

    The eastern Hindu-Buddhist mindset is founded on the concept of reincarnation; that souls repeatedly come to Earth to inhabit human bodies. In the most esoteric circles, the belief is so extreme that the Earth is seen as a sort of cosmic prison, insane asylum, or laboratory of the universe, where immortal divine sparks of God go to temporarily incarnate in human bodies for a number of times to answer grandiose questions of “what if” (move over, HP.) Living in a world of spirit, eastern spiritualists eschew materiality to such an extent that many Indian gurus own nothing more than a loincloth and a begging bowl, yet are highly esteemed for their wisdom. By eschewing materiality and embracing spirituality, one is closer to attaining to God from which they came. So, it’s of little consequence if/when their temporal body should meet an untimely end; the Soul is immortal anyway. And Divine Plan will always work out for the highest and best interest in the end.

    This spiritualist way of thinking is so foreign, so incomprehensible to us materialistic westerners that when the two cultures clash, there’s no way to resolve the differences except through violence, as was the case between India and Britain. The clash of cultures is exposed even more in the case of the Nazis. The Nazis managed to program out Conscience, and replace it with State, just as the communists replaced God with State. When there’s a disconnect from conscience, then the result is eventually insanity, as was the case with Hitler in the end. In Gandhi’s ideal of satyagraha, the idea was to appeal to the conscience of the oppressors by throwing their atrocities back in their face. If there is no conscience to appeal to, then satyagraha would have had disastrous results. If I could consult a cosmic chess computer and determine the final result if the Nazis had occupied India, or if the Jews had embraced satyagraha as Gandhi suggested, I think that either of those cultures would have been annihilated. As it is, it was fortunate that Pearl Harbor happened so that the US was drawn into the war, activating the Axis Powers pact, pitting the allied forces against Germany so that Germany could be defeated, and the Jews spared. Conspiracy theorists might bleat that Pearl Harbor was planned just as much as they bleat that 9/11 was planned, but in the end, the overall result proved to be for the greatest good.

    It’s because starting with the 20th century that the world has been getting smaller that we have been seeing these clashes of disparate cultures. And that’s why Muslim culture, which finds non-Muslims to be incomprehensible and unacceptable, is in a state of jihad. I could imagine that the seeds of peace from satyagraha could take root in some far distant future generation, these differences would be more easily resolved, and we could just “all get along.” But for now, if it’s not possible to “agree to disagree”, then we’ll have to choose sides, and play out the part that best suits us as human beings from disparate cultures. For Gandhi, that meant submitting to death without compromising devotion to Spirit. For Islamic Jihadists, it often means martyrdom, murder, and violence for the sake of their ideals. Both cases are sad and incomprehensible to our western views, but that’s their way. It’s also our best effort toward resolving conflict by using military force to remove feudal warlords, dictators, and jihadists. And I don’t regret that one bit. And so, the war continues.

  16. neo-neocon Says:

    Yes, Nick B–but one of my points is that, if the technique had been used on the Nazis and it hadn’t “worked,” Gandhi would still have considered it a success, even if every Jew had been slaughtered, because in his opinion they would have gone down doing the right thing. That’s the extremity of his point of view. If you read his quote carefully, he didn’t really believe the Nazis would act like the British, although he hoped they would. He recommended the approach anyway, even if it led to a massacre.

  17. Pankaj Says:

    Hello Neo,

    It was nice to read a very perceptive analysis of Gandhian ideology. Gandhi is basically regarded as the prophet of non – violence the world over. But there are instances in Gandhi’s political career which does not go down well with this image. Most of them being Gandhi condoning Muslim acts of violence against Hindus in the Malabar region {now Kerala} in glowing terms. Gandhi’s non – violence also had completely disabled the Hindus in facing up to the collective Muslim challenge. In the end, Gandhi’s
    non – violence, could not save millions of Hindus liquidated in Muslim held territories now called Pakistan at the time of partition.

    Gandhi in my view also completely overturned the message of the Bhagvad Gita, which gives the message of putting up a relentless battle against evil and to never compromise with any form of evil. To constantly capitulate to the Islamic terror tactics for the purpose of seeking an alliance with them against the British was one of the greatest Gandhian ambitions and he failed miserably.

    Gandhi’s understanding of Islam and the Muslim movement for Pakistan. The understanding he displays for the German situation and the Jews. The advice he proffers to the Jews of Germany, all of it together reflects the infantile mind of Gandhi.

    I am also doing my reading on the subject and it was nice to read your views on them.

    Regards,

  18. OBloodyHell Says:

    > My comment? Well, it’s very lucky that Gandhi himself used passive resistance against the civilised British, because if he’d have used the same technique with the Nazis, there would be no people of Indian descent left in this world.

    Indeed. There is a book *edited* by Harry Turtledove, (I believe it was “Alternate Leaders”) who is currently the Big Kahuna of the Alternate History genre, which postulates exactly that — A Britain defeated whose colonies have fallen to Nazi rule, and in which Gandhi attempts to use his techniques against the new Nazi rulers. Needless to say, the Nazis make it very clear that his techniques won’t work against them.

    In truth, the reason his techniques worked is because of the essential decency of the peoples they were used on. Against a peoples like the Nazis, the Soviet Commissars, or against Islamofascists, they would fail utterly.

    You cannot appeal to the humanity of a group of inhumans.

  19. OBloodyHell Says:

    > and the populace, unlike that of the US, was not armed.

    Thank gun registration for that — one of the first things Nazis did when they got power somewhere was to go to those gun registration lists and confiscate all the guns.

    When you wonder why gun owners resist with great vehemence any effort to create a gun registration system, this would be precisely why.

    There has never been a nation which, in the end, registration did not lead to confiscation, in fairly short order and in some way.

    *******Alternate response:
    > and the populace, unlike that of the US, was not armed.

    Strangely enough, towards the end, neither were the guards. Films and photos from the time show that, towards the end, the guards were carrying empty guns — Ammunition being in sufficiently short supply that it was all sent to the fronts (I believe support for this can be found via Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership)

    Had ANY of those Jews been familiar with weapons to the point of recognizing the fact that none of them were cocked, they could have overwhelmed their guards by sheer numbers, and had some chance of life.

    A rather sobering thought, for sure.

  20. Richard Aubrey Says:

    BTW, it wasn’t an Italian journalist.
    It was an ex-soldier who was acting as a security guard.
    Journos aren’t up to that standard.

  21. thedragonflies Says:

    Gandhi’s technique worked against England, not because of some great spiritual truth, but because he used it against the British, not against the Nazis nor the Islamists. That is, his pacifism brought on violence and cruelty by the British forces overseas, which was witnessed by the British people at home, who were appalled at what was being done in their name, so they stopped it. In other words, the British were not fascists, they were humane.

    Had he done the same techniques against the Nazis the world would never have heard of him, becuase he would have been killed immediately.

    He tried his techniques against the Islamists who became Pakistan, apparently, and it failed miserably because Islam apparently does not have the same sense of humanity and empathy that the British had.

    Those of today who want to apply Gandhian techniques to the Islamofascits today could not be more mistaken, because, as we saw on 9/11, the world of Islam is not appalled at slaughter but rather celebrates their strength over what they see as weakness and corruption.

    The essence of the fascist mind is to glorify will, strength, and power. They become violently enraged at weakness and are compelled to destroy it (read “Escaspe from Freedom” by Eric Fromm). Gandhi pacifism in the face of fascism guarantees, no causes, massacre.

    Gandhi’s only offering to today’s world is to show why his pacifism is insane in the face of the fascist mindset.

  22. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Ref. 475. G. seems to expect a good deal from self-immolation.

    The example of the Holocaust, among others, is different. Some guys like to do that stuff. Others don’t mind it, a job like any other.
    Example is lost on them.

  23. htom Says:

    I think your understanding is correct, although you may rate cowardice higher than he did. I was first exposed to Gandhi in the ’60s, in the anti-war protests. Curious, I read, and found that there was steel inside the mush. People seem to have confused his strategic and tactical uses of “passive resistance” and “non-violence” (not the same thing in his eyes) in his battle with the British while using “troops” whose religion prohibited the taking of life with … [gets down off soap box.]

    I don’t know of a particular example to hold forth; one of my fellow demonstration marshals of that time had a list of Christian Saints that he used.

    (I’ve been cribbing the Gandhi quotes from: http://www.mkgandhi.org/nonviolence/Gandhi'sstruggle.htm )

    “Violence, rather than Cowardice

    I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour.

    But I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment. Forgiveness adorns the soldier. But abstinence is forgiveness only when there is the power to punish; it is meaningless when it pretends to proceed from a helpless creature. But I do not believe India to be helpless. I do not believe myself to be a helpless creature. Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.

    473. The people of a village near Bettiah told me that they had run away whilst the police were looting their houses and molesting their womenfolk. When they said that they had run away because I had told them to be nonviolent, I hung my head in shame. I assured them that such was not the meaning of my nonviolence. I expected them to intercept the mightiest power that might be in the act of harming those who were under their protection, and draw without retaliation all harm upon their own heads even to the point of death, but never to run away from the storm centre. It was manly enough to defend one’s property, honour o0r religion at the point of the sword. It was manlier and nobler to defend them without seeking to injure the wrongdoer. But it was unmanly, unnatural and dishonourable to forsake the post of duty and, in order to save one’s skin, to leave property, honour or religion to the mercy of the wrongdoer. I could see my way of delivering the message of ahimsa to those who knew how to die, not to those who were afraid of death.

    474. The weakest of us physically must be taught the art of facing dangers and giving a good account of ourselves. I want both the Hindus and the Mussalmans to cultivate the cool courage, to die without killing. But if one has not that courage, I want him to cultivate the art of killing and being killed, rather than in a cowardly manner flee from danger. For the latter in spite of his flight does commit mental himsa. He flees because he has not the courage to be killed in the act of killing.

    475. Self-defence is the only honourable course where there is unreadiness for self-immolation.”

    The Italian journalist you mentioned might be an example, sadly almost forgotten.

  24. neo-neocon Says:

    htom:

    As I read the quotes you’ve posted, it seems Gandhi is positing a hierarchy of actions. The noblest, best, and only really recommended action would be a combination of nonviolence and bravery–in other words, to stand firm and offer your chest to the bayonet.

    If a person is not ready to do that, then a very distant second would be to hold one’s ground and fight. This is brave, but also violent.

    The lowest of the low is the third way, the way of the coward, who shrinks from either standing in the path of the bayonets or fighting, and runs and hides instead. This is neither brave nor violent.

    So it seems that Gandhi held bravery to be a higher and more laudable virtue than nonviolence per se. Nonviolence without bravery was mere cowardice to him.

    My guess is that Gandhi also had in mind a hierarchy of responses to satyagraha. The highest and best reaction would be what happened with the British–that is, adhering to their moral code caused them to give in to the demands of Gandhi and followers.

    Next best would be what Gandhi counseled the Jews to do with the Germans–submit, and die a glorious and courageous death–as long as, in the act of dying, you somehow manage to “convert the hearts of your violent opponents.”

    The quotes you offered have lead me to the almost inescapable conclusion that Gandhi considered running away from danger inexcusable and despicable, as opposed to proving your bravery by allowing others to butcher you.

    Sorry, but to me it seems that Gandhi crossed over the line into a sort of rigid idealistic madness, a stance that was inclined to lead to more death, not less. The tyrants and bullies get to kill with impunity, and even if one has the chance to flee one shouldn’t.

    According to what you wrote, Gandhi said (and this seems to be at the heart of his belief), “history is replete with instances of men who, by dying with courage and compassion on their lips, converted the hearts of their violent opponents.” It is??? I’d like to hear some examples of this–not the stuff of legend or myth, but actual history. Gandhi seemed to think it was quite commonplace; I’m hard-pressed to come up with a single example.

  25. maryatexitzero Says:

    I’ve had that argument and it is based on the moral equivalence between the aggressor and the potential victim. In that case, who’s to choose?

    How, exactly, is if the act of violence in defense of babies morally worse than letting babies die?

    Believers in non-violence are a well-read version of the Darwin Award guys who get drunk and do dumb pickup truck tricks.

    Actually, that’s an insult to the guys who do dumb pickup truck tricks – at least they don’t rationalize their dumb, selfish choices with an insufferably bloated sense of moral superiority.

  26. Anonymous Says:

    Marya.

    Well, it is.

    But it’s stupid, too.

    However, as some have implied, if the act of violence in defense of others is morally worse than letting those others die, it makes sense.

    I’ve had that argument and it is based on the moral equivalence between the aggressor and the potential victim. In that case, who’s to choose?
    But if the aggressor, by definition, is morally worse than the potential victim who has done nothing, then violence in defense of the potential victim is justified.

    Pointing out that there can be no moral difference in “who’s to choose?” arguments seems to be annoying to the other arguer.

  27. maryatexitzero Says:

    The idea of doing non-violence by standing your ground and baring your chest to the oncoming bayonets is just too much for the cowards to imagine..”

    Is that what people should encourage their children to do to? How about grandma and grandpa, and babies too?

    Instead of using violence to defend the defenseless, let’s all die together. That’s real bravery, right?

  28. htom Says:

    The idea of doing non-violence by standing your ground and baring your chest to the oncoming bayonets is just too much for the cowards to imagine, let alone to do; they don’t believe that that is what he meant.

    It is.

  29. Richard Aubrey Says:

    ref that last Gandhi post:

    Well, I’ll be damned. He’s a just-war believer. (If the enemy can’t be repelled by non-violence, violence is okay)

    Who would have thought?

  30. htom Says:

    …”So he recognized, at least at times, that his tactics depended on the moral beliefs of his opponents; but he apparently would send people to die rather than oppose violence with violence of any level.”

    No.

    “My creed of nonviolence is an extremely active force. It has no room for cowardice or even weakness. There is hope for a violent man to be some day non-violent, but there is none for a coward. I have, therefore, said more than once….that, if we do not know how to defend ourselves, our women and our places of worship by the force of suffering, i.e., nonviolence, we must, if we are men, be at least able to defend all these by fighting.

    No matter how weak a person is in body, if it is a shame to flee, he will stand his ground and die at his post. This would be nonviolence and bravery. No matter how weak he is, he will use what strength he has in inflicting injury on his opponent, and die in the attempt. This is bravery, but not nonviolence. If, when his duty is to face danger, he flees, it is cowardice. In the first case, the man will have love or charity in him. In the second and third cases, there would be a dislike or distrust and fear.

    My nonviolence does admit of people, who cannot or will not be nonviolent, holding and making effective use of arms. Let me repeat for the thousandth time that nonviolence is of the strongest, not of the weak.

    To run away from danger, instead of facing it, is to deny one’s faith in man and God, even one’s own self. It were better for one to drown oneself than live to declare such bankruptcy of faith.”

    and

    “The strength to kill is not essential for self-defence; one ought to have the strength to die. When a man is fully ready to die, he will not even desire to offer violence. Indeed, I may put it down as a self-evident proposition that the desire to kill is in inverse proportion to the desire to die. And history is replete with instances of men who, by dying with courage and compassion on their lips, converted the hearts of their violent opponents.

    Nonviolence cannot be taught to a person who fears to die and has no power of resistance. A helpless mouse is not nonviolent because he is always eaten by pussy. He would gladly eat the murderess if he could, but he ever tries to flee from her. We do not call him a coward, because he is made by nature to behave no better than he does.

    But a man who, when faced by danger, behaves like a mouse, is rightly called a coward. He harbors violence and hatred in his heart and would kill his enemy if he could without hurting himself. He is a stranger to nonviolence. All sermonizing on it will be lost on him. Bravery is foreign to his nature. Before he can understand nonviolence, he has to be taught to stand his ground and even suffer death, in the attempt to defend himself against the aggressor who bids fair to overwhelm him. To do otherwise would be to confirm his cowardice and take him further away from nonviolence.

    Whilst I may not actually help anyone to retaliate, I must not let a coward seek shelter behind nonviolence so-called. Not knowing the stuff of which nonviolence is made, many have honestly believed that running away from danger every time was a virtue compared to offering resistance, especially when it was fraught with danger to one’s life. As a teacher of nonviolence I must, so far as it is possible for me, guard against such an unmanly belief.

    Self-defence….is the only honourable course where there is unreadiness for self-immolation.

    Though violence is not lawful, when it is offered in self-defence or for the defence of the defenceless, it is an act of bravery far better than cowardly submission. The latter befits neither man nor woman. Under violence, there are many stages and varieties of bravery. Every man must judge this for himself. No other person can or has the right.”

  31. Firehand Says:

    I read KingJack’s comment, and it reminded me of possibly the same interview. Gandhi said that his tactics worked because he was dealing with a people as civilized as the British, who would be horrified at seeing unresisting people beaten and so forth. He then added that if he’d been dealing with the Soviets, he and many of his followers would have been outright killed, ‘disappeared’ into camps or a combination of the two.

    So he recognized, at least at times, that his tactics depended on the moral beliefs of his opponents; but he apparently would send people to die rather than oppose violence with violence of any level.

  32. Jeff Says:

    Bear in mind, also, that the word ‘Peace’, which most of us might agree means the absence of war or other hostilities, has another meaning entirely in the minds of Communists. To them ‘Peace’ means subjugation under the Communists. Or surrender.
    Sadly, most people will only know of Gandhi from the movie starring Ben Kingsley.

  33. Elisson Says:

    Pastorius comments that, had the practitioners of satyagraha been facing the Nazis instead of the British, they would have been annihilated. There was a science fiction short story written some time back with exactly that premise, and exactly that outcome.

    Gandhi was lucky in that the enemy he faced had a conscience – and also understood that a handful of expats could, in the face of the resistance of over half a billion, never maintain the Raj.

  34. Sigmund, Carl and Alfred Says:

    Superb. I’m grateful The Anchoress sent me your way.

    I am astonished to see how there is an attempt to overcomplicate Ghandi, et al, re pacifism.

    Pacifism may be a noble endeavor to some, as it relates to wars of a political origin and nature.

    Ghandi clearly made the distinction when it came to facing and dealing with evil.

    War is not ‘permitted,’ so to speak, when facing evil- it becomes obligatory.

    Well said and well done.

  35. neo-neocon Says:

    htom: I think that’s the point, in a way. Gandhi was an idealist, teaching in a less-than-ideal world. As such, he ended up recommending things that, in practice, would almost undoubtedly have led to horrible outcomes. This is often the case with idealists, unfortunately–but idealists, being idealists, usually don’t care.

    hg wells: As I wrote, Gandhi was indeed focused more on the world to come than this one, and this can lead to ignoring–and even fostering–great suffering in this world for the sake of a belief that a reward will be had in the next. Not that it’s exactly the same, by any means, but that’s the sort of reasoning that also leads to suicide bombers.

    abde: If you study the history of what the Nazis actually did, they practiced all sorts of clever deceptions to make sure the people they were rounding up did not know what was happening. There were told they were being relocated, and to pack bags, and many believed them. The entire roundup apparatus was geared to maintaining the deception to the bitter end, including the false showers at the death camps, in order to forestall any chance of rebellion. In additon, as many have pointed out, there were many women, children, and old people involved, and the populace, unlike that of the US, was not armed. Furthermore–and this is also of the utmost importance to remember–where would they have gone, even if they had been successful? Remember that Jews who managed to flee were turned back in droves, into the arms of the Nazis. Most of Europe would not accept them, nor would the US, and they were not even able to go to Israel (see the film “Exodus,” which contains a fictionalized version of some real incidents of this nature where ships were turned back to certain death). This fact is one of the main reasons the world later allowed the founding of Israel.

    One likes to think there was a way out. It would have required 20/20 hindsight, perfect organization, knowledge, arms, and a safe haven–none of which were possible. As for awakening the German conscience–another nice dream, I’m afraid. Although the Germans (like the Jews) were not especially aware of death camps at the time, they witnessed and participated in terrible persecutions of Jews on a daily basis, mostly with no pangs of conscience whatsoever. It is hard and painful to look back and see how truly evil the behavior was, even without the death camps, but it was.

  36. htom Says:

    Gandhi’s complex. I admire him and his teachings a great deal, and I know that I will never be able to put his ultimate non-violence into practice. I think that he knew that he was teaching an ideal, to people who lived in a less-than-ideal world.

    The best survey I know of his teachings is the collection of his writings called “All Men Are Brothers”. Avoid those who teach the distilled cowardice that they claim he preached.

  37. Goesh Says:

    Abde – keep in mind a vast number of women, children and old people comprised the 6 million victims of the holocaust. Women for the most part and especially those with children, and the elderly, simply can’t rise up in the physical sense against anyone, let alone armed soliders. Death squads and the SS would simply appear in villages and towns and start rounding up people, often with the help of local people. History does not record the number of people who tried to flee and were shot on the spot, but some did escape and became partisans. In retrospect, that is what counts as well as the fact that this atrocity was not covered up and forgotten and there was some justice done, though not enough. Justice was not always done in the formal sense of the word either. I have spoken with two soliders who liberated death camps and both told me that SS guards were shot on sight, though most fled. Some SS men tried to hide amidst prisoners by wearing prison garb, but their full faces and obvious good health betrayed them and they were pulled from the ranks, put against a wall and shot. We are witnessing today the same SS mentality amongst islamofacists towards Jews and it is the duty of civiliation to kill it in the same manner as the horrors of nazism were killed. Either their mentality will endure and stand alone, or ours will. I see no middle ground, no chance at all for coexistance.

  38. Richard Aubrey Says:

    hg wells.

    A belief is one thing. Forcing others to die because of it is another.

    Pacifists are just as accountable for the results of their beliefs made into public policy as are the more conventional warmongers (or just-war believers). The difference is that the pacifists refuse to look at consequences.

    In my admittedly limited experience, I have never met or encountered or read of a real pacifist–I hadn’t read much of Gandhi’s appalling ideas–but I met plenty whose pacifism was supposed to apply to the US or the West, alone.

    In El Salvador, why doesn’t the FMLN turn pacific? Because that’s about land redistribution, said a local, noisy and annoying lefty some years ago. War to protect the US was wrong, but killing to facilitate land redistribution was okay.

    Never met a pacifist who didn’t make an exception for our enemies.
    Real pacifists presume the enemy will remain violent, but that’s immoral. But the ones I’m talking about didn’t see the moral problem with our enemies remaining violent.

    And if unilateral disarmament was guaranteed to work, why shouldn’t the other side go first? Um, well, you see, it’s ….

  39. hg wells Says:

    Gandhi was a deeply religious Hindu, which meant that he regarded earthly life as a flickering illusion against the backdrop of divine reality. He was a saint in the technical sense of a person constantly focused on God.

    I don’t say that to justify him or his pacifism, but I do think it’s necessary to understand him. If one truly believes that the soul is eternal and that one reincarnates as a human being repeatedly, then allowing oneself to suffer or even be killed as a moral gesture make a certain sense.

  40. Aziz Poonawalla Says:

    I’m no pacifist either, but I have to wonder. Had all six million Jews stood up against the Nazis, they woudl ouotnumber them. Not all Germans were Nazis, and had the Jews faced down their attackers, would they not have awoken teh conscience of the German people?

    I have no answer to this.

    But I do think that while my instincts are for war, I cant dismiss Gandi’s vision as easily as you did.

    in general though, the oppresssed outnumber the oppressor. And their victory hinges on the conscience of a silent majority that tolerates the oppressor’s actions – but only to a point.

    Could HItler have even created the concentration camps had the Jews taken their stuggle to the public counrt of German opinion?

    again, I dont know. But it hurts my heart.

  41. Goesh Says:

    - the species has canine teeth and frontal vision – predators kill and always will, they have to if they want to live – we also have large brains, walk upright and have opposable thumbs – that is quite a force of nature and I would suggest the fight/flight instinct is the most powerful of all, for it sustains life and we use it many times every day and are not even aware of it – we back away or engage hundreds of times a day.

    The Jews resisted more than history records. When armed men are rounding up women, children and old people, there isn’t much they can do, but many young men and women resisted. Jewish partisans were an awesome force in Poland for instance and the Warsaw ghetto resistance is well documented.

  42. Rafique Tucker Says:

    Orwell himself commented on Gandhi’s absolute pacifism. He points out that “despotic governments fear physical force,” as opposed to pure moral force. There is a place for moral force in resisting evil. Dr. King, who was a student of Gandhi’s teachings, believed in nonviolent resistance against Jim Crow. That mission was successful due to the fact that those in the position to change things could either be reasoned with, or overridden.

    In the case of Hitler’s Nazi menace, or the civil war in his own country, these forces cannot be appeased. Gandhi’s pacifism descended into a permanent state of martyrdom. That position can leave you zealous, inflexible, irrational, selfish, blind, and dead, along with your people.

  43. Dale St. Clair Says:

    The lesson of history is clear: If you are not willing & able to wage war you are much more likely to end up in war. It has nothing to do with rightness, wrongness or moral positioning. In Gandhi & India’s case a slight variation: A total eschewing of violence only leads to greater violence.

    If Gandhi had given up total pacifism right after the British left India the world now would probably be a better place. He who was revered because of his humility proved to be so prideful that he could consign many to death rather than abandon a tactic. By the way, he cribbed his ideas from Thoreau’s essay, “Civil Disobedience.”

    And what of the fall of great civilizations? Almost always their descent can be ascribed not to outside forces but to internal weakness, usually because of self-destructive policies they seem unable to abandon – even though some of their leaders & thinkers easily comprehend the danger. Another interesting & somewhat frightening point is that civilizations may seem the most powerful just before their collapse.

    The US is able to wage war but is fast becoming unwilling. We haven’t lost a battle in Iraq but the folks at home grow weary of the war & seem to believe we are losing. Sure, there’s leftist & MSM propaganda which has been operating since the start but I wonder if we haven’t reached a certain psychological stage as a nation where war is virtually untenable.

    Ask yourselves what would have happened after the fall of Hitler if Austria, Poland & Belgium had sent ‘insurgents’ composed of former Nazis & Nazi sympathizers into occupied Germany & started blowing up American troops, German citizens & police. Even though America was then also tired of war, with even more reason then than now, Truman would have hammered them. Immediately. But Truman didn’t have to, because everyone knew what would happen. Even the powerful Russians knew better.

    An act of aggression within our borders by uniformed combatants seems to be the only circumstance by which the left will countenance war. The problem with this? Our enemies are not so stupid as to invade our shores – at least not at this point. That denouement if it comes will happen when we are no longer able to do anything about it. But why bother to invade? They can isolate us, marginalize us, establish a Caliphate & accomplish their hideous goals just as well without the need to invade. Jizya, the tax on those who do not convert to Islam, cannot be exacted from a destroyed population. The herd must be maintained & multiplied in order to shear the most wool & have ample mutton.

  44. kingjack Says:

    Earlier this year I read what I thought was a quote from Gandhi that indicated he had a keen awareness that his active nonviolence was successful with the British because the British represented the flowering of the Judeo-Christian Anglo-Humanist revolution. That is, he knew that although colonial England was in any given case capable of crushing dissent, the average Brit and general British culture would, if fully informed, be aghast at their government’s “cruel” actions. This, as opposed to Hitler’s public (or Arafat’s), who would glory in such brutality. I have been kicking myself ever since for not bookmarking the quote or the article it appeared in, since I’ve not found any reference to it since. Although the late-career Gandhi quotes treated here are not of a piece with what I’ve described, does anybody know the quote I’m referring to? Or am I imagining it at this late date?

  45. Anonymous Says:

    dymphna writes:

    “In the Christian gospels, the term to “turn the other cheek” meant that you could be passive in the face of someone else’s fury if you chose to, but it was a choice.”

    Christ actually says “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Note that if a right-handed person strikes someone’s right cheek, it is a slap by the back of the hand, a great indignity. Turning the left cheek to this infamy would demand an open-handed slap from an equal. So this teaching is not about passive abasement, but defense of one’s dignity.

    BTW – first post, long time reader. Loved the stuff on Paul Robeson – I consider it every day I drive past Paul Robeson Junior High (now shuttered; a victim of the collapsed local public school system; so the name fits).

  46. Ymarsakar Says:

    Nobody is more violent than the pacifist who believes he holds ultimate righteousness.

    Unchaining the fail safes on violence, inevitably produces a psychopath.

    Pacifism only exists because it has fed on the blood of violent psychopaths and righteous defenders as a parasite since time immemorial.

    As such, there is a symbiotic relationships between pacifism and violence.

    Parasites can be removed, and the sadists in the world will not do so because it will remove from them a great source of prey. That is not the same for the righteous defenders of life and liberty. Why did the British give into a propaganda ploy. If they wanted to give India away, they could have waited until Ghandi was dead, and then left.

    But leaving while Ghandi was alive, meant they gave sustenance to the parasitism of pacifism, and the more you feed pacifism, the more people will be killed by sadists.

  47. chuck Says:

    pastorius,

    Gandhi’s notion of applying his asinine philosophy to the fight against Hitler is not just laughable, it’s arrogant to the point of megalomania.

    I am in general agreement with you, although I will point out that you are coming at things from a humanist side, whereas Gandhi was coming from the religious side. If the spiritual world was as real to you as it was to Gandhi, than I suspect your judgement would be different.

    Now, just to cause trouble, suppose the Jews had forced many of the executions and killings to take place in public spaces seen by all Germans? This would have removed the easy out many Germans took of simply avoiding knowing what was going on. There were rumours, of course, but rumours can be ignored. In a sense, it was made too easy to accomodate the temptation of ignorance. And I do believe that many Germans were able to fool themselves as to the true depravity of what was taking place. I don’t know that this would have worked in Poland, where ordinary village people aided in the persecution, but the Germans were the inheriters of a higher culture.

    Ah, high culture. Long gone from Germany, and from France and Russia too. The twentieth century was extraordinarily cruel.

  48. maryatexitzero Says:

    The concept of pacifism is like the concept of a community composed only of celibates – it’s counterintuitive, impossible to sustain and irrationally utopian – Darwinism in action.

    All animals have basic needs – food, shelter, reproduction and (violent) self-defense. An animal that can’t adequately defend itself is called ‘food.’ A group of animals that can’t adequately defend themselves are called ‘extinct.’

    As long as we live in the “fallen” or the natural world, world peace, like a world without sex or a world that survives without food or water, will be an impossible dream.

  49. neo-neocon Says:

    Pastorius: The difference, I suppose, is that Gandhi felt his own hands were clean, since he wasn’t the one holding the knife. The Jews would have ended up just as dead, however.

    An interesting question, I think, in terms of Gandhi’s intention, is whether he truly and honestly thought the technique would work in the sense of softening Hitler’s heart and preventing the deaths. If so (and I think he thought it at least had a chance of working), then he was simply dangerously naive. If not, then he was simply dangerous.

    As for Gandhi’s home life, what you mention was only one of the things he did to his wife–and his children–that would make a person’s hair stand on end. That’s a totally different topic, though, and one outside the purview of this post, although one of these days I might get around to it.

    The same, by the way, was true of his inspiration, Tolstoi, re the wife and kids. Extremists do not ordinarily make good family men (or family women).

  50. Pastorius Says:

    Neo,
    Gandhi was not a good man. Here’s some more of his perspective on what the Jews should have done in response to Hitler:

    “I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions…If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves, man, woman and child to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them.”

    “I am as certain…that the stoniest German heart will melt [if only the Jews] adopt active non-violence. Human nature…unfailingly responds to the advances of love. I do not despair of his [Hitler's] responding to human suffering even though caused by him.”

    “Hitler killed five million [sic] Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs.”

    Louis Fisher, Gandhi’s biographer asked him: “You mean that the Jews should have committed collective suicide?”

    Gandhi responded, “Yes, that would have been heroism.”

    My comment? Well, it’s very lucky that Gandhi himself used passive resistance against the civilised British, because if he’d have used the same technique with the Nazis, there would be no people of Indian descent left in this world.

    It’s time for the world to grow up and realize that Gandhi was not a man of great vision. He was not an incarnation of God. I would not even call him a man of peace.

    The emotional devastation he was willing to lay on his wife gives the lie to his being a good man in private. For a person to deprive the one he supposedly loves of physical intimacy (and the emotional well-being that goes with it), because he believes he has some special relationship with the universe, is an abominable sin.

    Gandhi was a snake oil salesman who won a P.R. battle against British imperialism. Thank God he did. He was the right schmuck at the right time. His people owe him thanks.

    However, his legacy is a burden on the whole human race. Unfortunately, many naiive, but well-placed, people believe we can take Gandhian “principles” and apply them to all of reality.

    Gandhi’s notion of applying his asinine philosophy to the fight against Hitler is not just laughable, it’s arrogant to the point of megalomania. It shows he was willing to let the whole human race go down with the ship because of his own belief in his special relationship with his selfish pantheistic conception of the universe.

    And to sum it up, let me pose this question:

    When Gandhi says,”the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife,”

    How exactly does his philosophy, in practice, differ from Hitler’s?

  51. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Excellent, excellent, post and comments. I am keeping many phrases for future use.

    I was 1-O during Vietnam, a fact which I regret greatly now. My understanding of the biblical calls to peace were horribly naive and simplistic. I fancy that I do understand the mind of the Gandhian pacifist, at least a bit. They really do believe that this is a technique that will work. Some allow that on our way to the glorious time of perfected society we might have to compromise and allow a little violence or selected military action, but that in general, non-violence is preferred because it is a superior strategy in the long run.

    The pacifism of many mainstream Christian clergy is nearer to Gandhi than to Christ. Pacifism has shown up off and on throughout church history, but there were distinct differences before the 20th C. Some Christians urged others to separate from fighting for governments because it was considered secondary to partake in the struggles of the world, not immoral. Never was pacifism seen as a technique to get one’s way.

    It is notable that Jesus’s disciples were still carrying swords after being with Him for 3 years, that Jesus did not tell the soldier seeking direction to leave the military, and that he beat the moneylenders out of the Temple. The doctrine of the two swords, spiritual and earthly, is straight from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Bonhoeffer came closest, I think. He recognised that violence might coarsen us — see King David’s not being allowed to build the Temple because his hands had been at war — but that this was often necessary in a fallen world. Judaism, and most Christianity until recently, has not been a faith that allowed you to tolerate injustice merely to keep your own spirituality unsullied.

  52. chuck Says:

    I don’t believe that was Gandhi’s last word on the subject. Let’s see…from Orwell’s Reflections on Gandhi:

    According to Mr. Fischer, Gandhi’s view was that the German Jews ought to commit collective suicide, which “would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to Hitler’s violence”.

    Read the whole thing.

  53. strcpy Says:

    “Whether Gandhi was aware that he was wielding the threat of enormous violence or not is unclear, but he’d have to have been delusional if he didn’t. We see he was probably delusional, so maybe he didn’t.”

    From what I know I would call it a concious delusion. Like most people, he innately understood what his actions will bring (in fact, read almost any leftist, and a large part of thier rantings is why thier consequences are irrelevant). But some (many?) choose to ignore that, they can do so simply through ignoring it or rationalising it away. Ghandi ignored it, and like the other “radicals” – I use that term loosely because of the amount of people who believe as such, choose to use it anyway while taking the concious/rhetorical moral high road. Plus almost 100% of them readily understand it when the stuff happens to them (theft, rape, beatings, torture, all sorts of things are “suddenly” understood as A Bad Thing when it happens to them).

    You will note tha Ghandi never knowingly put himself into the real threats of his live. It’s not really risking your life to defy and oppose someone who will not kill you. If death was so noble, and would give peace, why wasn’t he right out where he told millions it was the best place to be? You know, if I consider an action to be better than anyother I usually try and do said action – not cajole others into it while I watch.

    Ahh but that is, of course, irrelevant and stupid/ignorant of me to say. At least that’s what I’ve always been told along with “If you don’t understand why there is no reason to explain it to you”.

  54. The Bunnies Says:

    I sadly suspect that the answer to Neo’s final comment is “yes.” The Left often seems far more preoccupied with belief than results. They revere Che as a hero of the working people, even though he advocated starting a nuclear war that would have killed millions upon millions of them. Ted Kennedy and Clinton are heroes of women’s rights because they support the right to choose, even though their treatment of women has been awful. Who cares if UN peacekeeping missions exploit children, as long as they are there to support “peace.”

    It’s only your motivation that counts, and therefore the reverence of the Left can ignore or belittle annoyances like actual consequences.

  55. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Kipling, both in his fiction and his prose, spoke disapprovingly about the move for Indian independence, which preceded Gandhi.

    It is clear that the UK voters, especially after WW II depleted their resources of men, money, material, and will, were not interested in fighting for India, nor were they entirely sure India should remain a possession.
    That was one arm of Gandhi’s work.

    The other was that if the Brits didn’t work with him, there would be unimaginable violence. The Brits knew this, and Gandhi’s hunger strike(s) were his maximum bluff. If he died, the roof would come off.
    The British knew it.
    Whether Gandhi was aware that he was wielding the threat of enormous violence or not is unclear, but he’d have to have been delusional if he didn’t. We see he was probably delusional, so maybe he didn’t.
    That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to be blind.

  56. m.g. Says:

    Thank you for that Talmudic saying “He who is kind to the cruel ends up being cruel to the kind.” It hits the nail on the head. And so do you with this post. I have always thought Gandhi was over the top for much of his life, and this proves it. What a cold, pitiless man. Actually, a monster.

    It also reminds me of something Joan Baez recently said. Back in August, when she was visiting the Cindy Sheehan camp-out in Texas, National Review’s Eric Pfeiffer interviewed Baez and recalled that when we left Vietnam thousands of innocent Vietnamese were murdered by the communist regime. He then asked her about something like that happening if we were to withdraw from Iraq. Her reply:

    As Gandhi once said, yes there will be chaos, but it will be our chaos. Yes, there will be massive chaos, but nothing is going to stop the massive chaos. That’s my answer.

    Nothing short of Olympian. And answers your question about whether pacifists have read Gandhi’s actual words and understand the real-world consequences of his actions, doesn’t it?

  57. Jim Says:

    “Gandhi is venerated by peace activists worldwide.”

    There is an almost Gnostic squeamishness about the nastiness and violence of the physical, natural world that informs these people. They adore him because he seems to have succeeded without violence. They are as deluded as Gandhi was about why he succeeded.

    Gandhi succceeded with non-violence because he was in a position to wield overwhelming violence. He could have annihilated every British man, woman, and child in India, and even if he was in denial about that, the British were not. So Gandhi was offering a choice even if he never spelled out the other side of the choice.

    It is always this way with successful non-violent movements. The US Civil rights movement is an example. Segregationists in the South knew that they had to bend or be crushed by the Union Army a second time, especially after an unassailably popular President had federalized their own troops out form under them to desegregate the Little Rock schools.

    The iconic pacifist episode is Jesus before Pilate, supposedly. You have to be willfully blind to read the story that way; the story is only tangentially about non-violence- it is a gorily violent story about what amounts to human sacrifice, suicide by cop or whatever; but pacifism is not in that picture at all. And again, Jesus pointed out that he was in a position to use overwhelming force to stop it all but chose not to.

  58. Pursuit Says:

    Excellent post that raises several issues.

    When one looks at absolute pacifism, to use your term, it is useful to turn the principle upside down and examine those that believe in absolute violence. Clearly this describes the Nazis, other genocidla regimes, and most recently radical Islam.

    This view informs us that believers in evil will stop at nothing, and indeed welcome their victim’s invitation to slaughter, no matter how high minded it’s motivations might be. You rightfully say that we can’t know with certainty what would have happened in Nazi Germany had the Jews taken Ghandi’s advice, yet the answer seems quite clear.

    Peace activists will say violence breeds violence. They have a million other slogans comon in both their insistence that peace is the only and their complete lack of understanding of the nature of evil.

    Evil, true evil, has never been defeated on this earth without a just and violent response. Just war is not only a concept it is a necessity that we must be willing to use if we are to remain free, and provide liberty for every man.

  59. Dymphna Says:

    Astute, Neo, as usual.

    Gandhi’s methods only work against an adversary who believes in the worth of the individual and values human liberty. They definitely do *not* work against fascists of any kind, be they Muslims, Nazis, Communists, or tyrants of any stripe.

    I sometimes think Gandhi painted himself into a corner and because of pride couldn’t — simply could not admit he’d done any such thing. So he was stuck there.

    In the Christian gospels, the term to “turn the other cheek” meant that you could be passive in the face of someone else’s fury if you chose to, but it was a choice. It didn’t have to go any further than that. Turning the cheek did not imply also putting one’s head on the chopping block. A lot of damage has been done by taking that out of context. “Laying down your life for your friends” is not in the same category as giving your life to your enemies — a step which is nihilistic at best.

    Going to meet death with courage or resignation is different — e.g., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who brought about his own demise by publicly condemning the Nazis; or the Italian journalist who defied his jihadist executors at the moment of death.

    I look forward to your essay on the Friends.

  60. Mike Stearman Says:

    In point of fact, most of Holocaust Jews did end up doing exactly what Gandhi advocated, rather than exercising their option to resist violently. Were they cowards or heroes? The latter, I think. Gandhi understood that for the majority of the Jewish population, facing the almost limitless killing capacity and willingness of the Nazis, the honorable option was to face death, rather than being cowardly.

    Yes, he was mistaken, in that he thought that this would move to world to retailiate quickly enough. In point of fact, the Allies ignored extensive evidence of the Holocaust through the closing stages of the war. A little strategic bombing aimed at the death camps would have saved thousands, if not millions, simply by letting them live until April 1945.

  61. neo-neocon Says:

    Mike Stearman: You are way off on this. Most Jews did not resist (although some did, for example the Warsaw Ghetto uprising) because they lacked weapons, and because at least in the early years the Nazi deception that they were merely being resettled and not killed worked (this is why the gas chambers were disguised as showers; there was deception right till the bitter end).

    Most had no real option to resist, so speaking of them as either cowards or heroes is not correct.

    I have written at some length about all of this. Please see this and this for a much fuller discussion.

  62. A companion-piece post to my essay about Israel’s morality — the Gandhi edition Says:

    […] in 2005, Neo was finding disturbing the Gandhi-esque approach to pacifism, one that requires that as many people as possible die in order to make a point. Gandhi’s […]

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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