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PHILOSOPHY > THE MIND OF MAHATMA GANDHI > War and Peace
War And Peace
My Participation In War
Life is governed by a multitude of forces. It would be smooth sailing if one could determine the course of one's actions only be one general principle whose application at a given moment was too obvious to need even a moment's 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 lived 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 the Government and renounced to the utmost of my capacity the privileges it offered me.
Let me take an illustration. I am a member of an institution which holds a few acres of land whose crops are in imminent peril from monkeys. I believe in the sacredness of all life and hence I regard it as 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 connexion 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 that Government. My position regarding that Government is totally different today and hence I should not voluntary participate in its wars and I should risk imprisonment and even the gallows if I was forced to rake up arms or otherwise take part in its military operations. (YI, 13-9-1928, p. 308)
I have become by force of circumstances a teacher of non-violence. I claim to enforce my teaching in my own life to the best of my ability and I feel that I have the strength to resist war in my own person.
I would support the formation of a National Militia under Swaraj, if only because I realize that people cannot be made non-violent by compulsion. Today, I am teaching the people how to meet a national crisis by non-violent means.
Working Of Non-Violence
For me non-violence is not a mere philosophical principle. It is the rule and the breath of my life. I now I fail often, sometimes consciously, more often unconsciously. It is a matter not of the intellect but of the heart. True guidance comes by the constant waiting upon God, by utmost humility, self-abnegation, by being ever ready to sacrifice one's 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... Not violence, not untruth, but non-violence, Truth is the law of our being. (YI, 13-9-1928, p. 308)
A non-violent man will instinctively prefer direct participation to indirect in a system which is based on violence and to which he has to belong without any choice being left to him.... I belong to a world which is partly based on violence. If I have only a choice between paying for the army of soldier to kill my neighbours or to be a soldier myself, I would, as I must, consistently with my creed, enlist as a soldier in the hope of controlling the forces of violence and even of converting my comrades. (YI, 30-1-1930, p.37)
Resistance To War
It is... [a matter] of deep conviction [with me] that war is an unmixed evil. I would not yield to any one in my detestation of war. But conviction is one thing, correct practice is another. The very thing that one war resister may do in the interest of his mission may repel another war resister who may do the exact opposite and yet both may hold the same view about war. This contradiction arises because of the bewildering complexity of human nature. I can only, therefore, plead for mutual toleration even among professors of the same creed. (YI, 7-2-1929, p. 46)
All activity for stopping war must prove fruitless so long as the causes of war are not understood and radically dealt with. Is not he prime cause of modern wars the inhuman race for exploitation of the so-called weaker races of the earth? (YI, 9-5-1929, p. 148)
If war had no redeeming feature, no courage and heroism behind it, it would be a despicable thing, and would not need speeches to destroy it, but what I would suggest to you is infinitely knobbier than war in all its branches, including Red Cross organization. Believe me there are many more million prisoners-slaves of their passions and conditions of life, and believe me that there are millions wounded by their own folly, and million of wrecked homes on the face of the earth. The peace societies of tomorrow would, therefore, have enough work cut out for them when they take up international service.... (YI, 31-12-1931, p. 427)
What is happening today is disregard of the law of non-violence and enthronement of violence as if it were an eternal law... We see today a mad race for outdoing one another in the matter of armaments. And if, when the clash comes, as it is bound to come one day, the democracies win, they will do so only because they will have the backing of their peoples who imagine that they have a voice in their own government.... (H, 11-2-1939, p. 8)
World War II
Hatred, [some people argue] cannot be turned into love. Those who believed in violence will naturally use it by saying, " kill your enemy, injure him and his property wherever you can, whether openly or secretly as necessity requires." The result will be deeper hatred and counter hatred and vengeance let loose on both sides. The recent war, whose members have yet hardly died, loudly proclaims the bankruptcy of this use of hatred. And it remains to be seen whether the so-called victors have won or whether they have not depressed themselves in seeking and trying to depress their enemies." (H, 24-2-1946, p. 20)