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PHILOSOPHY > THE MIND OF MAHATMA GANDHI > War and Peace

 

War And Peace

My Participation In War
EVEN AFTER introspection during all these years, I feel that, in the circumstances in which I found myself, I was bound to adopt the course I did both during the Boer War and the Great European War and, for that matter, the so-called Zulu 'rebellion' of Natal in 1906.

Life is governed by a multitude of forces. It would be smooth sailing if one could determine the course of one'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)

National Militia
...If there was a National Government, whilst I should not take a direct part in any war, I can conceive occasions when it would be me duty to vote for the military training of those who wish to take it. For I know that all its members do not believe in non-violence to the extent I do. It is not possible to make a person or a society non-violent by compulsion. (ibid)


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
Non-violence works in a most mysterious manner. Often a man's actions defy analysis in terms of non-violence; equally often, his actions may wear the appearance of violence when he is absolutely non-violent in the highest sense of the term and is subsequently found so to be. All I can then claim for my conduct is that it was, in the instances cited, actuated in the interests of non-violence. There was no thought of sordid national or any other interest at the sacrifice of some other interest....

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)

Military Service
Merely to refuse military service is not enough. To refuse to render military service when the particular time arrives is to do the thing after all the time for combating the evil is practically gone. Military service is only a symptom of the disease which is deeper. I suggest to you that those who are not on the register of military service are equally participating in the crime if they support the State otherwise. He or she who supports a state organized in the military way- whether directly or indirectly-participates in the sin. Each man, old or young, takes part in the sin by contributing to the maintenance of the state by paying the taxes. That is why I said to myself during the war that, so long as I ate wheat supported by the army, whilst I was doing everything short of being a soldier, it was best for me to enlist in the army and be shot; otherwise I should retire to the mountains and eat food grown by nature. Therefore, all those who l want to stop military service is much more superficial than non-co-operation with the whole system which support the State. but then one's opposition becomes so swift and so effective that you run the risk of not only being marched to jail but being thrown into the streets. (YI, 31-12-1931, p. 426)

Resistance To War
When two nations are fighting, the duty of a votary of AHIMSA is to stop the war. He who is not equal to that duty, he who has no power of resisting war, he who is not qualified to resist war, may take part in war and yet whole-heartedly try to free himself, his nation and the world from war. (A, p. 258)


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
Personally, I think the end of this giant war will be what happened in the fabled Mahabharata war. The MAHABHARATA has been aptly described by a Travancorean as the Permanent History of Man. What is described in that great epic is happening today before our very eyes. The warring nations are destroying themselves with such fury and ferocity that the end will be mutual exhaustion. The victor will share the fate that awaited the surviving Pandavas. The mighty warrior Arjuna was looted in broad daylight by a petty robber. And out of this holocaust must arise a new order for which the exploited millions of toilers have so ling thirsted. The prayers of peace-lovers cannot go in vain. Satyagraha is itself an unmistakable mute prayer of an agonized soul. (H, 15-2--1942, p. 40)


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)