Rev. B. de Ligt has written in a French journal called Evolution a long open letter to me. He has favoured me with a translation of it. The open letter strongly criticizes my participation in the Boer War and then the Great War of 1914, and invites me to explain my conduct in the light of Ahimsa. Other friends too have put the same question. I have attempted to give the explanation more than once in these columns.
no defence for my conduct weighed only in the scales of Ahimsa. I draw no
distinction between those who wield the weapons of destruction and those who do
red cross work. Both participate in war and advance its cause. Both are guilty
of the crime of war. But even after introspection during all these years, I feel
that, 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.
governed by a multitude of forces. It would be smooth sailing, if one could
determine the course of one's actions only by 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
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 that government and renounced to the utmost of my capacity
the privileges it offered 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 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.
did I participate in the three acts of war. I could not, it would be madness for
me to, sever my connection with the society to which I belong. And on those
three occasions I had no thought of non-co-operating with the British
Government. My position regarding that Government is totally different today,
and hence I should not voluntarily participate in its war, and I should risk
imprisonment and even the gallows, if I was forced to take up arms or otherwise
take part in its military operations.
still does not solve the riddle. If there was a national Government, whilst I
should not take any direct part in any war, I can conceive occasions when it
would be my duty to vote for the military training of those who wish to take it.
For I know that all its members do not believe in non-violence to the extent I
do. It is not possible to make a person or a society non-violent by compulsion.
Non-violence works in a most mysterious manner. Often a man's actions defy
analysis in terms of non-violence: equally often his actions may wear the
appearance of violence when he is absolutely non-violent in the highest sense of
the term and is subsequently found so to be. All I can then claim for my conduct
is that it was, in the instances cited, actuated in the interests of
non-violence. There was no thought of sordid national or other interest. I do
not believe in the promotion of national or any other interest at the sacrifice
of some other interest.
I may not
carry my argument any further. Language at best is but a poor vehicle for
expressing one's thoughts in full. For me non-violence is not a mere
philosophical principle. It is the rule and the breath of my life. I know I fail
often, sometimes consciously, more often unconsciously. It is a matter not of
the intellect but of the heart. True guidance comes by constant waiting upon
God, by utmost humility, self-abnegation, by being ever ready to sacrifice one's
self. Its practice requires fearlessness and courage of the highest order. I am
painfully aware of my failings.
Light within me is steady and clear. There is no escape for any of us save
through truth and non-violence. I know that war is wrong, is an unmitigated
evil. I know too that it has got to go. I firmly believe that freedom won
through bloodshed or fraud is no freedom. Would that all the acts alleged
against me were found to be wholly indefensible rather than that by any act of
mine non-violence was held to be compromised or that I was ever thought to be in
favour of violence or untruth in any shape or form. Not violence, not untruth,
but non-violence, Truth is the law of our being.