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PEACE, NON-VIOLENCE & CONFLICT RESOLUTION > MY NON-VIOLENCE > Theory and practice of Non-violence
20. Theory and practice of Non-violence
The bulk of the questions asked at these meetings centred naturally round non-violence, and I (M. D.) summarize them here, including therein some of the questions and answers at the Paris meeting.
By way of introduction I shall give his (Gandhiji's) distinction between the methods of violence and nonviolence: "In the method we are adopting in India, fraud, lying, deceit, and all the ugly brood of violence and untruth have absolutely no room. Everything is done openly and above board, for Truth hates secrecy. The more open you are the more truthful you are likely to be. There is no such thing as defeat or despair in the dictionary of a man who bases his life on Truth and Non-violence. And yet the method of non-violence is not in any shape or form a passive or inactive method. It is essentially an active movement, much more active than the one involving the use of sanguinary weapons. Truth and Non-violence are perhaps the activest forces you have in the world. A man who wields sanguinary weapons and is intent upon destroying those whom he considers his enemies, does at least require some rest, and has to lay down his arms for a while in every twenty-four hours. He is, therefore, essentially inactive, for a certain part of the day. Not so the votary of Truth and Non-violence, for the simple reason that they are not external weapons. They reside in the human breast, and they are actively working their way whether you are awake or whether you are asleep, whether you are walking leisurely or playing an active game. The panoplied warrior of Truth and Non-violence is ever and incessantly active."
How then can one be effectively non-violent? By simply refusing to take up arms? Einstein had made the call to the people not to take part in war. Was that enough ? Questions which were raised again and again at various meetings and answered in a language inspired by the audience and the occasion.
About Einstein's call he said with a humour which no one could have mistaken: "My answer can be only one that, if Europe can take up the method enthusiastically, nothing could be better. Indeed, if I may say so about a great man, I would say that Einstein has stolen the method from me. But, if you want me to elaborate the thing, I would say that 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 mountains and eat food grown by nature. Therefore all those who want to stop military service can do so by withdrawing all co-operation. Refusal of military service is much more superficial than non-co- operation with the whole system which supports 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 of being thrown into the streets."
Then may not one accept the non-military services of the State? The statement of the position had moved Pierre Ceresole deeply, and he asked this question in a way which was most touching. "We represent our truth, you represent the truth. The argument is often being advanced here, and we should like to be enlightened by you."
"Now," said Gandhiji, "you have touched the tenderest spot in human nature. I was faced with the very question as author of the non-co-operation movement. I said to myself, there is no State either run by Nero or Mussolini which has not good points about it, but we have to reject the whole, once we decide to non-co-operate with the system. There are in our country grand public roads and palatial educational institutions, said I to myself, but they are part of a system which crushes the nation. I should not have anything to do with them. They are like the fabled snake with a brilliant jewel on its head, but which has fangs full of poison. So I came to the conclusion that the British rule in India had crushed the spirit of the nation and stunted its growth, and so I decided to deny myself all the privileges — services, courts, titles. The policy would vary with different countries, but sacrifice and self-denial are the essential points. What Einstein has said would occur only once a year and only with very few people. But I suggest it as your first duty to non-co-operate with the State."
But is there not a deep difference between an independent nation and a subject nation? India may have a fundamental quarrel with an alien government, but how can the Swiss quarrel with the State?
"Difference there undoubtedly is," said Gandhiji. "As a member of a subject nation I could best help by shaking rid of my subjection. But here I am asked as to how best to get out of a military mentality. You are enjoying the amenities on condition that you render military service to the State. There you have to get State rid of the military mentality."
But Pierre Ceresole still had his doubts. The argument had irresistible appeal for him; but how did his own particular mission fit in, if he was to pursue the method to its extreme logical conclusions? A question was asked at the great meeting in Geneva about Gandhiji's opinion regarding the work of the International Red Cross Society organized in Switzerland and the thousands of lives of prisoners that it had saved, and Gandhiji's answer to the question contained for Pierre Ceresole the solution of all his difficulties and a message of cheer for the International Service that he had organized. "I am ashamed to have to own that I do not know the history of this wonderful and magnificent organization. If it has saved prisoners by the thousands, my head bows before it. But having paid this tribute, may I say that this organization should cease to think of giving relief after the war but think of giving relief without the war? 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 nobler 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 millions 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, and may Switzerland give the lead to the world in this great, task."
In answer to a similar question at another meeting he said: "Non-co-operation in military service and service in non-military matters are not compatible. Definitely military service is an ill-chosen word. You are all the while giving military service by deputy because you are supporting a State which is based on military service. In Transvaal and other countries some are debarred from military service, but they have to pay money to the State. You will have to extend the scope of non-co-operation to your taxes. There is no limit to extending our service to our neighbours across our State-made frontiers. God never made those frontiers."
Q. Since disarmament chiefly depends on great powers, why should Switzerland, which is a small State and a neutral State, be asked to disarm itself?
A. It is from the neutral ground of your country that I am speaking to all other powers and not only to Switzerland. If you won't carry this message to other parts of Europe, I shall be absolved from all blame. And seeing that Switzerland is a neutral territory and a non-aggressive nation, there is all the more reason why Switzerland should not need an army. Secondly, it is through your hospitality and by reason of your occupying the vantage ground that you have all nationals coming to you. It should be possible for you to give to the world a lesson in disarmament and show that you are brave enough to do without an army.
Q. How could a disarmed neutral country allow other nations to be destroyed? But for our army which was waiting ready at our frontier during the last war we should have been ruined.
A. At the risk of being considered a visionary or a fool I must answer this question in the only manner I know. It would be cowardly of a neutral country to allow an army to devastate a neighbouring country. But there are two ways in common between soldiers of war and soldiers of non-violence, and if I had been a citizen of Switzerland and a President of the Federal State, what I would have done would be to refuse passage to the invading army by refusing all supplies. Secondly, by re-enacting a Thermopylae in Switzerland, you would have presented a living wall of men and women and children, and inviting the invaders to walk over your corpses. You may say that such a thing is beyond human experience and endurance. I say that it is not so. It was quite possible. Last year in Gujarat women stood lathi charges unflinchingly, and in Peshawar thousands stood hails of bullets without resorting to violence. Imagine these men and women staying in rout of an army requiring a safe passage to another country. The army would be brutal enough to walk over them, you might say. I would then say, you will still have done your duty by allowing yourself to be annihilated. An army at dares to pass over the corpses of innocent men and women would not be able to repeat that experiment. You may, if you wish, refuse to believe in such courage on the part of the masses of men and women, but then you would have to admit that non-violence is made of sterner stuff'. It was never conceived as a weapon of the weak, but of the stoutest hearts.
Q. Is it open to a soldier to fire in the air and avoid violence?
A. A soldier, who having enlisted himself flattered himself that he was avoiding violence by shooting in the air, did no credit to his courage or to his creed of nonviolence. In my scheme of things such a man would be held to be guilty of untruth and cowardice both — cowardice in that in order to escape punishment he enlisted and untruth in that he enlisted to serve as soldier and did not fire as expected. Such a thing discredits the cause of waging war against war. The war-resisters have to be like Caesar's wife — above suspicion. Their strength lies in absolute adherence to the morality of the question.
Young India, 31-12-1931