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PEACE, NON-VIOLENCE & CONFLICT RESOLUTION > MY NON-VIOLENCE > A World in agony - I
32. A World in Agony - I
(Rev. Lew, the distinguished visitor from China, said :) “We are not afraid of material destruction, distressing though it is, but of cultural destruction. The first bomb in Shanghai hit a library. Colleges have been wiped out. Professors have been killed. New education has been disorganized and forced to migrate into the interior."
“Even worse is the moral injury they have done us," he continued. And he gave a lurid description of how a systematic attempt is being made to force the drug evil upon China which they had been, for the last twenty years, trying to fight tooth and nail. “When they occupied Peking they opened 50 new brothels there, filling them with Korean girls. The army of occupation rapes women everywhere, the figure for Peking alone being anything between 8,000 to 20,000 according to various estimates. In Shanghai the revenue in one month from gambling and drug shops that have been opened under Japanese authority amounted to 250 thousand dollars, The morale of the whole nation is being sapped. There is no hope once you are enslaved by the drug habit on a nation-wide scale. Supposing we win the war after 10 or 15 years, we may restore material devastation, but how shall we redeem our young generation?
“We want your message. We have translated your Autobiography into Chinese. We look to you for spiritual guidance."
Culture is Bomb-proof
Gandhiji replied: "I was once asked by a Chinese friend from Shantiniketan to give a message to the Chinese people. I had to ask him to excuse me. I gave him my reasons. If I merely said I sympathized with the Chinese in their struggle, it would be not of much value as coming from me. I should love to be able to say to the Chinese definitely that their salvation lay only through non-violent technique. But then it is not for a person like me, who is outside the fight, to say to a people who are engaged in a life and death struggle, 'Not this way, but that.' They would not be ready to take up the new method, and they would be unsettled in the old. My interference would only shake them and confuse their minds.
“But whilst I have no 'message' to send to the Chinese people who are engaged in fighting, I have no hesitation in presenting my viewpoint to you. I was almost going to ask you as to what you meant by being culturally ruined. I should be sorry to learn that Chinese culture resided in brick and mortar or in huge tomes which the moth can cat. A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people. Chinese culture is Chinese only to the extent that it has become part and parcel of Chinese life. Your saying, therefore, that your culture and your morals are in danger of being destroyed, leads one to think that the reform movement in your country was only skin-deep. Gambling had not disappeared from the people's hearts. It was kept down not by the tone set by society, but by the penalty of the law. The heart continued to gamble. Japan is of course to blame and must be blamed for what it has done or is doing. But then Japan is just now like the wolf whose business it is to make short work of the sheep. Blaming the wolf would not help the sheep much. The sheep must learn not to fall into the clutches of the wolf.
"If even a few of you took to non-violence, they would stand forth as living monuments of Chinese culture and morals. And then, even if China were overwhelmed on the battlefield, it would be well with China in the end, because it would at the same time be receiving a message which contains a promise of hope and deliverance. Japan cannot force drugs down unwilling throats at the point of the bayonet. It can only set up temptations. You cannot teach people to resist these temptations by replying to Japanese force by force. Whatever else force may or may not be able to achieve, it cannot safeguard Chinese morals or save Chinese culture.
“If you feel the truth of my remarks, you will become a living message to China. You will then tell the Chinese people, 'No matter what material destruction Japan inflicts, it cannot bring about China's cultural destruction. Our people must be sufficiently educated and warned to resist all the temptations that Japan may devise. Monuments and cities may be razed to the ground. They are but a passing show, that is going one day to be claimed by time as its own. If they are destroyed by the Japanese, it will only be a morsel taken out of time's mouth. The Japanese cannot corrupt our soul. If the soul of China is injured, it will not be by Japan.' "
One of the companions asked, "Is it not necessary that individuals should practise non-violence first in their own person, in their relations with other individuals?" And by way of illustration he described how, even after he came to have the conviction that non-violence was the law of life, for years he refused to preach its use in outer affairs to others. "I said I would first try myself to live it and perfect myself in its practice. I began by making a resolve not to answer back or refute criticism directed against me. After seven years I gave a report of my experience to my students. I cannot say that in practice my method has always answered. So I say to myself, 'Patience, I must try again.' "
“It would be a delusion to think otherwise," replied Gandhiji. “If one does not practise non-violence in one's personal relations with others and hopes to use it in bigger affairs, one is vastly mistaken. Non-violence like charity must begin at home. But if it is necessary for the individual to be trained in non-violence, it is even more necessary for the nation to be trained likewise. One cannot be nonviolent in one's own circle and violent outside it. Or else, one is not truly non-violent even in one's own circle; often the non-violence is only in appearance. It is only when you meet with resistance, as for instance, when a thief or a murderer appears, that your non-violence is put on its trial. You either try or should try to oppose the thief with his own weapons, or you try to disarm him by love. Living among decent people, your conduct may not be described as non-violent. Mutual forbearance is not non-violence. Immediately, therefore, you get the conviction that nonviolence is the law of life, you have to practise it towards those who act violently towards you; and the law must apply to nations as to individuals. Training is no doubt necessary. And beginnings are always small. But if the conviction is there, the rest will follow."
Another question was: "In the practice of non-violence, is there no danger of developing a 'martyrdom complex' or pride creeping in?"
Gandhiji: "If one has that pride and egoism, there is no non-violence. Non-violence is impossible without humility. My own experience is that whenever I have acted non-violently I have been led to it and sustained in it by the higher promptings of an unseen power. Through my own will I should have miserably failed. When I first went to jail, I quailed at the prospect. I had heard terrible things about jail life. But I had faith in God's protection. Our experience was that those who went to jail in a prayerful spirit came out victorious, those who had gone in their own strength failed. There is no room for self-pitying in it either, when you say God is giving you the strength. Self-pity comes when you do a thing for which you expect recognition from others. But here there is no question of recognition."
To Fight or not to Fight
Another friend thus placed his dilemma: "I am a firm believer in non-violence. Eight years ago I read your Experiments with Truth and immediately became converted to the way of life you have their advocated. Shortly after that I translated the book into Chinese. And then came the Japanese invasion. My faith in non-violence was put to a severe test and I was caught in a dilemma. On the one hand I felt I could not preach non-violence to my people who were never militaristic but who now believed that resistance with force was the only way out. It was the best thing they knew, and I believe with you that 'I would rather risk the use of force a thousand times than let my people lose their manhood.' But on the other hand, when I try to take a sympathetic attitude and try to do something helpful in such a situation, I find I am giving moral and material support directly and indirectly to something which is against the highest that I know. There seems to be no way out of this dilemma because I cannot live in a vacuum and anything I do will work one way or the other. While I can believe without reserve .in non-violence in personal relationships, even though I fail far short of it, I cannot feel in the same way when I am faced with a national situation in which the greats majority of the people have not even heard of the way of non-violence."
The Non-violent Equivalent
“Yours is a difficult situation," replied Gandhiji. “Such difficulties have confronted me more than once. I took part on the British side in the Boer War by forming an ambulance corps. I did likewise at the time of what has been described as the Zulu Revolt. The third time was during the Great War. I believed in non-violence then. My motive was wholly non-violent. That seemingly inconsistent conduct gave me strength. My example cannot be used as a precedent for others to follow. Looking back upon my conduct on those three occasions, I have no sense of remorse. I know this too that my non-violent strength did not suffer diminution because of those experiences. The actual work I was called upon to do was purely humanitarian, especially during the Zulu Revolt. I and my companions were privileged to nurse the wounded Zulus back to life. It is reasonable to suggest that but for our services some of them would have died. I cite this experience not to justify my participation, however indirect it was. I cite it to show that I came through that experience with greater non-violence and with richer love for the great Zulu race. And I had an insight into what war by white men against coloured races meant.
“The lesson to be learnt from it by you is that, placed as you are in a position of hopeless minority, you may not ask your people to lay down their arms unless their hearts are changed and by laying down their arms they feel the more courageous and brave. But whilst you may not try to wean people from war, you will in your person live non-violence in all its completeness and refuse all participation in war. You will develop love for the Japanese in your hearts. You will examine yourself whether you can really love them, whether you have not some ill-will towards them for all the harm they are doing. It is not enough to love them by remembering their virtues. You must be able to love them in spite of all their misdeeds. If you have that love for the Japanese in your hearts, you will proceed to exhibit in your conduct that higher form of courage which is the hall-mark of true non-violence and which your Chinese friends will not fail to detect and recognize as such. You will not wish success to Japanese arms because you ' love ' the Japanese. At the same time you will not pray for the success of Chinese arms. It is very difficult to judge, when both sides are employing weapons of violence, which side 'deserves' to succeed. You will, therefore pray only that the right should prevail. Whilst you will keep yourself aloof from all violence, you will not shirk danger. You will serve friend and foe alike with a reckless disregard for your life. You will rush forth if there is an outbreak of an epidemic or a fire to be combated, and distinguish yourself by your surpassing courage and non-violent heroism. But you will refuse to call the curses of heaven upon the Japanese. If by chance some Japanese soldiers or airmen fall into the hands of the Chinese and are in danger of being lynched by an infuriated Chinese mob or otherwise ill- treated, you will plead for them with your own people and, if necessary, even protect them with your life. You know the story of Emily Hobhouse. Though an Englishwoman, she courageously went to the Boer concentration camps. She exhorted the Boers never to lose heart, and it is said that, if she had not steeled the hearts of the Boer women as she did, the war might have taken a different turn. She was full of wrath against her own people for whom she had not a good word to say. You would not copy her unmeasured wrath which somewhat vitiated her non-violence, but you will copy her love for the 'enemy' that made her denounce the misdeeds of her own countrymen. Your example will affect the Chinese, and might even shame some Japanese who will become bearers of your message among the Japanese.
"A very slow process, you will perhaps say. Yes, possibly, under the existing adverse circumstances to begin with. But it will gather momentum and speed in an incalculable manner as you proceed. I am an irrepressible optimist. My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite possibilities of the individual to develop non-violence. The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by and by might over sweep the world."
"I, a believer in non-violence, often find that I am actuated by mixed motives. So does a war general have mixed motives. Is it not possible to fight, with love for the enemy in one's heart? May we not shoot out of love?"
Gandhiji: "We do often have mixed motives. But that would not be non-violence. There can be degrees in violence, not in non-violence. The constant effort of the votary of non-violence is to purge himself of hatred towards the so- called enemy. There is no such thing as shooting out of love in the way you suggest."
Can Non-violence Be Organized?
The last to place before Gandhiji his problem was Mr. P- G. Hsu. "Our difficulty is this," he commented, "while sincerely believing in non-violence, we have not found a way of making it effective."
"Should that present a difficulty?" exclaimed Gandhiji. "A person who realizes a particular evil of his time and finds that it overwhelms him, dives deep in his own heart for inspiration, and when he gets it, he presents it to others. Meetings and group organizations are all right. They are of some help, but very little. They are like the scaffolding that an architect erects — a temporary and makeshift expedient. The thing that really matters is an invincible faith that cannot be quenched.
"Faith can be developed. Only, the way it can be developed and in which it works differs from that in the case of violence. You cannot develop violence through prayer. Faith, on the other hand, cannot be developed except through prayer.
"Non-violence succeeds only when we have a living faith in God. Buddha, Jesus, Mahomed — they were all warriors of peace in their own style. We have to enrich the heritage left by these world teachers. God has His own wonderful way of executing His plans and choosing His instrument. The Prophet and Abu Bakr trapped in a cave were saved from their persecutors by a spider which had woven its web across the mouth of that cave. All the world teachers you should know, began with a zero!!"