The Russian technique of scorched earth has staggered humanity, but humanity has been powerless to do anything except applaud the amazing sacrifice and bravery that counted no cost too great to circumvent the enemy. I have shared the amazement with the admirers but not their admiration.
We like to imitate what we admire. Now that the
prospect faces us, are we able to contemplate with equanimity, or
feel the glow of bravery and sacrifice at, the prospect of India's
earth being scorched and everything destroyed in order that the
enemy march may be hampered ?
As a war resister my answer can only be one. I see
neither bravery nor sacrifice in destroying life or property for
offence or defence. I would far rather leave, if I must, my crops
and homestead for the enemy to use than destroy them for the sake of
preventing their use by him. There is reason, sacrifice and even
bravery in so leaving my homestead and crops, if I do so not out of
fear but because I refuse to regard anyone as my enemy—that is, out
of a humanitarian motive.
But in India's case there is, too, a practical
consideration. Unlike Russia's, India's masses have no national
instinct developed in the sense that Russia's have. India is not
fighting. Her conquerors are. Supposing that the conquerors are
worsted and the Japanese come, the inarticulate masses will not even
notice the change for the time being or for a long time. The
intelligentsia' are divided on the issue of the war. The motive here
is irrelevant. India's soldiers are in no sense a national army.
They are soldiers because it is their profession. They will as soon
fight under the Japanese or any other provided they are paid for
fighting. In these circumstances the policy of scorched earth would
be a wholly indefensible act.
(The reader should not miss) the conditional
expression "if I must". I have imagined a state of things in which I
am not prepared just now to die and therefore I want to retreat in
an orderly manner in the hope of resisting under other and better
auspices. The thing to consider here is not resistance but
non-destruction of food crops and the like. Resistance, violent or
non-violent, has to be well thought out. Thoughtless resistance will
be regarded as bravado in military parlance, and violence or folly
in the language of non-violence. Retreat itself is often a plan of
resistance and may be a precursor of great bravery and sacrifice.
Every retreat is not cowardice which implies fear to die. Of course
a brave man would more often die in violently or non-violently
resisting the aggressor in the latter's attempt to oust him from his
property, but he will be no less brave if wisdom dictates present
Sevagram, 16-3-'42 and 7-4-'42