Non-violence and World Crisis
In my opinion, non-violence is not passivity in any shape or form. Non-violence, as I understand it, is the activest force in the world. Therefore, whether it is materialism or anything else, if non-violence does not provide an effective antidote, it is not the active force of my conception. Or, to put it conversely, if you bring me some conundrums that I cannot answer, I would say my non-violence is still defective. Non-violence is the supreme law. During my half a century of experience, I have not yet come across a situation when I had to say that I was helpless, that I had no remedy in terms of non-violence.
Take the question of the Jews on which I have written. No Jew need feel helpless if he takes to the non-violent way. A friend has written me a letter, objecting, that in that article I have assumed that the Jews have been violent. It is true that the Jews have not been actively violent in their own persons. But they called down upon the Germans the curses of mankind, and they wanted America and England to fight Germany on their behalf.1 If I hit my adversary, that is of course violence, but to be truly non-violent I must love him to and pray for him, even when he hits me. The Jews have not been actively non-violent or, in spite of the misdeeds of the dictators, they would say: “We shall suffer at their hand; they know no better but we shall suffer not in the manner in which they want us to suffer.” If even one Jew acted thus, he would save his self respect and leave an example which, if it became infectious, would save the whole of Jewry and leave a rich heritage to mankind besides.
What about China, you will ask. The Chinese have no designs upon other people. They have no desire for territory. True, perhaps, China is not ready for such aggression; perhaps, what looks like her pacifism is only indolence. In any case, China's is not active non-violence. Her putting up a valiant defence against Japan is proof enough that China was never intentionally non-violent. That she is on the defensive is no answer in terms of non-violence. Therefore, when the time for testing her active non-violence came, she failed in the test. This is no criticism of China. I wish the Chinese success. According to the accepted standards, her behavior is strictly correct. But when the position is examined in terms of non-violence, I must say it is unbecoming for a nation of 400 millions, a nation as cultured as Japan, to repel Japanese aggression by resorting to Japan’s own methods. If the Chinese had non-violence of my conception, there would be no use left for the latest machinery for destruction which Japan possesses. The Chinese would say to Japan; “Bring all your machinery, we present half of our population to you. But the remaining two hundred millions won’t bend their knee to you.” If the Chinese did that, Japan would become China’s slave.
It has been objected, however, that non-violence is all right in the case of the Jews because there is personal contact between the individual and his persecutors, but in China, Japan comes with its long-range guns and aeroplanes. The person who rains death from above has never any chance of even knowing who and how many he has killed. How can non-violence combat aerial warfare, seeing that there are no personal contacts? The reply to this is that behind the death-dealing bomb there is the human hand that releases it, and behind that still, is the human heart that sets the hand in motion. And at the back of the policy of terrorism is the assumption that terrorism, if applied in a sufficient measure, will produce the desired result, namely, bend the adversary to the tyrant’s will. But supposing a people make up their mind that they will never do the tyrant’s not will, nor retaliate with the tyrant’s own methods, the tyrant will not find it worth his while to go on with his terrorism. If sufficient food is given to the tyrant, a time will come when he will have had more than surfeit. If all the mice in the world held conference together and resolved that they would no more fear the cat but all run into her mouth, the mice would live. I have actually seen a cat play with a mouse. She did not kill it outright but held it between her jaws, then released it, and again pounced upon it as soon as it made an effort to escape. In the end, the mouse died out of sheer fright. The cat would have derived no sport if the mouse had not tried to run away. I learnt the lesson of non-violence from my wife, when I tried to bend her to my will. Her determined resistance to my will on the one hand and her quiet submission to the suffering my stupidity involved on the other, ultimately made me ashamed of myself and cured me of my stupidity in thinking that I was born to rule over her, and in the end she became my teacher in non-violence. And what I did in South Africa was but an extension of the rule of Satyagraha which she unwillingly practiced in her own person.
Q. You do not know Hitler and Mussolini. They are incapable of any kind of moral response. They have no conscience and they have made themselves impervious to world opinion. Would it not be playing into the hands of these dictators if, for instance, the Czechs following your advice confronted them with non-violence? Seeing that dictatorships are unmoral by definition, would the law of moral conversion hold good in their case?
A. Your argument presupposes that the dictators like Mussolini or Hitler are beyond redemption. But belief in non-violence is based on the assumption that human nature in its essence is one and, therefore, unfailingly responds to the advances of love. It should remembered that they have up to now always found ready response to the violence that they have used. Within their experience, they have not come across organized non-violent resistance on an appreciable scale, if at all. Therefore, it is not only highly likely, but I hold it to be inevitable, that they would recognize the superiority of non-violent resistance over any display of violence that they may be capable of putting forth. Moreover, the non-violent technique that I have presented to the Czechs does not depend for its success on the goodwill of the dictators; for, a non-violent resister depends upon the unfailing assistance of God which sustains him throughout difficulties which would otherwise be considered insurmountable. His faith makes him indomitable.
Suppose, they (dictators) come and occupy mines, factories and all sources of natural wealth belonging to the Czechs, then the following results can take place: (1) The Czechs, may be annihilated for disobedience to orders. That would be a glorious victory for the Czechs and the beginning of the fall of Germany. (2) The Czechs might become demoralized in the presence of overwhelming force. This is a result common in all struggles, but if demoralization does take place, it would not be on account of non-violence, but it would be due to absence or inadequacy of non-violence. (3) The third thing that can take place is that Germany might use her new possessions for occupation by her surplus population. This, again, could not be avoided by offering violent resistance, for we have assumed that violent resistance is out of the question. Thus, non-violent resistance is the best method under all conceivable circumstances.
Q. What can I, as a Christian, do to contribute to international peace? How can international anarchy be broken down and non-violence made effective for establishing peace? Subject nations apart, how can nations at the top be made to disarm themselves?
A. You, as a Christian, can make an effective contribution by non-violent action even though it may cost you your all. Peace will never come until the Great Powers courageously decide to disarm themselves. It seems to me that recent events must force that belief on the Great powers. I have an implicit faith - a faith that today burns brighter than ever, after half a century’s experience of unbroken practice non-violence - that mankind can only be saved through non-violence which is the central teaching of the Bible as I have understood the Bible.
Harijan: Dec. 24, 1938.
1. This observation was subsequently withdrawn by Gandhiji.
- The Editor