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War and Non Violence

A 1942 Lecture Revisited (Part 2)

by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, posted June 7, 2012

Whatever the causes, religious, psychological, economic or organizational, only pressure on governments can prevent them from fighting one another. Unofficial bodies cannot take action against governments in moments of crisis, for that would mean rebellion. We must build up institutions through which we can develop the habits of goodness and peace.

Those who go to war are not criminals, but men who nourish real grievances. They reply to our injustice by violent injustices of their own. Instead of getting angry, we must try to discover and remove the motives of their crimes.

Part 1

Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha

Here, I provide part 2 of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s 1942 lecture [6,145 words]. In this section, three topics are covered; these being,

The Ideal Society

Education in Values


Note that in the section, ‘The Ideal Society’, Radhakrishnan made reference to the League of Nations (an international organization, located in Geneva), which was in existence when he made this 1942 lecture. It was dissolved in April 1946. This League of Nations was replaced by the United Nations, by mutual agreement among the then superpower brokers. Referring to the deeds of the League of Mahatma GandhiNations, Radhakrishnan mentioned that, “The Council and the Assembly were shy from the start to take any action that might suggest disrespect to the doctrine of state sovereignty.” Similar situation was repeated on behalf of the Sinhala dominant Sri Lankan state, by the United Nations during the Eelam War IV. Quite many Tamils erroneously believed that the United Nations will provide justice for them. But, as Radhakrishnan pointed out in 1942, the decisions of the League of Nations (or United Nations which replaced it) were based on the “old game of power politics”.

In my view, the section on Gandhi is informative. Radhakrishnan clearly distinguishes the concept of violence from nonviolence and also heroism from cowardice. Not doing anything, when an aggressor attacks you, is not nonviolence but cowardice. In his words, “Nonviolence is not doing nothing. We can resist evil by refusing to cooperate with it.” As explained by Radhakrishnan, defensive violence is better than cowardice. In the 1990s and 2000s, a section of Eelam Tamils [especially the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) group and V. Anandasangaree] preached nonviolence for media attention, publicity, website patronage and even for some dubious ‘prestigious awards’. But their perverted nonviolence was limited to cooperation with the ‘devil’. The section on Gandhi as well as footnotes 41 and 44 provide Mahatma Gandhi’s direct quotes on his principle of nonviolence.

I also provide the foot notes 35 to 48 at the end, for the last three themes. Among these, footnotes 40, 41, 42 and 44 are unusually long, as they are direct citations from the works of Bertrand Russell and Mahatman Gandhi. Note that, wherever dots appear within the sentence in the text, they are as in the original.

War and Non Violence (Part 2)

 [Source: Religion and Society, by S. Radhakrishnan, Harper Collins Publishers, 1995, (originally published in 1947), pp. 199-238.]

The Ideal Society

The ideal for which we work must be better than the actual state of affairs, and yet not remote from the conditions of human life. The world cannot be suddenly transmuted into obedience to the law of love. We say that our enemies are fighting to dominate, and we to liberate, a new age. We are fighting not merely for freeing the world from the yoke of Nazism, but for creating the positive conditions in which the different peoples can affirm their own essence, and make their specific contributions. The war is the death-agony of the habits of thought and system of exploitation which we have pursued all these centuries. Hitler is an effect, a symptom, not a cause. He is no accident, but the natural, inevitable outcome of the present order. To avert Hitlerism we must resolve that all men, irrespective of race, creed or colour, shall have the basic opportunity to work and earn a living wage; that education, wealth, decent shelter and civil liberties shall be available to all. The glaring contradictions of an economy which is forced to destroy food while people starve [35], which supports an incredible luxury side by side with an unbearable squalor, must be ended. Domination is the product of insecurity in the face of difference. If there are no strong people to oppress the weak, there will be no room for coercion.

Whatever the causes, religious, psychological, economic or organizational, only pressure on governments can prevent them from fighting one another. Unofficial bodies cannot take action against governments in moments of crisis, for that would mean rebellion. We must build up institutions through which we can develop the habits of goodness and peace.

Those who go to war are not criminals, but men who nourish real grievances. They reply to our injustice by violent injustices of their own. Instead of getting angry, we must try to discover and remove the motives of their crimes. We must recognize that there is something deeply wrong in the present world. We must effect peacefully a social transformation which makes justice, individual and national, its objective.

The withering away of the state means the displacement of coercion by habit, discussion and argument, the building up of a system of law, liberty and peace. As we have, for the lawless violence of the robber or murderer, a legal application of force, we must have it also for the wanton aggression on a peaceful neighbor. Lathi charges and gunshots are not very pleasant; but they are better than mob-violence and incendiarism. In principle, we are against the use of this amount of force to suppress lawlessness, in the sense that we regret the necessity to use it; yet it is a regrettable necessity. For if we allow wanton aggression to rage and spread unchecked we increase the total amount of evil. It is the duty of the state to prevent effectively the lawless use of force, though we must not use more force than is necessary. It must be sufficient; otherwise lawless force will become triumphant. National life was a chaos of private feuds, as international life is today. Order and liberty in national life were secured by the legal use of force and education. A similar method will have to be adopted in international matters also. In any imperfect society, law backed by force exists to enable the very large majority of good men to live among a few bad men. Unarmed idealism cannot subdue evil. Pascal said: ‘Justice without force is powerless.’ [36] So long as there are men inclined to ignore justice, justice shall have power. We are like ships that are more likely to reach their port if they compromise a little with wind and weather. Force, when used by an international authority, is not naked assertion of power. It is used to liberate the creative capacities of the social order. It derives its ethical sanction from the positive social function. The anarchical system which prevails where power rules, and where nations go about heavily armed, must be changed. International anarchy produces slave empires and Hitlers. The alternative is a system of international relations based on law, cooperation and peace. We must arm the judge and not the litigant. If we work for an international system of peaceful cooperation, imperialist powers must divest themselves of the economic advantages and privileges which they acquired in a system of power politics.

It is sometimes said that we might have limited federations which will reduce the risk of war in certain geographical areas. But this would not solve the problem, since the relations of states are not limited geographically. Inter-state relations are world relations, and cannot be carried on without a world organization or government. The League of Nations is a part of the movement away from power and force to law based on consent and cooperation. It is an attempt to determine international relationships by nonviolent methods of discussion, compromise and law. The League Covenant broke down in Manchuria, in Ethiopia, in Spain, in Albania, in Austria, to say nothing of what happened at Munich. The Council and the Assembly were shy from the start to take any action that might suggest disrespect to the doctrine of state sovereignty. The cynical view taken by the ‘Senior Judge of the Court of International Justice at the Hague’, in Bernard Shaw’s play Geneva, is not altogether pointless.[37] Mr. Neville Chamberlain in his broadcast speech said: ‘However much we may sympathise with a small nation confronted by a big, powerful neighbor, we cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole British Empire in war simply on her account. If we have to fight it must be on larger issues than that.’ ‘If I were convinced that any nation had made up its mind to dominate the world by fear of its force, I should feel that it must be resisted.’ [38] This is not the teaching of the Covenant. It is the old policy of balance of power. Britain will not go to war to save Belgium or Czechoslovakia; only the curbing of a powerful neighbor, whether it be Hitler, or the Kaiser or Napoleon, is a sufficient justification for war. National self-regarding aims are more important than international justice. Harold Nicholson points out that Britain is at war owing to a ‘sound biological instinct, the instinct of self-preservation’, to which various names are given: ‘The Balance of Power,’ ‘The Protection of smaller nations’, etc. The League failed, because those who joined it did not wish to give up the rights acquired by the use of violence. It was used to stabilize an unjust order, and thus gave respectability to the old game of power politics. Disinterestedness of nations was more difficult to attain than even the unselfishness of individuals. Besides, it had no effective sanction behind it. It was like a gun that fired blank cartridges. If the League is to function properly, it must have permanent authorities, one which shall make the law and rules which are to regulate the relations between states, and the other which shall decide disputes in accordance with these laws and rules. The latter may be empowered to make radical changes in the relations of states. Any League should possess a Legislature (federal government), a Court of Justice and an Executive authority; for no nation can be judge of its own cause, or punisher of its own wrongs. Just as we have an established system of law backed by force which is disinterested and public, for restraining the aggression of individuals, we require also an international police force. If a state breaks the law of nations and resorts to force, the law must be backed by the force of the community of states, and the aggressor state should be brought to account. It is not right, in the present conditions, to object that the League attempts to prevent war by war. While this is certainly so, there cannot be a complete abdication of force in the present conditions. In human relations the choice is not between good and bad, but between what is bad and what is worse. The unregulated use of force by the states is infinitely worse than the use of force by the world commonwealth as the sanction of law. We cannot further the rule of law and the method of cooperation unless the power of the community of states is used, in the last resort, to maintain the law against those who resort to violence. The Hindu treatises on inter-state relations suggest the four methods of sama (friendship), dana (appeasement), bheda (mutual dissensions) and danda (armed resistance). Nonviolence may be unattainable if we wish to obtain it at one rush; but we may reach it if we are prepared to work towards it by stages.

The other objection is that the nation states today are not in a mood to treat an act of war against one as an act of war against all. There is not that community of interests among sovereign states which will back the authority of the League. The Allied nations, which have the common bond of ideals, may form themselves during the period of the war into a Federation, with a Parliament or Congress directly elected by the peoples, and after the war other countries might be admitted. A new society is struggling to be born, and the old order seeks to prevent it. Those who fight against the Axis powers are on the side of Revolution. If we will the end of freedom and democracy, we must will the means to it. There is no other way to a peace that is enduring.

Education in Values

If our civilization perishes it will not be due to ignorance of what is needed to save it. It will be due to resistance to adopting the remedy, even when the patient appears to be dying. We are lacking in moral energy and social imagination to understand the principles of the new society of peace and ordered liberty. The purpose of education is not to fit us to the social environment, but to help us to fight against evil things, to create a more perfect society.

This world does not evolve through savagery and bloodshed. This war is not an inevitable stage in the evolutionary struggle to a happy future. We are not so completely at the mercy of the social environment as the evolutionary view suggests. It is the failure of man that is reflected in the social failure. If the League failed, it is because the will to work the League was not there. Political institutions cannot outrun the sentiments and habits of thought of the individual citizens. Political wisdom cannot be in advance of social maturity. Social progress cannot be achieved by external means. It is determined by man’s intimate transcendent experiences. We must work for the renewal of the heart, the transformation of values, the surrender of the spirit to the claims of the eternal. We all look up at the same stars, we dream beneath the same sky, we are fellow-passengers on the same planet; and it does not matter if we endeavor to find the ultimate truth along different roads. The riddle of existence is so great that there cannot be only one road leading to an answer.

Devices from the spinning wheel to the internal combustion engine are devices of purely social utility. They have no intrinsic moral value. They are valuable only if they are subordinated to higher moral ends. The means of progress are not ends in themselves. The habit of perverting values by subordinating the eternal to the temporal, the essential to the accidental, the lasting to the transient, can be checked only by a powerful education. Education is man’s perennial birth in the spirit; it is the road to the inward light. Education presupposes the selection of, and adherence to, supreme values. We must work for a community which is wider and deeper than the state. The nature of that community depends on our ideals. If we are liberals, it is humanity; if we are conservatives, it is the nation; if we are communists, it is the world proletariat; if we are Nazis, it is the Race. The state itself is not the final end. There is a wider community to which our deepest loyalty is due.

The final ends of a political action are to be considered by the thinker and the writer. In them society becomes conscious and critical of itself. They are the guardians of the values of a society, the values which are the real life and character of a society. Their business is to educate us to a consciousness of the real self of society, to save us from spiritual callousness and mental vulgarity. They must help us to develop friendship and fellow-feeling among the people of the world. Without friendship, says Aristotle, there is no justice.

The great thinkers refuse to look upon anything smaller than humanity as the object of their love. The world is for them one family. Goethe felt it impossible to hate the French. He wrote to Eckermann: ‘For me who am not war-like, and have no feeling for war, such songs would have been a mask which would have fitted me very ill. I have never shammed in my poetry. How could I have written songs of hate without hatred? And, between ourselves, I did not hate the French, though I thanked God when we got rid of them. How could I, to whom civilization and barbarism are the only two differences of importance, hate a nation which is one of the most civilized on earth, and to which I owe so great a part of my own education? In general, national animosity is a peculiar thing. In the lowest degrees of civilization it is always strongest and most violent. But there is a point where it vanishes – where we stand, as it were, above the nations and we feel the happiness or misery of a neighbouring people as though it were our own.’ Patriotism is ordinarily only hatred disguised in acceptable terms, and commended to the common people with striped cloth, silver medals and sweet hymns. Love of the world is the ideal end to which the love of country is the means. Even our enemies are human beings. They react in the same way to pleasure and pain. We are brothers and sisters under our skin. We must recover our sanity and calm, and feel restless in the madhouse of the world which is becoming unbearably noisy and cruel. This world must be governed with wisdom.

The intellectuals need not take an active part in politics or in the actual affairs of administration. It is their primary function to serve society with intellectual integrity. They must create the social consciousness and sense of responsibility which transcend the limits of the political community. Those who can serve society in this way have a duty not to engage in politics. For every society there will be a few for whom participation in political activity would be perversion of genius, a disloyalty to themselves. By staying where they are, they remain true to their genius, they help to remove a little society’s ignorance of itself. To be free from the world is the condition of their contribution. They must serve the social and spiritual values, but unfortunately totalitarian regimes subordinate social and intellectual activities to their own ends.

The new politics are political religion, based on messianic hopes of social salvation. The spiritual fathers of totalitarianisms are the intelligentsia. If the intellectuals abandon the interests of culture, and repudiate the primacy of spiritual values, we cannot blame the politicians who are responsible for the safety of the State. If the ship’s captain puts the safety of the vessel before the interests of the passengers, we cannot blame him. The State is a means, not an end. There will be a few people who live in and for a world of absolute values, of which neither life nor comfort is one. Political and economic values are relative and subsidiary. They are means to ends. The prophets help us to see the invisible, and reveal to us the eternal under the conditions of present life. They are careless of the values of this world, and devoted to the realization of goodness. They see unity, and make others see it. They appeal to our sense of fellow-feeling. They have the courage of heart, the courtesy of the spirit and the laughter of the unafraid. Thomas Naylor, of the Society of Friends, in ‘his last testimony, said to be delivered by him about two hours before his Departure’, said:

“There is a spirit, which I feel, that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations. As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thoughts to any other. If it is betrayed, it bears it…It is conceived in sorrow and brought forth without any to pity it; nor doth its murmur at grief and oppression. It never rejoiceth but through sufferings; for with the world’s joy it is murdered. I found it alone, being forsaken. I have fellowship therein with them who lived in dens and desolate places.”


Only now and again does there arise above the common level some rare spirit, who, having looked upon God face to face, reflects more clearly the divine purpose, and puts into practice more courageously the divine guidance. The light of such a man shines like a strong beacon on a dark and disordered world. India is better today, because there has come into its life a personality that is a flame from God. His suffering embodies the wounded pride of India, and in his satyagraha is reflected the eternal patience of her wisdom. An intrepid spirit, an almost impregnable will-power, and a superhuman passion for truth and justice are his main characteristics. Gandhi presents to us the purest, the most elevating and the most inspiring ideal known to man. His is a spiritual influence, a cleansing, purifying flame, which has burned up much dross and revealed much pure gold. All his life has been one continuous fight against the unspiritual.

There are many who dismiss him as a professional politician who bungles at critical moments. In one sense politics are a profession and the politician, like a lawyer, or an engineer, is one who is trained to transact public business in an efficient manner. There is another sense in which politics are a vocation, and the politician is one who is conscious of a mission to save his people, and inspire them with a love of the common ideal. Such a one may fail in the practical business of government, and yet succeed in filling his fellows with an invincible faith in their common cause. Leaders like Cromwell and Lincoln may combine both. They may be at once the personal embodiment of social ideals, and practical organisers of public affairs. Gandhi, while he may not be well equipped in the art of government, is really a politician in the second sense. More than all, he is the voice of the new world, the voice of a fuller life, of a wider, more comprehensive consciousness. He has firm faith that we can build a world without poverty and unemployment, without wars and bloodshed, on the basis of religion. “In that world there will be a faith in God greater and deeper than ever in the past. The very existence of the world in a broad sense depends on religion.”

He says: ‘The world of tomorrow will be, must be, a society based on non-violence. It may seem a distant goal, an impractical Utopia. But it is not in the least unobtainable, since it can be worked from here and now. An individual can do it, cannot whole groups of individuals? Whole nations? Men often hesitate to make a beginning because they feel that the objective cannot be achieved in its entirety. This attitude of mind is precisely our greatest obstacle to progress – an obstacle that each man, if he only wills it, can clear away.’ [39] We must put aside the view that environment is overpowering, and that we are helpless.

If the eternal good is to be realized in time, we must use only such means as are intrinsically good. All short-cuts to achieve it quickly, or by force through actions intrinsically evil, are doomed to frustration. Between violent restraint and moral appeal to the criminal, the latter is preferable. It is argued that if physical coercion is bad, moral coercion is no better. It is coercive, not persuasive, violent rather than loving. Without firing a shot or using a lathi, masses of people may be coerced, against their will or their better judgement, to take a certain course of action. Yet moral suasion is the better course, for it implies freedom to accept or reject.

Nonviolence is not an excuse for cowardice or weakness. It is the expression of strength. Only those who have the qualities of valour, suffering, and the spirit of sacrifice, can restrain themselves, and not resort to the use of arms. It is dangerous to be nonviolent out of fear for the consequence of violence. It is wrong to think that Gandhi’s view puts life above liberty. Gandhi knows that to suffer in one’s body, and to die, are physical evils which can be borne and justified, if thereby we create a good that compensates for them. It is no use destroying men; we must destroy their manners. If the present rulers are overthrown, but the system remains unaltered, nothing is gained. Fighting on the fronts is not the worst evil. What is worse than that is the condition of society, which makes possible the manifestation of violence by the strong on the weak. Hitlers are only outward symptoms of a septic condition of society, which cannot be cured merely by dressing the sores or cutting them out. If society is to be saved, resistance which will put down lies and insincerity. Death is not worse than a dishonourable life.

Nonviolent resistance requires fortitude and discipline; but these qualities are needed in wars also. If men are willing to die on the battlefield, they must show the same courage and idealism in nonviolent resistance. We may lose more in war than in this kind of resistance.

It is argued that non-resisters may have to face the prospect of their country being annihilated. But even resisters may have to face that result. Tribunals ask conscientious objectors as to what they would do if the Germans come to rape their wives, sisters or mothers. They will, of course, prevent them from doing so, but not murder the wives, sisters and daughters of Germans. The analogy is not legitimate, because the use of force in self-defence by the individual victim of an aggression is quite different from wars where force is used against innocent persons. Gandhi’s nonviolence is an active force, the weapon not of the weak but of the brave. ‘If blood be shed, let it be our blood. Cultivate the quiet courage of dying without killing. For man lives freely only by his readiness to die, if need be, at the hands of his brother, never by killing him…Love does not burn others, it burns itself, suffering joyfully even unto death.’

Nonviolence is not acquiescence in evil. Gandhi knows that the greatest misfortune is submission to injustice, not the suffering of it. He does not ask us to follow the example of Plato’s philosopher who, seeing the madness of the multitude and like a man sheltering behind a wall in a storm of dust and hail, felt almost inclined to abandon the world to the evil which had overshadowed it. Nonviolence is not doing nothing. We can resist evil by refusing to cooperate with it. Indian history is full of examples of nonviolence non-cooperation: the Mahajans who closed their shops as a protest against the unrestricted power of the king; the Brahmins of Benares who fasted as a protest against the imposition of taxes by the East India Company; the Rajput ladies who immolated themselves to save their honour from the lust of the invaders. These examples illustrate the might of the human spirit to overcome evil. Nonviolent resistance relies not on strong muscles, devastating armaments and fiendish poison gases, but on moral courage, self-control, on the gripping awareness that there is in every human being, however brutal, however personally hostile: a burning light of kindness, a love of justice, a respect for goodness and truth, which can be roused by anyone who uses the right means. The sacrifice of Telemachus was needed to ensure that gladiators should no longer be butchered to make a Roman holiday.

Gandhi applies his methods to the question of India’s freedom. We must be content to die if we cannot live as free men and women. British rule in India is based on cooperation, on the willing and genuine consent of the vast majority of the Indian people. If this cooperation is withheld, the rule collapses. There are different steps we might take in this method of nonviolent non-cooperation. What applies to India’s fight for freedom applies also in cases of external aggression. It is said that in a world where war is totalitarian, where combatants are no longer in contact with one another but organize massacres from afar, nonviolent non-cooperation may appear to be ineffective, though heroic. If India refrains from resisting the Japanese invasion by violence, but to the last man, woman and child refuses to do any work, or sell any food, or render any service, but endures stripes, jail, gunshot and other forms of violence, she will succeed in overcoming the enemy. The adoption of this policy requires bravery, a courage, an endurance which is unequalled even in war. The alien invaders will not get men to occupy posts of policemen, postmen, etc. The whole population cannot be imprisoned. They cannot all be shot. After shooting a few, the attempt will have to be given up in despair. Revenue cannot be raised, and there will be strikes among deck labourers, etc. [40] No government can function unless the population is reconciled [41]. India’s resistance would be effective. All this is to be done with love and no hatred for the oppressors, and in the process the country becomes purified, ennobled and free [42]

Nonviolent resistance is also a form of resistance, and therefore coercion. How is it superior to armed resistance? We have to judge it by results. Application of force tends to demoralize those who use it. The temper of mind which enjoys working itself up to a fury against our enemies is not to be encouraged. There is the spiritual pride that we are lovable, while our enemies are to be detested. We are incapable of progress until we break out of the bondage of hatred. Nonviolent resistance does not create new evils which might tend to hinder any good that might be intended. We meet the challenge without suffering moral degradation ourselves.

When the spirit of savagery seems to brood over the whole world, Gandhi appeals to the best in us, and proclaims that endurance will have a purpose and effort a goal. Gandhi knows that, unless we are renewed in our whole relationship to life and truth, we are not capable of nonviolent resistance to evil. We must develop the inner sense of right, and not do violence to our individual integrity, whatever happens. We cannot lift the whole world with undue haste to the highest level. The Hindu sastras teach that we should not abandon the attempt to incarnate the ideal in society as a whole. The order of sannyasins is the embodied conscience of mankind, reminding us of the world of higher values to which even common men respond. With them the renunciation of armed force is a matter of absolute principle. They have cast off all fear and anger, and have no need for the material things for which men fight. These ‘elect’ souls go beyond the give-and-take of law. They witness to the evil of war by going beyond the protection of the state; but they cannot enforce it as a command on other people and deprive men of the protection of law. While they may give up their claims against those who oppress, they cannot force their views on those of a different opinion. As a policy for a nation, nonviolent non-cooperation is justifiable only if we are fairly certain that the nation is really prepared to act on such a policy. But the few who not only talk of peace and think of it, but will it with all their souls, when faced by a crisis, would prefer the four walls of a cell to a tent on the battlefield, would be prepared to stand against a wall, to be spat upon, to be stoned, to be shot.

If we are not ready for nonviolent resistance, it is better to resist wrongs by violence than not to resist at all. “Where the only choice is between cowardice and violence I advise violence. I cultivate the quiet courage of dying without killing. But to him who has not this courage, I advise killing and being killed rather than the emasculation of the race. I would rather have India resort to arms to defend her honour, than that she should in a cowardly manner become, or remain, a helpless victim of her own dishonours.”

Gandhi is not a doctrinaire. “I do not say: ‘eschew violence in your dealing with robbers or thieves, or with nations that may invade India’. But in order to be better able to do so, we must learn to restrain  ourselves. It is a sign not of strength but of weakness, to take up the pistol on the slightest pretext. Mutual fisticuffs are a training not in violence but in emasculation. My method of nonviolence can never lead to loss of strength, but it alone will make it possible, if the nation wills it, to offer disciplined and concerted violence in time of danger.”[43] “My nonviolence does not admit of running away from danger, and leaving dear ones unprotected. Between violence and cowardly flight, I can only prefer violence to cowardice. I can no more preach nonviolence to a coward than I can tempt a blind man to enjoy health scenes. Nonviolence is the summit of bravery. And in my own experience I have had no difficulty in demonstrating to men, trained in the school of violence, the superiority of nonviolence. As a coward, which I was for years, I harboured violence. I began to prize nonviolence only when I began to shed cowardice.[44]

“Nonviolence cannot be taught to a person who fears to die and has no power of resistance. A helpless mouse is not nonviolent because he is always eaten by cat. He would gladly eat the murderers if he could, but he ever tries to flee from her. We do not call him a coward, because he is made by nature to behave no better than he does. But a man who, when faced by danger, behaves like a mouse, is rightly called a coward. He harbours violence and hatred in his heart, and would kill his enemy if he could without hurting himself. He is a stranger to nonviolence. All sermonizing on it will be lost on him. Bravery is foreign to his nature. Before he can understand nonviolence, he has to be taught to stand his ground and even suffer death, in the attempt to defend himself against the aggressor who bids fair to overwhelm him. To do otherwise would be to confirm his cowardice, and take him further away from nonviolence. Whilst I may not actually help anyone to retaliate, I must not let a coward seek shelter behind nonviolence so-called. Not knowing the stuff of which nonviolence is made, many have honestly believed that running away from danger every time was a virtue compared to offering resistance, especially when it was fraught with danger to one’s life. As a teacher of nonviolence I must, so far as it is possible for me, guard against such an unmanly belief. Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man. Destruction is not the law of the humans. Man lives freely by his readiness to die, if need be, at the hands of his brother, never by killing him. Every murder or other injury, no matter for what cause, committed or inflicted on another is a crime against humanity” [45]

“No matter how weak a person is in body, if it is a shame to flee, he will stand his ground and die at his post. This would be nonviolent bravery. No matter how weak he is, he will use what strength he has in inflicting injury on his opponent and die in the attempt. This is bravery, but not nonviolence. If, when his duty is to face danger, he flees, it is cowardice. In the first case the man will have love or charity in him. In the second and third cases, there would be a dislike or distrust and fear.”[46]

“The doctrine of nonviolence is not for the weak and the cowardly; it is meant for the brave and the strong. The bravest man allows himself to be killed without killing. And he desists from killing or injuring, because he knows that it is wrong to injure.”[47]

“If one has not the courage, I want him to cultivate the art of killing and being killed, rather than in a cowardly manner flee from danger…For the latter in spite of his flight does commit mental himsa. He flees because he has not the courage to be killed in the act of killing.” [48] All this is an echo of the Hindu view.

Life at best is a long second best, the perpetual compromise between the ideal and the possible. The Kingdom of God knows no compromise, no practical limitations. But here on earth there are the pitiless laws of Nature. There are the human passions, and we have to build an ordered cosmos on their basis. The world is not the natural home of perfection. It seems to be the kingdom of chance and error. Caprice apparently rules without mercy in great things and small. What is noble and good seldom attains to expression; the absurd and the perverse assert their supremacy. Above the darkness, the firmament of spirit arches in shining radiance. Through effort and difficulty ideals struggle to realisation. When we are faced with things as they are, the problem is not how much evil to cast out but, as Burke so acutely put it, how much evil to tolerate.

In the progress of societies three stages are marked: the first, where the law of the jungle prevails, where we have violence and selfishness; the second, where there are rule of law and impartial justice with courts, police and prisons; and the third, where we have nonviolence and unselfishness, where love and law are one. The last is the goal of civilized humanity; and it can be brought nearer by the increase in the numbers of men and women who have renounced reliance, not only on force, but on other benefits the state can confer or withdraw from them, who have literally left home and sacrificed personal ambition, who die daily that the world may live in peace. Such a one is Gandhi. He will be remembered when the names of the realists, who advise the world to ignore him, are utterly forgotten. Though his ideal may now seem impossible of attainment, it will be realised. Of such was it written:

Thou hast great allies,

Thy friends are exultations, agonies

And love, and Man’s unconquerable mind.

He is not today a free man; you may crucify the body of such a one, but the light of him, which is from the divine flame of truth and love, cannot be put out. One of these days he will throw away his life to give his people life. The world will look back to him some day, and salute him as one born out of his time, one who had seen the light in the dark and savage world.


[35] Sir John Orr observes: ‘A third of the population in the United Kingdom and about an equal proportion in the United States do not enjoy food and shelter on the standard needed for health. In most other countries, the proportion of the population which has never been adequately fed or adequately housed is even higher. Among the native races, for whose welfare Britain is responsible, only a relatively small proportion of the population have houses in which they can live in decency and food on the health standard.’ – Fighting for What?, 1942.

[36] Cp. ‘Justice without force is powerless. Force without justice is tyranny. Justice without force is unavailing, for there will always be malefactors. Force without justice is justly condemned. Justice and force must march hand in hand so that that which is just may be strong and that which is strong may be just.’ – Pensees.

[37] “Sir Orpheus Midlander: But surely such a procedure was never contemplated when the Powers joined the League?

The Senior Judge: I do not tink anything was contemplated when the Powers joined the League. They signed the Covenant without reading it, to oblige President Wilson. The United States then refused to sign it to disoblige President Wilson, also without reading it. Since then the Powers have behaved in every respect as if the League did not exist, except when they could use it for their own purposes.

Sir Orpheus Midlander: But how else could they use it?

The Senior Judge: They could use it to maintain justice and order between the nations.” – p.40.

[38] 27th September 1939.

[39] Liberty (London)

[40] Even in the present conditions, the policy of non-cooperation with the enemy will have to be adopted. General Molesworth, Deputy Chief of General Staff, in an address to the Rotary Club at Delhi in March 1942, said: “Everybody in India is asking how we are going to keep the Japanese out. From the point of view of the army in this enormous battlefront, we shall hold vital places which it is necessary to hold in order to make India safe, but we cannot hold every one. Therefore what is to be done for the rest of India where we are unable to put troops, air or naval forces? We cannot arm all. On the other hand, we can do a great deal to educate the masses to give the Japanese a great deal of trouble and delay and destroy invasion. It may be there is no proper lead and no proper leadership down below. Still, I feel that the Japanese invasion can be beaten if we educate the people on the lines of ‘They shall not pass’. Psychologically it can only be done by the intelligentsia working definitely shoulder to shoulder with worker and peasant.”

[41] Cp. Gandhi’s message to the Czechs when they surrendered in October 1938: “I want to speak to the Czechs because their plight moved me to the point of physical and mental distress, and I felt that it would be cowardice on my part not to share with them the thoughts that were welling up within me. It is clear that the small nations must come or be ready to come under the protection of the dictators or be a constant menace to the peace of Europe. In spite of all the goodwill in the world, England and France cannot save them. Their intervention can only mean bloodshed and destruction such as has never been seen before. If I were Czech, therefore, I would free these two nations from the obligation to defend my country. And yet I must live. I would not be a vassal to any nation or body. I must have absolute independence or perish. To seek to win in a clash of arms would be pure bravado. Not so if in defying the might of one who would deprive me of my independence I refused to obey his will and perished unarmed in the attempt. In so doing, though I lose the body, I save my soul, i.e. my honour. This inglorious peace should be my opportunity. I must live down the humiliation and gain real independence. But, says a comforter, ‘Hitler knows no pity. Your spiritual effort will avail nothing before him.’ My answer is, ‘You may be right. History has no record of a nation having adopted nonviolent resistance. If Hitler is unaffected by suffering it does not matter. For I shall have lost nothing worthy. My honour is the only thing worth preserving. That is independent of Hitler’s pity. But as a believer in nonviolence, I may not limit its possibilities. Hitherto he and his likes have built upon their invariable experience that men yield to force. Unarmed men, women and children offering nonviolent resistance without any bitterness in them will be a novel experience for them. Who can dare say that it is not in their nature to respond to the higher and finer forces? They have the same soul that I have.’ But, says another comforter, ‘What you say is all right for you. But how do you expect your people to respond to the novel call? They are trained to fight. In personal bravery they are second to none in the world. For you, now, to ask them to throw away their arms and be trained for nonviolent resistance seems to me to be a vain attempt.’ You may be right. But I have a call I must answer. I must deliver my message to my people. This humiliation has sunk too deep in me to remain without an outlet. I, at least, must act up to the light that has dawned on me. This is how I should, I believe, act if I were Czech. When I first launched out on satyagraha, I had no companion. We were thirteen thousand men, women and children against a whole nation capable of crushing the existence out of us: I did not know who would listen to me. It all came as in a flash. All the 13,000 did not fight. Many fell back. But the honour of the nation was saved. New history was written by the South African satyagraha. I present Dr. Benes with a weapon not of the weak but of the brave. There is no bravery greater than a resolute refusal to bend the knee to an earthly power, no matter how great, and that without bitterness of spirit and in the fullness of faith that the spirit alone lives, nothing else does.”

[42] Here is what Bertrand Russell says on War and Non-resistance.: “We will suppose the invading army arrived in London, where they would evict the King from Buckingham Palace and the Members from the House of Commons. A few able bureaucrats would be brought over from Berlin to consult with the Civil Servants in Whitehall as to the new laws by which the reign of Kultur was to be inaugurated. No difficulty would be expected in managing so tame a nation, and at first almost all the existing officials would be confirmed in their offices. For the government of a large modern state is a complicated matter, and it would be thought well to facilitate the transition by the help of men familiar with the existing machinery.”

“But at this point, if the nation showed as much courage as it has always shown in fighting, difficulties would begin. All the existing officials would refuse to cooperate with the Germans. Some of the more prominent would be imprisoned, perhaps even shot, in order to encourage the others. But if the others held firm, if they refused to recognize or transmit any order given by the Germans, if they continued to carry out the decrees previously made by the English Parliament and the English Government, the Germans would have to dismiss them all, even to the humblest postman, and call in German talent to fill the breach.”

“The dismissed officials could not all be imprisoned or shot Since no fighting would have occurred, such wholesale brutality would be out of the question. And it would be very difficult for the Germans suddenly, out of nothing, to create an administrative machine. Whatever edicts they might issue would be quietly ignored by the population. If they ordered that German should be the language taught in schools, the schoolmasters would go on as if no such order had been issued; if the schoolmasters were dismissed the parents would no longer send the children to school. If they ordered that English young men should undergo military service, the young men would simply refuse; after shooting a few, the Germans would have to give up the attempt in despair. If they tried to raise revenue by customs duties at the ports, they would have to have German customs officers; this would lead to a strike of all the dock labourers, so that this way of raising revenue would become impossible. If they tried to take over the railways, there would be a strike of railway servants. Whatever they touched would instantly become paralysed, and it would soon be evident, even to them, that nothing was to be made out of England unless the population could be conciliated.”

“Such a method of dealing with invasion would, of course, require fortitude and discipline. But fortitude and discipline are required in war. For ages past education has been largely directed to producing these qualities for the sake of war. They now exist so widely that in every civilised country almost every man is willing to die on the battlefield whenever his Government thinks the moment suitable. The same courage and idealism which are now put into war could quite easily be directed by education into the channel of passive resistance. I do not know what losses England may suffer before the present war is ended, but if they amount to a million no one will be surprised. An immensely smaller number of losses, incurred in passive resistance, would prove to any invading army that the task of subjecting England to alien domination was an impossible one. And this proof would be made once and for all, without dependence upon the doubtful accidents of war.”

[43] Young India, 29th May 1924.

[44] Young India, 29th May 1924. “My creed of nonviolence is an extremely active force. It has no room for cowardice or even weakness. There is hope for a violent man to be some day nonviolent, but there is none for a coward. I have, therefore, said more than once in these pages that if we do not know how to defend ourselves, our women and our places of worship, by the force of suffering, i.e., nonviolence, we must, if we are men, be at least able to defend all these by fighting.” (Young India, 16th September 1927). “The world is not entirely governed by logic. Life itself involves some kind of violence, and we have to choose the path of least violence.” (28th September 1934).

[45] Harijan, 30th July 1935.

[46] Harijan, 17th August 1935.

[47] Harijan, 20th July 1937.

[48] Harijan, 15th January 1938.



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