Repudiating Gandhian pacifism in the face of mass murder

In Gandhi’s philosophy, when some evil regime or group wants to attack and kill you, the worst thing you can do is try to run and hide to save your life.

THE STATUES of Mahatma Gandhi and Hermann Kallenbach due to be unveiled on October 2 (photo credit: COURTESY LAIMONAS TALAT-KELPSA AND AVSHALOM LEVI)
THE STATUES of Mahatma Gandhi and Hermann Kallenbach due to be unveiled on October 2
When people think of the most enlightened minds of the last century, the name “Gandhi” invariably comes up.
For many he is their paragon of saintliness. His teaching of nonviolent resistance, and of pacifism in the face of aggression, is seen as messianic idealism, requiring super human fortitude and courage. Famous quotes attributed to him include, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” and, “Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.”
Yet few of his devoted followers who so confidently quote these teachings and claim to live by them ever take these ideas to their logical conclusion. They will often times simply state that they are against all wars. Make love not war they will say. War does not determine who is right, only who is left.
One has to wonder, however, how many people have had these beliefs truly put to the test.
Obviously when it comes to other people being kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed, there are many who choose to “pray” for the victims and try for a moment to empathize with the victims of barbarism. But the moment someone brings up the idea of going to war to help these people, suddenly their Gandhian conscience kicks in, and they proudly display their moral superiority for all to see as they refuse the idea of going to war, simply because, again, they are pacifists, and war is wrong.
Imagine, however, if those very same people had their own families in Iraq, and they saw their families being killed and raped. Would they sit silently, with the equanimity of a monk, and proclaim their opposition to war in the face of loved ones dying? Or would they pick up a gun and shoot every terrorist they could find? And would they pray that the US and its allies refrain from any more wars, or would they beg and plead and hope to God that some powerful moral nation would rise up and go to war on their behalf to ensure that their wives, sisters and daughters would not end up surrounded by ISIS terrorists in a public concubine auction? What is truly revealing is Gandhi’s position toward Hitler and the Nazis. First off, as the Holocaust was in full swing, Gandhi decided to write Hitler a letter. In the letter, he refers to Hitler as his “friend.” While he condemns Hitler’s war and the actions toward the Jews, he assures Hitler, “Nor do we believe that you are the monster described by your opponents.”
Gandhi’s philosophy produced some baffling, suicidal advice on how to deal with the Nazis.
“If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified. But I do not believe in any war. A discussion of the pros and cons of such a war is therefore outside my horizon or province,” Gandhi once said.
Gandhi wrote to the British during the war, “This manslaughter must be stopped. You are losing; if you persist, it will only result in greater bloodshed. Hitler is not a bad man.”
Gandhi’s advice to the Jews was no less bizarre.
“If I were a Jew and were born in Germany... I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German may, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon.... And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy.... The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant.”
Looking back on the Holocaust Gandhi stated, “Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs. As it is, they succumbed anyway in their millions.” He also said that had the Jews committed collective suicide, that would have been “heroism.”
He gave similar advice to the British people during the war. After advising the British to lay down their arms and surrender to the Nazis, he advised the British people that if the Nazis “do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourself, man, woman and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them.”
Finally, in regards to his own people’s attempts at passive nonviolence to British rule in India, he wrote, “Our rulers may have our land and bodies but not our souls. They can have the former only by complete destruction of every Indian – man, woman and child. For, if a fair number of men and women be found in India who would be prepared without any ill will against the spoliators to lay down their lives rather than bend the knee to them, they would have shown the way to freedom from the tyranny of violence.”
In other words again, as a general rule, if enough people let themselves be killed, the world’s evil, bloodthirsty maniacs and their armies will somehow be defeated and become peaceful. What Gandhi failed to realize is that when dealing with moral or at least somewhat humane governments, nonviolent resistance has its place. But when dealing with murderous barbarians such as ISIS or the Nazis, no level of nonviolent resistance will ever change their minds. Gandhi’s philosophy would only guarantee that they take over the world.
Yet Gandhi’s philosophy when fully understood shows bizarre applications. In 1920 he wrote, “I do believe that where there is a choice between cowardice and violence I would advise violence. Thus when my eldest son asked me what he should have done, had he been present when I was almost fatally assaulted in 1908, whether he should have run away and seen me killed or whether he should have used his physical force which he could and wanted to use, and defended me, I told him that it was his duty to defend me even by using violence.”
Yet when given the option between violence and nonviolent resistance, Gandhi extolled nonviolence as the only true means of achieving victory.
In other words, in Gandhi’s philosophy, when some evil regime or group wants to attack and kill you, the worst thing you can do is try to run and hide to save your life. That to him is cowardice.
The next best thing you can do is to actually fight your enemy and kill him if necessary. This isn’t ideal and doesn’t lead to any real results in Gandhi’s eyes, but it is still better. And the highest and only true form of resisting evil is getting in the face of oppressors with absolutely no intention of using any violence, and being totally prepared to be attacked, killed and/or raped, but never showing “cowardice” in the face of an oppressor.
But however poetic, the immorality of this stance is obvious. It refuses to protect life. It refuses to hate, fight and resist evil.
Shmuley Boteach is the international bestselling author of 30 books, and will soon publish The Israel Warrior.