“Hitler is not a bad man. […] The Germans of future generations will honor Herr Hitler as a genius, as a brave man, a matchless organizer and much more.” –Gandhi wrote in Harijan weekly newspaper.
At the time of being attacked by someone who wants to annihilate you, the person who rejects the choice of aggression out of a sense of compassion may be a kind human being, but a wholly inadequate leader, because the long-term violence resulting from a failure to battle evil is far worse than the violence of the battle itself.
Today, in a world still challenged by violent conflict, wars and terrorism, many look to Gandhi’s vision as the prototype to solve these challenges. But Gandhi was not always right. His position on Jews has been characterized as passivity bordering on cowardice; when asked what the Jews should do when they were taken to concentration camps, he said they should go willingly, “al Kiddush Hashem“, as Jewish martyrs. His advice for Jews during the Holocaust was profoundly wrong. Martyrdom (commonly use nowadays among the Muslim extremists to please Allah) is not something to be courted.
Should be good the advice to all oppressed people to give their lives away by the oppressor’s hands?
Gandhi wanted the victims of Nazism to remain courageous, and to adopt positive non-violence -the strength not to use force- in dealing with the killers. In 1938, just after Kristallnacht, when the Nazis systematically destroyed Germany’s and Austria’s synagogues, Gandhi wrote these shameful words where he urged Europe’s Jews to joyfully accept the Nazi onslaught:
“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.”
The Jewish-American journalist Louis Fischer, wrote a biography titled The Life of Mahatma Gandhi, which was used as the basis for the Richard Attenborough’s Academy Award-winning film Gandhi (1982). Fisher asked him: “You mean that the Jews should have committed collective suicide?” Gandhi responded: “Yes, that would have been heroism.” Gandhi never saw Judaism properly as a religion in its own right. His negative attitude towards Judaism could be grasped further when one realizes that while he found the New Testament enlightening -especially the Sermon on the Mount-, he said that the Old Testament made him fall asleep. In 1947 he confessed to Fischer that “Judaism is obstinate and unenlightening.”
Clearly we’re speaking of a rather different brand of “heroism” than the 300 Spartans. By suggesting they choose to end their lives on their own terms, even as the flesh was destroyed, the individual will retained its moral superiority, he proclaimed with pride. In conclusion: He wanted to advise the Jews to follow an act of physical surrender.
Through peace quotations and spiritual philosophy many people emotionally overreact and arm-chair quarterback judgement to Mahatma’s opinions, it would be instructive to learn what Gandhi, in his own words, thought about the Jews and Nazis. Starting a letter to Adolf Hitler with the words “My friend“, Gandhi egotistically asked: “Will you listen to the appeal of one who has deliberately shunned the method of war not without considerable success?“. Even Gandhi and Mussolini got on well when they met in December 1931, with the Great Soul praising the Duce’s “service to the poor, his opposition to super-urbanization, his efforts to bring about a coordination between Capital and Labour, his passionate love for his people.”
Although Gandhi’s non-violence made him an icon to the American civil-rights movement, he was implacably racist toward the blacks of South Africa: “We could understand not being classed with whites, but to be placed on the same level as the Natives seemed too much to put up with.[…] They are troublesome, very dirty and live like animals. […] We believe as much in the purity of races as we think they do.” That was possibly the reason why he refused to allow his son Manilal to marry Fatima Gool, a Muslim, despite publicly promoting Muslim-Hindu unity.
Gandhian tactics could work only against a power like Britain. However, despite all its cruelty and draconian laws abroad, at home, Britain was a functioning democracy. Yet, during his stay in South Africa his Gandhian tactics failed against apartheid, saying so, his ahimsa (non-violence) would not have been effective in the Holocaust; it was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that was the only realistic option.
He once wrote that he could imagine the rise of a Jewish-Gandhi in Germany, but that he would function for barely five minutes before being executed. But, he insisted, that would not disprove his case or shake his belief in the efficacy of ahimsa. “I can conceive the necessity of the immolation of hundreds, if not thousands, to appease the hunger of dictators… The maxim is that ahimsa is the most efficacious in front of the great himsa [violence]. Its quality is really tested only in such cases. Sufferers need not see the result during their lifetime.”
If during WWII, had Gandhi convinced the English to lay down their arms and practice non-violence, the Jewish people would have been totally annihilated, democracy and human rights would have disappeared and our world would have been plunged into a new Dark Age of unimaginable cruelty.
War, while always unfortunate and painful, sometimes, fighting a war is the most moral thing to do. But yet, definitely the world would be a better place with peace, with a firm aversion to the carnage of war and the use of violence as the last resort.
Visionaries and idealists often have feet of clay and Gandhi may have fallen short in some respects too.