I’m reading in
The Essential Gandhi by Fischer chapter 15, titled
Gandhi’s Message to All Men and just a few pages into the chapter I’m struck with a strong disagreement.
Up until now, I agree strongly with Gandhi’s arguments for strict adherence to purity and non-violence. When you are gentle, and compelling in the face of an oppressor, when you yield materially without resistance … well, what’s the aim of a bully? Generally, a real bully enjoys the struggle some.
Dad told me of a story which convinced him that there was power in non-violence … he had pissed off a bully who told him that he was going to be beaten up after school. After consultation with a friend of his who was in fact a gun-nut who later entered the Air Force, dad wrote a note for the bully and met him after school for the big showdown.
The bully struck him, and following his friend’s advice, dad did nothing to stop him, or strike back. The bully got one lick in, which didn’t hurt dad too bad. But there was no struggle to keep the bully occupied.
Dad’s letter to the bully consisted something of “I’m sorry for you, to be embarrassed in such a manner.” Despite his fears, dad didn’t get his ass kicked after all, he merely got one strike at him.
Turn the other cheek.
At this occasion, the power and appeal of Dad’s non-violence was that the cruelty, terror, unjustness, whatever negative adjectives you can use to describe the bully’s wrongful aggression, were starkly illustrated to Dad, the bully, and onlookers … what’s the point to fighting an enemy who is not in it for the fight? Says Gandhi, “They say ‘means are after all [just] means.’ I would say ‘means are after all everything.'” What is the end that justifies the mean of bullying? Of unwarranted aggression?
It is harder to see the evil in violence when it is construed as a means to an end … violent revolution, war … other examples I can’t think of just now … what if they held a war and nobody came? Gandhi would ask such a question, and I envision in my mind a country surrendering to an invading army, offering no resistance … why fight, when in the end justice will prevail anyway? Assuming, for the sake of example, we’re not dealing with Hitler and instead just mere territorial greed, if the country being attacked can absorb and then overwhelm the invader with … righteousness, love, truth … and so soften the invader as to purge the enemy therefor of the bad things which caused the invader to invade in the first place, and come to regret and hope to rectify these actions, well then is not everyone better off?
The collapse of the Warsaw Pact, all those totalitarian regimes, the reformation of Taiwan, are all beautiful examples of the fatal flaw of an unjust and oppressive system: it’s being run by humans. Humans tend to want to be pretty moral creatures, setting things right, atoning for their past transgressions, that sort of thing. The braver ones, the Mikhail Gorbachevs, the past leaders of South Africa, that leader in Taiwan that Ian told me about … they’ll actually go so far as to say “Look, this is wrong, let’s try to set it right.” These are the truest reformers, because they have the ability to simply maintain the status quo to their benefit, but they instead endure great material loss and put a lot of under-appreciated effort into doing the right thing.
How many times must the cannon balls fly, before they’re forever banned?
The thing that tends to be scary about the modern world though, is that humans are less and less employed in the means … it is easier to see the inhumanity of war when soldiers are charging at each other with fixed bayonets, staring each other in the eye and keeping a question on their own humanity open. It is a harder thing to do when you are dropping bombs on people, particularly big bombs, bombs affixed to missiles which can cross the globe and annihilate awesome amounts of life at the push of a button.
But then, it’s humans that have to build the machines, humans that have to push those buttons. And you’re better able, I’ve found, to build and operate complex gadgets when you’re acting out of rationality and not emotion.
Dad proferred some of his doubts about the Oklahoma City bombing … if Tim McVeigh was that freaking bonkers … a patriot that would indiscriminately blow up people … how capable was he of the planning required to build and plant that damned bomb? While I really don’t know all the details, the fact that he was so easily caught, while smelling of some government conspiracy, is also symptomatic of sloppy work. It’s one thing to build a big bomb and kill people with it as a loner. It’s another thing to do that really well. All the kids that were killed in the pre-school? A sign of mental competence would have been to check beforehand … like those guys at the World Trade Center, who rented an easily-traceable truck, leaving even the serial numbers on the vehicles … these are not people thinking clearly.
Luckily, it takes a great deal of effort to build something as complex as a nuclear bomb. Unfortunately, bombs have gotten a lot cheaper, because even though it takes a lot of clear minds and steady heads to build them, and a decent government capable of assembling the effort, the governments that have pulled it off weren’t good enough that they lasted so well, and the integrity of Russia’s stock-piles are in great question …
Anyways, back to being invaded … what do you do when a well-organized, well-tuned and strong terror machine is knocking on your border? You know, the Third Reich or something. They think you’re not even human. While non-violent swaraj has a chance of working, it’s more likely, I might tend to think, that by the time your good feelings overwhelmed the enemy, the numbers of people killed would not justify it. That’s assuming good triumphs in the end in any reasonably timely fashion … as effective as we are now at the arts of mind-control, propaganda and the like, it’s quite possible for at least an extended period of time to manipulate and control most of the population’s thinking and morality to suit your own ends. A human’s greatest strength is it’s ability to communicate good ideas … while high morality is a good idea, if the oppressor does a good job of eliminating those with the good ideas … well … self-sustaining. With time such a system could theoretically weed out any human intentions toward the good idea – nightmare scenarios like
I’ve clearly been thinking about this too much. But there’s times when you must take the great bravery it takes to stand up in non-violence to face the wrath and hatred of those you are trying to overcome through virtue, and there are times when you’ve got to take the great bravery it takes to reject this idea and out-muscle the opposing force, often with guns, weapons, civilian casualties, untold amounts of human suffering.
While my greatest sympathies would tend towards the side of non-violent and virtuous action against the foe, I also support the idea that violence would sometimes be the better course of action. The right answer to Hitler in Europe, and Tojo in Japan, was I think the one we delivered.
I think that anyone who takes up violent action though, should take it up with the greatest humility possible. These are extreme situations … when you are going off to hurt or kill others for the greater good … you should acknowledge that suffering and always interrogate yourself and feel true to your conviction that yes, this is the best way.
And you should do the job right.
I agree with World War II. I am heartened even more with the doctrine of total victory … if something is that evil that you must enforce violence against it, then you better be damn sure that fucker is eliminated. Nazism? Just say no, all the way … the system of barbaric conquest that was in place in Japan? Get rid of it!
That humility comes into play especially when I think of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Towards the end of total victory, we inflicted awesome violence upon those cities. I think that America generally does feel somewhat ambivalent about that action. I think it is healthy that we continue to question the wisdom of that action … that reveals some humility on our part regarding the action we took.
We went all the way in World War II because we believed we were doing the right thing. We were firm in our convictions.
We failed in Vietnam, and I think too we failed in the Persian Gulf against Saddam Hussein, because we did not have a full moral conviction behind our actions. In Vietnam, we sunk to humiliating levels of inhumane barbarity in fighting the enemy … if you are going to kill, you should do so acknowledging the full human dignity of those you kill. Ultimately the greatest price you will pay is the bad feeling of having had to kill a person, or several people, in the case of combat … unless you are damn certain you are doing the right thing, you can’t do this honorably, and the only way you can achieve the end of surviving is to get even more fucked in the head … we didn’t believe in what we were doing, and we failed to retaliate after Tet, I understand, because we didn’t truly believe in the war, and lacked the conviction it would have taken to see that carnage through.
We failed in Iraq, I think I can say. Yes, by the standards of warfare, we did really well and kicked lots of Iraqi ass.
By the standards of swaraj, or human struggle, we failed. We liberated Kuwait back to it’s royal masters, but when push came to shove, when George Bush saw those pictures of carnage on the highway of death, he couldn’t stand it. Instead of the total victory that we stood for in World War II, we collapsed when faced with this moral dilemma. We did not push to Baghdad and rid the area of Saddam Hussein because we felt remorse at our own actions. They were undertaken for material benefit – oil, International prestige, and not for any great motivation on the part of the people involved. We chickened out.
Perhaps that George Bush sat on that popularity, doing nothing with it … maybe he was overwhelmed with what happened? He couldn’t stand the pain we were inflicting .. he didn’t believe in it because it was wrong, and he got really weirded out after the war as to his ability to really act right.
Well, that’s pushing it … but …
I opposed the war. The day before the bombs began to fall I participated in my first protest. We marched from Lincoln Park down Lake Shore Drive and into Daley Plaza. I was full of great conviction then, shouting “One, two, three, four, we don’t want your fucking war!” I sincerely believed and continue to believe that without the violence, which is now used by Saddam to justify himself, that he would have collapsed more readily under the more humane and oppressive weight of sanctions and a huge fucking Army waiting out in the desert for him, with great patience, for him to fall. As the stand-off continued, I heard more reports on the radio of small signs that Saddam’s control was being eroded. It would have taken a long while … it took a long while to sit out apartheid, but in the end, quiet pressure won out, and fewer people lost their lives in armed conflict.
When the war started, I shut my mouth, and supported our soldiers. I may question the virtue, but wars aren’t won by consensus … if we’re going to do it with violence, then I will put my support behind it. That we failed to follow through though … Saddam Hussein is still fucking there! Some argue that eliminating him would cause a power vacuum … maybe Iran might get ambitious … maybe I’m a fool, but if one leader’s bad, and you remove him, someone takes his place … maybe or maybe not he’s a better leader. If you replace Saddam Hussein, you’re prolly trading up though … if that leader can’t hold Iraq together though … well, maybe we could do the right thing and acknowledge the truth that the country is pretty cobbled together and maybe a better solution is possible … hindsight is 20/20, possibly. Crystal balls are pretty murky though .. to not do the right thing on the chance that something bad might happen … that’s wrong.
I dunno. But the fact that there is so much opposition to sanctions, that we’d rather just forget about Iraq … we wish it’d just go away. We did wrong.
We should acknowledge the Allied casualties of war, but we should also try to repent for the Iraqis who died. I have believed this for so long … every Iraqi killed was a human tragedy. Every child that dies in Iraq now from lack of nourishment, whether it’s Saddam holding back or not … what the hell are we doing there now? Traipsing around, trying to coerce and cajole Saddam into letting us find his poison gases? We should either give up or strong-arm him the right way.
I dunno, and my arguments are getting emotional …