The problem that faces the world today is not that of individual morality or social behaviour but of inter-group and international behaviour and morals. This problem today has reached such a critical and crucial stage, that either we solve it satisfactorily or we perish as the human race, along with the civilisation that we have created by painful effort and the travail of centuries. Every step in this advance has meant the devoted service of the pioneers, often enough carried through at the expense of their lives.
The problem has, I am afraid, largely been misconceived. It is not one concerned principally with organisation. It is not one of balance of power or of devising checks and balances. It is not one of inspection, complete or limited. It is not even one of organising a World Government, a highly desirable and useful proposal. The problem is primarily moral. Of course, political, social, economic, international issues do arise, and so also those of organisation. But these will not be difficult to tackle successfully if we can solve the fundamental moral problem involved.
Let us for a moment examine the morality that guides groups and nations in their commerce with each other. In all its essentials it is diametrically opposite to the social morality, the observance of which among individuals has made our civilisation possible. What is good in individual and social conduct comes to be bad and undesirable in political and specially in international relations. In social intercourse we admire the man who is peaceful, truthful, modest, and helpful to others. We greatly admire the man who at some personal inconvenience and loss serves his neighbour. However, in the international field we expect nations and their agents to be selfish, proud, overbearing and aggressive. A nation which sacrificed its real or fancied interests for that of a neighbouring nation would be considered foolish and even depraved. In social life we denounce aggression and violence, but the successful use of these is not only not condemned but applauded in the relations between nations. In social life, a murderer pays with his life for his crime, but in international intercourse a politician or a general responsible for arson, loot, rape, mass murder is applauded as a great patriot and a hero. In his honour are erected arches and triumphant marches organised. In social life, individuals are enjoined generally to trust each other and keep their word. No nation ever keeps its word with another nation if it considers that its interests are involved. Nations betraying each other are not the exception but the rule. Even after a war fought to end war, nations who were allied betray each other when the war is over. After World War II, nations whose territories were invaded and occupied by the armies of Hitler and who organised inside and outside their country resistance movements and helped the Allies to win the war, were enslaved. If some of them have escaped this fate they have done so by the skin of their teeth. A nation which trusts another would be lost. India accepted Chinese professions of friendship and the result is wanton aggression, the end of which nobody can see today. Nations in their dealings with each other, however polite their mode of address, are proud and touchy and resent every real or fancied insult. In social life we are prepared to give and take, for the sake of compromise and for accommodating the other's point of view.
Unless, therefore, the collective mind of groups and nations is civilised there can be no peace in the world. Rather, the very social advance that man has made so far will be destroyed. This is so with every armed conflict. Instruments of destruction get ever sharper until now they have arrived at the nuclear stage. Even then the tests must continue. One wonders what more is possibly wanted, when several nations already have with them the instruments which can destroy the whole of humanity over and over again.
It was not an international problem of the present intensity that confronted Gandhi. However, the moral quality of the problem, though not to the present degree, was the same. How did he try to tackle it? He saw that human life is one and cannot be divided into different compartments, social, economic, political and international. Therefore he sought the solution of its troubles on a moral and ideological plane. He held that the same rules of morality that guide individuals in their social conduct must also guide groups and nations in their mutual intercourse. It should be as immoral and sinful for nations to cheat, deceive and injure each other as it is for individuals to do so in their civil life. Murder does not cease to be a crime and a sin if it is committed in the interest of the self, the family or the nation. It must be remembered that the nation is only a big family. If an administrator cannot take bribes to support his family, he cannot also engage in acts of doubtful morality to serve what he considers would be in the best interests of the nation. Evil is evil, whatever the apparent interest served. Means, as in civil life, must not be subordinated to the ends, which should be pure, whether for individuals, groups or nations. There must be only one conscience, the same for the group and the nation as for the individual. The dichotomy between individual and collective morality results in creating split personalities. Collective immorality is bound to poison the moral springs of the individual. Moral man cannot live in an immoral or non-moral international order, without impairing his higher nature. Gandhi believed that every action, whether performed for self, family, group or nation, must produce its own appropriate result, karma. Evil actions create evil karma. In the international field this evil karma seems to have overtaken the world today. Every previous war has been the cause of a subsequent conflict. World War I was the cause of World War II. It was caused by the unbalance produced by World War I. The Cold War of today is the result of the cruelties and injustices practised during the Second World War. If it flares up into a hot World War III, it would be due to the karma created by the two previous world wars. There is no escape from the law of karma. As an individual sows, so must he reap. As a nation sows so must it reap. It cannot sow thistles and reap mangoes. The vicious circle that has been created by ever recurring wars in human society can only be broken when nations refuse to play the international game with the same loaded dice of war and violence. Gandhi has said: “You cannot successfully fight them with their weapon. After all you cannot go beyond the atom bomb. Unless we have a new way of fighting imperialism of all brands in place of the outworn one of violent resistance there is no hope for the oppressed races of the earth.”
In consonance with the spirit of the sages, prophets, reformers and pioneers of old, Gandhi prescribed moral means for the settlement of international disputes. It is true that his canvas was limited. It was confined to two nations, India and Britain. But he held that the independence of India could be achieved through truth and nonviolence and when so achieved it would be real independence. In such a struggle no residue of evil karma, of violence and deceit will be left behind, to be paid for afterwards, as is the case with war. Though in India it was fundamentally a dispute between one nation and another, there was no question of any bilateral restraints. Indians could not return violence for violence. They had to do the right thing because it was right, because in the words of the
Gita it was kartavya-karma, because it was one’s duty. However, Gandhi had also the faith that when there is right action right results must follow, right not as the individual in his partial knowledge sees but right in the total scheme of things. “The doer of good can never come to evil”, as the
There is another aspect of Gandhi’s thought about international intercourse which we must note. His idea of Indian independence was different from the usual historical idea of it. Like every fighter for national independence he loved freedom. It was something good in itself, something that every nation should have. But Gandhi’s conception of a nation’s freedom was different from the usual one. He wanted the freedom of India not only for the sake of his country, but for the good of humanity and for its service. As an individual must sacrifice himself for the nation when necessary so also must a nation be prepared to sacrifice itself for humanity. As I have already said, organised nations came to develop a personality. This personality, as in the case of the individual, must be subject to the moral law. Moral law often involves martyrdom. The nation as a person, if it must follow the moral law, must also be prepared for martyrdom for the sake of humanity. Martyrdom, as in the case of the individual pioneer and renovator, may or may not come but a nation, if it is to be moral, must be prepared for it. Gandhi said: “I want the freedom of my country so that other countries may learn something from my free country, so that the resources of my country might be utilized for the benefit of mankind. Just as the call of patriotism teaches us today that the individual has to die for the family, the family has to die for the village, the village for the district, the district for the province, the province for the country, even so a country has to be free in order that it may die if necessary for the benefit of the world. My love, therefore, of nationalism or my idea of nationalism, is that my country may become free, that if need be the whole country may die, so that the human race may live.”
During the last World War Gandhi advised England not to fight Hitler with arms. He said that the result would be that Hitler’s armies would march into England. He would allow them to march in but there should be perfect non-cooperation with them from every Englishman. No Englishman should have dealings with the occupying forces. He believed that when a whole population non-cooperates it will be impossible for a conquering force to occupy the conquered territory for long. For this he wanted people to train themselves in individual civil resistance.
I need not go into the details of the training he prescribed for individual nonviolent resisters, satyagrahis. But Gandhi did contemplate such contingencies as when conquering armies would be on the march. As things are today, his strategy will be the best even for violent fighters. An army marching into a foreign territory which it wants to occupy cannot be resisted today if it is backed with nuclear weapons. The only possibility of resistance in such cases is guerrilla warfare. Resisting armies can be demoralised by a single nuclear bomb. But separate individuals, working from innumerable centres, cannot be so demoralised. If this today is the only strategy left for violent national freedom fighters against a Hitlerian marching army supported by nuclear war-heads then surely such an individual nonviolent guerrilla warfare is not quite such a fanciful idea as it would at first sight appear.
If humanity, then, is serious about avoiding the possibility of nuclear destruction, nations must be prepared first to regulate their mutual intercourse, as individuals do in civil life, by observing the rules of the moral law. As many pioneering reformers and prophets had to suffer in the cause of establishing the moral law in civil life, so some nation or nations must be prepared to suffer for the establishment of the moral law among nations. If Gandhi would have been alive today, he would have wanted and advised the Indian nation to dispense with its fighting forces whatever the consequences. He would have advised that this question of India's disarmament should be irrespective of what others did or did not. If it was good, it must be done irrespective of consequences. He had the faith to believe that India making such a sacrifice could never die. But even if physical extinction was the result it would be welcome in the service of humanity. In this mortal world everything, every individual, every institution, is subject to time, kala, death. The only thing that one can aspire for is a glorious death in a good cause. More than this nobody can expect or wish for. It is therefore that I said at the beginning that the question before us as national entities is a moral one and not merely external or organisational.
It may be said, But who is to bell the cat? Has any government the right to require such a stupendous national sacrifice? Martyrdom for a whole people? This question is asked as if the same kind of sacrifice is not asked for by governments from their people when they call them to arms! The political leaders of all countries have always compelled people to take the risks of war. But when it comes to the question of taking risks in the cause of peace, which after all are fewer as evidenced by India’s struggle, they take refuge behind the people’s will. The leaders have never, even in democracies, taken the people into their confidence when declaring war. It is governments that decide the questions of peace and war.
But it may be asked, Can a nation be educated in nonviolence? The education of a nation into a new ideology or morality does not consist in each member of the nation being educated separately. There are no schools and colleges where national ideologies and moralities can be learnt. Even in physical warfare most of the fighting is learnt during the war or there would be no universal military service. The very acceptance of a new idea by the leadership makes for rapid public education. For his new weapon of non-violent resistance Gandhi did not open educational institutions. He took great pains in educating the leaders. The conversion of the public then was easy. Also knowledge of a new technique improves with its practice. Even when soldiers are educated in military colleges their military education takes place on the battlefield. Every war uses new and untried instruments and strategy. Nor is every soldier in the army a brave and courageous man. He may be a veritable coward but under proper leadership and discipline he too can give a good account of himself. He would disdain to desert his colours, because this is a thing not done in the army. This is the rule. Exceptions to this rule are few and far between.
It is plain today that if the leaders of countries carrying on nuclear tests abandoned them, the common people will not rebel. If the leaders of the countries which possess nuclear stockpiles decide to destroy them, the people will not resist. Even if some nation took, in this respect, unilateral action there will be no revolt. Rather people may take pride in such a step being taken by their nation.
In this connection Gandhi says: “If the recognised leaders of mankind, who have control over the engines of destruction, were wholly to renounce their use, with full knowledge of its implications, permanent peace can be obtained. This is clearly impossible without the Great Powers of the earth renouncing their imperialistic designs. This again seems impossible without great nations ceasing to believe in soul-destroying competition and to desire to multiply wants and, therefore, increase their material possessions.”
However, the condition is that the leaders should have a burning faith in nonviolent resistance. It must be nothing put-on or dramatic. It must be the genuine stuff. It must be a belief that will stand all pressure. If need be, the leaders must be prepared to give up power and office in the pursuit of their ideal. Such a belief, Gandhi held, can come only from a belief in God. But for Gandhi God and the moral law were synonymous. He said that Truth is God. He held that there is no difference between the law and the Law-giver. A person who observed the moral law, whether he believed in a God as popularly conceived or not, according to Gandhi had a spiritual belief. This is necessary because without faith nothing great can be done. It is faith which makes people believe that ultimately victory will be with them. Even if there is defeat it will be good with them.
When the battle for nonviolence in international relations is won, it will not be difficult to devise institutional measures to check anti-social nations. But first the victory must be won on the moral and spiritual plane. Why did the League of Nations fail? It failed because the leaders of the member nations had not reformed their minds and purified their hearts. They believed in aggression, conquest and exploitation of weaker peoples. So long as this is the case any organisational devices will break down at critical moments.