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Turning The Other Cheek
We can't necessarily remove every dictatorial regime on the planet, but there were many reasons to remove the one in Iraq. Critics of that decision often claim that it was up to the Iraqi people to stand up to Saddam and remove him if that's what they wanted. Some of them (particularly the pacifists among them) even cite Mahatma Gandhi as an example, and advocate the use of non-violent resistance techniques.
What they ignore in doing so is that Gandhi faced an almost unique situation--imperialists who were not monsters, and were unwilling to put down the rebellion with the brutality necessary to do so. To think that Gandhi's tactics would have been effective against a Hitler, or a Stalin, or a Saddam, is foolish.
And here we have a textbook example, that demonstrates the fatuity of such thinking. Who, after all, is more pacifist, and (according to their theory, should be more successful with such tactics) than Buddhist monks?
Liselotte Agerlid, who is now in Thailand, said that the Burmese people now face possibly decades of repression. "The Burma revolt is over," she added.
But such regimes can always find people who will not refuse (and some who will even take pleasure). If there is a solution to tyranny and dictatorship, it does not lie in passivity and non-violence. Or "dialogue."Posted by Rand Simberg at October 01, 2007 08:07 AM
the czars were brutal, sure didn't help them.
The system fell apart.
The Israeli's were awful brutal to the palestinians,
The Israeli's were awful brutal to the palestinians
What idiotic nonsense. The Israelis never deliberately slaughtered protestors. If they were as evil as they are in your fantasies, Anonymous Moron, they would have simply wiped them out in the territories, and taken over.
The Israelis are in the quandary that they're in simply because they revere life, even that of their enemy, while the "palestinians" are indifferent to it, and worship death over their own children, particularly when it comes to the death of the Jews.Posted by Rand Simberg at October 1, 2007 08:33 AM
I always like to interject this link into discussions of Gandhi:Posted by DensityDuck at October 1, 2007 08:44 AM
To think that [Gandhi]'s tactics would have been effective against a Hitler, or a Stalin, or a Saddam, is foolish.
Harry Turtledove had a short alternate history story involving Gandhi's interview with Model, who was in charge of the Nazi occupation of India. You can guess how it turned out.Posted by Paul Dietz at October 1, 2007 08:49 AM
Like all major religions, Buddhist practice varies quite a bit. There is no universal Buddhist precept that says you have to be a victim. It is generally believed that you should not allow yourself to hate others or to act out of hatred, but defending yourself or others doesn't really count as hate.
Whether these particular Buddhist monks were practicing pacifism or nonviolence, I do not know, but I doubt it has much to do with the situation in Burma. The government goons are probably all Buddhists, too.
Christ said you should "not resist an evil person" and "turn the other cheek", but there are plenty of Christians who are neither pacifist nor nonviolent. Likewise with Buddhists.Posted by Artemus at October 1, 2007 08:57 AM
Whether these particular Buddhist monks were practicing pacifism or nonviolence, I do not know
By all accounts I've seen, they were.
I doubt it has much to do with the situation in Burma.
I have to believe that it would have been a little tougher to round up monks possessed of belt-fed weaponry, and quite a bit harder finding people willing to do it.Posted by Rand Simberg at October 1, 2007 09:02 AM
I have to believe that it would have been a little tougher to round up monks possessed of belt-fed weaponry, and quite a bit harder finding people willing to do it.
No doubt, but the lack of belt-fed weaponry, or modern weaponry of any kind, has more to do with the tyrannical Burma regime than with Buddhist pacifism. There aren't a lot of Christian monasteries keeping machine guns in the wine cellar, either. I can only think of one major religion that likes to mix weapons with theology, and it isn't Buddhism or Christianity.Posted by Artemus at October 1, 2007 09:46 AM
Paul: If I recall, it was a very short story, yes?Posted by Sigivald at October 1, 2007 10:23 AM
Paul: If I recall, it was a very short story, yes?
Not terribly long, but still with an element of suspense.
IIRC, the ending was that not only did Gandhi's methods fail, but the decision to execute him had long been made, based simply on criticism he had made of the Nazi regime years before. At the end of the story he's led off to be killed, and Model just moves on to important issues, like what to have for lunch.Posted by Paul Dietz at October 1, 2007 11:03 AM
The story was titled 'The Last Article', and it was delightful. What made it especially pleasing (in my opinion) was that Gandhi and Nehru came off as not entirely pleasant individuals (Gandhi's insufferable arrogance, something that gets whitewashed in most histories and haigiographies, shone through quite clearly here), while Model was given a more evenhanded and thoughtful treatment than might have otherwise been expected. Nobody is sympathetic about the Nazis (OK, almost nobody), but it was refreshing to see someone like Model (a functionary, not a policy-maker) treated as something other than an absolute villian.
Most strongly recommendedPosted by Scott at October 1, 2007 12:15 PM
Was this story in a collection? Does anyone have the title?
I'm just finishing In at the Death, which is pretty typical of his work--if you like him, you'll like this one, if not, not.Posted by Rick C at October 1, 2007 01:10 PM
When Hitler and Chamberlin met at Munich in 1938, they chatted after they had agreed on the Czech matter. Hitler gave Chamberlin some advice about the troubles the British were having in India. He advised, "Hang Gandi and shoot as many members of the Congress party as you can."Posted by ZT at October 1, 2007 01:27 PM
Ho Chi Minh stated "If Minister Gandhi had lived in a French colony, he would long since have gone to his final reward."Posted by Assistant Village Idiot at October 1, 2007 01:39 PM
It doesn’t matter if the leadership is willing to fight, if their followers are not.Posted by ad at October 1, 2007 01:55 PM
the czars were brutal, sure didn't help them...The Israeli's were awful brutal to the palestinians
Good job of completely missing the point of this post.Posted by mwl at October 1, 2007 01:56 PM
Good job of completely missing the point of this post.
Anonymous Moron comes by his name honestly.Posted by Rand Simberg at October 1, 2007 02:01 PM
The only time the Tsar's troops faced an unarmed group of civilian protesters was on Bloody Sunday in the 1905 (failed) revolution. Brutality worked, and the revolution ended.
The Tsars were brought down by a coalition of well-armed revolutionary groups, who then turned on each other. The Bolsheviks won the second 1917 "revolution" (more of a civil war) by destroying the new government, a fact that their histories tended to overlook.
I'll agree with Rand Simberg. Non-violence depends on the conscience of the tyrants. Ghandi got lucky. So did Martin Luther King. Yeltsin got lucky. But I think the list ends right about there.Posted by diane at October 1, 2007 02:13 PM
It's probably worth adding that this is also a lesson for those who want to sit back and encourage "regime change" in Iran, too.Posted by diane at October 1, 2007 02:16 PM
Rick C. said "Was this story in a collection? Does anyone have the title?"
The Last Article at Internet Science Fiction Database.
"The Last Article" was collected in Jerry Pournelle's "There Will Be War Vol 7: Call to Battle."Posted by Looking Glass at October 1, 2007 02:17 PM
Ghandi got lucky. So did Martin Luther King. Yeltsin got lucky. But I think the list ends right about there.
Ghandi gained a peaceful independence on the back of violence elsewhere. The price in blood had already been paid.
Let's not forget that Martin Luther King was killed. Many others were also killed or injured, although it was nowhere near as bad as it could have been. The issue of Slavery was settled by (you guessed it) the Civil War. It was only a matter of time until American Society caught up.
Yelstin was standing on a tank outside the parliament building. He didn't end the coup peacefully because his enemies were peaceful. He ended it by threat of force.
Luck had *nothing* to do with any of these examples.Posted by Dub_James at October 1, 2007 02:31 PM
what is missed is that extreme brtality doesn't preserve the regime
The Israeli's did abandon the west bank deciding that it wasn't
The tsar shot a lot of people, the system still fell apart
No system built upon slavery will last forever.Posted by anonymous at October 1, 2007 02:51 PM
but it was refreshing to see someone like Model (a functionary, not a policy-maker) treated as something other than an absolute villian.
Indeed. It's comforting, but dangerous, to think that great evil only comes from the greatly evil.Posted by Paul Dietz at October 1, 2007 03:01 PM
A Gaza resident said earlier this year "We pray that Israel will come back and rule us again."
No system will last forever.Posted by Looking Glass at October 1, 2007 03:04 PM
"what is missed is that extreme brtality doesn't preserve the regime at most it buys a little time."
What is missed is that extreme pacificism never defeats extreme brutality. That was the point of the post, a point which you are bending over backwards, and then some, to be oblivious to.
Extreme brutality doesn't guarantee a regime's longevity, no one ever said it did, but it does guarantee that a non-violent group has virtually no chance to unseat it.
As to your non-sequitir of a point, I would say that Josef Stalin's extreme brutality didn't buy the regime "a little bit of time". It bought decades of time. Decades in which millions of people were born, grew up, and died (many violently) without ever once tasting freedom - forced to live stunted, miserable lives by those willing to impose extreme brutality upon them. I mourn for those people caught in that seven decade long small moment of time, even if you do not. The Soviet Union finally only fell when those in power no longer had the psychological will (thank God) to perpetrate that sort of violence against their fellow citizens any longer.Posted by kcom at October 1, 2007 03:37 PM
But a Socialist one-party state (which Burma was before the collapse) tends to fail much faster and more dramatically than others since its natural tendency is to the lowest common denominator - which includes intelligence. With finally only the Military as its remaining real investment and constituency it falls into their hands, and then gives us this sad result.Posted by DirtCrashr at October 1, 2007 03:38 PM
About Israel: I've been more impressed with the near absence of suicide bombings even despite the continued presence of Jewish immigrants (I don't see why Palestinian nativists are preferable to any other kind) in the West Bank.
As for the long-term success of non-violent movements, it's worth noting that Christianity (a non-violent movement for most of the period) was able to take over the Roman Empire.Posted by Joseph Hertzlinger at October 1, 2007 03:53 PM
Regarding Christianity taking over the Roman Empire via non-violence, it took them 400 years of being subjected to intense brutality before it finally worked.Posted by Pat Casey at October 1, 2007 04:26 PM
Posted by Jay Manifold at October 1, 2007 04:36 PM
The tsar shot a lot of people, the system still fell apart when it was stressed. Love motivates more then fear.
A spoiled, rich, pampered leftist sitting at his/her computer in complete safety, probably a little high on weed, advocating that oppressed and brutalized people respond with "love" instead of fighting for their freedom.
Enough to make you puke right on the floor.Posted by Tom W. at October 1, 2007 05:25 PM
"What they ignore in doing so is that Gandhi faced an almost unique situation--imperialists who were not monsters, and were unwilling to put down the rebellion with the brutality necessary to do so. To think that Gandhi's tactics would have been effective against a Hitler, or a Stalin, or a Saddam, is foolish."
Yes, and some quotes from Gandhi are illuminating concerning his naivete in this vein:
Gandhi, in an open letter to the Brits, urging them to surrender and accept whatever fate Hitler had in mind: "Let them take possession of your beautiful island with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these, but neither your souls, nor your minds."
Gandhi, 1940: "I do not consider Hitler to be as bad as he is depicted. He is showing an ability that is amazing and seems to be gaining his victories without much bloodshed."
Gandhi, to the Viceroy of India, when German panzer divisions had turned west and the Allies were collapsing under the onslaught, also while British ships were streaming across the Straits of Dover from Dunkirk: "This manslaughter must be stopped. You are losing; if you persist, it will only result in greater bloodshed. Hitler is not a bad man."
"Ho Chi Minh stated "If Minister Gandhi had lived in a French colony, he would long since have gone to his final reward."
Likely so, though Ho Chi Minh was no stranger to executing his own rivals and their supporters, roughly to the tune of 30,000 to 40,000 of them, and that's only rivals and supporters for political leadership, it doesn't include other, similar forms of assassinations, summary executions, such as of the peasantry in the early 50's, under the rubric of land reform - estimates range from 50,000 to 100,000 in that category alone.Posted by Michael B at October 1, 2007 05:33 PM
I came across "The Last Article" in the anthology titled "Best Military Science Fiction of the 20th Century" edited by Harry Turtledove. Quite a number of good stories within, btw.Posted by mike p at October 1, 2007 09:23 PM
The leaders of the junta are not buddhists.
Gandhi was deeply flawed, it's true, but he wouldn't be the only 'great man of history' to be deeply flawed. His cause was just - freedom from British colonial rule.
I once had a kind of funny conversation on a South Asian blog where the commenters were railing against Churchill because of the Bengal famine and Churchill's attitude toward Indians (he didn't think much of them, did he? And yet Indians were good enough to die for the Allies from Burma to Italy). I said, "look, can't you see why Churchill is a hero to the West?"
Well, I say this to you know; despite Gandhi's many flaws, can you not see why he might be a hero to Indians? If some foolish people from the West take the wrong message from history, that's not his fault.Posted by MD at October 2, 2007 06:45 AM
Oh, sorry, I was addressing some of the other commenters and basically agreeing with the original post.Posted by MD at October 2, 2007 06:49 AM
I re-read the Turtledove Story last night and today is Ghandi's Birthday. Sad what is happening in Burma, but not unexpected.
Paul: Your point regarding Model is well-taken. It is important to be able to draw a nuanced portrait of the man WITHOUT excusing the barbarity that he was an unapologetic participant in. Roughly 95% of my family died in the Holocaust, so I am not likely to forgive ANYTHING the Nazis were a part of...
MD: Churchill has long been treated as a character of mixed (at best) accomplishments. I might argue in fact that with the exception of his warnings in the 1930s (which went unheeded in part because of the way he made them), and the first six months of his PMship in 1940, his career was an example of 'failing upwards'. A wonderful writer, but otherwise, not particularly successful...with the exceptions noted earlier.
On the other hand, Gandhi (whose record of success is similarly mixed, and loaded with some truly horrific episodes of naivetee and outright appeasement of true evil), is often uncritically viewed as something of a saint. That he is a hero to the Indians shouldn't be surprising (George Washington is a hero to us, though many outside the US feel quite differently about him), but it shouldn't be taken as very much more than 'rooting for the home team'. Churchill was not afraid to stand up to true evil when he saw it (even when he failed), and despite his failures, he was typically true to his principles even when he loathed his allies (his comments on Stalin are particularly revealing there...), whereas Gandhi was obsessed with his own moral vanity, and was perfectly willing to abandon principle when he felt it was in his own interest.Posted by Scott at October 2, 2007 12:21 PM
Points well taken Scott, but, well, actually I think we are roughly on the same side. Churchill *is* sometimes regarded uncritically, he has his own hagiography about him if you see what I mean. And it is certain elements of the left in the West who have uncritical views of Gandhi; Indian historians are actually quite heterogenous on the topic, but I would say the public has the same general 'hero' idea about him that the West does about Churchill. As for Churchill always standing up against evil, well, again, I refer you to the Bengal famine. His own advisors questioned his 'sanity' on the India issue. That was the exact word they used in diary writings about the topic. He clearly did not think Indians lives were worth much and millions died during colonial rule. It's a deeply troubled history, Britain and India, and many innocents died, not through a direct, horrible, evil and calculated genocide as in the Holocaust, but through bad policies, governance and neglect. Not the same thing, of course, but terrible nonetheless. There were multiple famines during 'benign' British rule. British rule was better than the Nazis (sad that this has to be pointed out to some) and Gandhi was a fool to think Hitler would be kind to the subcontinent. Hitler wrote as much, but that doesn't make British rule any better.
Anyway, my point isn't a Churchill vs Gandhi cage match in moral supremacy. My point is that Gandhi did do some genuinely good things, despite being deeply flawed. His cause was just and this particular just cause was not wholeheartedly supported by Churchill.
We need to judge Gandhi by the time and place in which he existed. I mean, Jefferson owned slaves, but I hate the rhetoric that says Jefferson owning slaves negates everything else he did.Posted by MD at October 2, 2007 03:41 PM
The original post very much is about judging Gandhi within his own social, political and cultural setting.Posted by Michael B at October 3, 2007 04:58 AM
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