Peaceful Protest As True Nationalism

Vithal Rajan

Vithal Rajan

By 1917, a hundred years ago, millions of men had already been killed in war-torn Europe, and hundreds of French villages and towns destroyed. When the war ended in November 1918, the Allies were almost on the point of surrendering but Germany succumbed first. Field-Marshall Foch called the Treaty of Versailles an ‘armistice,’ and so it proved, for another global war came within twenty years claiming several million more lives.

When the European Economic Commission was created in 1957, there were still living old French soldiers who said Germans were inherently bad people, but economic cooperation between the two European giants soon erased the hundred-year old marks of hatred, leading Charles de Gaulle to remark in 1962 that the traditional antagonists to the French were the British, not Germans!

Proud Empires, the Austrian, the Russian, and the German, bit the dust after the Great War. At the end of the Second World War, Averell Harriman informed President Truman ‘the British are finished.’ The historian, Barbara Tuchman, shows in her masterly account of the first war, ‘The Proud Tower,’ that no irreconcilable differences divided the empires of Europe, except imperial ambition. In fact, the Kaiser was out yachting when he heard of the mutual exchange of war ultimatums. He rushed back to Berlin to prevent war but was advised that it was too late for peace! Germany’s ‘High War Lord’ was unable to stop a war he did not want, a terrible war brought about by the ingrained training and attitudes of the men who ran the chancelleries of Europe!

The Great War, which swept away the flower of England, and killed its poets like Rupert Brooke, left behind tragic memories of the folly of war. When English descendants visit war graves today, a hundred years later, they know that ‘in that rich earth is a richer earth concealed,’ and that that earth of their forbears longs for ‘the thoughts by England given; Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day; And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness, In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.’ None of the sad visitors think that their ancestors were killed by Germans. They know that war itself was the killer, a war that was not unavoidable, a war brought about by the aristocratic hauteur of great men, which massacred  humble people the great men were supposed to protect.

George Santayana wrote in 1905, ‘Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ This seems to be true of jingoistic people all over the world who bay for war. Why did Thucydides write his great history of the Peloponnesian War, which ended the glory of Greece, if not as a warning to future generations? Byron was to say of the isles of Greece, more than two thousand years later, ‘all except their sun is set.’ The self-destruction of the British Empire liberated several colonies around the world to nationhood, India being the former ‘jewel in the crown.’ Many African and Asian leaders have like lemmings continued to commit the follies of nineteenth century Europe. Nationalism which arose as a civic and industrializing principle in nineteenth century Europe also led to its terrible fratricidal wars. After the death of a hundred million, Europe is stumbling its way today towards regional economic and cultural collaboration. Former colonies, like India and Pakistan, continue to have living cultural and economic ties, despite the political partitions of decolonization dictated by the imperial power. Hence, even at this late date, after mutual blood-letting it should be possible to reinvent the nationalisms of nationhood within the context of regional fruitful collaboration.

A call for a peaceful resolution to political disputes between India and Pakistan can never be considered ‘anti-national,’ since the plea is for saving lives and the precious resources of a huge country where the majority of citizens are still mired in dire poverty, despite the financial success of an infinitesimal proportion of the population. Traditional Hindu dharma lists sama, dhana, bhedha, dhandam, as the steps to be taken in a dispute. That is, first comes peaceful dialogue, then the making of concessions, then settlement by arbitration, with force to be used only as the last resort. Indian leaders cannot truthfully say they have followed this dharmic advice. Leaders have more often played to the gallery for selfish political gain, or out of fear of the loud-mouthed militant minority.

Milton reminded the victorious Cromwell that ‘peace hath her victories no less renowned than war.’ Peace brings prosperity to people. The great majority of poor Indians are still denied the prosperity of ‘purna-swaraj’ or ‘azaadi,’ a cry raised by the much misunderstood student, Kanhaiya Kumar. It is with this philosophical vision that a wise young Indian maiden voiced a wish for Indian leaders to strive for peace in South Asia. The philosopher Bertrand Russell was jailed during the Great War for voicing his protest against that needless war. Indians should not repeat the stupidity of imperialists and stop the mouths of its citizens imploring leaders to search for peace and prosperity.

(The writer is a reputed thinker and humanist who lives at Ketti, The Nilgiris)

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