Posts Tagged ‘Gandhi’

So, Glenn Beck says:

“Something that is beyond man is happening. America today begins to turn back to God. For too long, this country has wandered in darkness.”

I don’t understand this. There’s very little content to this statement. Will we be scrapping our nuclear arsenal anytime soon? The content of the “turning back” is important. Ten thousand people getting together to “turn back to God” can be a great thing or a terrifying thing, depending on what the ethical content of the god’s tenets are. For example, both of these mass gatherings were claiming the imprimatur of God:

Gandhi talking satyagraha

Gandhi talking satyagraha

Hitler addresses a bunch of Nazis

Hitler addresses a bunch of Nazis

Spouting this kind of “turning back to God” rhetoric doesn’t tell us much. What matters are the ethical admonitions inherent in the turning. Is Glenn Beck asserting the United States is suddenly becoming comfortable with turning the other cheek, with taking up the cross (literally being willing to face the death penalty rather than use violence when opposing the injustice of the powerful), etc.?

I feel that I’m either missing a trend, or making an assumption that he’s referring to the same god I’m thinking of.

Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. The views expressed are his own. Say no to escalation in Afghanistan by signing our CREDO petition at Join Brave New Foundation’s #NoWar candlelight vigil on Facebook and Twitter to show your opposition to the war. But make these your first steps as an activist to end this war, not your last.

The President’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech is one of the great sins of his presidency. He posited an essentially warlike nature to man not borne out by science. For a person who frequently cites King and Gandhi, President Obama showed a stunning ignorance of history and of nonviolent struggle. His self-justifying redefinition of the dreams of King and Gandhi were offensive and dishonest. His words will be used to discount and delay the expansion of nonviolent struggle as a replacement for military conflict in international affairs. Corruptio optimi pessima. He should be ashamed of himself.

The president wasted no time getting to the excuse used by every executive for the use of violence in conflict:

“War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man.”

Man is violent; the world is chaos; a strong man is needed to repel the violence from our happy land so that we may have peace and prosperity. That’s the rest of the song that always follows this verse. This is the first plank of the myth of redemptive violence.

Luckily, this is statement is neither historically justified nor born out in its implications by science. The Seville Statement on Violence makes it perfectly clear that man’s nature does not predispose a person or a society to war. War appeared when we began to organize ourselves in certain ways, well after we “appeared.” It appears today because of choices we make, not a flaw in our DNA.

If the president is speaking of the mythic appearance of man, then, he should remember that God made male and female and made them good. If war appeared in the Garden, it came in with the serpent, and with our choice to listen to him.

President Obama says he honors Gandhi and King and doesn’t think they are naive while patronizingly deflecting the extension of their ideas and ethic into international politics:

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago:  “Violence never brings permanent peace.  It solves no social problem:  it merely creates new and more complicated ones.”  As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence.  I know there’s nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naïve — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone.  I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people.  For make no mistake:  Evil does exist in the world.  A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies.  Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms.  To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

Within two paragraphs, the President assures us he finds King and Gandhi neither naive or passive, but then immediately discounts the extension of their ideas into international politics with statements like “I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle…evil does exist in the world.” In those lines the President reveals that he does, in fact, find their ideas and their opposition to war naive and passive, just as he rejected the guidance of Jesus Christ with the glib words “[The Sermon on the Mount is] so radical that it’s doubtful our own Defense Department would survive its application…Before we get carried away, let’s read our Bibles.”

The President tells us that he considers himself a “living testimony to the moral force of non-violence,” but that he cannot be guided by Gandhi’s and King’s examples alone because he’s the head of state sworn to protect his nation (When you say “by their examples alone,” do you have some specific ways in mind in which your policies are guided by their example? Do tell.). Frankly, personal ambitions which lead one to the presidency do not bear on the question at hand. The presidency did not happen to him. He devoted incredible energy to capturing it. If he doesn’t find their ideas naive or passive, then it’s on him for seeking an office in which he could not live according to their values (and for that matter, according to those of Jesus Christ as expounded in the Sermon on the Mount). Perhaps the President would like to articulate the other moral principles from which his lofty position frees him. Apparently what President Obama wanted (the presidency) and what his guiding lights demanded were incompatible. That’s the excuse of a child.

For make no mistake:  Evil does exist in the world.  A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies.  Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms.  To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

This is Reinhold Niebuhr with all his warts showing mixed with historical ignorance. If the president spent more time with The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., he’d know that King took from his study of Niebuhr that evil and sin permeate every level of man’s existence. King, however, had the courage to state that while we must take evil seriously, we must take the power of love more seriously.

Someone who makes sure we all know about the picture of Gandhi hanging in his Senate office should know that Gandhi and his allies faced armies who would fire into unarmed crowds until they ran out of bullets; despoil crops and food stores for the winter; beat scripture-wielding civilians. He also knew a thing or two about evil in the world.

Someone who wants to lecture on nonviolence in World War II should know that at the height of the Nazi campaign against the Jews, a mass nonviolent act succeeded against Hitler in Berlin and rescued 1,700 from the Holocaust, and that the Nazi leadership was absolutely terrified of the emergence of any counter-mass-movement. One should know the story of Andre and Magda Trocme and Le Chambon-sur-Lignone (Oh, wait, he does know.). One should know, in other words, that nonviolence often did work against Hitler and the Nazis, and that the failure of a nonviolent mass movement to materialize had much to do with people’s ignorance of the strategy, helped along by sweeping generalizations like the ones Obama made in his speech that wrongly discount its efficacy.

Invert the purported hard case of nonviolence against the Nazis and ask the president: stand in France in 1940 before the U.S. and Russian forces entered Europe in full. Ask yourself: should a person at this time and place make the same leap of logic made in Obama’s Nobel speech and say: military force cannot halt Hitler’s armies?

Invert the example again: should the Germans take from their failure in World War II that military violence could not stop the United States and that, therefore, the entire method of struggle should be discounted in international conflict? I guess the President won’t mind then if they go ahead and yank their troops out of Afghanistan.

Or, rather, should our visitor to World-War-II France and the modern-day German conclude that the tactics, force and other resource levels, and skill of combatants were the problem and not the strategy of military action, per se? Why should we also not make similar assessments about nonviolent struggle? Perhaps we can do without a Nobel speech that includes reductio ad Hitlerum.

The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached — their fundamental faith in human progress — that must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.

Gandhi and King had no amorphous “faith in human progress” that can be manipulated so that one can align themselves with it while arguing that war has a place in human relations.  People do this to the words of Christ all the time, and it’s easy to do that with a person who lived 2,000 years ago and who we know through ancient books that fail to provide enough context without an independent study of history. But this is not so with Gandhi or King.

King, in his Nobel acceptance speech, made his beliefs explicit:

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome!

How dare you, Mr. President, stand where King once stood, invoking his memory and dismissing his ideas in alternating lines of self-justifying philosophizing on the necessity of war while you accept the Nobel peace prize? King, who once stood before a nation not quite ready to hear him, and thundered:

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action; for they ask and write me, “So what about Vietnam?” They ask if our nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without first having spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence I cannot be silent. Been a lot of applauding over the last few years. They applauded our total movement; they’ve applauded me. America and most of its newspapers applauded me in Montgomery. And I stood before thousands of Negroes getting ready to riot when my home was bombed and said, we can’t do it this way. They applauded us in the sit-in movement–we non-violently decided to sit in at lunch counters. The applauded us on the Freedom Rides when we accepted blows without retaliation. They praised us in Albany and Birmingham and Selma, Alabama. Oh, the press was so noble in its applause, and so noble in its praise when I was saying, Be non-violent toward Bull Connor;when I was saying, Be non-violent toward [Selma, Alabama segregationist sheriff] Jim Clark. There’s something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that will praise you when you say, Be non-violent toward Jim Clark, but will curse and damn you when you say, “Be non-violent toward little brown Vietnamese children.”

How dare you, Mr. President, stand on that stage and invoke King while also invoking that strange inconsistency? How dare you parrot those misguided zealots who used violence against their neighbors shouting, “Gandhi’s swaraj has come”? In this one speech, the president disqualifies himself forever from pointing to their life’s work as the foundation for his own. Yes, the sprouting of their trees made his ascendancy possible, but he will bear them no fruit – he is a dead branch.

As is the case with mankind in general, war is not something that happens to this president. He chooses it.

I held my nose and voted for President Obama last year, fully understanding he planned to send roughly 12,000 troops to Afghanistan, fully aware that he would have to be resisted, protested, cajoled and boxed in if we were to have hope of true change. And though I knew he planned to escalate, I never expected we’d go from 12,000 to 47,000 new troops in just under a year. And I certainly never expected to hear a man I voted for pay lip service to Gandhi, King, and their work for nonviolence in a way that will retard its adoption in the international arena.

Whether he ever realizes it or not, President Barack Obama disgraced himself on Tuesday. After reading this speech, I can honestly say I regret my vote for him. No, I don’t regret it: I repent of it. God save this President from himself, and God save us from this perversion of King’s dream.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit

“It is a blasphemy to say non-violence can be practiced only by individuals and never by nations which are composed of individuals.” –M.K. Gandhi

On September 8, 2009, President Obama sat with a group of students to answer their questions. A student named Lilly asked him who he would have dinner with if he could have any guest, dead or alive. Here’s the full transcript of the exchange. From the Boston Globe:

STUDENT: Hi. I’m Lilly. And if you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Dinner with anyone dead or alive? Well, you know, dead or alive, that’s a pretty big list. (Laughter.) You know, I think that it might be Gandhi, who is a real hero of mine. Now, it would probably be a really small meal because — (laughter) — he didn’t eat a lot. But he’s somebody who I find a lot of inspiration in. He inspired Dr. King, so if it hadn’t been for the non-violent movement in India, you might not have seen the same non-violent movement for civil rights here in the United States. He inspired César Chávez, and he — and what was interesting was that he ended up doing so much and changing the world just by the power of his ethics, by his ability to change how people saw each other and saw themselves — and help people who thought they had no power realize that they had power, and then help people who had a lot of power realize that if all they’re doing is oppressing people, then that’s not a really good exercise of power.

So I’m always interested in people who are able to bring about change, not through violence, not through money, but through the force of their personality and their ethical and moral stances. And that’s somebody that I’d love to sit down and talk to.

The same day the president opined about his admiration for nonviolent luminaries Gandhi, King and Chavez, Afghan insurgents in Kunar Province killed Petty Officer 3rd Class James R. Layton, Gunnery Sergeant Edwin Wayne Johnson, Jr., 1st Lieutenant Michael E. Johnson and Staff Sergeant Aaron M. Kenefick. At least 253 U.S. soldiers died so far in 2009 in Afghanistan, and between January and August of this year, U.S forces and their opponents killed 1561 civilians. We don’t have estimates of how many “Taliban” the U.S. and allies killed. Before President Obama answered Lilly’s question, he’d increased U.S. force levels in Afghanistan from 30,100 to 50,700, and as he answered he was considering up to 80,000 more.

In that context, it really takes some nerve to pontificate to school children about the importance of Gandhi and nonviolence. It’s a little like being lectured about vegetarianism by the local butcher. If you line his words up next to his actions as president, the implicit message is, “Sure, nonviolence is great, but c’mon–this is the real world.”


During and after the 2008 campaign, President Obama repeatedly identified himself as a Christian for whom the Sermon on the Mount figured prominently in his faith. The Sermon on the Mount, as he has acknowledged, is a radical text of nonviolence, self-sacrifice, and enemy love.

Since taking office, President Obama has massively escalated the war in Afghanistan, resulting in increasing civilian deaths and massive human suffering on the part of Afghans and Americans sent to fight his war.

This video is offered not as an attack on the President’s personal faith. Instead, it’s intended to be an illustration of the way in which many Christians, including President Obama, seem willing to set aside the ethical content of the Sermon on the Mount when it conflicts with national goals.

Mr. President, for Christ’s sake, end this war.

This video uses clips from Rethink Afghanistan (, The Passion of the Christ, Gandhi, and various bits of footage from around the Internet. The music featured in the final montage is “Agnus Dei” by Psalters (

From the UN press release:

UN declares 2 October, Gandhi’s birthday, as International Day of Non-Violence

15 June 2007 – The United Nations General Assembly today decided to observe the International Day of Non-Violence each year on 2 October – the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, who helped lead India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.

Introducing the resolution adopted by the 192-member body, Anand Sharma, India’s Minister of State for External Relations, said the idea originated at an international conference on “Peace, Non-Violence and Empowerment – Gandhian Philosophy in the 21st Century” convened in New Delhi in January this year.

The late leader’s “novel mode of mass mobilization and non-violent action” brought down colonialism, strengthened the roots of popular sovereignty, of civil, political and economic rights, and greatly influenced many a freedom struggle and inspired leaders like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Sharma stated.

Learn more about nonviolence: