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My Gandhi essay got published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on Friday. The newspaper began publishing email addresses with their Speaking Out essays. Voluntary of course. I gave them mine. I didn't expect to be swept away by the results.
I wasn't flooded with with feedback but I was overcome by it — in a good way. I spent a lot of time yesterday corresponding with the folks who wrote.
The first couple notes were nice.
"...[We] invited Arun to speak to us last year, and were humbled by his wisdom. Thank you for your article..."
"Thanks for the inspiring message in this morning's D & C. I'd read Arun Gandhi's words in a publication some years ago and have long felt a longing for the peaceful way. Our country should be leading the way by caring and loving example. The world could not ignore it."
But then I got the carefully laid out email with the conclusion that "Gandhi was a vegetarian, an ascetic, a medievalist, and a religionist who believed that this life is not worth living and is merely a preparation for the 'next.' Worse, he tried to foist these preposterous beliefs on others. He was, in short, a dangerous idiot."
Part of my response:
Could World War II have been prevented if other approaches had been used? Probably only if World War I had been prevented and/or its aftermaths handled better. What I do believe is that nonviolent engagement can't be imposed upon by the outside, even if the outsider is as inventive as Gandhi. It has to emerge from a people and from leaders who are fiercely devoted to them.
I wish I was a better historian so that I could be wiser about these issues. It seems like World War II and the Nazis are continually brought up these days. Hitler and the Japanese were stopped by fighting back, that's for sure -- my family lost 6 young men to the cause. But Japan and Europe also rose from the ashes by conscious decisions not to humiliate the defeated enemy but to engage with them and rebuild together. I can't say that the Cold War was the model of nonviolence but the Soviet Union did finally collapse under its own weight and Eastern Europeans managed to topple their dictators without WW3. I wonder what the world would be like today if, in 1945, the US had turned its tanks and bombers on Moscow or dropped a nuke on it. Who can say?...
Then this young man wrote: "I am a 21-year Army veteran lately of Iraq war service. I read your pessimistic letter... and wondered WHY you - evidently - hate soldiers? It is WE who fight, bleed, and die for your right to " protest..."
Whuh??? I responded:
What gave you the impression that I hate soldiers? My family lost an entire generation of boys in World War II so we are aware of the patriotic call of duty and the generosity of spirit that young people have in serving their country. I'm glad you arrived home safely.
However, why should I like war? I would rather see our leaders use diplomacy and wisdom to avoid war altogether and to turn enemies into allies. Do you wish we had gone to war with the Soviet Union or with Communist China back in the days of the Cold War? Are you hoping we deplete our forces by sending divisions into Iran, then Syria? Should we invade Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as hotbeds of extremism? Aren't we better off using good strategy rather than sending our young people to their deaths?
I do appreciate that you have served to protect my right of free speech and to allow the best minds in our land to figure out alternatives to war. There is no higher calling than public service -- people who love our country enough to devote their lives to it, whether military or civilian...
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