Wednesday 2 October 2019 3:30 AM UTC
NEW DELHI Oct 2: Mahatma Gandhi made fervent appeals for peace in the run-up to World War II and during the course of it in numerous letters to world leaders, including one to Adolf Hitler eight days before Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.
Ever the man of letters, Mahatma Gandhi’s missives from the time lay bare his passionate belief in non-violence, the core of his philosophy and politics, and also his views on India’s Independence.
He reached out to Adolf Hitler, “the one person in the world who can prevent a war”, as well as China’s Gen Chiang Kai-Shek and also penned open letters to the Japanese, the Americans and the British.
On August 23, 1939, Mahatma Gandhi wrote to “dear friend” Hitler from his ashram in Wardha in Maharashtra, stating that people had been urging him to write to the Fuhrer for the “sake of humanity”.
Mahatma Gandhi writes that he resisted the request because any letter to Hitler would be “an impertinence”.
“It is quite clear that you are today the one person in the world who can prevent a war which may reduce humanity to the savage state.
Must you pay that price for an object however worthy it may appear to you be? Will you listen to the appeal of one who has deliberately shunned the method of war not without considerable success? Any way I anticipate your forgiveness, if I have erred in writing to you (sic),” the Mahatma writes.
He ends the letter with “I remain, Your sincere friend, M. K. Gandhi”.
On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, leading to the outbreak of World War II and changing the course of history.
Britain, the US and the USSR were part of the Allied forces and Germany, Italy and Japan part of the Axis forces during World War II.
Indian soldiers fought the war as part of the British India empire.
In his appeal to the Britons through a letter on July 3, 1940, he urges them to use nonviolent means to defeat the Nazis. While doing so, let them take whatever they want but not “your souls nor your minds”, he writes.
“I would like you to lay down your arms you have, as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the possession of your beautiful island, with your beautiful buildings. You will give all these, but neither your souls nor your minds.
“If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourself, man, woman and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them (sic),” he says.
In a letter to the Japanese on July 7, 1942, which was also published in his Harijan newspaper a week later, he says bluntly that he “intensely disliked” their attack on China.
He also tells them that the Indian freedom movement “should in no way be misunderstood” and Japan will not find any favour among Indians.
“In fact, if we are to believe your reported anxiety for the independence of India, a recognition of that independence by British should leave you no excuse for any attack on India. Moreover, the reported profession sorts ill with your ruthless aggression against China (sic),” he writes.
Japan attacked India in 1944 and the Japanese had to retreat in the Battle of Kohima.
On August 3, 1942, at the height of the war, Mahatma Gandhi tells the Americans that the the US has made common cause with Great Britain, and so it can disown the responsibility for anything its partner does in India.
“You will do a grievous wrong to the Allied Cause, if you do not sift the truth from the chaff whilst there is time. Is there anything wrong in demanding unconditional recognition of India’s independence?” he states.
In a correspondence with Chiang Kai-Shek, he expresses sympathy with China following Japanese aggression.
“I am trying to enlist world opinion in favour of a proposition which to me appears self proved and which must lead to the strengthening of India’s and China’s defence,” he says.
Mahatma Gandhi’s letters have been published by the Navjivan Publishing House.
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