Tribute to Gandhi
Note: Freedom Fighting started almost a year ago, Cinco de Mayo, 2012. A running tribute to Gandhi and King, viewing current events through the lenses of their lives, could go on forever. But one year was enough for our purposes. We plan to publish the final edition next weekend, May 5.
A secular saint?
A testament to Gandhi’s universality, his life drew praise from professional warriors, hardened pessimists, and even his enemies.
Asked if he admired anything about the freedom fighter, the brother of Gandhi’s assassin (and his co-conspirator) replied, “Firstly, the mass awakening that Gandhi did. … As youngsters, we had our enthusiasm, but we needed some channel. We took Gandhi to be our channel. We don’t repent for that.”
General Douglas McArthur, a man used to solving problems with violence, admitted Gandhi had shown a better way. “In the evolution of civilization, if it is to survive, all men cannot fail eventually to adopt Gandhi’s belief that the process of mass application of force to resolve contentious issues is fundamentally not only wrong but contains within itself the germs of self-destruction.”
“I know of no other man of any time or indeed in recent history,” said Sir Stafford Cripps, British statesman and Gandhi’s adversary, “who so forcefully and convincingly demonstrated the power of spirit over material things.” Albert Einstein agreed, and recommended that we “strive to do things in his spirit: not to use violence in fighting for our cause and to refrain from taking part in anything we believe is evil.”
George Orwell, creator of Big Brother and inveterate pessimist, confessed admiration for the Mahatma. “One may feel, as I do, a sort of aesthetic distaste for Gandhi, one may reject the claims of sainthood made on his behalf (he never made any such claim himself, by the way), one may also reject sainthood as an ideal and therefore feel that Gandhi’s basic aims were anti-human and reactionary: but regarded simply as a politician, and compared with the other leading political figures of our time, how clean a smell he has managed to leave behind!”
Foibles and failures
In public, Gandhi and King were great leaders, and honoring them is fitting. In their personal lives, however, each man had his foibles and personal failures. To ensure we are not blinded by their reputations, let us review their imperfections.
Gandhi’s attachment to truth led him to one particularly indelicate practice. Fixated on purity of heart, late in life he took to sleeping naked with young women to prove to himself that he had conquered every trace of physical lust. To my knowledge, no one close to Gandhi believed these tests were anything more than that, but in retrospect, this is one practice he probably regrets.
As Orwell put it, “Nobody ever suggested that he was corrupt, or ambitious in any vulgar way, or that anything he did was actuated by fear or malice.” Indeed, looking at a photograph of Gandhi’s possessions at the time of his death, Orwell surmised “the whole outfit could be purchased for about 5 pounds, and Gandhi’s sins, at least his fleshly sins, would make the same sort of appearance if placed all in one heap.”
What else can we say about Mahatma Gandhi that his contemporaries have not said? Nothing, really. The best way for us to pay tribute to this moral giant is to consider him as a guide to our own morality today. For when the book of secular sainthood is finally written, there is no question: Gandhi will be in it.
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