Gandhi’s Letter

This week’s Literature/Genre of the Week takes us back to World War II and many failed attempts to avoid it- in particular, many failed attempts to keep a tyrant from conducting one of (if not the) most heinous crimes against humanities to date.  There are a lot of interesting facts that have appeared recently about Adolf Hitler, who ruled Germany from 1933 until his suicide in 1945. This includes the top 10 from a news source in India (see article here.) He was one of the greatest orators of all time, but one who was obsessed with strategies of how to conquer Europe and the rest of the world. He was the most feared in the eyes of many politicians in other countries, who tried to appease him at any cost, pleading with him not to start the war machine at a time when the majority of the world was in the worst economic depression of all time. Many letters were written to him asking him to reconsider.

This included the one written by a peace activitist.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (known throughout the world as Mahatma Gandhi) was a peace activist who first led a movement to ease restrictions the British Empire had imposed on its colonial state, India, but later led a non-violent movement called “Quit India,” demanding Indian independence from the British Commonwealth and rejecting Indian involvement in World War II, both of which were successful. India obtained its independence in 1947 in spite the violence that accompanied it, setting the stage for the break-up of the empire that occurred in Africa and Asia over the course of 35 years. Known as “The Father of India,” a national holiday in India, combined with the international day of non-violence, takes place every year on October 2nd, Ghandi’s birthday.

Gandhi was known for his non-violence movements and his staunch criticism of World War II, arguing against the use of force to put down the regimes of Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Italy, claiming that if so and through self-sacrifice, the death toll would not have been as high as it was. Although this was met with heavy criticism among western nations and the Jewish community, some of the points made were worth considering for World War II was one of the most destructive wars on record, with up to 75% of the cities destroyed and as many German lives being lost as those from the Holocaust This does not include the loss of life among soldiers outside Germany. The war is still considered by many in Germany a delicate topic to discuss because it eventually reshaped Germany and the rest of the European landscape, veering away from empires and tyrannies and embracing the principles of democracy initiated by the United States as the new superpower and its allies when the war ended in 1945.

Yet Gandhi was also aware of the actions of Hitler and attempted to persuade him to change his mind with a letter he wrote to the dictator, explaining the effects of starting the war in Europe. This was what he wrote, as read by Clarke Peters at the BBC Studios in London:

Written in 1939, the letter never arrived in Berlin and subsequentially, World War II started with the German invasion of Poland on 2 September, 1939. It lasted until 7 May, 1945 but not before leaving a scar that will never go away, but will always be remembered for years to come. Gandhi never lived to see a new German democratic state and a socialist state, for he was assasinated on 30 January, 1948. West Germany was created out of the regions occupied by the US, Great Britain and France on 23 May, 1949. The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was formed on 7 October, 1949. It would be another 41 years until Germany was reunited in 1990. Yet the question still remains: what would have happened, had Gandhi’s letter arrived in Berlin and Hitler had a chance to read it? Would he have reconsidered or would he have ignored it? While history scholars will refute over one claim or another, the answer remains the same: we will never know.

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