George Orwell on Pacifism: Nothing Changes!

Woah, there, Nelly!! Sorry to interrupt your apologia for Gandhi, but we certainly cannot all agree that it was a “passing error in judgment.” Gandhi’s statement was in utter agreement with his political and moral philosophy. Do not try to explain away inconvenient facts by asserting they were aberrations when they were not.

The appropriate thing to do in GD is to either defend the statement, or acknowledge Gandhi’s philosophy was in error. Your choice.

Bad ambushed. Bad, naughty ambushed.


After submitting my last post, I see you are trying to apologize for Einstein, ambushed. Ooooh, if he didn’t write the letter, Szilard would be mad at him. Of course, that is utter justification for a committed pacifist to recommend the construction of the most deadly weapon ever created. :rolleyes:


Sua, I don’t think anyone is trying to apologize for Einstein. I think ambushed was just trying to show that he was a pacifist. Perhaps Einstein thought peace could be obtained through MAD. I don’t know, just a guess. But the letter is not logically inconsistent with pacifism.

With Ghandi, I can defend his statement (though I may not agree with it myself). Gandhi was in a fairly bad position, as far as PR goes. When he suffers himself to call attention to colonialism or injustice, he looks like a great hero. When his countrymen suffer with him, he still looks not too shabby. When he tells other people to suffer to call attention to their plight, he looks like a real jerk. After all, he wouldn’t have to do anything. But his view is logically consistent, and consistent with a pacifist position. If, for instance, a pacifist Rabbi had said the same thing, it would be taken in a different light.

At any rate, Sua, you make a logical error… you think either Gandhi had to be correct, or if he is not correct his philosophy is in error. This is logically incorrect since you miss at least one alternative: that his application of the philosophy may be in error.

Astorian, I’m curious as to your take on the following verses:

Matthew 26:52 "“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
Luke 6:27-36

27 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.
30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners’ do that.
34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners' lend to sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full.
35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Matthew 5

39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

Maybe I missed something, but it seems like people are arguing over whether Gandhi’s pacifism was a practical response to Hitler, whether Gandhi was a jerk, whether Gandhi was a “dangerous ignoramus,” etc.

The real question, though, is whether Gandhi was secretly inspired by “an admiration for power and successful cruelty” and an “admiration of totalitarianism.” Even if one grants that Gandhi was grossly misguided at times, I don’t see him as being an admirer of totalitarianism.


The appropriate thing for you to have done, Sua, was to acknowledge that a person can hold an unpopular opinion and still be a noble and principled pacifist rather than a “dangerous ignoramus” for holding to his principles.

Disingenuous, Sua. Unfair, disingenuous Sua.

Or, maybe Szilard was able to trick Einstein into signing the letter, because Einstein was so dumb. :rolleyes:

Since this seems to have evolved into a debate about Gandhi and Einstein, Orwell did write an essay on when the non-violent resistance of Gandhi could work and when it couldn’t. Unfortunately, I don’t have the book of essays where he wrote his opinion, and that site doesn’t appear to have it either, but working from memory his point was that if you were using it against a democratic government it could be very effective.
Against a totalitarian government, though, it would be completely useless.
Relating that to the current situation, pacifists now have to answer the question exactly how we are supposed to deal with the Taliban, who are about as totalitarian as you get, or with their like-minded allies Al Qaeda. Non-violent resistance certainly isn’t going to work against these groups.

Avumede and ambushed, perhaps you noted that I did not say one freaking thing about whether or not pacifism is good or bad philosophy. What I did point out is that ambushed falsely tried to paint Gandhi’s statement about European Jewry, which was utterly consistent with Gandhi’s philosphy, as a “passing error in judgment.” Ambushed should have tried to defend Gandhi’s statement on its own merits, or admit that Gandhi’s philosphy was flawed. I don’t care either way - my beef is that it is intellectually dishonest for him to try to fluff off Gandhi’s statement, rather than fairly addressing it.

As for Einstein, the letter brings up the legitimate question of whether Einstein was truly a pacifist. I may assert to the heavens that I am a pacifist, but if I take a job in R&D and WeaponsCo., IMHO, I am not a pacifist. Similarly, Einstein’s public statements about pacifism are utterly inconsistent with his letter to FDR. Avemude, I appreciate your point about MAD, but I do not think that rehabilitates Einstein’s pacifism, as MAD requires a commitment to actually use the deterrent, if necessary, in order to be an effective deterrent.
And I think ambushed’s attempt to fluff off the letter as being written under pressure is absurd. A position dropped under pestering by a friend is not a position deeply held. Einstein couldn’t even claim duress; what could Szilard do to Einstein if Einstein stuck to his alleged principles?


Since I’ve posted this link to just about every other thread here:

It’s George Orwell’s essay on Ghandi.

Orwell appears to have been right on the money when it comes to Gandhi and his attitude toward the combatants in the Second World War. Orwell, in the link Wumpus provided, says “…there is reason to think that Gandhi did not understand the nature of totalitarianism…and saw everything in terms of his own struggle against the British government.”

That may be the most accurate, and is certainly the most charitable way to view this statement by Gandhi, writing in the Indian newspaper Harijan on June 22, 1940, when the French had collapsed under the weight of the German offensive:
“Germans of future generations will honour Herr Hitler as a genius, as a brave man, a matchless organizer and much more.”

My source for this quote, Len Deighton in Blood, Tears and Folly is more succinct about Gandhi’s motivations, saying only “Success always wins friends.”

I don’t know if columnist Andrew Sullivan reads this thread, but he has some interesting Orwell quotes in his me-zine. See and scroll down just a bit to Thought For The Day.

Unfortunately, his site is white on purple, and I don’t know how to cut and paste from it. (Can anyone on this panel tell me how to do so?)

Sullivan quotes Orwell:

This was written in 1940, one year into WW II. Sullivan makes the point that today’s LLI have become defeatist about the anti-terrorism war in just a few weeks.

Sullivan also has an interesting Orwell quote about living in a masturbation fantasy, which I won’t bother to re-type here, since you can link to it.

Like many on this thread, Sullivan finds that Orwell still has much to contribute.

I’ve always admired pacifists. You can’t really test your ideas that a war is justified unless you test it against the full range of opposing positions, and that includes pacifism. We are a plural democracy, and so we must protect the right of people to dissent, particularly peaceful dissent.

I’ve seen a number of statements along this line, and they annoy me. Yes, of course we must protect the right of people to dissent. But, DPWhite’s statement includes an implication that this warning is needed – that the right of a pacifist to dissent peacefully is likely to be taken away.

If you really believe this is so, DP, I invite you to show some evidence. So far I’ve seen criticism of anti-war positions, but not threats against free speech. Peace demonstrations have been held in a number of cities and on several campuses, and AFAIK they continue to be permitted.