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Gaming Gandhi

[ by Charles Cameron — two clashing quotes about Gandhi that followed one another in my RSS feed today, funny & strange ]


Strange, to say the least.

Gandhi was a strategist — as a friend of mine once wrote, “he achieved self determination for the largest number of individuals with the lowest cost in human life” of any rebel known to history —

He managed this feat by holding a position of non-violent non-cooperation, while showing that the ‘civilized’ opponent of the United Kingdom could not live up to its own imposed standards of conduct or law.

And at least some of the time, he was notably unwilling to romanticize himself — he once said:

My nonviolence does not admit of running away from danger and leaving dear ones unprotected. Between violence and cowardly flight, I can only prefer violence to cowardice. I can no more preach nonviolence to a coward than I can tempt a blind man to enjoy healthy scenes. Nonviolence is the summit of bravery. And in my own experience, I have had no difficulty in demonstrating to men trained in the school of violence the superiority of nonviolence. As a coward, which I was for years, I harbored violence. I began to prize nonviolence only when I shed cowardice.

So he’s not the total pacifist he’s sometimes portrayed as.

But nuclear weapons? “Much more dangerous than, say, Xerxes and Alexander the Great. Or Genghis Khan, for that matter”?

Not in India, not back then. In one of Hugh Everett‘s “many worlds”? — perhaps. And in Civ2, the game? — apparently, yes.


Quote sources: Outlook India and National Post, with a tip of the hat to Rex Brynen at PAXSims.

7 Responses to “Gaming Gandhi”

  1. James Bennett Says:

    “with the lowest cost in human life”

    This assumes that Gandhi’s positions on the timing and manner of Indian independence were in no way contributing factors to the death toll of Partition.  That possibility must be considered. 

  2. Madhu Says:

    What really did happen at the time of Indian independence? I know it’s not novel to complain about the focus on Gandhi and Churchill and Jinnah (national myths are national myths for a reason) but I am always interested in other contributing factors to communalism, things that aren’t so clearly related to political movements but events themselves:
    “Notwithstanding the early signs in Indonesia, it is remarkable that during the outbreak of communal violence in August 1946 and till well after 1947 had set in, the Indian soldier, Hindu and Muslim, showed remarkable impartiality when dealing with communal violence. This was so in Kolkata in August 1946, in Bihar in October 1946 and in Garhmukteshwar (Uttar Pradesh) in November 1946. Two or three battalions of the Bihar Regiment, which had Hindus and Muslims in equal number, had operated in Bihar during the communal riots with complete impartiality. At the time of those riots, Col. Naser Ali Khan, who later went to the Pakistan Army, and I were serving at General Headquarters in Delhi. He was many years senior and always very kind. One morning at breakfast, after having read a newspaper report about the Bihar riots, he told me excitedly that his blood boiled when he remembered that I was Bihari. I told him I condemned what was happening in Bihar more than him. He was not the only Muslim officer I interacted with in Delhi who was so worked up over the terrible rioting in Bihar. I mention these incidents to show how circumstances were forcing the communal virus to spread in the Army. Till March 1947, things appeared under control. Localised communal riots took place in different places and the Army, deployed to maintain order, remained disciplined and impartial. Wavell, in his farewell address on March 21, 1947, said, “I believe that the stability of the Indian Army may perhaps be the deciding factor in the future of India”.” 
    S.K. Sinha, 1947: Partition of the Indian Army, IntelliBriefs blog

  3. Charles Cameron Says:

    [ Madhu’s post above was posted while I was writing this response to James Bennett ]
    Gandhi himself is quoted as saying

    If the Congress wishes to accept partition, it will be over my dead body. So long as I am alive, I will never agree to the partition of India. Nor will I, if I can help it, allow the Congress to accept it

    — but I suppose one can still be culpable for the very thing one opposes.
    I’m not familiar enough with the topic to have an opinion, and would welcome further elucidation…

  4. Madhu Says:

    And to anticipate comments, what is incitement and what are reactions to incitements and what are “mere” events and how do you draw conclusions in such complicated systems?
    This is all going on in particular backdrop:
    “Famines, never unknown in India, became increasingly lethal during the Raj because of the export of foodgrains and the replacement of food crops with indigo or jute. The Second World War made things worse, especially after Japanese forces occupied Burma in 1942, cutting off Indian rice imports. Then a destructive cyclone hit the Bengal coast just when the crucial winter crop was maturing and the surviving rice was damaged by disease. Officials of the Raj, fearing a Japanese invasion, confiscated everything that might help the invading force – boats, carts, motor vehicles, elephants and, crucially, all the rice available. The Japanese never came but a panicking public – and many crafty businessmen – immediately began to hoard rice and the staple food of the people quickly disappeared from the marketplace.”
    And, finally, there is much still to learn and study:
    “The preceding discussion makes clear that political parties and social movements play a crucial role in how the national past is conveyed to citizens in the present. Indians admired by parties and movements, such as Ambedkar and Patel, have had their achievements more widely recognized than might otherwise have been the case. By the same token, great Indians whose lives are incapable of capture by special interests or sects have suffered from the enormous condescension of posterity.
    Consider, in this regard, the current invisibility from the national discourse of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. Married to a man chosen by her family, she was widowed early, and then married a left-wing actor from another part of India. She joined the freedom movement, persuading Gandhi to allow women to court arrest during the Salt March and after.
    After coming out of jail, Kamaladevi became active in trade union work, and travelled to the United States, where she explained the relevance of civil disobedience to black activists (her turn in the South is compellingly described in Nico Slate’s recent book Colored Cosmopolitanism). After independence and Partition, Kamaladevi supervised the resettlement of refugees; still later, she set up an all-India network of artisanal co-operatives, and established a national crafts museum as well as a national academy for music and dance.
    Tragically, because her work cannot be seen through an exclusively political lens, and because her versatility cannot be captured by a sect or special interest, Kamaladevi is a forgotten figure today. Yet, from this historian’s point of view, she has strong claims to being regarded as the greatest Indian woman of modern times.”
    So much stuff isn’t documented, written down, or even when documented, lost to time. Guha mentions discovering a pamphlet about a key figure in Partition history, someone Guha had never heard about until discovering the booklet. One of those players lost to time and the current narratives.
    I am eager to see how a different generation, free of veneration or villification of a few figures, will pull this all together. 

  5. Madhu Says:

    but I suppose one can still be culpable for the very thing one opposes.
    Well, that’s sort of the criticism of him, isn’t it? 

  6. Madhu Says:

    Charles, I have taken your beads game and complexity blogging to heart!
    Anyway, my take on all this complexity is that violence was always there, just beneath the surface, and it was maybe going to come out somehow, sometime, someway. Who knows given that the counterfactual is just that, counterfactual?

  7. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hi Madhu: 

    Well, that’s sort of the criticism of him, isn’t it?

    The way conscious human efforts lead to “unforeseen consequences” is one of the great mysteries as far as I’m concerned, so I try to keep an eye out for our various “best attempts” to get to grips with it.  Only a day or two ago, I was trying to explain to my son, Emlyn, 17, the basics of Bucky Fuller’s theory that effects are often perpendicular to efforts, and today I looked it up.  
    Apparently, his name for it was “precession”.  In the chapter “Self-Disciplines of Buckminster Fuller” in his book Critical Path, he writes: 

    Precession is the effect of bodies in motion on other bodies in motion. The Sun and Earth are both in motion. Despite the 180-degree gravitational pull of the in-motion Sun upon the in-motion Earth, precession makes Earth orbit around the Sun in a direction that is at ninety degrees – i.e., at a right angle – to the direction of the Sun’s gravitational pull upon Earth.
    The successful regeneration of life growth on our planet Earth is ecologically accomplished always and only as the precessional – right angled – “side effect” of the biological species’ chromosomically programmed individual-survival preoccupations…

    Fuller gives several other examples in this chapter, of which this one strikes me as the simplest and clearest:

    When we drop a stone in the water, a circular wave is generated that moves outwardly in a plane perpendicular (at right angles) to the line of stone-dropping – the outwardly expanding circular wave generates (at ninety degrees) a vertical wave that in turn generates an additional horizontally and outwardly expanding wave, and so on.

    Effects at right-angles to their causes?  That really messes with our simplistic linear-mode of cause and effect thinking…
    So yeah, I don’t know enough of the history, but I do know that things don’t always (often? ever?) work out quite the way we intend them to.

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