Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear War

by M. K. Gandhi

Peace Quilt designed by 9th grader Vidhi Jain, Apeejay School, Pitampura, India; courtesy

Editor’s Preface: We have posted a series of statements by Gandhi that very much address situations and conflicts we currently face, as with his statements on Truth. The “nuclear menace” is much in the news again. These extracts are then being posted in August, the anniversary month of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Please consult the notes at the end for notes, and sources. JG

Has not the atom bomb proved the futility of all violence? (1)

There have been cataclysmic changes in the world. Do I still adhere to my faith in truth and non-violence? Has not the atom bomb exploded that faith? Not only has it not done so, but it has clearly demonstrated to me that truth and non-violence constitute the mightiest force in the world. Before it the atom bomb is of no effect. The two opposing forces are wholly different in kind, the one moral and spiritual, the other physical and material. The one is infinitely superior to the other which by its very nature has an end.

The force of the spirit is ever progressive and endless. Its full expression makes it unconquerable in the world. In saying this I know that I have said nothing new. I merely bear witness to the fact. What is more, the force resides in everybody, man, woman and child, irrespective of the colour of their skin. Only, in many it lies dormant. But it is capable of being awakened by judicious training. It is further to be observed that, without the recognition of this truth and due effort to realize it, there is no escape from self-destruction, the remedy lies in every individual training himself for self-expression in every walk of life, irrespective of response by the neighbours. (2)

Ahimsa Is the Answer

It has been suggested by American friends that the atom bomb will bring in Ahimsa (non-violence) as nothing else can. It will, if it is meant that its destructive power will so disgust the world that it will turn it away from violence for the time being. This is very much like a man glutting himself with dainties to the point of nausea and turning away from them only to return with redoubled zeal after the effect of nausea is well over. Precisely in the same manner will the world return to violence with renewed zeal after the effect of disgust is worn out.

Often does good come out of evil. But that is God’s not man’s plan. Man knows that only evil can come out of evil, as good out of good.

That atomic energy, though harnessed by American scientists and army men for destructive purposes, may be utilized by other scientists for humanitarian purposes, is undoubtedly within the realm of possibility. But that is not what was meant by my American friends. They were not so simple as to put a question, which connoted an obvious truth. An incendiary uses fire for his destructive and nefarious purposes, a housewife makes daily use of it in preparing nourishing food for mankind.

So far as I can see, the atomic bomb has deadened the finest feeling that has sustained mankind for ages. There used to be the so-called laws of war, which made it tolerable. Now we know the naked truth. War knows no law except that of might. The atom bomb brought an empty victory to the Allied arms, but it resulted for the time being in destroying the soul of Japan. What has happened to the soul of the destroying nation is yet too early to see.

Forces of nature act in a mysterious manner. We can but solve the mystery by deducing the unknown result from the known results of similar events. A slaveholder cannot hold a slave without putting himself or his deputy in the cage holding the slave. Let no one run away with the idea that I wish to put in a defence of Japanese misdeeds in pursuance of Japan’s unworthy ambition. The difference was only one of degree. I assume that Japan’s greed was more unworthy. But the greater unworthiness conferred no right on the less unworthy of destroying without mercy men, women and children of Japan in a particular area.

The moral to be legitimately drawn from the supreme tragedy of the bomb is that it will not be destroyed by counter-bomb, even as violence cannot be by counter-violence. Mankind has to get out of violence only through non-violence. Hatred can be overcome only by love. Counter-hatred only increases the surface as well as the depth of hatred. I am aware that I am repeating what I have many times stated before and practiced to the best of my ability and capacity. What I first stated was itself nothing new. It is as old as the hills. Only, I recited no copybook maxim, but definitely announced what I believe in every fibre of my being. Sixty years of practice in various walks of life has only enriched the belief, which the experience of friends has fortified. It is, however, the central truth by which one can stand alone without flinching. I believe in what Max Müller said years ago, namely, that truth needed to be repeated as long as there were men who disbelieved it. (3)

“The very frightfulness of the atom bomb will not force non-violence on the world? If all nations are armed with the atom bomb, they will refrain from using it as it will mean absolute destruction for all concerned?” I am of the opinion that it will not. The violent man’s eye would be lit up with the prospect of the much greater amount of destruction and death which he could now wreak. (4)

Antidote To the Bomb

I regard the employment of the atom bomb for the wholesale destruction of men, women and children as the most diabolical use of science.

“What is the antidote? Has it antiquated non-violence?” No. On the contrary, non-violence is the only thing that is now left in the field. It is the only thing that the atom bomb cannot destroy. I did not move a muscle when I first heard that the atom bomb had wiped out Hiroshima. On the contrary, I said to myself, ‘unless now the world adopts non-violence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind.’ (5)

I have no doubt that, unless big nations shed their desire of exploitation and the spirit of violence of which war is the natural expression and the atom bomb the inevitable consequence, there is no hope for peace in the world. I tried to speak out during the War and wrote open letters to the British people, to Hitler and to the Japanese and was dubbed a fifth columnist for my pains. (6)

The Message of Asia

What I want you to understand is the message of Asia. It is not to be learnt through the Western spectacles or by imitating the atom bomb. If you want to give a message to the West, it must be the message of love and the message of truth…. In this age of democracy, in this age of awakening of the poorest of the poor, you can redeliver this message with the greatest emphasis. You will complete the conquest of the West not through vengeance because you have been exploited, but with real understanding. I am sanguine if all of you put your hearts together—not merely heads—to understand the secret of the message these wise men of the East have left to us, and if we really become worthy of that great message, the conquest of the West will be completed, a conquest that will be loved by the West itself.

The weapon of violence, even if it is the atom bomb,
becomes useless when it is matched against true non-violence.

The West today is pining for the wisdom of non-violence. It is despairing of a multiplication of the atom bombs, because atom bombs mean utter destruction not merely of the West but of the whole world, as if the prophecy of the Bible is going to be fulfilled and there is to be a perfect deluge. It is up to you to tell the world of its wickedness and sin—that is the heritage your teachers and my teachers have taught Asia. (7)

The weapon of violence, even if it is the atom bomb, becomes useless when it is matched against true non-violence. (8)

Endnotes: (JG)

(1) Harijan, 10 March 1946; p. 36.

(2) Harijan, 10 February 1946; p. 8.

(3) Harijan, 7 July 1946; p. 212.

(4) Harijan, 23 June 1946; p. 197.

(5) Harijan, 29 September 1946; p. 335.

(6) Harijan, 10 November 1946; p. 389.

(7) Harijan, 20 April 1947; pp. 116-17.

(8) Harijan, 1 June 1947; p.172.


These excerpts are taken from Gandhi’s weekly, English language newspaper Harijan, which he began in 1933 and which lasted until his death in 1948. Harijan means “People of God”, which was also Gandhi’s term for the “untouchable” caste.

“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi