Gandhi and War: The Mahatma Gandhi / Bart de Ligt Correspondence

by Christian Bartolf

Four times Gandhi offered his services to the army: in 1899-1900 during the Boer War, in 1906 on the occasion of the so-called Zulu Rebellion, in 1914 during his stay in London at the outset of World War I; and lastly in India in 1918 near the conclusion of that war. After World War I Gandhi on a number of occasions was asked how he could reconcile his participation in war with his principle of nonviolence (ahimsa). Bart de Ligt was not the only person to correspond with Gandhi on this issue, but he was the most forthright and compelling. Leo Tolstoy’s friend and secretary, Vladimir Tchertkov, had also questioned Gandhi about it. In fact, it was a common reverence for Tolstoy’s doctrine of non-resistance or non-violent resistance that was the foundation for the critical dialogue between Bart de Ligt and Gandhi between 1928 and 1930. As an introduction to this correspondence, we shall first summarize Gandhi’s participation in various wars, and the exchanges of letters and conversations, which Gandhi had on this matter, including his dialogue with Bart de Ligt.(1)

Although Gandhi was against the Boer attempt to reduce Indians to the status of second-class citizens, he admired their courage, religious devotion, and their Afrikaans language and culture. Yet when the Boer War broke out in 1899, Gandhi urged his fellow Indians to support the British monarchy, irrespective of whether the war might be right or wrong, and organized an Indian Ambulance Corps for service with the British army.(2) Over a thousand men were enlisted, the overwhelming majority recruited from the indentured laborers who formed the lowest economic stratum of the Indian immigrant population. By recruiting an ambulance corps, Gandhi was also making the case for full citizenship with equal rights and duties within the British Empire. He wanted to prove that Indians were no cowards, an allegation frequently made by Europeans. Gandhi appreciated the positive qualities that war was said to bring out in men, such as fearlessness, comradeship, and a sense of duty (dharma).

During the Boer War Gandhi described his impressions of the military camp where his ambulance corps had been helping the wounded:

“There was perfect order, perfect stillness. Tommy (i.e., the British soldier) was then altogether lovable. He mixed with us . . . freely. He often shared with us his luxuries whenever there were any to be had. A never-to-be-forgotten scene happened at Chieveley (Camp). It was a sultry day. Water was very scarce. There was only one well. An officer was doling out tinfuls to the thirsty. Some of the (Indian stretcher) bearers were returning after leaving their charge. The soldiers, who were helping themselves to the water, at once, cheerfully shared their portion with our bearers. There was, shall I say, a spirit of brotherhood irrespective of color or creed. The Red Cross badge or the khaki uniform was a sufficient passport whether the bearer had a white skin or a brown. As a Hindu, I do not believe in war, but if anything can even partially reconcile me to it, it was the rich experience we gained at the front. It was certainly not the thirst for blood that took thousands of men to the battlefield . . . They went to the battlefield because it was their duty. And how many proud, rude, savage spirits had it not broken into gentle creatures of God?”(3)

Gandhi and his ambulance corps might not have been involved in the fighting to any great extent during the Boer War, but 28,000 white and 20,000 black people were to die within three years in the war. They certainly experienced the horrors of war during the so-called “Zulu Rebellion” in Natal 1906, when Gandhi reconstituted his Indian Stretcher-Bearer Corps. In the course of heavy fighting, innocent ‘natives’ were wounded or killed and their property destroyed. Gandhi witnessed all this at close hand; his corps was given the task of looking after the wounded Zulus. Without the help of the Indian ambulance corps many more Zulus would have lost their lives, and saving Zulu lives had certainly been a contributing factor in Gandhi’s participation in the Rebellion. His natural sympathies lay with the Zulus, who enjoyed even fewer rights than did the Indians. His motives for offering the services of the ambulance corps during the Zulu Rebellion were virtually the same as those he put forward during the Boer War: independent of the success or result of the war, Gandhi seized the opportunity to show that the Indians were capable of appreciating the duties of citizenship.(4) The year of the Zulu Rebellion, 1906, also saw the birth of satyagraha during the emancipation struggle of South African Indians; arguably a nonviolent exercise in Indian nationalism. In his new philosophical invention of nonviolent resistance (satyagraha: Firmness in Truth) Gandhi wanted to cultivate the positive qualities brought out by war and eliminate the negative effects: hatred, vengefulness, bestiality, brutality, love of death, destructiveness, unscrupulousness, ruthlessness, ignorance, insensitivity to human suffering, and so much more.

Shortly before the beginning of the First World War in 1914, Gandhi began to realize that participating in war on behalf of Britain was to collaborate in criminal acts: “One who would not help in a slaughter-house should not help in cleaning the slaughter house either.”(5) Yet, after the First World War began, Gandhi repudiated that position by recruiting Indian students in London for army service, although as non-combatants. Gandhi, as a public figure felt obliged to recruit his countrymen precisely because they did not share his faith in nonviolence, just as, in 1906, Gandhi was at first alone in espousing his belief in satyagraha among his Indian compatriots in South Africa. Indian students should play their part in the war alongside young Englishmen, if they wanted to prove their country’s readiness for self-government. There was considerable opposition to Gandhi’s view, some of the Indians arguing that they were virtually slaves and had no interest in fighting for their masters. About eighty did take Gandhi’s side and consented to join his ambulance corps. In letters to his nephew Maganlal, Gandhi confirmed that his personal pacifist conviction was unconditional and that he would never seize a weapon. But observing ahimsa (nonviolence) in wartime as in peacetime, could still pose an ethical dilemma.

As he was later to write to his son Manilal: “I found that, living in England, I was in a way participating in the War. London owes the food it gets in wartime to the protection of the Navy. Thus to take this food was also a wrong thing. There was only one right course left, which was to go away to live in some mountain or cave in England . . . and subsist there on whatever food or shelter Nature might provide, without seeking assistance from any human being. I do not yet possess the spiritual strength necessary for this. It seemed to me a base thing, therefore, to accept food tainted by war without working for it. When thousands have come forward to lay down their lives only because they thought it their duty to do so, how could I sit still?”(6) Since his conscience forbade him to fight, “There only remained nursing the wounded . . . I have discovered no alternative. I myself could not shoot, but I could nurse the wounded.”

Instead of seeing service at the Western front, Gandhi returned to India on his doctor’s advice, arriving in Bombay in early January 1915. For more than a year thereafter he kept out of politics; in 1917 in Champaran and in early 1918 in Ahmedabad and Kheda (Kaira), both situated in his native province of Gujarat, he conducted satyagraha campaigns to right the wrongs being suffered by peasants and workers.

At the end of April 1918, Gandhi launched a recruiting campaign to enlist Indian volunteers for the armed forces, but not as noncombatants as in 1899, 1906, and 1914. Although under military auspices and army discipline, noncombatant roles had been aimed at saving lives. But now for the first time Gandhi began recruiting volunteers as combatants. The British Viceroy Lord Chelmsford had called a manpower conference at the end of April 1918 because of the Western ally’s deteriorating situation. Gandhi saw a chance to gain dominion status for India (similar to that enjoyed by Australia or Canada).(7) Gandhi had been arguing that he strictly rejected participating in wounding or killing on the battlefield, and was also asserting that India should resort to acts of “soul-force” in accordance with principles of satyagraha nonviolence, although India had not yet chosen the path of unconditional nonviolence.(8) These assertions he made in April, Bihar and especially Gujarat being his main recruiting areas. But on 6 June 1918 he called off the Gujarati satyagraha campaign, and a fortnight later, on 22 June 1918, he started to enlist soldiers.

In Gandhi’s statements we find different, conflicting lines of argument. There is the nationalist appeal to contribute to the defense of the Empire and, thus, gain the political status of India as a partner with equal rights.(9) Yet there is another level of argument besides the nationalist drive for Indian independence in Gandhi’s advocacy of the war effort. He believed that Indian soldiers would regain the courage they had lost as a result of their English rulers having deprived them of their fighting capacity, that is, the martial qualities of warriors that were needed to become true disciples of nonviolence. Indian citizens of the Empire had systematically been excluded from any combatant service except for a small number of professional soldiers drawn from a small segment of the population. Gandhi defined swaraj (home rule) as “complete independence in association with Britain”, and this end should be achieved by the use of weapons, if need be. In a speech at Surat on 1 August 1918, Gandhi declared, “Swaraj is not for lawyers and doctors but only for those who possess strength of arms.” Gandhi complained about the timidity and incapability of his fellow countrymen; participating in the war would develop in them a spirit of independence and physical and mental fitness. Gandhi compared India’s situation to those of the Boer in South Africa who had gained independence by fighting against the British: “We can count only on our own military strength.” Gandhi’s expectation that India’s freedom could be won on the battlefields of France was not shared by most of his compatriots who were afraid of losing their lives and who could not follow Gandhi’s idea of becoming strong. And then, in mid-August 1918, Gandhi became seriously ill and was prevented from participating in the war, a repeat of his physical crisis of 1914. In November 1918, after the armistice ending the First World War, Gandhi experienced great relief not having to serve in the war. Nevertheless he never repudiated the stand he had taken during those summer months of 1918, as stated in the same Surat speech,  “He cannot be a satyagrahi who is afraid of death. The ability to use physical force is necessary for a true appreciation of satyagraha. He alone can practice ahimsa (nonviolence) who knows how to kill, i.e. knows what himsa (violence) is.”

Peter Brock, in his article, “Gandhi’s Nonviolence and His War Service” (see Endnote 1) has compared Gandhi’s spiritual crisis of 1918 with that of the founder of the Quakers, George Fox, in the year 1659. Like George Fox, Gandhi renewed and revitalized his philosophy of nonviolence during and after this crisis. Gandhi was challenged to merge violence (himsa) and nonviolence (ahimsa) as two almost indistinguishable concepts. Nonviolence could be realized in acts of violence, as for instance when a drunkard liable to inflict harm on others is restrained by force or when a mad dog is killed. His attitude during those months allowed him to regard war as a necessary evil in certain cases just as Mennonites perceived a conditional justification of armed force for the restraint of evildoers, and for protection, so long as this were exercised by persons “outside the perfection of Christ”. In his correspondences with C.F. Andrews, an English missionary friend, and Esther Faering, a Danish Lutheran missionary, Gandhi tried to justify his recruiting campaigns. But, in mid-August 1918 when he became seriously ill, Gandhi abandoned his hope that he would be sent to France or Mesopotamia to serve in the battle zone as a noncombatant alongside the men he had enlisted. During his recruitment campaign Gandhi was challenged to explain his contradictory way of acting. What good had the Government done for India to deserve their cooperation? To a member of his Ashram, Nanubhai, who had volunteered to help him recruit, he wrote on 24 September 1918 that, “war is one powerful means, among many others”, that if it were a powerful, even evil means, one could still cultivate manliness in a blameless way. When in November 1918 news of the armistice reached him and he no longer had to concern himself with recruiting, he experienced a feeling of “very great relief.”(10) But Gandhi never repudiated the stand he had taken during those summer months of 1918. While inflexibly loyal to principle, he was at the same time a pragmatist who drew back from pursuing principle to its logical conclusion in every instance, even though this seemed for others to be an inner contradiction: as loyal citizen of the Empire, which he wanted to transform into a multinational commonwealth, as stretcher-bearer volunteer in the service of the British during the war and, at the same time, as loyal follower of the universal principle of nonviolence; such contradictions could only lead to an unbearable and unhealthy compromise!

After the First World War Gandhi was called upon to explain and justify his position. In his Autobiography, first published in 1927, Gandhi wrote about his efforts to organize an ambulance corps in London in the year 1914:

“I felt that Indians residing in England ought to do their bit in the war. English students had volunteered to serve in the army, and Indians might do no less. A number of objections were taken to this line of argument. There was, it was contended, a world of difference between the Indians and the English. We were slaves and they were masters. How could a slave cooperate with the master in the hour of the latter’s need? Was it not the duty of the slave, seeking to be free, to make the master’s need his opportunity? This argument failed to appeal to me then. I knew the difference of status between an Indian and an Englishman, but I did not believe that we had been quite reduced to slavery. I felt then that it was more the fault of individual British officials than of the British system, and that we could convert them by love. If we would improve our status through the help and cooperation of the British, it was our duty to win their help by standing by them in their hour of need. Though the system was faulty, it did not seem to me to be intolerable, as it does today. But if, having lost my faith in the system, I refuse to co-operate with the British Government today, how could those friends do so, having lost their faith not only in the system but in the officials as well? The opposing friends felt that that was the hour for making a bold declaration of Indian demands and for improving the status of Indians . . . . I thought that England’s need should not be turned into our opportunity, and that it was more becoming and far-sighted not to press our demands while the war lasted. I therefore adhered to my advice and invited those who would to enlist as volunteers. There was a good response, practically all the provinces and all the religions being represented among the volunteers.”(11)

In the following Gandhi also describes his change of attitude with respect to the Empire:

“I lost no occasion of serving the Government at all times. Two questions presented themselves to me during all those crises. What was my duty as a citizen of the empire as I then believed myself to be, and what was my duty as an out-and-out believer in the religion of ahimsa/nonviolence? . . . .I know now that I was wrong in thinking that I was a citizen of the empire. But on those four occasions I did honestly believe that, in spite of the many disabilities that my country was laboring under, it was making its way towards freedom, and that on the whole the government from the popular standpoint was not wholly bad, and that the British administrators were honest though insular and dense. Holding that view, I set about doing what an ordinary Englishman would do in the circumstances. I was not wise or important enough to take independent action. I had no business to judge or scrutinize ministerial decisions with the solemnity of a tribunal. I did not impute malice to the ministers either at the time of the Boer War, the Zulu Revolt or the late war. I did not consider Englishmen, nor do I now consider them, as particularly bad or worse than other human beings. I considered and still consider them to be as capable of high motives and actions as any other body of men, and equally capable of making mistakes. I therefore felt that I sufficiently discharged my duty as a man and a citizen by offering my humble services to the empire in the hour of its need whether local or general. That is how I would expect every Indian to act by his country under Swaraj. I should be deeply distressed, if on every conceivable occasion every one of us were to be a law unto oneself and to scrutinize in golden scales every action of our future National Assembly. I would surrender my judgment in most matters to national representatives, taking particular care in making my choice of such representatives. I know that in no other manner would a democratic government be possible for one single day. The whole situation is now changed for me. My eyes, I fancy, are opened. Experience has made me wiser. I consider the existing system of government to be wholly bad and requiring special national effort to end or mend it. It does not possess within itself any capacity for self-improvement. That I still believe many English administrators to be honest does not assist me, because I consider them to be as blind and deluded as I was myself. Therefore I can take no pride in calling the empire mine or describing myself as a citizen. On the contrary, I fully realize that I am a pariah untouchable of the empire. I must, therefore, constantly pray for its radical reconstruction or total destruction, even as a Hindu pariah would be fully justified in so praying about Hinduism or Hindu society.”(12)

Moreover, Gandhi confessed a dualism of flesh and spirit, which he as “a weak, frail, miserable being” was not able to resolve to his satisfaction. Unity was attainable only by slow and painful stages: on the one hand by a “mechanical refusal to act”, on the other hand by “intelligent action in a detached manner . . . an incessant crucifixion of the flesh so that the spirit may become entirely free”. While Gandhi believed in ahimsa, (if in recruiting for the war he had acted against the principle) his friends might not believe in nonviolence, and could be moved from their passivity by anger and malice and misled by ignorance and weakness. That is why Gandhi felt it his duty to guide his countrymen, and place before them their clear duty. Gandhi did not regret his nonviolence. If under home rule (swaraj) he would not hesitate to advise those who would bear arms to do so and fight for the country, there would still be no necessity for arms, according to Gandhi’s vision. But the imperfectness of himself and of his countrymen in their present state would prevent them from achieving their goal: independence without the use of weapons, and a weaponless society under swaraj. This perfect state might be attainable at any moment.

In his statement before the court at his “Great Trial” in Delhi on 18 March 1922, Gandhi explained the reasons for his new attitude towards the British Empire.(13) Gandhi confirmed that he enlisted his countrymen in Kheda at the cost of his health in the summer months of 1918, that is, after the War Conference of Lord Chelmsford in Delhi. The first shock came to him in the shape of the Rowlatt Act, the first emergency law in India. It was closely followed by the Punjab horrors, beginning with the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, and culminating in public floggings and other indescribable humiliations for Indian citizens. Gandhi recollected that the words of the Prime Minister to the Muslims of India regarding the integrity of Turkey and the holy places of Islam were not likely to be fulfilled. In spite of the forebodings and the grave warnings of his friends, at the Amritsar Congress in 1919 he fought for cooperation with and revision of the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, hoping that the Prime Minister would redeem his promise to the Indian Muslims, that the bloody incidents in the Punjab would be investigated, after which indictments of those responsible, and reforms would be enacted,  inadequate as they might seem. But the Khilafat promise was never kept, the crimes in the Punjab were whitewashed, and most of the culprits were not only never punished but also remained in service, some continuing to draw pensions from the Indian revenue, and in some cases rewarded.

As late as 1925 Gandhi was still explaining his participation in war efforts as a matter of life’s complexities: “One’s life is not a single straight line; it is a bundle of duties very often conflicting.” In other words, we are called upon continually to make choices between one duty and another.(14) Gandhi repeated that he had advised and led men who believed in war but who, from cowardice or from base motives or from anger against the British Government, refrained from enlisting. Gandhi stressed that, so long as they believed in war and professed loyalty to the British Government, they were in duty bound to support it by enlistment.

Gandhi was, however, known for his inconsistency, much to the befuddlement of Nehru and other followers. He certainly did not believe in the use of arms; it was, after all, contrary to the religion of ahimsa. He agitated for the repeal of the debasing Arms Act, which the British Government enacted in order to prevent use of arms by Indian citizens. And though he did not believe in retaliation, he had not hesitated (in 1921) to tell villagers that, not knowing ahimsa, they would be guilty of cowardice in failing to defend the honor of their womenfolk and their property by force of arms against kidnappers and others threatening their families. This attitude was, according to Gandhi, not only consistent with ahimsa, but a direct result of it.

But, since the Rowlatt Act, Gandhi’s attitude was undergoing a metamorphosis. In 1925 he now opposed compulsory military training for students, because military service for Indian recruits saluting the Union Jack could be used against India, or for expeditions against innocent Chinese or the equally innocent Tibetans if their subjection was felt necessary to the interests of imperial financial interests.(15) While Gandhi, as an out and out believer in ahimsa, could understand and appreciate military training for those who believed in the necessity of the use of arms on given occasions, he had become opposed to compulsory military training in every case, even under a national government. As a consequence, Gandhi was to sign the international anti-conscription manifesto of 1926, addressed to the League of Nations. It condemned all compulsory military training and the whole conscript system. The reasoning of the manifesto was that pacifism and anti-militarist opposition to war would be immediately suppressed no sooner was there mobilization. The foreign policy of modern states was under the influence of the conscript system; a debasing and humiliating enslavement of soldiers suffering from barrack life, military drill, and the irresponsible command-and-obey-system, which had had a fatal influence on the education of male youth. Bart de Ligt later criticized this manifesto not so much because of its message, but because it was intended for the League of Nations which de Ligt did not support.(16) The manifesto, however, was signed by Gandhi, Tagore, Einstein, Russell, Buber, Rolland, Ragaz, Kagawa, H.G. Wells, and others. Gandhi and Bart de Ligt were convinced that reformers would have to put up an immense struggle to secure State action to end conscription; national governments were too afraid and distrustful of each other to advocate its abolition.

By 1928 Gandhi could also reply to a correspondent that if another war were declared the next day, he could not assist the government in any shape or form and that he would, on the contrary, exert himself to the utmost to induce others to withhold their assistance and to do everything possible consistent with ahimsa to defeat conscription and the war effort.(17) A year later he was also criticizing the Briand-Kellogg Pact of 1929, because the Pact was still exploitative if through peaceful means, and because the Pact recommended avoiding violence to those who had already been deprived of the use of violent means. As he was also to point out, “A person who has never hurt a fly will fail to understand the meaning of an appeal made to him not to spill blood.”(18) We should also note here Gandhi’s reply to Tolstoy’s secretary Vladimir Tchertkov, which we shall also include here.(19)

The controversy between Bart de Ligt and Mahatma Gandhi demonstrates the difficulties experienced in dialogues between “North” and “South”, because a challenge to the autonomy of the South implies the free choice of the means of defense of its autonomy. Bart de Ligt’s concession that “(he) recognize(d) impartially the right of any oppressed class or race to liberate itself by means of arms,” does not sound dogmatically pacifist or nonviolent. In effect, this concession might mean the militarization of the Indian nation in order to preserve the achievements of the anti-colonialist liberation movement.

At the Second Round Table Conference in London Gandhi was the representative of the Indian National Congress. Bart de Ligt did not question Gandhi about his past personal positions concerning political pleas for autonomy and free choice of the means of defense, but he did condemn Gandhi’s position from an anti-militarist and pacifist point of view. But Gandhi’s political starting-point had always been India, and before the means of defense could be independently chosen, autonomy and home rule should be achieved and preserved. Only this internal coalescence and strength could be the basis for broad based nonviolent resistance, including those parts of the Indian population, which had not acted nonviolently from the beginning.

During his correspondence with Bart de Ligt, Gandhi hoped that the anti-colonialist liberation achieved by nonviolent means would lead to an Indian society based on social justice, and which learned to solve its conflicts nonviolently. He wanted to contribute pragmatically to political culture in specific situations, open to compromise even when this was not in conformity with his nonviolent principle. From today’s point of view we know how much Gandhi’s hope, expressed in his correspondence with Bart de Ligt, was shattered. Gandhi’s aspiration that the Indian National Congress would adopt nonviolence went unfulfilled.

Bart de Ligt also disregarded the existence of Indian policemen and soldiers in the British service and their importance for the imperial colonial government in India and other colonies. Gandhi had always experienced the political effect of these Indian soldiers as an instrument of imperialist oppression, which India should by all means regain.

Gandhi never wanted to force anyone to adopt nonviolent principles; but for Gandhi nonviolence (ahimsa) was a fundamental principle. Nonviolent resistance could only be demonstrated through “soul-force” a voluntary determination to renounce one’s self. Bart de Ligt regarded nonviolence as “the surest arms” for anti-colonialist liberation; by adopting the principles of nonviolence India would escape adapting to the technical-industrial system of modern warfare “becoming more and more a fatal peril for victors as well as for vanquished”.

Gandhi regarded India’s independence as a great contribution to World Peace, because the imperialism of colonial powers was the prime cause of modern wars; the liberation of India was in the interest of all of humanity. To de Ligt, Gandhi put it as follows: “Is not the prime cause of modern wars the inhuman race for exploitation of the so-called weaker races of the earth?” He despised hollow phrases, and lip service; he strived for consistent acts of non-cooperation which he missed with regard to European pacifists, while de Ligt wished to draw Gandhi’s attention to some progressive antimilitarist activities: war tax resistance, workers boycotts of arms production, and strikes in the military industry.

The correspondence that follows demonstrates a high intellectual level of heated debate on nonviolence and modern warfare, war and peace between the two world wars. The authors were unanimous in how all embracing nonviolent resistance against war should be in practical terms and with clarity of vision could see that “in peacetime the caves of hell should be evacuated, where the instruments of war have been produced”. (Carl von Ossietzky)

Gandhi experienced the correspondence as an excellent challenge by a European contemporary who sympathized with his striving for emancipation. For Gandhi, Bart de Ligt might still be seen as a European participating in the exploitation of the Hindu culture by a modern civilization. Gandhi regarded himself as a “mouse”, who did not want to follow prescriptions from a “cat” proscribing how to act and dictating which means he might or might not choose. That is why this dialogue, in a sense, remained constricted. What right had a European pacifist to preach morality to an Indian freedom fighter?

Both Bart de Ligt and Mahatma Gandhi condemned the imperialism of colonial powers and their political determination to maintain their vast armies. They rejected modern warfare on principle, all direct or indirect compulsory military service, and the use of violence and war as a political means. Both these men were working for a nonviolent transformation of their societies; they were working for Peace and Justice.


(1) This introduction is based on Peter Brock’s article “Gandhi’s Nonviolence and His War Service”, Gandhi Marg (the monthly of the Gandhi Peace Foundation), New Delhi, February 1981; vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 601-616. Peter Brock was professor for history at the University of Toronto, Canada.

(2) Speech in Calcutta, 19 January 1902, Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG), vol. 3 (1960), pp. 216 ff; cf. Autobiography, Part 3, Chapter 10: “My personal sympathies were all with the Boers.”

(3) Speech in Calcutta, 27 January 1902; Ibid. pp. 222 ff.; cf. Autobiography, Chapter 9 “Satyagraha in South Africa”.  C. F. Andrews also described Gandhi as “stoical in his bearing and cheerful and confident in his conversation, (at a time when) every man in (General) Buller’s force was dull and depressed.” Mahatma Gandhi’s Ideas, London 1929, Appendix VIII, p. 364.

(4) cf. Gandhi, Autobiography, Part 4, Chapters 24 and 25.

(5) cf. Peter Brock op. cit. , p. 605.

(6) Gandhi’s attitude to war during his stay in England from 4 August to 19 December 1914 is described in his letter to his son Manilal, 18 September 1914, and to the South African satyagrahi, Pragji Desai, 15 November 1914, CWMG, Vol. 12, 1964, pp. 531 and 554-556; see also Gandhi, Autobiography, Part 4, Chapter 38, where Gandhi responded to Pragji Desai: “A satyagrahi cannot support war directly or indirectly”. Gandhi admitted that he had not yet grown into a state of absolute fearlessness on his striving for perfection. In the existing circumstances, however, to nurse the wounded, although scarcely consistent with a rigid adherence to the principle of nonviolence and in a sense a concession to his own weakness, it was the nearest he felt he could get to an embodiment of nonviolence. In his letter to Manilal, Gandhi confided: “I cannot say for certain that the step I have taken is the right one.”

(7) Gandhi was already formulating his ideas on recruiting in 1917; cf. CWMG, vol. 13, 1964, pages 350, 485, 519 and CWMG, vol. 14, 1965, pages 29 ff; 65.

(8) CWMG, vol. 14, 1965, pages 379 ff., 382, 444.

(9) Ibid, pages 435-443, 453 ff., 483 and CWMG, vol. 15, 1965, pages 1-3, 14 ff.

(10) Autobiography, Part 5, Chapter 28.

(11) Ibid, Part 4, Chapter 38; also quoted in M.K. Gandhi: Nonviolence in Peace and War, Part 1, Ahmedabad 1962, pp. 21-23; Gandhi described his first encounter with the poetess Sarojini Naidu.

(12) Young India, 17.11.1921; also quoted in Nonviolence in Peace and War, pp. 23-27

(13) Young India, 23.3.1922; also quoted in ibid, pp. 27-29

(14) Young India, 5.11.1925; also quoted in Nonviolence in Peace and War, pp. 53ff. Gandhi gave a similar response to George Joseph, the editor of Young India during Gandhi’s imprisonment in Yeravda and the editor of his magazine “Independent”, on 19 December 1929 in Young India: “The military spirit in the West bids fair to kill the very humanity in man and reduce him to the level of the beast. What is wanted and what India has, thank God, learnt in a measure undreamt of before is the spirit of unarmed resistance before which the bayonet runs to rust and gunpowder turns to dust.” quoted in: ibid., pp. 102-106, quotation p. 103.

(15) Young India, 24.9.1925; also quoted in ibid, pp. 41-43

(16) “Beim Teufel zur Beichte…”, Berlin 1927.

(17) Young India, 8.3.1928; also quoted in ibid, pp. 73-75

(18) Young India, 4.7.1929; also quoted in ibid, pp. 95-98, quotation: p. 98

(19) Young India, 7.2.1929; also quoted in ibid, pp. 83-88

A NOTE ON THE TEXT: This article is the Introduction to Christian Bartolf (ed.) The Breath of Life: The Correspondence of Mahatma Gandhi (India) and Bart de Ligt (Holland) on War and Peace. Berlin: Gandhi-Informations-Zentrum, 2000; courtesty of Christian Bartolf and the board of Gandhi-Informations-Zentrum.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Christian Bartolf is the President of the Gandhi Information Center in Berlin. He has been an outspoken opponent to German and international conscription as well as being an organizer of the Anti-War Museum in Berlin. He has written extensively on Gandhi, Tolstoy, conscription, and other anti-war and nonviolence issues. We recommend you visit his (German language) website for lists of publications and further biographical information.

“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