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Gandhi and The Bomb

It’s an amazing contrast that the 20th century witnessed moments where nonviolence soared to giddying heights and violence brought us down to unfathomed lows.
When Gandhi heard the news that the United States had used the atomic bomb in Japan, he said that he sat still and silent. In his words: “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 nonviolence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind.’”

When asked if it exploded his faith in nonviolence, he said that such a faith was the only thing that the atom bomb could not destroy. Moved as he was, he reminded us that though he has said it before, we absolutely must draw a moral from the use of the atom bomb: counter-bombs cannot destroy the sorrow and shame it caused, only love can do that.

Concretely, he advocated the bold move of states disarming themselves, noting that the courage required for such an act in a climate of violence would be enormous, but that the nation who could do it would catalyze a transformational shift in our world. But he is presupposing a deeper understanding of who we are, a faith in ourselves that makes that courage real and available to us.

My mentor, drawing on the best in Gandhi’s message, would not fail to point out that if we are called to disarm and resist such weaponry, we must, by all means available, raise the human image. It is not a psychological coincidence that the bombs were given human names, “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” while the people of Japan were not seen as people at all. Such dehumanization, such a low image of the human being, is the natural outcome of aggressive, destructive and deadly violence. And Gandhi nudges us, “is this not the futility of all violence?”

Taken to its logical end, we have to have faith that it is so, and carry with us the people of Japan in our hearts, never forgetting, never letting this happen to anyone ever again. Nonviolence is the only way.

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Stephanie Van Hook is the Executive Director of the Metta Center.

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