10/7/11 - churchill and gandhi

In today's excerpt - in the centuries leading up to 1900, Britain built an empire of countries around the globe to increase its wealth, in part by granting monopolies to its own citizens at the expense of the citizens of the colony. Chief among these British colonies was India, and chief among those trying to cast off the colonial yoke was Mohandas Gandhi. One of his first broad efforts in this regard was leading a boycott of the British monopoly of India's salt. To Winston Churchill, this made Gandhi an enemy:

"Mohandas Gandhi walked to the ocean with his followers. He had decided to resist the British imperial salt monopoly. ...  [For this], he and sixty thousand followers were imprisoned. In Peshawar, near India's Northwest Frontier [and now part of Pakistan], British troops fired on a crowd of Muslim salt protesters, killing some of them. Air raids 'cleaned up' the Peshawar region afterward, according to The New York Times. ...

"The Associated Press sent in a story from Peshawar. It was August 17, 1930. 'Chastened by a daily rain of bombs from British planes, raiding Afridi tribesmen were reported today in full retreat to the hills of the northwest frontier,' the story said. 'Punishment inflicted on the villages by raiding airplanes was said by officals to have had a salutary effect. The disaffected sections are expected to sue for peace in a short time.' The Times of London, in an editorial, blamed the deaths of Afridi tribesmen on Gandhi's propagandists....

"Gandhi had replaced [the communist Vladimir] Lenin as [Winston] Churchill's arch-nemesis. 'The truth is,' Churchill wrote, 'Gandhi-ism and all it stands for will, sooner or later, have to be grappled with and finally crushed. It is no use trying to satisfy a tiger by feeding him with cat's-meat.' It was December 11, 1930. A month later, Gandhi was released from jail. He wrote a letter to the viceroy, Lord Irwin. 'Dear Friend,' he said. 'I have received suggestions from friends whose advice I value that I should seek an interview with you.'

"Irwin invited him to the palace. The two men met and talked. They met again and talked—and again. Winston Churchill was disgusted, The British government must, he said in a speech, dissociate itself from this 'weak, wrong-headed' rapprochement: 'It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organising and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor. Such a spectacle can only increase the unrest in India.' I was February 23, 1931.

"Mohandas Gandhi [traveled to] England. It was September 12, 1931. He chose to stay at Kingsley House, a home for the poor in London's East End. He made a live broadcast to the United States on CBS radio. 'I personally would wait, if need be for ages, rather than seek to attain the freedom of my country through bloody means,' he said. ...  Gandhi talked to the king and queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Master of Balliol, George Bernard Shaw, Lord Lothian, textile workers in Lancashire, and leading Quakers. He wanted to talk to Winston Churchill, but Churchill declined to meet him."


Nicholson Baker


Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization


Simon & Schuster


Copyright 2008 by Nicholson Baker


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