A leader from the last millennium:
Gandhi preached peace

By Josh Bleser
SNN Opinion Co-editor
Massey-Vanier High School
Cowansville, Quebec

A few weeks ago, as I was flipping through various television channels saturated with pre-millennial hype, I came across yet another millennium awards show, recognizing several important events and people of the past 1000 years.

This particular show happened to be The McLaughlin Group on PBS, hosted by the opinionated and gruff John McLaughlin, whose obnoxious stentorian voice lured me in like a baited hook might a helpless fish. Before I go on, a brief note about the format used on McLaughlin's show; he invites a panel of intellectuals to discuss a topic, after each member has given his/her grain of salt, he tells them how regretfully wrong they all are.


In this case, after each panellist has been afforded the opportunity to nominate a person or event in a given category, rather than give his own personal opinion, McLaughlin would proceed to enlighten them by furnishing the right answer. Despite the obvious frustration caused by this method, I suppose it could be forgiven if he avoided decisions that were so out of line as to be insulting to an individual or group. Unfortunately, he did not.

After having "discussions" on potential winners in several categories, McLaughlin suggested the group contemplate the Best Military Leader of the Millennium. The issue was debated and such people as Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte and Joan of Ark were proposed. Arguments can certainly be made in favour of the election of any of these famous leaders. However, Mr. McLaughlin disagreed with all of them, deciding instead to bestow this prestigious award on… you guessed it, Mohandas Gandhi. Immediately, I found this to be a strange choice, but the more I thought about it, the more it began to incense me.

The word "military" means, according to Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary, "of, pertaining to or involving the Armed Forces or warfare." By any definition, this is exactly the kind of action that Gandhi was faithfully opposed to. In case any proof of this fact is needed, there is plenty of it.

Born on October 2nd, 1869, in Porbandar, India, Mohandas Gandhi was greatly influenced by his mother's beliefs in non-violence and vegetarianism, which led him to develop an acute social conscience at a young age. He was admitted to the British Bar in 1891 and two years later moved to South Africa, where his struggles for independence from Britain and his civil rights movement were to begin. It was during his years in South Africa that he developed and honed his firm belief in peaceful civil disobedience and satyagraha, which means steadfastness in truth or "Truth-Love". He gained popularity among fellow Indians and other Human rights activists through his participation and leadership in pass-burning and peaceful protests against South Africa's discrimination and apartheid policies. He was beaten by the police, but he never raised a hand in physical retaliation. It was during this period that he became known as "Mahatma" -- a title of respect given to a person known for spirituality and high-mindedness.

Upon his return to India in January 1915, Gandhi found that he had become a national hero and he was invited by admiring Nationalist politicians to lead independence and freedom rallies all over the country. Among these was The Salt March: in 1930, spurred by the taxes imposed by the British on salt, Gandhi led 60,000 Indians to the Arabic Sea where they proceeded to make their own salt. Nearly all were jailed; however, Gandhi encouraged his people to submit peacefully to arrest, based on the theory that if the jails were clogged, the British would be forced to find other solutions. This event also led to Gandhi's appeal to fellow Indians to live simply, boycott British goods and weave their own clothing.

Unfortunately, Gandhi's influence also had negative repercussions. During his first months back in India, his urging of non-cooperation with the British led many of his followers to protest violently, which resulted in the deaths of 400 Indians. On this and several subsequent occasions, Gandhi went on hunger strikes, knowing that the people's love for him would bring the violence to a halt. Perhaps the most tragic consequence occurred in 1919 when approximately 380 peaceful demonstrators were killed by Indian troops in the Amritsar Massacre.

Despite the many setbacks and grievances, as well as criticism, that he endured during his lifetime, Gandhi did live to see the birth of an independent India as well as the beginning of the long road toward freedom and happiness which he strove for so diligently. He did this without a shred of violence on his part, and to suggest that he was a military leader is deeply insulting to his tremendous legacy.