Learning from Gandhi

By Robert J. Burrowes

February 01, 2019 "Information Clearing House" Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869: 150 years ago this year.

There will be many tributes to Gandhi published in 2019 so I would like to add one of my own.

This reflects not just my belief that he gave the world inspiration, ideas and powerful strategies for tackling violence in a wide range of contexts but because my own experience in applying his ideas has proven their worth. This included his awareness that led him to declare that ‘If we are to make progress, we must not repeat history but make new history. We must add to the inheritance left by our ancestors.’ and his encouragement to reflect deeply and listen to one’s ‘inner voice’: ‘you should follow your inner voice whatever the consequences’ and ‘even at the risk of being misunderstood’.

In essence, we can productively learn from history but we can build on it too. And, vitally, this includes dealing more effectively with violence.

So how did Gandhi influence me?

Shortly after midnight on 1 July 1942, my Uncle Bob was killed when the USS Sturgeon, a U.S. submarine, fired torpedoes into the Japanese prisoner of war (POW) ship Montevideo Maru. The ship sank immediately and, along with 1,052 other POWs, Bob was killed.

Apart from his older brother, my father’s twin brother was also killed in World War II. In Tom’s case, he was shot down over Rabaul on his first (and final) mission. He was a wireless air gunner on a Beaufort Bomber. See ‘The Last Coastwatcher: My Brothers’.

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My childhood is dotted with memories of Bob and Tom. The occasional remembrance service, war medals and the rare story shared by my father.

In 1966, the year I turned 14, I decided to devote my life to finding out why human beings kill each other and to work out how such killing could be ended. The good news about this ‘decision’ is that, at 14, it all felt manageable! But I wasn’t much older before my preliminary investigations proved that even understanding why humans are violent was going to be a profound challenge. And I intuitively understood that I needed this understanding if any strategy to end violence was to be effective.

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