Gandhi's second letter to Hitler
On 24 December 1940, on the eve of Christmas, which to Christians is a day of peace when the weapons are silenced, Gandhi wrote a lengthy second letter to Hitler. The world situation at that time was as follows: Germany and Italy controlled most of Europe and seemed set to decide the war in their favour, the German-Soviet pact concluded in August 1939 was still in force, and under Winston Churchill, a lonely Great Britain was continuing the war it had declared on Germany immediately after Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939.
On this occasion, Gandhi took the trouble of justifying his addressing Hitler as "my friend" and closing his letter with "your sincere friend", in a brief statement of what exactly he stood for: "That I address you as a friend is no formality. I own no foes. My business in life has been for the past 33 years to enlist the friendship of the whole of humanity by befriending mankind, irrespective of race, colour or creed." This very un-Hitlerian reason to befriend Hitler, what Gandhi goes on to call the "doctrine of universal friendship", contrasts with the Hitler-like hatred of one's enemy which is commonly thought to be the only correct attitude to Hitler.
Gandhi certainly earns the ire of post-war public opinion by stating: "We have no doubt about your bravery or devotion to your fatherland, nor do we believe that you are the monster described by your opponents." To be sure, this was written in a period of fairly limited warfare, well before the total war with the Soviet Union and the USA, and well before the mass killing and deportation of Jews. But the prevailing attitude today is one of judging Hitler and his contemporaries' dealings with him as if they all had the knowledge that we have acquired in and since 1945. By that standard, anyone doubting the British government's hostile depiction of Hitler, including Gandhi, was practically an accomplice to Hitler's crimes.
However, while not giving up on the chance of converting Hitler to more peaceful ways, Gandhi was not that mild in judging the crimes Hitler had already committed. In particular, he criticized the already well-publicized Nazi conviction that the strong have a right to subdue the weak: "But your own writings and pronouncements and those of your friends and admirers leave no room for doubt that many of your acts are monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity, especially in the estimation of men like me who believe in human friendliness. Such are your humiliation of Czechoslovakia, the rape of Poland and the swallowing of Denmark. I am aware that your view of life regards such spoliations as virtuous acts. But we have been taught from childhood to regard them as acts degrading humanity."
So, Gandhi felt forced to join the ranks of Hitler's opponents: "Hence we cannot possibly wish success to your arms." Yet this did not make him join the British war effort nor even some non-violent department of the British Empire's cause: "But ours is a unique position. We resist British imperialism no less than Nazism." To Gandhi, British imperialism is closely akin to Nazi imperialism: "If there is a difference, it is in degree. One-fifth of the human race has been brought under the British heel by means that will not bear scrutiny."
In outlining his position vis-à-vis British imperialism, Gandhi at once explained his attitude vis-à-vis Nazism: "Our resistance to it does not mean harm to the British people. We seek to convert them, not to defeat them on the battle-field." This was exactly what Gandhi was now trying out on Hitler: to convert him rather than defeat him, thus sparing him defeat if only he had listened.
Follows an explanation of the Gandhian method of making "their rule impossible by non-violent non-co-operation", based on "the knowledge that no spoliator can compass his end without a certain degree of co-operation, willing or unwilling, of the victim". In a slogan: "The rulers may have our land and bodies but not our souls." To this, Hitler probably made a mental comment that prisoners, such as the many people whom he himself was locking away, were quite entitled to their souls, as long as they left their land as living space and their bodies as slave labour to the rulers.
Unlike many of his countrymen, Gandhi rejected the idea of achieving freedom from British rule with German help: "We know what the British heel means for us and the non-European races of the world. But we would never wish to end the British rule with German aid." Instead, Gandhi explained to Hitler, the non-violent method could defeat "a combination of all the most violent forces in the world".
In Gandhi's view, a violent winner is bound to be defeated by superior force in the end (a prediction proven true in Hitler's case), and even the memory of his victory will be tainted by its violent nature: "If not the British, some other power will certainly improve upon your method and beat you with your own weapon. You are leaving no legacy to your people of which they would feel proud." Here Gandhi probably projected his own disapproval of violent methods onto the masses of mankind, who are less inhibited by scruples about glorifying violent winners. Look at the lionization of Chengiz Khan in Mongolia, of Timur and Babar in Uzbekistan, of Alexander in Greece and Macedonia, even though their empires didn't last forever; and rest assured that the Germans would likewise have been proud of Hitler if he had been victorious.