By Horace Alexander
The present age is faced with a dilemma in the world of power politics which it may fairly be claimed is new: either the great nations of the world must honestly agree to renounce the use of the newest type of weapon, or the world will speedily be brought to an end. Hitherto, however drunk with power some world conqueror might become, he could only scourge half a continent at the most; and normally, after the armies had passed, the peasants who remained alive would soon begin to rebuild their huts, replough their fields, and rebuild the foundations of civilized life. Indeed, as Gandhi long ago pointed out, if the history of man had really consisted, as the history books too often suggest, of the deeds of emperors and war lords only, mankind would long ago have perished. Happily, the truth has always been that the vast majority of human beings have lived peaceably with their neighbours, and have gone on quietly producing food and other necessities for life with little regard to the misdeeds of their rulers.
Today this is no longer the situation. Unless the rulers of the world learn to restrain their use of power, unless the poison of power can somehow be eradicated from the texture of the great Nation State of our time, mankind is almost certainly doomed to perish, and to destroy this beautiful earth, with its inhabitants, trees and flowers, animals, birds and fishes, and all.
The philosopher, duly instructed in modern astronomical knowledge, may say: What does it matter, from the angle of eternity, whether life on one tiny satellite of one little star disappears into oblivion? Will there not still be millions of stars and planets left? But such an attitude will hardly appeal to the ordinary man. This earth, and this earth alone, is the home of the human species as we know him. Apparently millions of years have been spent in bringing the earth to its present state of development. The cultural achievements of man even in the past few centuries of that vast story are such that every decent-minded human being must wish to pass them on, enriched if possible, to unborn generations for centuries to come. Perhaps the most horrible blasphemy of all is to suggest that perhaps it is now "God's will" that the world should come to an end. Whatever else may be said about human folly, let not man accuse God of making him a fool. In this whole discussion, perhaps it is better to leave theology out.
Of course this does not mean that the issue facing the human race can be decided without some ultimate sense of values. Indeed, it is just here that we are in the greatest difficulty. Gandhi's life-task consisted in the effort to apply the moral law to politics. He refused to believe in the ordinary laws of political expediency. In particular, it was his conviction that the Nation State should rely no longer on military force for its defence, but that it should have the courage to disarm, even if necessary in the face of threats of armed invasion from its neighbours. But at the same time he was a realist. He knew that in fact neither the people of India nor the people of any other modern State had today the immense moral courage to follow this bold line. The vast majority of thinking citizens of every State believes that it is a vital necessity to keep up armed forces adequate for "defence". And as it is futile to rely on armament that is out of date, this today comes very near to saying: "We (Indians, Pakistanis, French, Germans, Japanese, whom you will) must have the latest nuclear bombs at our disposal; otherwise, the ‘enemy' will suddenly overwhelm us". So we are back at our dilemma. Either we all agree to renounce these weapons, or we all go on making them, till someone starts the shooting, and the world ends in a mass of deadness.
Is there any way out? It must be confessed that the outlook is extremely gloomy. Deep mutual distrust still separates the nations of the world. The Americans do not believe that the Russians can ever be trusted to keep their promises, nor the Russians the Americans. The same, I think, is generally true as between Indians and Pakistanis; perhaps as between French and Germans, and so on. So what hope is there?
Some of our statesmen assure us that the chief hope comes from fear. All the statesmen today know that once the nuclear explosions begin, ruin is almost inevitable for every country, including even the one that begins the bombing. Therefore, no statesman really wants war. This is perhaps an advance from only twenty-five years ago when Hitler, for example, almost certainly wanted to wage a war of revenge, and would have felt himself cheated if he had got what he wanted without war. Of course, he calculated that he was bound to win. He was wrong, but only just wrong.
Today, it would be rasher than ever for a powerful statesman to assume that his country would win. So, up to a point, fear is doubtless a deterrent on reckless policies. But as I write, the great powers still seem to be following their policies of "brinkmanship" that is, of pressing their opponent as hard as possible, under threat of letting loose the bombers if he does not give way, so that one wonders how long human endurance, on the part of innumerable young airmen poised for instant action, to say nothing of their exhausted chiefs, endlessly negotiating for ends that are for ever as far away as the carrot suspended in front of the donkey's nose, can continue. Within another few years, surely there will be a catastrophe unless this unbearable tension is somehow relaxed. But how?
Philip Noel-Baker, in his remarkable book The Arms Race, has demonstrated that the powers have, within recent years, come near to a general agreement on disarmament, in spite of all the technical details. The failure has been due, not to technical difficulties, but to political considerations. His conclusion is that if, in every land, hundreds of dedicated men and women will devote themselves to the task of pressing for an agreed disarmament, the governments will be obliged to make the agreements that have been so near and yet so far. At least, one may urge that citizens of the world who care for world peace should try to instruct themselves on what has happened, and continue to press their Government to show greater courage.
Another type of action that is at least getting some attention from press and public is typified by the so-called Aldermaston marches in England. Those who take part in these marches are all dedicated to the conviction that it would be right for Britain to renounce the nuclear bombings absolutely, and to stop the manufacture o£ bombs without waiting for any international agreement, and to face the possible consequences, however disastrous from the point of view of national survival, without fear. This is, in fact, an appeal to the very opposite of fear, an appeal to what Gandhi called the matchless power of truth.
I have not been able to participate in these marches; but those who have done so, including some middle-aged men and women who are not, I am sure, carried away by easy heady enthusiasm, have found them profoundly stimulating and hopeful; and the response of the public has been more and more positive. It may well be that less than one per cent of the population of England is directly affected by such action. But the spiritual forces of mankind have little relation to numbers or democratic majorities. If a mighty force is being engendered it will begin to influence the whole national mind, spreading hope and confidence and courage in the place of apathy, indifference, fear and despair.
I do not expect that these actions of a small minority, however dedicated, will suddenly lead the British Government to announce its determination to stop all nuclear preparations. Its effect is likely to be much less spectacular; but perhaps, in the end, even more profound.
So long as it is tacitly assumed on every side that the only things that finally count in human affairs, even in world politics, are military and economic might, there is little hope for mankind. Gandhi believed, and tried to demonstrate in his whole life, that the power of the human spirit is mightier than the power of any bomb. The right use of both reason and conviction can turn the world from suicide to a new era of fruitful cooperation. If we have faith that in the hearts of all peoples everywhere, whether they are Russians or Chinese or Pakistanis or Americans, whether they are statesmen or financiers or ordinary men and women, there is an essential element of goodness, which can be released if they see that their neighbours have faith in them, then there is still hope that mankind can find the way to paths of peace and goodwill.