In a foreword to this well-researched book Shri Patwant Singh says that ?violence as a form of human endeavour seems fully globalised (and) evidence of its destructive capabilities, in every conceivable form, can be seen the world over?. Violence, terrorism, insurgency, freedom-fighting, etc have become so much part of international terminology that one is confused with the other. Is violence under any circumstances justified?
Mahatma Gandhi would have said a big ?NO?. Ask the Naxalites. They call themselves freedom-fighters to justify their violent propensities. Ask Pakistan'sInter Services Intelligence (ISI) which blatantly supports terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. It justified its mindless violence on the grounds that it is enabling the Kashmiris to ?free? themselves from Indian ?domination?. Over 47,000 people have been killed in two decades of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Nearly 7,000 people have been killed in terrorist attacks in India during the UPA rule. Insurgents, call them by whatever name or designation can be?and are?killers; but so can the government in power be, in defence of its rule. The only thing common between the two is violence with each side claiming to be the victim, to justify its violence. Very often an insurgency is against the ruler?too often a foreigner. The ruler or the government in power would justify violence against terrorism on grounds of establishing peace and stability, and to prevent lawlessness. As the author, William Polk says in his introduction, ?for the natives who cannot otherwise convince the foreigner to leave, insurgency becomes the politics of last resort.? The point is, every user of violence has a good excuse for his behaviour.
Polk has selected eleven large-scale insurgencies that have taken a toll of lives over the last 230 years, six of them arising in Asia, including one in Africa. It is a gruesome tale. Covered are the insurgencies in American, the Philippines, Yugoslavia during the Second World War, the resistance to the British and the Russians in Afghanistan, the Irish struggle for independence, the Vietnamese struggle first against the French and later against the Americans, the Greek resistance, the Spanish guerilla war against the French and the Algerian war of independence. And there have been struggles elsewhere.
The United States dropped more bombs in Vietnam than all the armed forces did in the Second World War, only, in the end, to get defeated and to run away with its tail tucked in. The war which the United States waged in Vietnam, according to Polk, has been ?the longest, most brutal and most destructive guerilla war in modern history?. Polk writes of his fellow countrymen?Americans?as saying that it was ?unthinkable? for them to believe that they could possibly lose the war in Vietnam.
The story is much the same in Iraq. There have been murderous killings in the name of democracy. Presently the United States is spending $ 250 million a day in Iraq and the total spending long exceeded $ 1 trillion. What that amount could have done if spent for the upliftment of the poor and the needy is anybody'sguess. One would imagine that imperial powers would have learnt from history before embarking on territorial conquests. But history tells us they haven?t.
What is strange is that there is just one short and insignificant reference to Gandhiji in the entire work, and hardly any to the Gandhian concept of non-violence which he practiced in India and to which there is no parallel anywhere else in the world. A comparison between violent insurgencies and non-violent opposition would have greatly contributed to the education of challengers to peace everywhere. Violence is not necessarily the only way to defeat an enemy. Non-violence is not only life saying, but it is grace abounding. But westerners probably find it hard to understand a Gandhi. It is easier to understand a Fidel Castro, a Che Guevera, or Tito. There is, of course, much that is common among all insurgencies, the desire to free oneself from foreign domination. But, according to Polk the Afghan insurgency was motivated neither by nationalism nor ideology. It defined itself strictly in terms of its ?enemy?. When the last Russian troops left Afghans soil and crossed the Amu Darya river into Soviet territory in February 1989, at least one million had died. Did that settle matters? No, not at all. Now Afghans are fighting among themselves.
It is hard to read this book without wondering about the follies of mankind. Will mankind never learn? Polk has no answer. We learn a great deal of history only to wonder whether man is capable of growing in wisdom. In that sense the only lesson history teaches us is that man is incapable of learning from it.
(Hay House Publishers (India) Pvt.Ltd., Muskan Complex, Plot No.3, B-2, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi-110 070.)