On Saturday, President Obama paid a visit to Gandhi’s home during his first trip to India. In his speech before the Indian Parliament, he reiterated that Gandhi, whose images and quotations can now be found in the White House, is one of his personal heroes.
“Throughout my life, including my work as a young man on behalf of the urban poor,” Obama said, “I’ve always found inspiration in the life of Gandhiji and his simple and profound lesson to be the change we seek in the world.”
He then quoted Martin Luther King, who “called Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance ‘the only logical and moral approach’ in the struggle for justice and progress.”
Unfortunately, Obama clearly does not share that sentiment with King or Gandhi, despite his claims to the contrary. As the New York Times noted, this “paradox” could be seen in the fact in addition to celebrating Gandhi, Obama was “also selling military transport planes and bringing along 200 American business leaders.”
As author Vijay Prashad said in his interview with Democracy Now! yesterday, “already it seems some arms deals have been signed. One arms deal will perhaps be signed at the end of the year, and that is for 126 jet fighters. That deal will be about $10 billion.”
Moreover, while Obama was touring Gandhi’s homeland, the Afghan war raged on and in neighboring Pakistan, a pair of US drone strikes killed 14 people. So much for nonviolent resistance being the only logical and moral way forward I guess.
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For Obama to cite King, quoting Gandhi, in regard to the latter’s description of nonviolent resistance as “the only logical and moral approach’ in the struggle for justice and progress,” is not — as Eric Stoner claims — inconsistent with selling military transport planes to India or trying militarily to prevent the reconstitution of Taliban power in Afghanistan, unless any of us is disqualified from simultaneously favoring nonviolent resistance as the best method of struggle to challenge injustice or authoritarian rule, while still supporting the right of nations to maintain military defenses (remembering that preventing the return of Taliban rule in Afghanistan is to prevent the country from once again becoming a base of operations for Al Qaeda, as it was before).
Most uses of nonviolent resistance in the past 100 years have not been by pacifists who rejected all forms of military action, but by civilians in campaigns and movements who saw advantages in using the tactics of nonviolent action to seek rights and justice. Many if not most of those resisters supported military self-defense for their societies — including tens of thousands of people who marched in Dr. King’s campaigns, as well as those who were part of such nonviolent struggles as the people power movement in the Philippines and resistance to communist rule in Eastern Europe. Unless they were all disqualified from preferring nonviolent action in those struggles because they also did not reject military defense, Mr. Stoner is quite unfair to show disdain for President Obama’s embrace of the value of nonviolence in the context in which he discussed it in remarks in India.
I think the contradiction in context is pretty clear, actually; Gandhi would have opposed perpetuating an arms race. He would have argued that the best response to violence is nonviolence, rather than military defenses. This was absolutely central to his thought and legacy, not tangential. Therefore Obama’s attempt to claim the mantle of both Gandhi and the Pentagon is an inconsistent one. Whether or not followers of Gandhi or King were truly committed to nonviolence is a separate issue (clearly Gandhi’s successors in the Indian National Congress are not); the two leaders, unquestionably, were.
With all due respect, Nathan, I don’t think your argument is valid. Stoner accused Obama of inconsistency between (a) appreciating Gandhi’s legacy of using nonviolence in campaigns for rights and justice (e.g. the Indian independence and American civil rights movements), and (b) approving military expenditures that can be tied to national self-defense. As I pointed out, most members of nonviolent movements in the last hundred years used nonviolent action to seek rights or self-rule but were not pacifists who opposed wars. It makes no difference if Gandhi opposed wars. Anyone, including Obama, is entitled to appreciate Gandhi’s work in his campaigns for political rights without it being assumed either that he embraces 100% of Gandhi’s beliefs or that he must embrace those beliefs in order to qualify as an admirer of Gandhi’s work. The ability to affirm the value of what Gandhi did is not the exclusive prerogative of pacifists. Thus the charge against Obama of inconsistency doesn’t apply.
With due respect, this seems like a series of intellectual entanglements.
I think it quite clear and straightforward that neither Gandhi nor King would have ever supported the wanton murder and butchery that is drone bombing in Pakistan or acts of war in any of the other US theaters of war. Nevermind the cold-blooded war profiteering that Obama tacitly supports by using his influence to help seal deals for major US arms manufacturers. Those who claim to admire such men ought not mire their legacies by, on the one hand, affirming them and, on the other, ignoring their principles.
What Obama needs to come to terms with is his position as commander and chief of the U.S. In that capacity, Obama cannot – no matter what his private civilian ideals – uphold the luminous examples and teachings of such human beings as Gandhi and King. Attempting to hold on to his private ideals while occupying the public office of “commander in chief” in a nation that derives its economic might from a war economy is disingenuous and hypocritical. Like Chevron’s sponsoring of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, this sort of thing serves to erode the power of life-affirming legacies and demean the few historical examples we have of leaders who articulated a moral compass.
Unless Obama’s idea of being the change he wishes to see is creating a world in which nations fly unarmed bomb droppers over human beings, he should quietly forego the temptation to speak affectionately of “Gandhiji.”
It’s irresponsible and offensive.
I agree with Tom Payne above. Vart I don’t see it as hypocritical and disingenuous for the President to admire the work of Dr.King or Ghandi while upholding the requirements of the office of the Presidency.
The same way that I do not find my own admiration with Dr.King or Ghandi as hypocritical and disingenuous given that I believe that the governments do in fact have a right and responsibility to defend against foreign attack.
I don’t see black or white here, but shades of grey.
I don’t know many who would disagree that a government has the responsibility to defend itself against foreign attack. I certainly don’t. But let’s not be too naive and try to claim that this is the crux of the issue. In fact, every American Presidency has a bit more vested interest in war than that of self-defense. The evils that I outline above go far beyond defending against foreign attack. I’m talking about preemptive and offensive wars that violate international law and norms. And about the war profiteering that is done by US corporations – facilitated by the US government that is all but completely held hostage by these interests.
This is not an Obama issue. It’s an American President issue. Which is why I say Obama needs to be more tactful in what he says while holding office. He cannot play the part of a moral voice while occupying the biggest seat at the table of amorality. There is, indeed, a black and white divide between the principles of people like King and Gandhi and the practices of American presidents. And that is a divide we – for our own sake – cannot afford to blur.
I can appreciate folks making arguments for a more charitable analysis of Obama. I can also appreciate that he’s got the world’s most difficult and misunderstood job. But I do not appreciate his playing politics with the legacies of men who offered the world a true alternative to the status quo. While pertinent quotes by Gandhi on militarism elude me, Martin Luther King, Jr. warned not only against the disease of racism but also of materialism and MILITARISM. For King, these three were tied together to form the Three-Headed Monster destroying America. While I appreciate the nuanced attitude that sees gray, there are certain things that are much more clear and obvious than a general appeal to grey suggests.
Let’s be fair to Obama. But let’s also be fair to truth.
Two years after graduating, Obama was hired in Chicago as director of the Developing Communities Project (DCP), a church-based community organization originally comprising eight Catholic parishes in Roseland, West Pullman, and Riverdale on Chicago’s South Side. He worked there as a community organizer from June 1985 to May 1988.”
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