Some 70 years ago, Jiddu Krishnamurthy
declared that truth was a pathless land. But to Hitler's propaganda chief,
Joseph Goebbels, truth had a rather more directed content. He said in the 1930s:
"We serve truth by serving a German victory. Propaganda does not have
anything to do with truth..."
Those who subscribe to the Goebbelsian view, say with a disarming
'realism' that that, after all, is the way it is. Get real, they say. In a war, we
cannot afford the luxury of speaking the truth at all times. An armed conflict is no
afternoon tea party, they say. We serve truth by serving the victory of 'our side'. But,
perhaps, the fate eventually suffered by both Hitler and Goebbels may also point to
a lesson that we may usefully absorb.
Where propaganda 'does not have anything to do with truth', that which you
propagate may lose credibility and you may cease to influence. Where you seek
blind support, you may end only with blind supporters. The so called pragmatic
approach may lead to a sliding slippery slope of opportunism, without knowing when and how
You may then fail to mobilise the reasoned support that you
need to achieve your goal - even though the goal that you seek may be
The result may be an increasing cynicism, a lack of coherence and, in the end,
a failure to secure the very 'victory' which was so eagerly sought. A
thousand flowers may bloom but each may strangle the growth of the other. We serve 'victory' by serving truth - and not the other way around.
It is only when word and deed coincide, that principle emerges
with power to bring about change. The cyanide capsule in the hands of the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam is evidence not of a simple minded willingness to die but of a
fierce determination that cries out: ''I will not lose my freedom except with my life.''
It is this thiyagam, this willingness to suffer, this
coincidence of word and deed, this truth that has found an answering response from
millions of Tamils living in many lands.
At the same time, the words of Albert
Camus in The Rebel remain a caution:
"...From the earliest days, they were incapable of justifying what they nevertheless
found necessary, and conceived the idea of offering themselves as a justification and of
replying by personal sacrifice to the question they asked themselves. For them as for all
rebels before them, murder is identified with suicide... therefore they do not value any
idea above human life, though they kill for the sake of ideas. To be precise, they live on
the plane of their idea. They justify it, finally, by incarnating it to the point of
death... They will then put an abstract idea above human life, even if they call it
history, to which they themselves have submitted in advance, and to which they will
decide, quite arbitrarily, to submit every one else... The greater the value the estimator
places in this final realisation, the less the value of human life. At the ultimate limit,
it is no longer worth anything at all..."
An armed resistance movement is not a
carte blanche to kill and maim. Lines will have to be drawn, however difficult and
seemingly impossible that task may sometimes appear to be.
".. we play at magnanimity and all that
stuff. Such magnanimity and sensibility are like the magnanimity and sensibilities of a
lady who faints when she sees a calf being killed; she is so kind-hearted that she can't
look at blood, but enjoys eating the calf served up with sauce. They talk to us of the
rules of war, of chivalry, of flags of truce, of mercy to the unfortunate and so on. It's
all rubbish. I saw chivalry and flags of truce in 1805. They humbugged us and we
humbugged them. They plunder other peoples' houses, issue false paper money, and worst of
all they kill my children and my father, and then talk of rules of war and magnanimity to
foes ! Take no prisoners but kill and be killed ! . . . If there was none of this
magnanimity in war, we should go to war only when it was worth while going to certain
death, as now.... war is not courtesy but the most horrible thing in
life; and we ought to understand
that, and not play at war.... The air of war is murder; the
methods of war are spying, treachery, and their encouragement, the ruin of a country's
inhabitants, robbing them or stealing to provision the army, and fraud and falsehood
termed military craft.... " Fictional Prince Andrew Bolkhonsky in
& Peace (Book 10, Chapter 25, pp 486-7)
Again, as Thileepan and Annai
Poopathy have shown, non violence demands even greater courage and determination than
a resort to violence. Said that, the words of Mahatma Gandhi in
1920 are not without relevance:
"I do believe that when there is only a choice between cowardice and
violence.... I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than
that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless victim to her own
dishonour. But I believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness
is more manly than punishment.
Forgiveness adorns a soldier. But abstinence is forgiveness only when
there is power to punish; it is meaningless when it proceeds from a helpless creature. A
mouse hardly forgives a cat when it allows itself to be torn to pieces by her... But I do
not believe India to be helpless, I do not believe myself to be a helpless creature...
Let me not be misunderstood. Strength does not come from physical
capacity. It comes from indomitable will..."
When called a visionary, Gandhi responded that he regarded himself as a
practical idealist. It is the old question of means and ends. The means we
adopt will always determine the ends that we, in fact, achieve - whatever may
be the ends that we may desire to achieve.
Means and ends are inseparable. And this is true not only of war but also
of politics. It was Lenin who inverted Clausewitz's famous aphorism and declared
that politics is a continuation of war by other means. The means that a politician adopts
to secure power, determine the nature of his power base and in the end, his power to
deliver on his promises. His past influences his present and shapes his future. As the
political demise of Gorbachev demonstrated, however well intentioned his goals, a leader cannot kick the ladder on which he climbed to power - and survive.
There are ofcourse, those who continue to insist that truth
and politics are strange bed fellows and add consolingly that 'politicians are
like that'. Truth is not simply the first casualty of war - it is all too
often, the first casualty of politics. Lies assume a more acceptable public
face as 'spin'.
But, politicians do not drop down on earth from the stratosphere. It is
we who create our political leaders and if politicians 'are like that', it may be that we
too 'are like that'. Politicians may be more representative of us than we may
sometimes want to acknowledge.
A story is told of the Little Man who went to heaven. He met several of
his friends there and he was happy to talk with them. Then he met a noisy, loud mouthed
man whom he did not recognise. The noisy man was full of himself and regarded himself as
the equal only of himself. The Little Man could not stand being in the company of this
intruder and he asked: 'Who is that man?' He was told: 'Oh, that man was you when you were
on earth'. The point of the story may be that we need to taker a closer look at
ourselves - whilst we are still on earth. Tolstoy was right to point out:
“One man does not assert the truth which he knows, because he
feels himself bound to the people with whom he is engaged; another, because the
truth might deprive him of the profitable position by which he maintains his
family; a third, because he desires to attain reputation and authority, and then
use them in the service of mankind; a fourth, because he does not wish to
destroy old sacred traditions; a fifth, because he has no desire to offend
people; a sixth, because the expression of the truth would arouse persecution,
and disturb the excellent social activity to which he has devoted himself.”
Wilhem Reich put it
somewhat more abrasively in 1945 in his angry but very human book 'Listen, Little
"They call you 'Little Man', 'Common Man'; they say a
new era has begun, the 'Era of the Common Man'. It isn't you who says so, Little Man. It
is they, the Vice Presidents of great nations, promoted labour leaders, repentant sons of
bourgeois families, statesman and philosophers. They give you your future but don't ask
about your past....I have never heard you complain: "You promote me to be
the future master of myself and the world, but you don't tell me how one is to be the
master of oneself, and you don't tell me the mistakes in my thinking and my actions."
"Your liberators tell you that that your suppressors
are Wilhelm, Nikolaus, Pope Gregory the Twenty Eighth, Morgan, Krupp or Ford. And your
'liberators' are called Mussolini, Napolean, Hitler and Stalin. I tell you: Only you
yourself can be your liberator!"
"This sentence makes me hesitate. I contend to be a
fighter for pureness and truth. I hesitate, because I am afraid of you and your attitude
towards truth... My intellect tells me: 'Tell the truth at any cost.' The Little Man in me
says: 'It is stupid to expose oneself to the little man, to put oneself at his mercy. The
Little Man does not want to hear the truth about himself. He does not want the great
responsibility which is his. He wants to remain a Little Man...."
Again, as Schumacher remarks:
"In modern times there is no lack of understanding of
the fact man is a social being and that 'No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe' (John
Dunne, 1571-1631). Hence there is no lack of exhortation that he should love his neighbour
- or at least not to be nasty to him - and should treat him with tolerance, compassion and
understanding. At the same time, however, the cultivation of self knowledge has fallen
into virtually total neglect, except, that is, where it is the object of active
That you cannot love your neighbour, unless
you love yourself; that you cannot understand your neighbour unless you understand
yourself; that there can be no knowledge of the 'invisible person' who is your neighbour
except on the basis of self knowledge - these fundamental truths have been forgotten even
by many of the professionals in the established religions.
Exhortations, consequently, cannot possibly have any
effect; genuine understanding of one's neighbour is replaced by sentimentality, which
ofcourse crumbles into nothingness as soon as self interest is aroused...
Anyone who goes openly on a journey into the interior, who
withdraws from the ceaseless agitation of everyday life and pursues the kind of training -
satipatthana, yoga, Jesus Prayer, or something similar - without which genuine self
knowledge cannot be obtained, is accused of selfishness and of turning his back on social
Meanwhile, world crisis multiply and everybody deplores the
shortage, or even total lack, of 'wise' men or women, unselfish leaders, trustworthy
counselors etc. It is hardly rational to expect such high qualities from people who have
never done any inner work and would not even understand what was meant by the
words..." (from E.F.Schumacher,
A Guide for the
Perplexed - Harper & Row Publishers)
But, ofcourse, no one is the font of all wisdom - and truth remains
a pathless land.
"...I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot
approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of
view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally.
Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path
whatsoever, cannot be organised... The moment you follow someone you cease to follow
No man from outside can make you free...."
Jiddu Krishnamurthy speaking on 3
August 1929 announcing the dissolution of the Order of the Star, Ommen Camp
Thiruvalluvar's words of wisdom,
some two thousand years ago, may, perhaps go some way towards integrating our