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15 - Hinduism and the Ethics of Weapons of Mass Destruction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

Katherine K. Young
Affiliation:
Professor in the Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University
Sohail H. Hashmi
Affiliation:
Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts
Steven P. Lee
Affiliation:
Hobart and William Smith Colleges, New York
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Summary

In the Western imagination, Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948) has been the icon of nonviolence (ahimsa) and pacifism. Because Gandhi was Hindu, people assumed that Hinduism and modern India (which is about 80 percent Hindu) were also nonviolent and pacifist. This idea was reinforced by India's policy of nonalignment under Jawaharlal Nehru and by a general image of Hinduism as the religion of peace (santi) and tolerance (tulyatva) promoted by philosopher-statesmen such as Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888–1975). This stereotype of Hindu nonviolence was shattered in May 1998 when India detonated five nuclear bombs. An act that shocked the rest of the world, it was far from shocking to Indians themselves – at least those who know Indian history.

When the first atomic bomb was tested in New Mexico, Robert Oppenheimer quoted from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Gandhi said, “Unless now the world adopts non-violence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind.” Several months later, he said to an interviewer: “Oh, on that point you can proclaim to the whole world without hesitation that I am beyond repair. I regard the employment of the atom bomb for the wholesale destruction of men, women and children as the most diabolical use of science.” He was then asked, “What is the antidote? Has it antiquated non-violence?” and answered, “No. It is the only thing the atom bomb cannot destroy.

Type
Chapter
Information
Ethics and Weapons of Mass Destruction
Religious and Secular Perspectives
, pp. 277 - 307
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2004

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