What Are We Fighting for in the Orient?


By DR. KRISHNALAL SHRIDHARANI, a Native of India and Author of "My India, My America"

Delivered on America's Town Hall of the Air program, over independent radio stations associated with the Blue Network Company, from Town Hall, New York City, March 26, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 397-398.

INDIA, my country, has a pretty good idea of "What are we fighting for in the Orient?" We are fighting for victory. But what India doubts is our willingness to pay the price for victory. For the price of victory in the Orient is nothing short of the liberation of Asia—liberation from the enemy as well as from some members of the United Nations. Only the peoples of the Orient can win the battle of Asia; the Western powers cannot send there an expeditionary force of 8,000,000 men. China and India will have to sacrifice more lives than England and the United States. And the Chinese and Indians are not dying—and shall not die—to restore old empires.

As everyone knows, India is still plucking the daisy and debating with herself, "He loves me, he loves me not." Officially, India is at war, but popularly, she is far from going all-out in behalf of the United Nations. And that embarrassing hesitation still obtains because, with her age-born shrewdness, India is really capable of grasping the difference between men's words and men's actions. India, through Gandhi, therefore, has proclaimed to the world that although she is willing and eager to fight for democracy, she is not enthused to fight for a democracy that is denied to her. Democracy's first triumph has to come in India itself. It is said that by raising the issue of India's freedom andAsia's liberation just now some of us might be trying to take advantage of England's present predicament. But nothing can be further from truth. For neither India nor Asia is asking anything now in the midst of the war that it failed to demand years and years before the war started. To ask India and Asia to keep quiet about the larger issues of liberty because of the war, therefore, is to wield an instrument of political blackmail.

It is also said that now it is a question of pure animal survival, and that by raising the fundamental issues of freedom and democracy we might be complicating our already overburdened task and dissipating our strength. But that is a false fear, since the problem of the equality of the Asiatic peoples has been turned from a moral into a military consideration. Our military fortunes in Asia will largely depend upon our ability to keep this struggle on the ideological plane. For both the Japanese and the Germans are striving to change the very soul and the face of this mortal struggle. They do not want a war between the ways of freedom and bondage. They want it to be a racial war, or a war between continents, because that is the only way they can hope for a victory.

Those who lack the historic perspective might regard my argument as being farfetched. But let me shoot straight fromthe shoulder and relate my own fears with respect to India and Asia by describing to you that what is now going on in Asia is a revolution that backfired. For what was conceived as the revolt of Asia against the arrogance and exploitation of the West has climaxed into a mortal struggle among Asiatic countries themselves. Asia is a house divided.

For over a hundred years, the deepest wound in the collective consciousness of Asia has been the West as conqueror. Beginning with the Renaissance, which gave a head start to the West, we began to see your dust (and also, perhaps, your "bust"). Then came the Industrial Revolution, partly financed by India's gold, which enabled the Western powers to take over, one by one, most of the countries in Asia. But along with this defeat at the hands of the West came also an ever-growing resentment against those who were the conquerors, and a desire to restore national freedom and cultural pride. It was because of this factor that nationalism in Asia differed from nationalism in Europe. While European nationalism was primarily anti-feudal, Asiatic nationalism was basically anti-foreign-rule.

Not that the various national movements east of Suez were, from the beginning, deliberately coordinated against the West, but with the passage of time they became so. Then came that fateful year, 1905, when Admiral Togo defeated the Imperial Russian Navy. "It can be done," the Asiatics began to dream, and from then on Japan became the darling of Asia, including India and China.

Japan then tried to impart a Pan-Asia orientation to the various movements of national liberation. But when Japanattacked China, the revolt of Asia against the arrogant West backfired. And yet there are still to be found in each of the Asiatic countries small but powerful minorities which are so disillusioned about the Western powers that they will pay any price just to get even. That is plain human nature. The petty thief who picks your pockets is always more detestable to you than a distant Al Capone. Thus the war in Asia is a war between two resentments—one against the recent aggressors, and the other against the old aggressors. And unless the three colonial powers—the French, Dutch, and British—wake up in good time, Japan may as yet succeed in provoking a titanic struggle between the East and West.

It has been said that this war is being fought between one-fourth of the human race on one hand and three-fourths on the other. But let us take stock. Actually, it has so far been a struggle between one-fourth of the human race on one hand, and another one-fourth on the other, while the remaining two-fourths either fight indifferently or do not fight at all. To inspire these people to fight on our side is, I think, our mission at present, and since most of these people are in Asia, to inspire the Asiatics to fight as free men along with us is our mission in Asia.

For I submit that the Germans have made a religion out of their Nazism and the Japanese have made a religion of their Mikado. And a religion cannot be defeated by a mere war; it calls for a crusade. It is high time that we baptize the religion of democracy in Asia, and thus help create a tidal wave of the spirit of crusade which no combination of dictators can withstand.