Sunday, August 23, 2015

Will Durant: "...I had come upon the greatest crime in all history"

Previously mentioned on these pages was William Jennings Bryan's assessment of the British rule of India, written around 1905-06:
While he has boasted of bring peace to the living he has led millions to the peace of the grave;  while he has dwelt upon order established between warring troops he has impoverished the country by legalized pillage.   Pillage is a strong word, but no refinement of language can purge the present system of its iniquity.
About twenty-five years later, Will Durant,  the American writer, historian and philosopher, winner of a Pulitzer Prize, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, made his assessment of the British Raj, and wrote a book - The Case for India, published in 1930.   The foreword to his book is reproduced below.

Reliable sources tell me that per honorable men like Brutus, the reproduction of such sentiments today amounts to hate speech.  Well, I am glad to be spewing hate speech in the company of Bryan and Durant.   
I repeat myself - Britain should be shorn of its "Great", and the United Kingdom should dissolve and  vanish into the pages of history -- they do not deserve to continue any more than the German National Socialists.   At best they perpetrated the second greatest crime in history (Will Durant wrote his words before Hitler ascended to power).   If this is hate speech, then "Hate Speech Zindabad!".

Will Durant – The Case for India (1930)

A Note To The Reader

I went to India to help myself visualize a people whose cultural history I had been studying for The Story of Civilization. I did not expect to be attracted by the Hindus, or that Ishould be swept into a passionate interest in Indian politics. I merely hoped to add a little to my material, to look with my own eyes upon certain works of art, and then to return to my historical studies, forgetting this contemporary world.

But I saw such things in India as made me feel that study and writing were frivolous things in the presence of a people– one-fifth of the human race – suffering poverty and oppression bitterer than any to be found elsewhere on the earth. I was horrified. I had not thought it possible that any government could allow its subjects to sink to such misery.

I came away resolved to study living India as well as the India with the brilliant past; to learn more of this unique Revolution that fought with suffering accepted but never returned; to read the Gandhi of today as well as the Buddha of long ago.

And the more I read the more I was filled with astonishment and indignation at the apparently conscious and deliberate bleeding of India by England throughout a hundred and fifty years. I began to feel that I had come upon the greatest crime in all history.

And so I ask the reader's permission to abandon for a while my researches into the past, so that I may stand up and say my word for India. I know how weak words are in the face of guns and blood; how irrelevant mere truth and decency appear beside the might of empires and gold. But if even one Hindu, fighting for freedom far off there on the other side of the globe, shall hear this call of mine and be a trifle comforted, then these months of work on this little book will seem sweet to me. For I know of nothing in the world that I would rather do today than to be of help to India.

October 1, 1930

Note: This book has been written without the knowledge or co-operation, in any form, of any Hindu, or of any person acting for India.

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