Mahatma Gandhi and Adolf Hitler were two of the most dominant personalities of the 20th century - opposite in their philosophy and action, yet they ended up changing the course of history. They never met each other. But Mahatma Gandhi wrote two letters to Adolf Hitler and addressed him as a "friend". He explained why he called him a friend.
"Dear friend, I address you as a friend is no formality. I own no foes," read the opening sentence of the second of Mahatma Gandhi's letter to Adolf Hitler. This was written on December 24, 1940. His first letter was dated July 23, 1939.
In both the letters, Mahatma Gandhi appealed to Hitler, asking him to end World War II. The first was written at the request of friends while Mahatma Gandhi's second letter was shot off out of frustration at the expansionist behavior of Hitler.
In the first letter, Mahatma Gandhi wrote, "Friends have been urging me to write to you for the sake of humanity. But I have resisted their request, because of the feeling that any letter from me would be an impertinence."
However, he went on to add, "It is quite clear that you are today the one person in the world who can prevent a war which may reduce humanity to the savage state."
Hitler was not the one to pay heed to Mahatma Gandhi's advice. Barely a month later on September 1, 1939, Hitler's military invaded Poland marking the beginning of World War II.
In his second letter to Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi reproached him severely for the world war though he began with some ego massaging. "We have no doubt about your bravery or devotion to your fatherland, nor do we believe that you are the monster described by your opponents," Mahatma Gandhi told Hitler.
Then he proceeded to chide Hitler in a manner only Mahatma Gandhi could have. He wrote, "But your own writings and pronouncements and those of your friends and admirers leave no room for doubt that many of your acts are monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity, especially in the estimation of men like me who believe in universal friendliness."
By this time, Hitler had attacked and vanquished Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Denmark. Note the choice of words by Mahatma Gandhi in describing Hitler's war exploits.
"Such are your humiliation of Czechoslovakia, the rape of Poland and the swallowing of Denmark. I am aware that your view of life regards such spoliations as virtuous acts. But we have been taught from childhood to regard them as acts degrading humanity," Mahatma Gandhi wrote, adding, "Hence we cannot possibly wish success to your arms."
Hitler had built his political career on his misplaced notion of racial supremacy of Aryans, who are considered as the composer of Rig Ved and an essential part of the Indian nation. Hitler might have expected Indian leaders to support his war especially in the view of the fact that Britain was one of Germany's enemies.
During the time of World War II, Indian leaders led by Mahatma Gandhi were engaged in a mass-based struggle against Britain, the colonial ruler. But Mahatma Gandhi left no room for such speculation in the mind of Hitler. Here is how Mahatma Gandhi emphasized the importance of the right means to achieve a political end as significant as freedom.
He wrote, "We were groping for the right means to combat the most organized violence in the world which the British power represents. You have challenged it. It remains to be seen which is better organized, the German or the British. We know what the British heel means for us and the non-European races of the world. But we would never wish to end the British rule with German aid."
Hitler's downfall in the World War II started in the second half of 1941 and after suffering a series of defeats at the hands of allied forces -- led by France, the UK, British India and later joined by the USSR and the USA -- Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945. His war legacy was later disowned by Germany, the country he ruled. Mahatma Gandhi had predicted the same in his letter to Hitler.
"If not the British, some other power will certainly improve upon your method and beat you with your own weapon. You are leaving no legacy to your people of which they would feel proud," said Mahatma Gandhi.
In the 150th birth year of Mahatma Gandhi, his message of universal friendship and peace stays as relevant in the face of challenges posed by terrorism as it was at the time when he shot off castigating letter to Adolf Hitler, who thrived on creating and spreading terror.