Jim Douglass: How a President Can Practice Satyagraha (Part 9)

The most important book for any American to read is JFK and the Unspeakable: Who Killed Him and Why it Matters by James D. Douglass.

Douglass’ investigation into the secret papers finally released during the Clinton era begin to uncover a deadly “family pattern” of behavior in the highest levels of political power. Now, Douglass has written an important article for Tikkun magazine that looks at how the pattern is being repeated again between President Obama, Gen. Petraeus, and Afghanistan.

Below is Part 9: How a President Can Practice Satyagraha

On the first day of school, September 8, 2009, at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia, a ninth-grader named Lilly asked President Obama, “If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?”

The president said his first choice for a dinner companion would be Gandhi, “a real hero of mine,” adding:

If it hadn’t been for the nonviolent movement in India, you might not have seen the same nonviolent movement for civil rights here in the United States…. He ended up doing so much and changing the world just by the power of his ethics, by his ability to change how people saw each other and saw themselves. [Gandhi was able to] help people who thought they had no power realize that they had power, and then help people who had a lot of power realize that if all they’re doing is oppressing people, then that’s not a really good exercise of power.

Maybe we all need to sit down for a meal with Gandhi, one that would be, as President Obama told Lilly, “a really small meal because he [like the impoverished people he represented] didn’t eat a lot.” What Gandhi would say to us over that small meal he did say at the end of his life to a U.S. writer, Vincent Sheean, who traveled half-way around the world to question him on vital matters, anticipating that Gandhi was about to be assassinated — as he would be, in Sheean’s presence, three days later.

As the two men paced a room together, Gandhi told his American visitor, with reference to World War II culminating in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “Your ends may have been good but your means were bad. That is not the way of truth.”

If Gandhi’s earnest conversation partner were Obama, not Sheean, and the time today, perhaps the next question would be: “What is the way of truth in Afghanistan?”

For Gandhi, truth was God. “Truth-force” was his term for nonviolence, satyagraha. Gandhi acted on the belief that there is nothing we as human beings can do that is more powerful, more transforming, than to live out the truth as we know it at the deepest point in our conscience.

In dialogue today with a powerful man who knows that “oppressing people is not a really good exercise of power,” Gandhi would say that hearing the truth and acting on it, regardless of the consequences to one’s power and one’s self, would be the way of truth in Afghanistan and in Washington. As politically confining as the White House is, it is for that very reason an ideal place to live out the truth, as President Kennedy did.–James Douglass, from JFK, Obama, and the Unspeakable

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