{mosimage}Here is my nomination for every college or university that sponsors a campus-wide book for students and faculty to read and discuss together: Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age, a new book by Arthur Herman.

The new book is perfect for campus-wide discussion, and sadly, few, if any, campuses will pick it.

Gandhi & Churchill tells how the lives of these two very different inspirational figures intersected during the turbulent times that led to the breakup of the British Empire č and left us, their successors, with a host of challenges. 

Some example discussion topics are: racism and racial pride; benevolent colonialism and the oppression that accompanied it; nonviolence and hard-nosed big power politics; the dangers of appeasement and the strategic advantages of accommodation to the reasonable aspirations and demands of opponents; the conflicting imperatives of global economic development against the spiritual advantages of local village life.

All of these important topics, and the different opinions we have about each of them, are part of the history of the first half of the 20th Century as seen through the roles Gandhi and Churchill played. 

There is more: the clash of cultures; the role of accidents and luck in the course of history; good and evil men č and the enormous influence of powerful leadership in shaping events.

When Churchill was born in England’s Blenheim Castle in 1874 and Gandhi on the west coast of India in 1869, India was the jewel of the British colonial possessions. Of all of Queen Victoria’s subjects, two-thirds of them lived on the Indian subcontinent. British rule had brought stability and order to a people of more than 250 million inhabitants composed of an untold variety of languages, castes and religions. To a certain degree it had imposed its systems of laws, culture, economics and education.

Churchill believed that India was an essential part of the British Empire. Without India, he thought, Great Britain could not be a great power. He also believed that without British oversight, India would fall victim to disorder and violence as its various groups competed for domination. He proudly believed in the superior qualities of the Anglo-Saxon peoples and the importance of stern and forceful rule.

Gandhi trained as a British lawyer in London. He believed that the principles of English law required that Indian subjects of the British King be entitled to equality, self-government and their own superior culture. He thought that the most effective weapon to gain those objectives for India was through nonviolent resistance.

Both men, in their very different ways, were amazing examples of courage and character.

Ironically, each of them first proved these qualities, not in England or India, but in South Africa during the Boer War in the early 1900s. Gandhi had come there as a lawyer and became a leader of the Indian community’s demands to be treated equally. During the same time, Churchill, although theoretically a news reporter, was actually an active combatant whose heroism made him a celebrity. 

Later, as the two men became leaders of their respective peoples, the conflict between Gandhi’s determination to achieve self-government and equality and Churchill’s belief that India must remain subject to British rule led to their bitter rivalry. Although I would be delighted if UNC-Chapel Hill chooses this book for its summer reading program next year, it is a long shot. The author’s politics tilt conservative. For instance, he is an articulate supporter of the war in Iraq. So his book, as genuinely “fair and balanced” as it is, would be a tough sell in Chapel Hill and in many university communities.

I hope I am wrong. Churchill & Gandhi would be a great book for campus-wide discussion. 

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