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An Interview with Robert Thurman, The West's First Buddhist Monk

Perhaps most widely-known as the father of Uma, Robert Thurman discusses his friend the Dalai Lama and how Hitler could have been defeated without violence.

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Robert Thurman: This is the thing that Gandhi faced when he said to the British that the way of dealing with the fascists was to resist them nonviolently and non-cooperatively. England got all in an uproar and an outrage. He said, “you people misunderstood me. There are three ways of responding to evil. You resist it nonviolently, which is the most powerful way. That’s difficult but the most powerful. You resist it violently, which is also definitely difficult and a lot of people are killed and doesn’t actually solve it because you become as violent as your enemy. And three, you surrender to it. So people are confusing my method of nonviolence, non-cooperation, and resistance with surrendering, which it isn’t. You put your body out there and say, no I won’t cooperate, but I won’t kill you back, either.”

He said that’s the ultimate way because first Hitler will tell his soldiers to run over you with their tanks and they will run over some people, but it won’t be long before the tank drivers say, wait a minute, they’re not firing back, why are we running over them? Who is this lunatic person screaming and shouting and twirling his mustache, this little scrimpy guy screeching and punching the air, telling us that everyone is our enemy and everyone wants to destroy us, making us all paranoid? These people don’t want to destroy us, but clearly they don’t like what we’re doing. And then they will stop.

Guernica: Do you really think Hitler and Hirohito could have been defeated through nonviolent resistance?

Robert Thurman: Yes, probably. Sure. By the way, fighting Hitler violently didn’t save the six million Jews who were gassed and the fourteen million Russian, Poles, Gypsies, homosexuals, and the other fourteen million that they killed. People point to the Holocaust, but the Holocaust went on in the middle of the war and the war was not stopping it. And then you never know had there been nonviolent resistance what would have happened. Had the Germans killed a couple million in France and England and here and there before realizing there was no point in occupying any country because people in the country simply would not feed them, they wouldn’t work for them, they wouldn’t do anything even if they killed them, that might have saved how many total million that did die in the World War, maybe forty or fifty million. I don’t know the number. But a lot.

What’s being advocated is a genuine slow process of disarmament. It means switching from Mutual Assured Destruction to Mutual Unilateral Disarmament.

The point is one cannot point triumphantly and say that was a great war and this really was good and that was good, because if you look more holistically at the subsequent events that take place, there may be more disaster looming. Like what do you think is going to be the result of this Iraq business that those insane Neocons pushed us into? Is America dominating the twenty-first century do you think, as they claim? Instead of seeking peace, Cheney sought to dominate the planet and how has that worked out? He has ruined our country, ruined Iraq, ruined our reputation internationally, and really failed utterly.

Guernica: Let’s say America wants to disarm. Can you give us the step by step of how to do that?

Robert Thurman: Nonviolence begins at home. So each individual has to put themselves through a process of dealing with their anger. And there are a lot of yogas of doing that; the yoga of controlling anger, of diverting it, of gaining access to the energy of it without being controlled into behaving in a demented way. And one by one, if people do this, that’s one way. It’s a whole education system. Luckily, we could do it more quickly than in the past because, in a way, what is our education system: it’s our mass media. People spend as much time watching television as they do in classrooms, or most of them, in this country. So if the television was not teaching warmongering, which unfortunately is what it does teach, then America could reverse like that.

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