Thích Nhat Hanh is a 94-year-old Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist. He is the founder of the Plum Village Tradition, the largest monastic order in the West. Hanh has published over 130 books; they’ve sold over 5 million copies worldwide. He promotes nonviolent solutions to conflict.
In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize. King said, “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of [this prize] than this gentle monk from Vietnam. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.”
One of Hanh’s “ideas for peace” is for people to write friendly—not hostile—letters to their politicians, encouraging them to facilitate peace and social justice. He holds forth as examples the letters that Mahatma Gandhi wrote to Adolf Hitler. At the time, Gandhi was leader of the Indian National Congress; he campaigned for Indian independence from Great Britain strictly through nonviolent means. Adolf Hitler, of course, was the chancellor and Fuhrer of Nazi Germany; he sought world domination through conquest and war.
Letter to Adolf Hitler, 1939(Germany was poised to invade Poland and start WWII)
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. Something tells me that I must not calculate and that I must make my appeal for whatever it may be worth. 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. Must you pay that price for an object however worthy it may appear to you to be? Will you listen to the appeal of one who has deliberately shunned the method of war not without considerable success? Anyway I anticipate your forgiveness, if I have erred in writing to you.
Your sincere friend,
Gandhi’s second letter to Hitler was written after the invasion of Poland. It’s too long to reproduce in its entirety here. It’s important to note, however, that it, too, begins in a spirit of friendship.
Letter to Adolf Hitler, 1940
That I address you as a friend is no formality. I own no foes. My business in life has been for the past 33 years to enlist the friendship of the whole of humanity by befriending mankind, irrespective of race, colour or creed. I hope you will have the time and desire to know how a good portion of humanity who have been living under the influence of that doctrine of universal friendship view your action. 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. 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. 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....
Your sincere friend,
Gandhi’s appeals to Hitler apparently were fruitless. I have written dozens, maybe hundreds, of letters to senators and assorted politicians. As far as I know, they were fruitless, too. Still I am inspired by the peaceful efforts of Gandhi who labored more than 30 years to gain India’s independence from British rule.
In that same spirit of benevolent determination, I shall compose and mail a letter to former president Donald J. Trump. I shall write as Gandhi wrote, borrowing much of his language:
Letter to Donald J. Trump, 2021DEAR FRIEND,
That I address you as a friend is no formality. I own no foes. My business in life has been for the past several years to enlist the friendship of the whole of humanity by befriending mankind, irrespective of race, color or creed.
First, I will confess I disapprove of many of your actions. For example, you mocked an afflicted and disabled reporter, Serge Kovaleski, who suffers from arthrogryposis. My dear wife of 30 years was born with cerebral palsy. Fortunately, she never has been subjected to such cruelty and scorn as you visited upon poor Mr. Kovaleski. That someone of your age and social stature, born in the lap of luxury and privilege, would mock someone less fortunate than you is beyond the pale and beyond my understanding—but not beyond my capacity to forgive.
In other ways, I approve of you and applaud you, my friend. You declined to serve in your country’s armed forces when your country was engaged in a war [in Vietnam] you did not believe in or support. As president, you did not initiate or escalate any wars. Indeed, you tried to downsize our troop presence and military involvement throughout the Middle East.
However, it is here at home, here in our beloved USA, where Americans are suffering the most. And it is quite clear that you are today the one person in the world who can help to bind and heal the wounds of our troubled and divided nation.
First and foremost, I urge you to recant your false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from you. The “Big Lie” about election fraud precipitated an assault upon the U.S. Capitol building and the people therein, resulting in the loss of human life.
Moreover and more importantly, the “Big Lie” was, and continues to be, an assault upon American democracy itself, which is founded upon our faith in fair elections. State and federal judges dismissed more than 50 lawsuits that challenged the fairness of the election and its outcome. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the spurious lawsuit you supported which sought to toss out voting results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Shortly before his untimely resignation, your (former) Attorney General William Barr stated that the Justice Department found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the election.
I have no doubt about your bravery or devotion to your cause, nor do I believe that you are the monster described by your opponents. 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.
Is it too much to ask you to make an effort for peace during a time which may mean nothing to you personally—you will always be rich and famous, will you not?—but which will mean so much to the millions of Americans who needlessly suffer because of your lies?
For the sake of all that’s good and decent, I implore you to help heal our torn and troubled nation and confess your sins and lies before mankind. No one is beyond redemption, and it’s never too late to do the right thing.
Your sincere friend,
Mark Heinz lives at Nolin Lake. Visit his website at amazon.com/author/markheinzbooks.