Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The romanticization of war - II

The Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar links the presumed lack of respect for the Indian Army to it not having fought a war for 40-50 years. As evidence, he cited the relatively less attention 'an IAS or any other authority' accords to a letter from a military commanding officer than before. It is not the soldier on the ground (who is close to the horrors of war) but the backroom strategist (for whom war is a video game) who itches for war. Evidently,  an IIT degree is not an inoculation against this disease.

Parrikar doesn't seem to realize (or perhaps realizes but doesn't agonize over it since he won't suffer) that War is no picnic – it kills and maims soldiers, deprives families of those they love, magnifying their tragedy in case the dead was also their bread-winner. It strains the nation's resources and throws the normal life of the nation into chaos. Once I was told that there was a report in some magazine that India had the resources to destroy the whole of Pakistan while Pakistan had the resources to destroy 'only' half of India so in the event of a full fledged conflict India's victory was assured. It doesn't seem to occur to war-mongers that it would be a Pyrrhic victory.

War-mongers don't think about the fact that the consequences of war don’t end at the trumpeting of victory or ceasefire, but continue to unfold many years thereafter. In The Palace of Illusions, which is the story of the Mahabharata from Draupadi's point of view, a dying Duryodana tells Yudhishtira, 'I am going to heaven to enjoy all its pleasures with my friends. You'll rule a kingdom peopled with widows and orphans and wake each morning to the grief of loss. Who's the real winner, then, and who the loser?'

In Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw, Sergius is the epitome of what every romantic hero should be: He is dashing, handsome, idealistic, wealthy, aristocratic, brave, and the acclaimed hero of a recent crushing victory in a cavalry raid which he led. He is possessed of only the loftiest and most noble ideals concerning war, romance, and chivalry, and he represents the quintessence of what a noble Bulgarian aristocrat should be.

Captain Bluntschli is a realist who sees through the absurd romanticism of war. Unlike the aristocratic volunteers who are untrained, amateurish idealists, Captain Bluntschli is a professional soldier, trained in waging a war in a highly efficient, businesslike manner. At one point, he tells Sergius. 'I'm a professional soldier. I fight when I have to, and am very glad to get out of it when I haven't to. You're only an amateur: you think fighting's an amusement.'

Justice by Michael Sandel gives an idea of the class composition of the American army. Young people from middle-income neighbourhoods are disproportionately represented in the army. The least represented are the most affluent 20% and the poorest 10% (who may lack the necessary education). Politicians also have a poor representation. I am reasonably sure that a similar class composition exists in the the Indian army also. If the decision makers had more of their relatives in the army they would be less eager for war. Those who most urge others to make sacrifices have to sacrifice the least in case of war. Sandel writes about the historian David M Kennedy's views:
He argues that "the US armed forces today have many of the attributes of a mercenary army," by which he means a paid  professional army that is separated to a significant degree from the society on whose behalf it fights.He doesn't mean to disparage the motives of those who enlist. His worry is that hiring a relatively small number of our fellow citizens to fight our wars lets the rest of us off the hook. It severs the link between the majority of democratic citizens and the soldiers who fight in their name.
Kennedy observes that, 'proportionate to the population, today's active-duty military establishment is about 4 percent of the size of the force that won World War II." This makes it relatively easy for policy-makers to commit the country to war without having to secure the broad and deep consent of the society as a whole. "History's most powerful military force can now be sent into battle in the name of a society that scarcely breaks a sweat when it does so." The volunteer army absolves most Americans of the responsibility to fight and die for their country. While some see this as an advantage, this exemption from shared sacrifice comes at the price of eroding political accountability:
A hugely preponderant majority of Americans with no risk whatsoever of exposure to military service have, in effect, hired some of the least advantaged of their fellow countrymen to do some of their most dangerous business while the majority goes on with their own affairs unbloodied and undistracted.
Quite often, the spin is given that the nation functions because there are soldiers on the border which is unfair on other members of the society. The nation functions as much because of farmers, labourers, doctors, engineers, etc., as soldiers.  No one section is more important than the other. If push comes to shove and I have to choose one section, I guess it has to be farmers: one has to eat before doing other things. (Retd.) Colonel L Misra says, 'Even army cannot march on an empty stomach.'

In different parts of the world, the war memorials and the elaborate rituals attending the war dead/military casualities (which are often telecast live) or the breathless display of destructive toys during military parades are reminiscent of how religions inspire awe among the masses through elaborate rituals and magnificent places of worship. In the respect of the worship of modern methods of destruction, North Korea and the countries not on the 'axis of evil' differ only in degrees. Susan Sontag writes in her essay Aids and its Metaphors:
Abuse of the military metaphor may be inevitable in a capitalist society, a society that increasingly restricts the scope and credibility of appeals to ethical principle, in which it is thought foolish not to subject one's actions to the calculus of self-interest and profitability. War-making is one of the few activities that people are not supposed to view 'realistically'; that is, with an eye to expense and practical outcome.In all-out war, expenditure is all-out, unprudent - war being defined as an emergency in which no sacrifice is excessive.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The romanticization of war - I

Aristotle wrote, 'Metaphor consists in giving the thing a name that belongs to something else.' People in power get to impose their metaphors on us - political, business and religious leaders, media, advertisers, etc. War metaphors are in common use with everything conceived as a battle, as a zero-sum game with winners and losers. We talk of various things in terms of a war because we conceive of them that way, and we act according to how we conceive of things. And as George Lakoff wrote in his paper 'Metaphor and War , '...metaphors backed up by bombs can kill.'

You can see war metaphors used often in cricket. After the chest beating talk at beginning of a cricket series, it will be said that 'the battle lines have been drawn', the star player in the side will be called the 'lone warrior' or 'the hit-man'; there will be 'attack' index, twitter 'battle', 'clash' of titans, 'final frontier', 'revenge' series, 'seek vengeance'. A West Indies-SA cricket series was advertised as - 'a war cry resounds as the Caribbean crew lands on the hostile African shores'; a cricket match between India and Australia is called 'a battle without guns' (aggression on the cricket field is not about cricketing skills but about how boorish you can be); there will be 'General Kohli leads his soldiers through fielding drills'; Sehwag 'blitzkrieg' flattens England, 'Do or die' game for India, Sachin's 'blasters' vs Warne's 'warriors'.

In politics, there will be battleground states, war room,  prestige battle, a ministerial communication is called 'twitter battle', 'battle bugle' for Bihar has been sounded, an election speech is described as 'a war cry', 'battle lines' are drawn, there is 'a war of words' between the candidates, the PM 'led the charge' during the campaign, Sushma makes 'frontal attack' on Congress, Rahul leads Congress 'counter attack', we won the 'land-bill battle', battle for Bihar, prestige battle, bitter battle.  The preparations are on a 'war-footing'; it is a straight 'fight' between Modi and Nitish Kumar in Bihar; sentences like 'X attacks Y' or 'X hits back at Y' are common, Congress 'guns' for Sushma, Kejriwal alleges 'pre-emptive strike' by BJP to save Jaitly.

In Metaphors we live by, George Lakoff gives some examples of the 'love is war' metaphor: He 'fled from' her 'advances'. She 'persued' him 'relentlessly'. He 'won' her hand in marriage. She is 'beseiged' by suitors. He 'made an ally' of her mother.He also gives examples of the 'arguement is war' metaphor used in everyday language: Your claims are 'indefensible'.I 'demolised' his argument. He 'shot down' all of my arguments. His criticisms were 'right on target'. He writes:
It is important to see that we don't just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can actually win or lose arguments.We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We attack his positions and defend our own. We gain or lose ground. We plan and use strategies. If we find a position indefensible, we can abandon it and take a new line of attack. Many of the things we do in arguing are partially structured by the concept of war.Though there is no physical battle, there is a verbal battle, and the structure of an argument  - attack, defence, counterattack, etc. - reflects this.
The war metaphor is used in many other contexts: the court room became a 'battleground'; he was 'under fire' from the experts; the president was 'bombarded' with questions from the press; the organization works at the 'front lines' of the war on poverty; she didn't want to get caught in the 'crossfire' of her parent's divorce; there was an economic 'blockade' of Manipur; the model is a 'Blonde Bombshell'; the new policy is considered a political 'time bomb' for the government; ethical hackers are described as 'cyber warriors', He is an 'eco-warrior'.

Other high-profile examples include the War on Poverty, War on Cancer, War on Drugs, . The body is often viewed as a 'fortress' which protects us from 'invasion' by disease causing organisms. The immune system 'mobilises' antigens...Civilian causalities during military campaigns is called by the anaesthetic phrase 'collateral damage'. It conceals from people what is actually going on. It is an abstract euphemism which ensures that people don't get a sense of repulsion from what is essentially murder. The use of metaphor can be pernicious when it hides painful realities. These metaphors hide aspects of violence that would normally be seen as major crimes.  George Orwell shows this in an essay written in the 1940s, Politics and the English Language:
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:
"While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement."
James Childress describes the use of war as a metaphor as a dilemma: "In debating social policy through the language of war, we often forget the moral reality of war." Their widespread use dulls the realisation that the brutality of war dehumanises us all. Childress observes, ' We are tempted by seedy realism, with its doctrine that might makes right, or we are tempted by an equally dangerous mentality of crusade or holy war, with its doctrine that right makes might of any kind acceptable.'