Thank you messages are heart-warming indeed. Having been a soldier for many long years, these used to move me deeply until I realised just how hollow they are. Such messages can be genuine, but only when followed by another saying, ‘And here is a photo of me/my son/my grandson queuing up to join the armed forces.’
If not, they only mean, ‘Good, you sucker, die for me. And maybe let your son also die for my son.’
Never have I heard any prime minister, defence minister or cabinet minister saying, ‘Yes, the country is in danger. I call upon the existing soldiery to save us. But to make up for not being able to join you this time, I am directing my grandson to join your blessed community. You please die this time, but the next one is on me.’
They always say, ‘I offer from my heart – a big thank you to guardians unknown, for offering yourselves to us and saving us.’
Essentially, the theme is: ‘I’ll defend my nation till your last breath.’
The Indian army alone has approximately 10,000 vacancies in the officer rank, which is 20% of the total – a massive part. So clearly, not only the politicians, even the normal citizen is not ready to die with me. I must die alone, but my funeral will be attended by several politicians and prominent citizens.
With the present government, the quality of respect being paid to martyrs has moved up several notches. Bodies are flown to the home of the martyr, the coffin is carried by immaculately dressed soldiers, fully medalled officers ceremonial dress line up to place the wreath, and the bugler whips out the silver bugle to sound the ‘Last Post and the The Rouse’. We will meet again in Valhalla, oh warrior!
It is all extremely well choreographed and aesthetic.
But when others do not pitch in, I start seeing it all very differently. All the extravaganza lavished on martyr funerals, the medals, the rebates to the dependents – it all looks like a bribe. People talk respectfully to you, movies are made and songs are created to glorify soldiers – their sacrifices, their love for the country, their very godliness. But all that is out of necessity.
The nation simply has to make the death appear noble. Why not? They will need martyrs tomorrow too. If they do not make it a jolly good death, their own sons may have to face the bayonets of the enemy. So, why not invest something small – to keep the opportunities of working at MNCs alive for their sons!
Then, the nation is back to normal – high sounding patriots searching deep and wide for the next sucker, while keeping their own sons for MNC jobs.
They forget the dictum: Together, we can.
They forget the concept of noblesse oblige.
As a teen, I had been exposed to this concept. I knew that the youngest son of the 26th US President, Theodore Roosevelt, flew for defence of his country and died in aerial combat with the Germans. The officer corps in the German army were predominantly Vons and Counts. In Britain, the government did not have to lure people to join the army because sons of nobility actually purchased military commissions with their father’s money. It would not have been possible to remain nobility, if the son did not join the army. The nobility had to bear the butcher’s bill, else they were not nobility.
I had read somewhere that the British Queen has a little speech ready to give at naval base ceremonies, “As the wife, daughter, granddaughter, mother, mother-in-law and grandmother of serving naval officers, the navy has always had a special place in my affections.”
Noblesse oblige. To whom much is given, much is expected.
So, at age of 14, I filled up the form to join the National Defence Academy (NDA).
Earlier in my career, I felt like a knight in shining armour – a saviour. After the statistics sunk in, I started feeling like a mercenary – being paid by people to die for them.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Col Alok Asthana is a veteran, presently a consultant on leadership and innovation. He is author of two books – Leadership for Colonels and Business Managers and Reclaim your Democracy. He can be contacted at [email protected]
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty