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Friday, January 31, 2014

Rethinking the Indian War Memorial by Dilip D'Souza at the New York Times

Great write up by Dilip D'Souza, and his idea will certainly take time getting used to. He wrote, “What if India and Pakistan built a joint war memorial on our border? What if those granite panels remember, like Shiloh does, men who fought each other in life and lie together now in death?  What would it do to our countries that have fought and killed for six decades now?”

I like the idea and on my part will share it with my friends and groups. As always, there will be a few hard core extremists among Indians and Pakistanis, who would laugh at it, but the majority of both people want the right thing, to get along and move on with their lives. There was and is Aman Ki Asha and many more social networks committed to building relationships.

I was hoping he would write a little bit more about Patriotism that he alluded to and I have written about what Patriotism a while back and it needs a revision and a rewrite.

The old concept of Patriotism was based on killing and getting killed, which is idiotic, we need to be thinking of live and let live. There is a paradigm shift in the making; the guys who want to take their nation on the brink of war are not patriotic, as they put a lot of lives on jeopardy.
Patriotism is uplifting the nation, making the lives of her inhabitants better. Improving the life style from simple potable water to sanitation to providing education, jobs and a life would be Patriotism.

Patriotism is respecting and honoring every fellow national, in our case fellow Indian, regardless of their color, caste, religion or economic status.

D'Souza mentioned about Modi and my take is, the Republicans in the United States and Mr. Narendra Modi in India need to take lessons in Geography, Biology, Math and History, Mr. Modi said there are no war Memorials, he needs to know there are plenty of Memorials all over India and in the last few days people are posting on facebook endlessly. The party he is affiliated with RSS was an anathema to Sardar Patel, who banned the party in 1948. Something needs fixing - either RSS to reject its founders and their philosophy or try not to own Sardar Patel, a great Indian Patriot who belongs to every Indian. My alias name Sardar was indeed named after him.

Mike Ghouse


Rethinking the Indian War Memorial by Dilip D'Souza at the New York Times

Earlier this week, Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate for the prime minister, stirred up his critics when he asserted in a speech to mostly military personnel that India does not have a war memorial.
As plenty of people have pointed out, this is simply not true. All over this country, there are memorials to soldiers who have died in India’s border skirmishes, terrorist attacks and wars — 1948, 1956, 1962, 1965, 1971, 1999.

Yet what I found myself thinking about, after Mr. Modi’s remark, was not so much that he was mistaken. Politicians will, after all, play on what they think are patriotic sentiments. No, he brought to mind two war memorials I have visited, at nearly opposite corners of the planet. The first is Shiloh, in the American state of Tennessee. The second is, as I was asked by a military friend to say after my visit, somewhere near the Line of Control in India’s northernmost state, Jammu and Kashmir.

Shiloh is the site of a famous Civil War battle in April 1862. Southern forces came close to defeating the Northern army here, before themselves losing. There was a total of 24,000 casualties, with 3,500 dead, on both sides. By that count, it was the bloodiest battle in American history, though it was soon eclipsed by other Civil War battles. And in the end it was just a battle: No military advantage was gained or lost here.
I had read that last nugget somewhere just hours before entering Shiloh, and it weighed on me as I wandered its quiet expanse. Why all those deaths, then? Then again, had there actually been some strategic advantage gained, would it somehow validate their deaths? Would we pronounce that wartime non sequitur, that the men “did not die in vain”?

Imponderables, of course. What struck me at Shiloh, though, were the individual memorials from each state. One I stopped at commemorates the “loyalty, patriotism and bravery of Iowa’s sons who fought to perpetuate the sacred Union of the United States.” Others like that, with words like that, were from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Tennessee — every state in the Union.

Which started me wondering: In this one park are memorials to brave sons from both sides of that fratricidal war. If one spot venerates the patriotism of those who fought for the Union, it’s not far to that other spot that venerates the patriotism of those who fought to secede. The Missouri monument lists a “1st Missouri” regiment that fought for the Union and a “1st Missouri” regiment that fought for the Confederates — both on the same face of the same slab of polished granite.

A total of 3,500 men from both sides died in those crisp April days over 150 years ago — yet they lie here united not just in death, but in how future generations remember them. They lie here, asking questions of my ideas of patriotism.

Somewhere near our Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, I visited a “Hall of Fame” — another war memorial. It too has several individual monuments. One remembers soldiers Badridan Bharat, Surjit Singh and Gurprit Singh. Another, a tower on the road leading up to the Hall of Fame, is labeled “Padinale Po Munnale” — Tamil for “Go Forward, 14th.” The Tamil itself was a reminder of the fantastic mosaic this country is: I’ll bet those are the only inscribed Tamil words for miles around.

But as moving as all these are, something else at this Hall of Fame touched me in the way that Shiloh did: a series of black granite panels. Chiseled at the top of each one is a year — 1948, 1949 and onward. Below each year are dozens, hundreds of names, also chiseled — the names of men who died fighting India’s battles.

And then — several empty panels. Panels that wait silently for names, wait for soldiers to die in our battles. Clearly the Hall of Fame expects the bloodshed to go on for several more years, and has actually prepared itself for that.

Out there in my country are young men of every description, spirited teenagers and nervous fathers and budding fast bowlers, whose names will one day be carved into this black stone. In that almost ghostly idea, more questions about patriotism.

From where the monument stands, the border is only a few miles distant. Every country venerates its dead soldiers, so no doubt there’s a memorial on that side of the line too, remembering young Pakistani men killed in battles with my country. Maybe it too has large panels that wait for names.

There at the Hall of Fame, a thought came quietly, naturally, almost as a fruit of the history I know our countries share. In our early wars, officers on each side had trained together in British India. For example, the Indian Military Academy’s first graduating batch, in 1934, had both Muhammed Musa and Sam Manekshaw, future Army chiefs of Pakistan and India, respectively. Certainly there must have been soldiers in both armies who had trained together too, who had grown up in the same villages and towns, played together as children.

This was the American Civil War experience as well: Brother sometimes fought brother on those bloody battlefields, officers on either side had been colleagues before the war. Take Fort Sumter, where the Civil War actually began. The Union commanding officer was Major Robert Anderson, who graduated from West Point and later was an artillery instructor there. The president of the Confederacy was his West Point colleague, Jefferson Davis; the man who fired the first shell at Sumter was P.G.T. Beauregard, once Mr. Anderson’s student at West Point.

Shiloh is explicitly, and most wrenchingly, a reminder of so many shared bonds like these. And so the thought: What if India and Pakistan built a joint war memorial on our border? What if those granite panels remember, like Shiloh does, men who fought each other in life and lie together now in death?  What would it do to our countries that have fought and killed for six decades now?

Certainly this is an idea that will take some getting used to. After the Civil War, the urgency was to heal a bloodied nation as it struggled to unite and reconstruct. This is the spirit behind Shiloh. Can it apply to India and Pakistan, two separate countries?

I’m not sure. But even so, what if we found the imagination to build such a memorial? I suspect it would become that much harder to see each other as enemies and go to war. I suspect we wouldn’t need the blank panels.
Dilip D’Souza is a writer based in Mumbai. He has written four books, most recently “The Curious Case of Binayak Sen.” Find him on Twitter at @DeathEndsFun.

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