Surgical strikes a fashionable phrase that has entered Indian public discourse has interesting origins. The Collins English dictionary defines it as ‘a military action designed to destroy a particular target without harming other people or damaging other buildings near it‘. The term was first used during the first Gulf War. The use of precision guided missiles to take out military targets avoiding civilian casualties. It symbolised surgery, doctors, painful but necessary. It could be without guilt be a part of casual conversations in polite circles. A fashionable discourse giving a simplistic narrative.
Surgical strikes hid the savagery of war and almost made it civilised. It also evoked awe at the technological superiority of the American military and was the first televised war. Surgical strikes was a careful phrase crafted to hide the brutality and savagery of war. It originated from the American military’s experience of winning all the battles but losing the war in Vietnam. They attributed the defeat to domestic political compulsions of a population who could not tolerate the inhuman savagery of the My Lai massacre and the pulitzer prize winning photograph of the girl running naked by AP photographer Nick Ut. Perception management is a new age art with very old roots.
How does one employ military power without human right violations ?! Can the nation just stand transfixed to armed insurrection supported by foreign powers and walk away abandoning strategic territory vital to the defence of the nation ? What about the silent majority coerced into submission or a temporary Stockholm syndrome ?
Globalisation and Western soft power and culture disseminated through Hollywood, Pop TV serials and generous scholarships to academics, journalists and other influencers has had the consequences of dumbing down critical debate in other parts of the globe. The fashionable war reporter: the former icons of truth, justice and an anti imperialistic Vietnam war has morphed. In India they symbolise a set of glib talking up holders of an anti military brigade that just apes the foreign original but has little to do with context.
They ignore the compulsions of the Indian nation who is fighting a defensive new age war to guard its territorial integrity. They peddle simplistic one sided narratives of human rights violations by the military. How does one employ military power without human right violations ?! Can the nation just stand transfixed to armed insurrection supported by foreign powers and walk away abandoning strategic territory vital to the defence of the nation ? What about the silent majority coerced into submission or a temporary Stockholm syndrome ? Can civil courts sit in judgement on military operations.
Other legitimate questions then are; what about the constitutional rights of citizens caught in conflict zones ? What about fake encounters of innocents for awards and promotions ? The answers to these are again in the constitutional framework. The Army Act, enforce it. The political masters need to get their military to act on evidences of criminal conduct. The fashionable discourse of pillorying the military during counter insurgency operations was noticed during the Balakot strikes. These dumbed down polemics against the military for political fights gravely harm the nation.
The Chinese seem to have understood politeness and peacefulness without military art has little meaning. Our intelligentsia seemingly has not.
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire(1776-1788) by Edward Gibbon is a treatise for all statesmen. Two paragraphs from this are:- “The fidelity of the citizens to each other and to the state was confirmed by the habits of education and the prejudices of religion. Honour, as well as virtue, was the principle of the republic; the ambitious citizens laboured to deserve the solemn glories of a triumph; and the ardour of the Roman youth was kindled into active emulation as often as they beheld the domestic images of their ancestors. The temperate struggles of the patricians and plebeians had finally established the firm and equal balance of the constitution, which united the freedom of popular assemblies with the authority and wisdom of a senate and the executive powers of a regal magistrate.”
“Cold, poverty, and a life of danger and fatigue fortify the strength and courage of barbarians. In every age they have oppressed the polite and peaceful nations of China, India, and Persia, who neglected, and still neglect, to counter-balance these natural powers by the resources of military art. The warlike states of antiquity, Greece, Macedonia, and Rome, educated a race of soldiers; exercised their bodies, disciplined their courage, multiplied their forces by regular evolutions, and converted the iron which they possessed into strong and serviceable weapons.” China and India are two civilisational nations that continue to exist from antiquity. The Chinese seem to have understood that politeness and peacefulness, without military art has little meaning since Gibbon’s observations. Indian intelligentsia seemingly has not.
Fashionable discourses & simplistic narratives harm us, encourage stereotypes and dumb down critical debates.
A vast section of the intelligentia ignores the fact, that the military is a national instrument deployed as per the laws of the land. It is an instrument for stability and is also the instrument of last resort of the nation. They forget that US troops could withdraw from a messy imperialist war far from their shores without damaging their nation. Sections of the intelligentsia ignore that the Indian military can never withdraw from their own lands that has historical, strategic and political implications to national unity. This results in a distrust of vast sections of the free media and a civil society, vital for the health of our democracy and freedoms. Add social media into the mix with the paid IT warriors of political parties, and what we have is a toxic mix of divisive narratives.
True facts and the capability to critically think by the policy makers and an informed citizenry is the life blood of any progressive democracy. Simplistic black and white narratives about political parties, leaders, religious and ethnic groups and institutions leads to an information scenario that polarises populations and disrupts the social fabric of the nation. All the above described are very complex bodies which cannot be captured in simplistic narratives. An independent and free press is what was envisaged as the fourth estate, with their corporatisation the independence and non bipartisanship that they were supposed to exercise has become questionable. We need to rethink the rules for the same. Fashionable discourses & simplistic narratives harm us, encourage stereotypes and dumb down critical debates. We need to question them.