Ram Madhav
October 10, 2020

War and Peace

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War is considered not something to run away from, but to be waged in order to restore the glory of the righteous. 

War is back. Armenia and Azerbaijan are at war. There is talk of it on the Sino-Indian LAC. Elsewhere, the Chinese navy is wrathful at the American and Japanese naval vessels loitering on the South and East China sea lanes. China is also flying its air force squadrons provocatively, into the Taiwanese air space. There is increasing chatter about the impending new Cold War.

Wars shaped history in the last two centuries. The Colonialists – British, French, Portuguese, German and Dutch – were largely responsible for the wars of the 19th century. But the worst century for wars was the 20thcentury. The world witnessed two worldwide conflicts and countless smaller wars almost on all the continents. Over 100 million people were killed in the two world wars. The second World War, the harshest of the two, had seen over 3% of the world population perish. Yet wars continued to rage, in the Korean peninsula, in Vietnam, in West Asia and in Africa.

India had seen at least five major wars and numerous smaller conflicts after 1947. Independent India woke up to an illegal aggression by the newly born Pakistan in Kashmir. Then came the 1962 war with China and 1965, 1971 and 1999 wars with Pakistan. Casualties in wars are largely based on the official declarations. Countries like China never disclose numbers. But India has maintained transparency in these matters. In all the above wars the Indian side has officially admitted to the loss of life of over 12000 soldiers. Losses on the other side were even higher. 

The world entered the 21st century with America’s “War on Terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq. The 21st century is still young. All the leaders of the countries in the world are products of the war-ravaged 20th century. That hangover is carried into the 21st century. And wars look imminent and indispensable. 

Nations like India give another dimension to wars. Here, wars are glorified. Death in a war is regarded as a sign of valour and described as martyrdom. Sacrifice on the battlefield is regarded as the ultimate purpose in life. When the coffins carrying the dead bodies of soldiers reach homes, they are mourned but also celebrated as martyrs. 

War is considered not something to run away from, but to be waged in order to restore the glory of the righteous. This Indian approach is of course not shared by the western societies, where a single casket coming home can be a massive political disaster. From Thucydides to Clausewitz, the western scholars have seen wars as political violence. Thucydides, the Greek general and historian of the 5th century BC, was renowned for his theory, which came to be known as the “Thucydides’ Trap”, holding that the rising powers challenge the established ones which result in wars, in which there will be no winners. He also proposed several alternative solutions to war. Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian general of the 18-19th centuries and the author of the famous book “Vom Criege” – ‘On War’ – on the other hand described wars as “politics by other means” and they are “nothing but a duel on an extensive scale… an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will”.

It is important to understand that no war is imminent. Martyrdom must be respected, but we should celebrate the day when no casket comes home to devastate a family somewhere. Wars have no real winners. In the Udyog Parv of the celebrated war epic Mahabharata, Sanjaya categorically states: “War causes destruction to all, it is sinful, it creates hell, it gives the same result in victory and defeat alike”.

Wars happen only when the leaders lack the resolve to avoid them. The Europeans were smugly satisfied about the general peace all around in the final decades of the 19th century until Italy decided to invade Libya in 1911, setting the ball rolling for the 1st World War. Neither Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany (despite his bellicose language) nor Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, nor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, nor even King George V of Britain was interested in war. But they all had to succumb to the pressures of their generals and the result was the beginning of the Century of Wars. 

But then, the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 offers a different example. The Soviets and the Americans were almost on the brink of a nuclear war until President John F Kennedy of America decided one afternoon to reach out to the Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev with the help of his brother Robert Kennedy and of the Soviet Ambassador to Washington DC Anatoly Dorbynin. Kennedy made an offer that if the Soviets withdrew their ballistic missiles – some of them carrying nuclear payloads – from Cuba, America would withdraw its own IRBMs stationed next door to the Soviet Union in Turkey. By responding positively to Kennedy’s offer, Khrushchev not only saved America from  nuclear destruction, but also saved the world from the 3rd World War. Robert Kennedy’s description of the happenings in the White House during the crisis in his memoir titled “Thirteen Days” tells us how close the world came to Armageddon.

Wars may still take place, if the situations are left to the generals, or if they are seen as ‘politics by other means’ by adventurous leaders, or if leaders succumb to public pressures. So, countries have to be prepared for them – “Yuddhaaya Kritanischayah” –  ‘Be determined for war’ – This command of Krishna to Arjuna in the battlefield of the Mahabharata war must be adhered to. To be prepared for war is the best means of securing peace, it is averred. Yet, the leaders of the 21st century world must also follow the advice given by the former Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri: “We must fight for peace bravely as we fought in the war”.

The most important message for them comes from sage Vyasa in the Bheeshma Parv of Mahabharata: “Success that is obtained by negotiations and other means is the best. Success which is secured by creating disunion amongst the enemy is temporary. Success secured by battle is the worst.”

Published by Ram Madhav

Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation

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