I am sitting in a coffee shop in Bombay, prior to catching my flight back to Delhi. Some awful music is playing in the background, and this is supposed to entertain me. However, not to quibble too much, I shall get on with it.
Sometimes I regret not following my dad into the army, and most of the times, I do not. There are some really fantastic things about the armed forces. We could well incorporate some of these into our daily lives – the dignity, the protocol, the constant state of preparedness, the training and the overall discipline.
Yet, armies are engines of war, and to some extent, they are controlled by the leaders of a nation. An army will not, in general, go to war unless provoked, or unless someone like Obama or the Head of the ISIS asks them to do so.
I also read an interesting book called “Why Nations Fail”. I also read an interesting history of Aurangzeb, the last of the great Mughals. As per the first book, countries fail because they fail to build proper institutions. True.
Empires also fail when they run out of money.
The British Empire ran up huge bills in controlling the British Raj, and during Wold Wars I and II. The decline of Great Britain started and the ascent of the USA started.
War costs money. Aurangzeb ruled for 50 years, and under his rule, the Mughal Empire reached the largest extent of its geographical coverage. He spent the last 26 odd years of his reign at the battle front in South India, and did not return to his capital, Delhi. Governance collapsed, and do did the army. Since he did not govern, he could not build institutions, and could not generate revenue. At the end of his reign, the army had not been paid for 3 years.
The Mughal Empire started to implode thereafter, and slowly the British Raj came into India over the next 150 years. The Mughal Emperor became a puppet, until the last one was deposed in 1858 and exiled.
In his marvellously crafted book, ‘The Grapes Of Wrath’, John Steinbeck urged us (and I am sure I misquote) to fear the times of peace, and not the times of strife. We push ourselves in times of strife. There is merit in this. However, I am sure he did not have war in mind.
I believe that nation’s leaders before Steinbeck and and after have misunderstood what he meant, and have come to believe in the glory of war. Never mind the fact that the stories of the horrors of the trenches sometimes see the light of day. Never mind that there are enough stories of the trauma of war veterans, like those of the Vietnam War.
War costs money. War costs a lot of money. There is a certain false glory in building machines of war. In the old days, the King and General would lead from the front. Now, the modern day equivalent pushes a button, and smugly tells the Nation on TV that the Nation has gone to war to defend human liberty, and that glory in Heaven will be theirs.
We, as nameless citizens, pay for this liberty via our taxes, and the smart ones evade paying tax!
War brings wealth to a few – the makers of weapons, Blackwater and their ilk, and a few others.
To the rest, it brings misery.
The money can well be spent on fighting pollution, hunger, on education and other causes.
Yet, we fight. We put up statues for The Unknown Soldier, and then switch channels to find out which toothpaste the glitzy, busty starlet is using.
We cannot just blame politicians, if we break laws, or think violent thoughts.
If we want war to stop, it starts with us. Each one of us individually and collectively.
Let Steinbeck not turn in his grave.