INSTITUTIONAL MEMORY

After serving for decades in the army and having fought wars both external and internal, what can one bequeath to the gallant soldiers you once commanded? Few pictures; medals or mementoes? Even though symbolic and emotive, these are not enough to repay the debt of gratitude you owe to your comrades in arms. What needs to be transferred sincerely and imaginatively is, the invaluable experience, knowledge and lessons learned by sweat and blood on this challenging journey and on the battlefield! This distilled knowledge tempered by escapades of valour and blunders, in equal measure, honestly analysed and dissected with moral courage, is the greatest gift which needs to be passed down to the next generation.

The Indian Army as an institution is overall upright, correct, professional and pragmatic. However it has a somewhat dubious record in anecdotal memory when it comes to critically recalling and recording operations from a unit or regimental perspective. Often, our misplaced sense of loyalty comes in the way of reporting facts of botched operations or a grave military lapse. Thus, the cover up soon enlarges in scope and takes on mythical proportions with the lessons learnt and blood shed slowly forgotten, with the ambers of sacred institutional memory ebbing, fading and then dying forever. If instances like Kaluchak, Pathankot, Samba, Uri are not to be repeated we need an objective, unflinching institutional mirror. In affairs military, examining the lows is perhaps even more relevant than glossing over the highs!

Whilst attending a course in UK, I heard with disquiet a reputed British military historian remark tongue in cheek, that ‘India and Pakistan are the only two countries in the world who can celebrate a victory for the same operation in war.’ While this may be an uncharitable comment, the fact is that we do tend to seriously airbrush our military history at the altar of so called loyalty.

We need to buck this trend resolutely and ruthlessly. The brutal lessons of botched operations and gross military lapses should be our building blocks and primers for the young and uninitiated. Our divisional and corps battle schools must hunt and search for the underlying truth for what went wrong where it did. We must have the military acumen to sift through the routine fog of war and Murphy’s Law syndrome and home on to preventable mistakes and oversights in planning, execution, training, and in leadership. The underlying spirit has to be “Loss of life on the battlefield must never be in vain” An army which honestly introspects at routine intervals would see its warts and strengths for what they are. This attitude is difficult to foster where we only reward success and talk of ‘zero error’. Unfortunately in military operations there is no such animal. There is thus an urgent need for course correction, for we ignore it at our own peril.

The various ammunition depot accidents which occur with monotonous regularity are a grim and tragic reminder of why we are caught in this vicious cycle. “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Let not the 19 precious lives of our brave martyrs go in vain. We must learn from the past to protect our future.

AN ARMY WHICH HONESTLY INTROSPECTS AT ROUTINE INTERVALS WOULD SEE ITS WARTS AND STRENGTHS FOR WHAT THEY ARE. THIS ATTITUDE IS DIFFICULT TO FOSTER WHERE WE ONLY REWARD SUCCESS AND TALK OF ‘ZERO ERROR’. UNFORTUNATELY IN MILITARY OPERATIONS THERE IS NO SUCH ANIMAL.THERE IS THUS AN URGENT NEED FOR COURSE CORRECTION, FOR WE IGNORE IT AT OUR OWN PERIL.

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