It is well known cliché that ‘those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it’. But the moot question is What if there is an absence of history? Or if it has been diluted, and at worst, what if the historical rendition is economical with the truth? A Western military historian is reported to have once remarked tongue in cheek, that, “India and Pakistan are possibly the only two countries which celebrate victory day for the same battle!” We as nation and Indians in particular have never been avid historians in the classical genre. While our past generations have written great treatises on statecraft and religion, and even produced great mythological epics this scholastic tradition does not hold true for history. The art of documenting all events meticulously and authentically is sadly absent. It is therefore no accident that majority of our ancient and modern historical journey has often been documented by foreigners.
This malaise has sadly permeated to the armed forces also. We too have a lackadaisical approach to documenting events and thus have a very weak institutional memory, an imperative in the learning curve of a competent professional solider. Our inability or discomfiture in recording truthfully the events of military significance robs coming generations of officers and jawans the wisdom and knowledge gained by grit or through loss of life and limb. The blood shed by our comrades is not only in vain but also a grave injustice to their sacrifice, and puts a big question mark on our moral fiber in dealing and coping with failure. Military actions taken with the best of intentions and preparations, do not always go as per plan, and often end as partial or total disasters. This could be due sheer bad luck, faulty intelligence, poor execution, ineptitude, crass stupidity of someone disregarding SOPs or being grossly negligent. But as soon as the extent of the fiasco begins to unfold, the regimental izzat, formation ethos, and sometimes pure ambition and survival comes to the fore, paint brushing the event till the catastrophe soon starts resembling a success. Accidental discharge of weapons become war casualties, suicides become accidental discharge and sleeping sentries are miraculously overpowered by a wily enemy.
The problem is complex and a pragmatic solution is not easy to find. Morale, welfare of troop’s national pride and even security issues come into play to complicate matters. It is not easy for a commander to look at an inconsolable old father in the eye and tell him that his only bread winning son died due to gross negligence and disobedience! The lessons of an ambush which went so horribly wrong due inexcusable tactical blunders cannot be disseminated across the formation if the incident is not dissected and recorded clinically, for all to see. It is a very demanding feature of bold leadership, that without being insensitive to the prevailing Indian army structural environment to manage this human problem. This is an emotive issue which we need to address with compassion and pragmatism. Scrupulously truthful reporting, honest recording of incidents, and accurate objective historical records of skirmishes and battles are precious unassailable gifts which we bequeath to our fellow comrades and coming generations.
To applaud the success gained by indomitable courage, and to imbibe lessons from mistakes is an undeniable right of every solider. We must try and garner the moral courage and fortitude to record events as they happen and try and take the brickbats and bouquets in our stride for greater good. Easier said than done! But try we must, for that is the least we owe, our gallant army. Lt Gen Sudhir Sharma,PVSM, AVSM, YSM, VSM,(Retd) is the Chairman of MitKat Advisory Services, India’s leading premium risk consultancy.