What is Patriotism?
On what it takes to be a Soldier
Like all young nations, at some point in their historical emergence, India realised the instrumentality of military as the armature of governance while breaking free from the mother country. Before independence, however, joining the army was a sure way to alleviate social and economic backwardness. This also allowed an escape from the hegemony of caste and indigenous systemic equality to the otherwise dispossessed: among the lower classes consciousness arose that serving the government which professed egalitarianism was better than suffering under the wasms of a hereditary master class. The so called “untouchable” community of Mahars who were martial men under Shivaji, for instance, found meaningful political presence accorded them by joining the British-Indian Army: Dr. B. R. Ambedkar too was brought up in an army cantonment (Roy, K., 2006, p. 165).
The advent of the nineteenth century, however, brought about changes in recruitment policies and the Mahars were excluded from recruitment opportunities in the British-Indian Army; to this, the natural reaction of the community was one of perceived insult and removal from British governmental patronage (ibid. 165). The community, suddenly disenfranchised by government policy, sought to negotiate a reconsideration of their people as fit for the army- in the deeply ingrained caste system which characterised colonial India the British Indian Army offered a singular opportunity to acquire both social and economic emancipation for the oppressed classes. This is the historical juncture where joining the army first proved itself the social ladder which the Indian theopolitics of caste had engendered and perpetuated for centuries. In an unequal society surrender to warfare is the only possibility of peace.
“In the first decades after Independence,” a retired officer told The Hindu, “enlisted men came from backgrounds which led them to unquestioningly accept feudal attitudes and values. The officers were also products of the same feudal landscape. It doesn’t exist anymore — but the institutions remain.” (Swami, P., 2012). Stephen Cohen elaborates, contrarily, that caste and region continue to be the major determinants of hiring in the Indian Army, also the lower rung soldiers who are the largest part of the army are hired from villages which possess this martial tradition of deference. “[they are] inculcated with traditional notions of obedience, but he remains tied to the village authority structure; [their] behaviour in the army reflects upon their village, and caste elders ensure that any runaway is returned to the army for discipline” (2004, p. 21). Indeed today, the world over, it is the poor and the occupationally curtailed[i] who form the biggest demographic for recruitment into military forces[ii] (Anderson, M., L. & Taylor, H., F. 2007, p. 529).
Thus, it is clear, that there is an obvious perceived benefit, i.e. the alleviation of poverty, relief from social prejudices and a shot at experiencing power which moves large numbers of people from the poorer and oppressed sections of society to serve their country. The will to serve thus making itself manifest in sections of the population socially and economically waylaid if not for the military is a prime component of existential patriotism. In exchange of their mortal selves, without much recourse to success in a relatively less dangerous but painful and subjugated life of normal society, these men and women choose to buy a chance at power: herein, consists ur-patriotism. The material logic of muscular ascent is undeniable when one considers the genesis of these real patriots, indeed, it possess the brute force of a malformed pundigrion.
Why would disenfranchised people choose to join a fight for a prodigal idea, an idea which doesn’t liberate them from the necessity for its defence, even shielding its abstract hieroglyphs with their flesh? Simple necessity compels them. But what about the higher castes, more prestigious ethnicities and economically well established who join the army? Are they given to risk their life and limb, secure as they are with their fingers in a bowl of rarefied butter and a platter of cashews- as a Hindi proverb goes-, for the love of a piece of land joined only by the slenderest thread of rhetoric? The lust for power and impunity drives them to patriotism[iii]. The passion for an idea, which makes it ideal, must not expose the core nihility of the tasks which it consists in, as this would prove the idea a mere set of orders and obedient actions carried out: if patriotic soldiers knew that their patriotism consisted in serving the roughshod diktats of their superiors they would desist from endangering their lives for its phantasmal appellation and glory (Belkin, A. 2012, p. 67). This transaction of patriotic acts of self-endangerment must be carried out symbolically, if it is to function. The boots and berets serve a psychical need for ceremony, the parades a need for ritual adoration for their brave surrender to the behemoth of governance. Warrior masculinity is a performance (ibid. p. 67); this is precisely why any pointing out of this performance as artifice rouse such genital anger in warriors and their defenders: for these charades of honour to continue their vassalage at the feet of bureaucracy it is necessary that they play their part as Real Men with complete self assurance that they are the chosen ones. Is it not obvious in the ad copy of the Indian Army’s recruitment program: Be an Army Man. Be a Real Man.
The brisance of missiles, the phallicism immanent to projectile weaponry and the roughshod passion of patriots-of-the-bicep is not too oblique an analogy to the pathic avidity of a rapist in action, who given over to a passionate consummation of his ‘territory’ violates all that prohibits his satiation- even the very grounds of his desire- just to stake his passionate claim, to legitimise it in fulfilment. Celebrating soldiers is to celebrate the dire situation where the happenstance muscular egoism of nations becomes a grand procession of national spirit, pulverising all that is best in us and at hand and setting it aside to ride the arseholes of projected enemies, rivals to some insane national glory-hole, rivalling our claim to that sovereignty which is but an idea realised by luckless chance and nuclear warheads. Doing honour to soldiers is a foil that allows some men to sacrifice other men to an idea which is no one’s in particular; the defence of an idea by loss of life is not the defence of an idea, Brecht once rightly said, it is merely the loss of life.
Anderson, M., L. & Taylor, H., F. (2007). Sociology with Infotrac: Understanding a Diverse
Society: Fourth Edition. Belmont, CA: Thompson Learning Inc.
Belkin, A. (2012). Bring Me Men: Military Masculinity and the Benign Façade of American
Empire. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Cohen, S. (2004). India: Emerging Power. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution.
Roy, K. Ed. (2006).War and Society in Colonial India: Oxford in India Readings, Themes in
Indian History. New Delhi, India: Oxford University Press.
Swami, P. “Ladakh troop revolt underlines Army class tensions”. The Hindu. Updated
on May 12, 2012. Accessed on January 1, 2012. <http://www. thehindu.com/news/national/article3412907.ece >Web.
Posted on January 1, 2013, in conservatism, Economics, Ethics, Humanism, ideology, Polemics, Uncategorized and tagged Army, economy, Force, India, Masculinity, Military, Murder, Navy, Phallicism, Rape, USA, Violence. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.