WHAT ABOUT GENERAL VETERANS
“Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”1 -General Douglas MacArthur
1. The adage ‘Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away’ is a melancholic lament that, long after they have outlived their utility and the wars they fought are part of history books, old soldiers are forgotten and their passing ignored. This may hold true in today’s world too for the soldiers and also for officers. However there is a sign board often seen in army establishment that says ‘for flag cars only’; the right of passage to the maxim above is sadly ‘not for flag cars’. Each crisis of national security is like the first shower of monsoon with defense experts mushrooming out of every nook and cranny. One unfortunate incident in Nagaland and they are at it again. When a retired Major or Colonel is lampooned on prime time TV and makes a fool of himself; one can cringe, make peace and pray, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”2
2. When the same tomfoolery is resorted to by general officers, who had carried a larger than life image during their military career, one just wished that they had read the McArthur speech and adhered to it. While Prime Time TV is the platform of choice, one more new avenue has emerged and that is social media, the glitterati of yore has been replaced by twitterati of today. For a person used to hustle bustle of life where attention was accorded to every sliver of your utterances, once retired the general officers do not even exercise C2 over their better half are then seeking ‘following’ on Twitter and Facebook, if not in the real world, the leader and follower paradigm is alive in the virtual world for them. Then there is a third esteemed category, the corporate honchos, whom you would find flaunting all their military qualifications on a visiting card and be seen prowling the corridors of power on behalf of a business house trying to leverage on old contacts and more ludicrously pull old favours from once hapless subordinates who are now in positions of power; ‘how the mighty have fallen’3.
3. One cannot imagine the compulsions and may never reach those incredible heights of professional excellence to grapple with them, but today thinking about it makes no economic or societal sense. Having served for 26 years in the organization one can’t help but day dream of retired life where one would for once sit on the ring side and watch the world behave like a cat on a hot tin roof. The compulsions for the behaviour of our retired generals are hard to fathom, may be one hasn’t yet had that eureka moment where the Bodhi tree would provide enlightenment.
4. But for now, my view is that every serving officer today is a veteran tomorrow. There is the umbilical cord of honour afforded in allowing the ‘rank’ in retirement that is above all, a clarion call of responsibility-of-conduct. Article 18 of the Indian Constitution entitles the suffixation of the ‘rank’ in retirement and death4, the ‘rank’ neither retires nor dies. General Douglas MacArthur’s words are reflective of that spirit that insists on the soldiers marching into oblivion, without breaking step. The retired officer is still a soldier who has sheathed his sword and hung his spurs but not surrendered the ethos, values and purpose that defines a serving officer.
This continuity of conduct necessitates that these General veterans reflects the restraints, dignities and solemnness that were mandated as a serving officer. This behavioral conduct by veteran generals’ fraternity must be a natural reflection on the prevailing culture within the serving institution.
They no longer set the institutional narrative and must not mire our organization with unwarranted strains of partisan politics or unnecessary commentary on professional issues which they have no access to. The retired generals tend to use their new found freedom to castigate the very organization they were part of in the recent past and the question we the condemned ask often is ‘Why Now’; what did they do about it when they were at helm. The washing of dirty linen in public is the ‘new normal’ of coffee conversational realm and commentary. Water flows under the bridge at torrential speed these days and the retired general may not be up to speed in terms of technological, doctrinal or topical imperatives of modern times. The knowledge half-life5 is fast diminishing, however, due to the ‘father figure’ attribution, they are valued as the organizational lodestars for behavioral conduct amongst us the serving lot but may be not for long.
Honest introspection will reveal that all political parties without exception have had vested interests in the misuse of ‘rank’ and have failed to honour the same beyond hollow and condescending symbolism. Since independence, our nation has been mired in inequities, discriminations and divides and yet, the Armed Forces have been able to restrict the leakage of the same to its confines. But for how long is the moot point, do we have to give up our organizational loyalties for an extra green back or a position of privilege and become a tool of politics rather than be a political tool. Sadly, the conduct of a few of them has led to talks about a formal ‘code of conduct’ for veterans. Today, the obvious politicisation and compromises have infected the ‘retired fraternity’ and it is not too far that the metastasis would grip the organization too. The institution as a whole needs to regain its rectitude and bearing. The buck stops with everybody and anybody.
1 The phrase was used by General Douglas MacArthur in his April 19, 1951 farewell address to the U.S. Congress and has been paraphrased from an English Ballad with the same title. https://iowaculture.gov/history/education/educator-resources/primary-source-sets/cold-war/old-soldiers- never-die-address-gen accessed on 29 Jul 2020.
2 https://biblehub.com/luke/23-34.htm accessed on 29 Jul 2020.
3 This expression derives from the Bible. The earliest version in English is found in the Great Bible, Samuel 1:19, 1539: Oh howe are the myghtie ouerthrowen. The currently used ‘fallen’ version is found in the King James Version, 1611 and is a demonstration of David’s lament over Saul and Jonathan. https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/188450.html#:~:text=1%3A24%20Ye%20daughters%20of,slain%2 0in%20thine%20high%20places. accessed on 30 Jul 2020. 4https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Rank-never-retires-officer-does-Army/articleshow/39538647. cms accessed on 31 Jul 2020.
5 The term half-life has been used as a metaphor to illustrate how and facts can become obsolete over time. The concept of a half-life of knowledge is often attributed to Fritz Machlup, though this attribution appears to be apocryphal. Research into the origin of the concept finds early references to a half-life of knowledge from library sciences to describe how many books became obsolete.Samuel Arbesman applies the term more broadly to facts.