YODHA ETHOS AND INDIA OF TODAY
1. The YODHA ethos that has remained persistent in the Indian societal construct from Ashoka the Great to Maharana Pratap and to the modern day avatar of Vikram Batra and Manoj Pandey has its origins in the warrior myth as embodied by Arjun, the warrior hero of Mahabharat. In India, the warrior ethos evolved into a covenant that binds warriors to one another and to the citizens in whose name they fight and serve. It is grounded in values such as courage, honour and self-sacrifice. The ethos reminds warriors of what society expects of them and what they expect of themselves.
2. You might wonder why this esoteric topic deserves attention, well as the social media goes berserk on release of Aryan Khan while the supreme sacrifice of young Lt Rishi being mentioned in the foot notes of most media houses is a clear manifestation of the lack of empathy and understanding amongst the multitude of Indians of war and warriors. Indian citizens’ response and expectations help the armed forces establish standards that guide recruitment, training, personnel policies and even how forces would organize and modernize to deter war and defend the nation. In democracies, if citizens do not understand war or are unsympathetic to the Yodha ethos, it will become difficult to maintain the requirements of military effectiveness and to recruit the best young people into military service despite the hoopla about NDA being open to women which takes away the focus from the basic question of the choice of youth with respect to Armed Forces as an option for national service. The Yodha ethos is what makes units effective and because it is foundational to norms involving professional ethics, discipline and handling of this vector of national power, the Yodha ethos is essential to making war less inhumane. This ethos is at risk and if lost, it might be regained only at an exorbitant price.
3. The warrior ethos is normative, and it appears in various forms across the armed forces with the Chetwodian Credo enshrined in Indian Military Academy the most apt and precise embodiment of the same. Combat leaders put mission accomplishment and the survival and well-being of those they lead before their own well-being, to inspire warriors to act in ways contrary to the natural drive of self-preservation. But warriors fight mainly for one another and to preserve their own and their unit’s honour. Units are like a family whose brothers-in-arms feel deep filial affection for one another. As Paul Robinson points out in Military Honour and the Conduct of War, “honour spurs men to fight in two ways: positively, through the desire to display virtue and win honour; and negatively, through a desire to avoid dishonour or shame.” Warriors expect to take risks and make sacrifices to accomplish the mission, protect their fellow warriors, and safeguard innocents.
4. The ethos of the Yodha is a constant through metamorphosis in tactics and weaponry and is foundational to maintaining the cohesion of one’s “human group” and generating the courage and combat prowess necessary to disintegrate the enemy’s. Unit cohesion derives from soldiers’ trust and confidence in their leaders and in their team. The need to develop confident, cohesive teams to withstand the test of battle is timeless. Confidence is a necessary ingredient for courage because it serves as a psychological and emotional bulwark against fear. Fear is debilitating in battle because it can lead to hesitation and allow the enemy to gain the initiative. Fear can also lead to poor decisions that place fellow soldiers or noncombatants at unnecessary risk. Fear can erode discipline and over time, cause the psychological, moral and ethical disintegration of the sub units that are the scaffolding on which combat effectiveness of our armed forces rest.
5. We fight mainly for one another, but their willingness to sacrifice and ability to overcome fear are based also on their knowledge that they are fighting to realize a worthy, just intention or the idea of Dharma Yudha as espoused by Lord Krishna in Bhagwat Geeta. Understanding that their efforts are meaningful bolsters resilience under conditions of hardship and persistent danger. That is why flawed narratives and askew policies originating from the people and polity can have a debilitating effect on units braving the odds in inhospitable conditions on our unforgiving and restive borders. A true test to determine the soundness of national sentiment is to ask a platoon commander whether he can explain to their soldiers how the risks they will take or the sacrifices they may make on an operation will contribute to a worthy outcome and would be recognized by the people they are doing it for. Unsound national sentiment and lack of empathy is not only counterproductive; it has a corrosive effect on the Yodha ethos, as fighting becomes disconnected from a “jus ad bellum” for being in combat.
6. Every military action be it OP VIJAY or surgical strikes after the terrorist action in Uri glorified by blockbuster movies generate a ground swell in favour of the armed forces albeit only for a short while and then as the movie is removed from the movie theatre as it becomes an economically unviable proposition, common citizenry also relapses into the same apathy for armed forces till the next incident, I am confident a movie on Wg Cdr Abhinandan is surely round the corner. Knowing that sacrifices made are recognized and are in pursuit of a just and worthy end is important to preserving the Yodha ethos, sustaining the will to fight and cope with the residual effects of physical and emotional trauma. Destructive HR policies, erode trust within the armed forces while war’s blood, gore and cost to the exchequer makes civilian leaders and the people uncomfortable and that in turn erodes military professionalism and the quality of the force. Societal tensions, drug use (ask Khalsa units) and loss of confidence in the leadership will lead to breakdown in discipline and unethical conduct. The bonds of sacred trust foundational to the Yodha ethos must not be allowed to reach a breaking point. The traumas of a pandemic, a recession, vitriolic partisan political divisions, social divisions are diminishing the trust that binds warriors to one another and to society at a time when dangers to our security are increasing.
7. Most Indians understand little about war or warriors. A miniscule percentage of the population serves, fewer and fewer Indians are connected to our professional military. Unfamiliarity with the Yodha ethos, the promotion of philosophies inimical to the sacred trust foundational to it, and leaders’ lack of commitment to achieve outcomes worthy of the risks, costs and sacrifices in war are finally going to erode our ability to fight and win. Popular culture waters down and coarsens the Yodha ethos. Warriors are seldom portrayed as fragile or traumatized human beings. Bollywood does tell us about the warrior’s calling or commitment to his or her fellow warriors, or about what compels him or her to act courageously, endure hardships, take risks, or make sacrifices. The pathos of the soldier is seldom brought to the fore. Common man does not understand the values and ethical precepts that form the Yodha ethos.
8. It is also important to understand that warriors are not machines and combat is a profoundly human experience. Indian soldiers are humanitarians, accepting risk for themselves to protect civilians at the cost of their lives, consistent with jus en bello theory and the laws of land warfare. Some see this ethos as a relic as they pursue exclusively scientific and technology-based solutions to the problem of future war. The orthodoxy of RMA has made a comeback, as many argue that new technologies, such as those associated with artificial intelligence, offensive cyber capabilities and hypersonic weapons, will make future warfare fundamentally different from wars of the past. But, as the historian Conrad Crane has observed, there are two ways to fight: asymmetrically and stupidly. Potential enemies will develop countermeasures to defeat what we might regard as the latest “decisive” capabilities. Today’s hopes for artificial-intelligence technologies are echoes of what the historian Mark Clodfelter has described in Beneficial Bombing as the “progressive doctrine” — it returns in a new guise every few decades — of rapid victory from a distance through airpower. But as Clausewitz observed in On War, “kind-hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat an enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed: war is such a dangerous business that the mistakes which come from kindness are the very worst.” The Indian Armed Forces sudden surge towards technology including AI and Autonomous solutions to achieve “multi domain dominance” over the opponent is fraught with risks that is ignoring war’s nature as a human and political activity that is fundamentally a contest of wills (Clausewitz again). Ask the Americans who have just beaten a hasty retreat from Afghanistan and Iraq.
9. In contrast to the wars of yore with Pakistan and China, today’s armed forces are fighting a war which leaves most Indians without a direct stake in the fighting. The counter terrorist operations in Kashmir and the confrontation along the LAC and LC for common people is not worth considering, it was typical for many citizens to display apathy for the troops and the war they are fighting on a daily basis. It will prove difficult for Indian soldiers to maintain bonds of trust with citizens who do not believe that they are engaged in an endeavour that justifies killing others and risking their own lives. All Indians have a role in preserving the Yodha ethos. Members of the professional all-volunteer force are distant from their fellow citizens and little understood. Preserving this ethos will require efforts to better understand war and warriors, a rejection of the destructive elements of critical theories, and a concerted effort to improve not only our nation’s strategic competence but also our confidence in our democratic principles and institutions.
10. The study of military history and ethics can help us understand war and warriors. Those who confuse the study of war and strategy with militarism might be reminded that thinking clearly about the problem of war is both an unfortunate necessity and the best way to prevent it. “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace,” as George Washington observed. Military and diplomatic history can also help improve strategic competence and strengthen trust between warriors and those responsible for consolidating hard-won military gains into political outcomes. One of the patterns of Indian military history is to be unprepared for war because of either wishful thinking or a failure to consider continuities in the nature of war — especially war’s political and human dimensions. Revival of military and diplomatic history is important because some social-science theories tend to oversimplify the complex causality of events and to obscure the cultural, psychological, social and economic elements that distinguish cases from one another.
11. Efforts to insulate the armed forces from all forms of bigotry and divisive influences, including the principal elements of religion must be made. The Indian armed forces must continue to evolve toward an institution in which all Indians, regardless of the religion, caste and creed, can fully belong and enjoy equal treatment, because nothing is more destructive to teams than parochialism or any form of prejudice. But civilian and military leaders must not allow refined postmodernist theories to erode the sacred trust between warriors or diminish the meritocracy and objective realities that are essential to preserving the Yodha ethos as the foundation of combat effectiveness. Warriors should continue be judged by their integrity, trustworthiness, physical toughness, mental resilience, courage, selflessness and humaneness. Leaders must also explain to the Indian people the nature of the wars and conflicts in which their sons and now daughters are fighting. Citizens need to know what is at stake and it is worthy of costs, risks and sacrifices. Restoring confidence in our common identity as Indians and in our armed forces is crucial to attracting young men and women to serve. Arrogance of cricket players, decadence of Bollywood stars and the so called young corporate honchos surely cannot be the role models for the future generations.
12. As bias and vitriol contaminate the information environment today, the manipulation of history and the engineering of the current day narrative remains an important vector for those who want to sow division and conflict rather than foster unity and goodwill. Ignorance of history compounded by the abuse of history saps our national pride and undermines our ability to work together and improve our nation and our society. Pride in the nation should derive not from a contrived happy view of history but rather from a recognition that the idea of India will always was and will remains a work in progress. It is possible to celebrate the principles enshrined in the Constitution by understanding better the Yodha ethos and as to why it is important for India and what we could all do to preserve and strengthen it might restore pride in the republic that our soldiers fight to preserve and help build a better future for generations to come.