Discussions around the armed forces on social media generally follow predictable lines. Amongst the participants, there is a section, comprising of veterans and families of those who are serving or have served in the past, whose views are based on personal experiences and obvious knowledge about the subject being discussed. Serving officers and soldiers, constrained by service rules, do not openly participate, and the official handles of the Army, Navy and Air Force restrict themselves largely to the dissemination of information without getting into discussions of any kind.
The largest number, however, is of those who have but a hazy idea about the forces, and the views of this vocal majority lie on extreme ends of the spectrum. On one end we have those who consider even a single negative utterance against any aspect of the services as blasphemy, even treason. On the other, we have those who feel that serving in the armed forces is just another job. Soldiers, sailors and air warriors are paid like any other professional, and there is a degree of risk involved in every profession. Both these extremes, of course, are way off the mark.
Firstly, the armed forces are large organisations – totalling about 1.3 million people. These people are no different from any other citizen when they join the forces. Those who think that only staunch patriots join the armed forces are actually further off the mark than those who feel its just another job in this regard. Majority of people who join the forces – whether as officers or as jawans – do primarily think about it as a career option while joining. Of course, there are those for whom it’s a family tradition, and they do look upon it as more of a calling than a job. But most fall in the former category.
What happens to them AFTER they join marks the difference between the forces and other careers. The value system and training of the armed forces create the ‘X’ factor that distinguishes them from other vocations. The value of being true to ‘Naam, Namak, Nishaan’ is ingrained in every individual to the extent that each would choose to die rather than disgrace or betray either of these.
Naam – his own personal honour, the honour of his comrades and unit. Namak – the salt he eats, or the salary that he is receiving. Nishan – the flag. And while the nation, patriotism and the tricolour are distant concepts, comrades in arms and the unit are more tangible to the soldier in the trench. When he goes into battle, his major concern is not to lose face before his comrades, and not to let his unit down.
This, of course, automatically leads to not letting the nation down. So what starts out as being ‘just another job’, actually turns into a commitment to do your duty, even unto death. And to the argument that there is a certain amount of risk involved in every job – in all others its a possibility through accident, not part of your JD (Job Description). Service in the armed forces, therefore, is definitely not just another job – even if those joining it do so thinking it is.
If those dismissive of the armed forces and its role are wrong, so are the ones who consider any criticism directed towards the forces as treason. In an organisation as large as the forces, its massive strength spread over the length and breadth of the country, employed in a plethora of peacetime and operational assignments, it is difficult to imagine that there would be no wrongdoings, mistakes – deliberate or unintentional. While the forces have a rigorous selection process and strict value system, there are always a few bad sheep who manage to slip through the former and avoid imbibing and practising the latter.
These exceptions by no means represent the forces in general, and all such transgressions are dealt with swiftly and strictly. Since there is ample transparency in the handling of such cases, it’s not surprising that sometimes they do end up being talked about in social media as well. And when that happens, it degenerates into fisticuffs between the two extreme factions mentioned above – one using it to tar the organisation-wide a wide brush, while the other defending it with all their might. The former feel it vindicates their stance that the forces are just as fallible as other organisations, and thus deserve no special consideration. The latter feel the need to defend the organisation by either denying the facts or by throwing the blanket of patriotism to cover them.
Both are wrong in their approach because they fail to distinguish between individuals and the organisation. Individual actions, specially aberrations do not reflect on the organisation as a whole. Nor is defending actual transgressions by individuals in the mistaken belief that one is defending the organisation per se a correct approach. In fact, very often veterans including very senior and learned ones, often become targets to attack when they express their opinions on some policy or decision of the forces that they feel is not in the overall organisational interest.
There are no individuals above criticism, irrespective of the organisation they belong to, or how highly placed within it they are. And if the criticism is related to specific actions, with clear reasoning, it is constructive and has the potential to bring about positive change. But senseless spewing of hatred – like comparing the Indian Army Chief to Gen Dyer – is merely foolish. It’s certainly not treason, and an individual is well within his or her rights to do it. But it remains a silly thing to do, possibly a misplaced quest to grab some attention.
So next time you are tempted to jump at either attacking or defending the forces on social media, without knowing too much about the issue at hand, conduct this simple two-step test. Ascertain who exactly is the individual the criticism is aimed at. Be sure of the specific action being criticised, and that you understand the nuances involved. If you do and have a specific opinion about it, feel free to air your views. Else you may decide to let it pass, lest you end up looking foolish.
A former Army officer, now a Learning and Development consultant, Author of ‘Delhi Durbar 1911 – The Complete Story’, ‘Riding the Raisina Tiger’, ‘Brave Men of War – Tales of Valour 1965’, ‘In the Line of Fire’ and ‘Academy – Bonded for Life’. He was also part of the panel engaged by Ministry of Defence for writing official history of India’s participation in First World War. Follow Rohit on Twitter @ragarwal