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  Opinion   Oped  17 Oct 2019  A time to introspect, rethink for vets who joined politics

A time to introspect, rethink for vets who joined politics

The writer is former lieutenant-governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Puducherry
Published : Oct 17, 2019, 12:36 am IST
Updated : Oct 17, 2019, 12:36 am IST

The green shoots of a similar reflection seem to have dawned silently via the electoral results in another perilous part of the world — Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: File)
 Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: File)

There is a certain historical, positional and logical gravitation that the “uniformed” fraternity has towards the ostensibly “nationalistic”, rightist and traditionalist political parties. These parties usually posture more interventionist, majoritarian, unilateral and assertive stands on security matters, and emphasise on exclusivist distinctions of self-determination. Beyond endorsing reactionary instincts, these parties invariably posit the threat of a veritable “enemy” in order to gain political traction — herein the natural disposition of the “soldier” (and by that extension, the veterans), who are predicated on defending the sovereign flag, and are drawn towards such political platforms. Therefore, the Grand Old Party or the Republicans in the United States, Tories or Conservatives in the United Kingdom, Likud in Israel, etc, are the preferred political parties for the veteran who votes in their favour, as opposed to other national parties. Even in the mature democracies of Western Europe, the rise of the right-wing and populist parties is obvious with the increasing societal backlash emanating from the perceived loss of identity, immigration concerns, globalisation, etc that lend themselves towards Euroscepticism and anti-immigration stances. France’s Marine Le Pen and her far-right National Front (NF), which identifies itself as a “democratic movement of patriots”, has seen a coalescing of veterans towards it as the subject of security in the Fifth Republic assumes serious concerns.

Ironically, politics in the 21st century has seen the invariable retreat of the modernist, centrist and secularist parties, who were attacked as being too “soft” on security matters by these “nationalistic” parties. In India too, the sight of veterans as the “newsroom warriors” on prime time television shows added a dash of uber-muscularity to the political pitch, as they now defended the political flags in their regimental regalia. The “Indian soldier” soon became the default prop and leitmotif for contextualising logical and even unrelated topics, and the imagery of the apolitical institution of the Indian armed forces was willy-nilly afforded a distinct political slant. However, centering the soldier and its institutional concern in the public domain does not necessarily translate into any meaningful, preferential or correctional step for the armed forces, as the usurpation of the soldier’s imagery has a political utility of ring-fencing a political move. Lindsey Cormack in her book, Congress and US Veterans: From the GI Bill to the VA Crisis, recognises that the Republican Party has more support of the veterans, but that is despite the fact it is actually the Democrats who have done more for enhancing veterans’ benefits. She notes presciently: “Republicans tend to talk more about veterans in constituent communications, but they are less apt to author legislation in the area”. Already, with the unending wars in the Middle Eastern swathes and the longest war in the Af-Pak region (over 18 years), US veterans are tiring and the latest Pew Research finds that 64 per cent of veterans surveyed feel that the Iraq War “was not worth fighting”. As contrary to the convenient and selfish warmongering done by the civilian politicians, it was the legendary US Gen. Douglas McArthur who said: “The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war”.


The green shoots of a similar reflection seem to have dawned silently via the electoral results in another perilous part of the world — Israel. The longest serving Prime Minister in Israeli history, Benjamin Netanyahu, had successfully invoked and exploited his military service in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and his heroics therein, to paint a picture of himself as the sole saviour of the besieged nation. His extreme spiel had necessitated the hatred of the “other” and all his other Zionist political rivals were routinely caricaturised as weak-willed and Leftist who couldn’t be entrusted with Israel’s safety. The toxicity of his latest campaign had hit unprecedented lows in the already fragile societal structure bursting at its seams, with Mr Netanyahu further polarising the “divide”. It took another fellow Zionist military man and war-hero to postulate another political alternative within the fractured region and come up tops. The relative moderation, nuance and restraint of the former three-star general and chief of the IDF, Benjamin Gantz, as the head of the leading group (Blue and White) in the Israeli elections is noteworthy for the sort of reconciliatory language, inclusive approach and rectitude, that he offered vis-a-vis the belligerence and bravura of Mr Netanyahu. The emergence of an alternative political narrative for a gallant military general was evolutionary and unmistakable.


A similar portent was seen in US politics where the much-feted Marine Corps general with the famous moniker “Mad Dog”, and with an unmatched cult of lethality, Jim Mattis, was appointed as secretary of defence under Donald Trump. No sooner had Mr Trump made the decision to appoint the legendary general to bolster his own political muscularity, did the irreconcilable differences between the combat-bloodied general and the blustering civilian politician came to the fore. Mr Mattis had maintained to “treat allies with respect” — he had urged restraint on Iran and from withdrawing troops in Syria — all borne of actual battle-rattle — yet he followed the infamous exit door that had earlier accounted for Gen. John Kelly, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Maj. Gen. Ricky Waddell, Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, etc. Even today the Republicans presumably bank the majority of the veteran votes, yet the unending cycle of violence, bloodshed and societal division is forcing the veteran community to sift the wheat from the chaff, and introspect within. The haunting lament of the straight-speaking Marine Corp warrior was obvious in Mr Mattis’ introspective write-up where he reflected on his brush with Mr Trump’s politics, “We all know that we’re better than our current politics. Tribalism must not be allowed to destroy our experiment”. The soldier, above all, is a constitutional entity that ought to personify the profound morality of our Constitution — irrespective of his or her individual political preferences, the soldier cannot allow the apolitical moorings of the institution to be surrendered, abused or short-changed for temporary political gratification.


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