Victorian England, then the all-conquering world imperialist power, decided in 1878 to enter the Russo-Turkish War on the side of the Ottoman Empire and sent its Mediterranean fleet to Gallipoli to attack the Russians. A popular song helped whip up war hysteria among the British public. The chorus ran:
We don’t want to fight, but
By Jingo, if we do,
We’ve got the ships, We’ve got the men,
We’ve got the money too!
It is from this song and set of circumstances that the term “Jingoism” was coined. Jingoism implies mindless chauvinism — a belligerent, militaristic posturing that is both bellicose and stupid.
More recent examples include George W. Bush’s “Bring ‘em on!” rhetoric and Donald Trump’s numerous, tasteless Trump-isms. Of a special order of menace – at least, for us – are Indian PM Narendra Modi’s “Bachao! Bachao!” rantings and his branding of himself as the “Chowkidar” (watchman). It is these that concern me here.
It should be noted that there is a fundamental difference between the warlike noises of jingoism and normal patriotic sentiments. The latter can be positive effusions of affection for one’s homeland, landscape, faith, ethnicity, etc. – sentiments that have a motivational flavour and purpose. Jingoism, on the other hand, is a mindset of negativism, promoted by an entrenched establishment or demagogic politicians to bypass the normal intellectual faculties of their public and stir up war hysteria and/or hatred for an ‘Other’. This is done for purposes of preparing for a war of aggression or an act of oppression or other violent ends.
Military strategist and theorist Carl von Clausewitz elaborated on the psychological and political aspects of war and how it can be used “as an instrument of policy.” Von Clausewitz in his magnum opus On War labelled war as the “continuation of politics by other means”. This publication’s correspondent Kelton High (“A change of heart?” – TFT, June 14, 2019) sees this dictum from von Clausewitz as relating to political sloganeering rather than serious to calls to action. In his view, the sabre-rattling that India indulged in after the Pulwama attack was little more than the party politics of the BJP to facilitate their election victory. It could thereby be inferred that now that the elections are over, Mr. Modi would be prepared to talk peace. This is a perceptual trap into which our current Prime Minister and Foreign Minister also appear to have fallen.
Listen to PM Modi, Amit Shah, Sushma Swaraj, and all the others. They are not chanting election slogans. They are seriously preparing their people for war, not for “peace talks”
Mr High gives the example of former US President Lyndon Johnson, who, he believes, prolonged the Vietnam War to get himself re-elected. I’m afraid I have to question his version of the facts. Johnson completed the last year of the term of President John Kennedy after the latter’s assassination. He then won his own election (not “re-election”) in 1964 on the basis of his Great Society social welfare programme, the most thoroughgoing such programme in US history since Roosevelt’s New Deal, contesting against the ultra-right wing militarist Barry Goldwater. Later, in 1968, massive public opposition to the Vietnam War forced Johnson to withdraw his candidacy and to nominate Hubert Humphrey, who lost to Richard Nixon. I am afraid Kelton High’s thesis does not go well with his own example.
The point is that when von Clausewitz calls warfare an “extension of politics”, he is not talking about petty, temporary campaign propaganda. He is talking about political vision and the grand reaches of national strategy, as opposed to the narrower compass of purely military strategic considerations.
Thus, when the Indian leadership starts making warlike noises and creating or encouraging campaigns of Jingoistic hype, they mean business. This is not mere pre-election rhetoric. Please listen to what the “Chowkidar” is actually saying. Listen to PM Modi, Amit Shah, Sushma Swaraj, and all the others. They are not chanting election slogans. They are seriously preparing their people for war, not for “peace talks”.
Our own leadership has still to frame a realistic posture in response to this. “We desire peace,” they coo in the first clause; “But we are fully prepared to give a befitting reply in the event of war,” they hawkishly exclaim in the second, thinking that the implied threat of an armed response will dampen Indian aggressiveness.
Let us understand that heroic as the profession of soldiering may be, a counter military response to a serious military threat may not be the answer. The Indian threat of war cannot, in the long run, be countered by a defence alone – no matter how valiant it might be.
War-game it how you will, all scenarios – including the one of a prolonged state of high tension short of war – lead to disaster in South Asia, whether military, or economic, or political…or nuclear.
Consider the course of military history. Times and technologies do change. The use of chain-mail came under threat with the utility of the longbow. The invention of firearms rendered chain-mail redundant. And so on. With today’s push-button missiles and self-flying drones, the traditional fighting man is becoming redundant – a redundancy that will be sped up with the already ongoing development of LARS (Lethal Automated Robot Soldiers) that opens up nightmare visions of the Terminator series of movies.
And, of course, the human race itself may become defunct in the event of a nuclear war – a horrific possibility that could well be a consequence of an India-Pakistan military conflagration.
Unlike the wars of the past, say of von Clausewitz’s time, the consequences of modern warfare are horrendous in the extreme. Picture what has only recently been happening in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Think of the irrecoverable devastation that has been visited across those lands. Think of the economies, roads, factories, homes, lives destroyed. Consider the ranks of the jobless, the homeless, the destitute, and the endless streams of refugees who have lost everything. Picture the children orphaned, killed, maimed, traumatized. Again and again, writers and commentators have decried the senseless destruction caused by warfare.
At the very least, as we in Pakistan are discovering, modern armies and weaponry are extremely expensive, requiring large portions of a nation’s GDP to sustain. As a small example, President Ayub’s seventeen-day conflict in 1965 upended his regime’s vaunted economic achievements. Even the mighty USSR crumbled, unable to support the military expenditure necessitated by its superpower status. Thus, war is clearly an economically senseless enterprise. If a nation must destroy its people’s livelihoods and homes in order to defend them, what exactly is it supposed to be defending?
Let me assert that I believe the threat from Modi to be very real and to have a great measure of immediacy about it. But I also believe that while military preparedness is always necessary, a military counter-response will feed an escalating spiral that works out poorly for Pakistan, whatever damage we may inflict on the enemy in the process. War is, as Georges Clemenceau said, “too important a matter to be left to the generals”.
It is clear-headed political leadership that is required today: a leadership that appreciates the nuances of international power equations and has an exceptional level of diplomatic sophistication and finesse; a leadership that can competently and smoothly manage a struggling national economy in a global age; and, fundamentally, a leadership that is not rabidly divisive but creates a sense of unity and shared purpose within the nation.