Military & Aerospace

Denigrating the Armed Forces : a dangerous agenda
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Issue Vol 25.3 Jul-Sep2010 | Date : 06 Oct , 2010

Media has never complimented the Army for prompt launching of court-martial proceedings against more than 20 officers for various acts of misdemeanor, whereas all other organisations stall disciplinary action against their members. Similarly, instead of lauding the fact that in a 1.3 million strong force there have been miniscule aberrations of indiscipline and indiscretion, the media paints a negative picture by repeatedly referring to ‘Ketchup Colonel,’ ‘Booze Brigadier’ and ‘Frisky General’. It appears that a premeditated media campaign is being orchestrated to damage the standing of the services in the eyes of the general public which still holds soldiers in high esteem.

Soldiers draw strength from the recognition received from their countrymen. To them, military honour provides sustenance. They see the military as the sole guardian of national security concerns and want the society to acknowledge the same. As the soldiers know that their image in the society is dependent on media projections, they tend to be very sensitive to adverse publicity and undue criticism. Soldiers feel betrayed that their national media ignores their contribution to the national well-being and highlights a few aberrations, thereby giving them adverse publicity. In their enthusiasm to outdo other channels, most media personnel forget that they owe allegiance to India and its interests.

Denting Morale

It must be appreciated that targeting military leadership amounts to targeting military as an institution as military sustains itself on the credibility that its leadership enjoys amongst the rank and file. Deliberate vilification of the image of the military leadership can upset the vital trust-loyalty equation. Whereas trust is the expectancy that the followers can rely on a leader, a commander’s ability to gain unstinted loyalty depends entirely on the credibility he establishes through his personal conduct and competence. Therefore, any deliberate damage caused to the standing of the military leadership can dent its ability to command commitment. It can prove extremely dear to the country in the long run.

During World War II, many German Generals had acquired an aura of invincibility. Names of Rommel, Guderian and Mansfield not only inspired the German troops, they struck terror in the minds of the allied soldiers. The British realised that the reputation of military leaders was a force multiplier. While facing reverses everywhere, it set about making heroes of a few selected Generals by creating media hype about their military competence. Mediocre military leadership was put on pedestal to counter fears of German unassailability. Every battle won with overwhelming logistic support was projected as a military master stroke delivered by the genius of the British Generals.

“¦ political leadership and bureaucracy have made no attempt to understand the intensity of the sense of hurt of the soldiers at their continued neglect and deliberate degradation.

Instead of faulting military commanders for the unquestionable rout suffered at Dunkirk, wherein the Allies were forced to evacuate 345,000 troops in utter confusion and panic, the press went full throttle to project the withdrawal as a great strategic success. While admitting Dunkirk to be ‘the greatest military defeat for many centuries’ in private, Churchill publically claimed ‘there was a victory in that miracle of deliverance’. Perpetuation of the myth of British military leadership’s indomitability was considered essential to maintain morale. It was correctly recognised that public standing and professional reputation of military leadership were crucial battle winning factors. Failure to appreciate this vital fact can prove highly perilous for the country in the long run.

The Way Forward

While addressing the Passing Out Parade at the US Naval Academy on 07 April 2010, Secretary of Defence Robert M Gates said, “You have answered the trumpet call, and the whole of America is grateful and filled with admiration. I salute you and thank you for your service. For my part, I consider myself personally responsible for each and every one of you as though you were my own sons and daughters. And when I send you in harm’s way, as I will, I will do everything in my power to see that you have what you need to accomplish your mission – and come home safely.” Can anyone recall similar sentiments expressed by an Indian political leader?

As stated earlier, there is a total disconnect between the political leadership and the military, resulting in indifference and unconcern. On the other hand, there is a trust deficit between the bureaucracy and the military. Considering soldiering to be a lesser career, no bureaucrat sends his progeny to the services. Green cards and foreign lands offer greener pastures. Dislike of the military stems from bureaucracy’s attitude of egocentricity and is a manifestation of acute desire to ensure perpetuation of its stranglehold over governance. Exploiting its power, it keeps lowering the status of the services through periodic revision of pay-parity that governs inter se equation.

Bureaucracy considers military to be its main competitor for people’s respect. However, denigration of the military through subtle but well thought-out media campaign is a phenomenon of recent times. With the growth of numerous TV channels, bureaucracy was quick to recognise the power of visual media to show the military in poor light. It also understood pliability of patronage-seeking media and exploited it to military’s disadvantage.

A clarification will be in order here. At no stage it is being advocated that the Indian military should not be subjected to scrutiny. Not at all. However, criticism should be balanced and objective. It should not be malafide in intent with the sole purpose of maligning the services. Further, it should also be appreciated that like normal social organisations military consists of living human beings with their normal share of failings and idiosyncrasies. It is unfair to expect that there would be no aberrations at all. However, what is of importance is their frequency and the efficacy of the organisation’s self-correcting mechanism in place.

Finally, apathetic political leadership and bureaucracy have made no attempt to understand the intensity of the sense of hurt of the soldiers at their continued neglect and deliberate degradation. False and unsubstantiated character assassination of senior military officers has a deleterious effect on the psyche of the whole military. The political leadership, bureaucracy and media must realise that through their ill-conceived campaign of denigrating the armed forces they are causing irretrievable damage to its morale and degrading its fighting potential. It does not augur well for the nation and is a highly dangerous agenda.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Maj Gen Mrinal Suman

is India’s foremost expert in defence procurement procedures and offsets. He heads Defence Technical Assessment and Advisory Services Group of CII.

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