Realism, Heroism, Bravery, Boldness or Cowardice
Maj (Retd) AGHA HUMAYUN AMIN from WASHINGTON DC discusses the inter-action between these opposing forces at time of crisis. December 2000
‘Heroism’ and ‘realism’, ‘bravery’ or ‘cowardice’ are powerful words pregnant with multiple meanings and thus often misunderstood in common discussion. This is not exactly an article but a cursory examination of how certain individuals in various stages of world history made remarkable achievements by being ‘Heroic’ ‘Realistic’ etc.
The ‘Hero’ is a man who does not surrender in face of overwhelming odds and thus emerges ‘victorious’ or is perceived by posterity to have been morally victorious despite having been physically destroyed. Khalid Bin Waleed, Napoleon, Alexander, Churchill etc may be grouped in the first cate-
gory and Joan of Arc, Syed Ahmad Shaheed may be grouped in the latter category. All these men did well and are even today well known figures in history.
We will first examine the issue in relation with the fact ‘Whether the hero had an exact knowledge and sufficient time’ to assess decisions that he made and which ultimately elevated him to the pedestal of a hero in history! This is important but very often forgotten or not understood at all by many. We will take the ‘Rebels’ or the ‘Freedom Fighters’ of 1857 as an example. All existing facts as we know them today prove that these ‘Rebels’ never really understood the real power and potential of the English East India Company. The Rebellion began not because of any deliberately pre-planned conspiracy but as a series of spontaneous reactions against a ‘perceived attack on caste and religion’. It was a mechanical reaction and those who took it felt that ‘Rebellion’ was the only option. These were the common soldiers of the Bengal Army led by the more hot headed Ranghar and Hindustani Pathan Muslims of the Bengal Cavalry. The 3rd Light Cavalry rebels. A spontaneous decision, sparked by court martial of 80 of their colleagues in a manner that was perceived as unjust. The execution was ‘Tactically Brilliant’! A rebellion on Sunday at the evening service time when the Europeans were most vulnerable, followed by the seizure of Delhi! I would say that the decision was even strategically brilliant since Delhi was the political heart of India and one of the strongest fortress cities of India. The Sepoys so far did exceedingly well! They proved that they were superior in terms of ‘Resolution’ and ‘Intellect’ to many who later planned very Quixotic schemes executed in all three Indo-Pak Wars and till the Kargil Affair to date! Full stop here! The Sepoys never appreciated the naval potential of Britain and never understood that a country who could survive a French Revolution or armies led by world class military geniuses could not be defeated simply by seizure of Delhi! Despite all this the Meerut Cavalry troopers of 3rd Light Cavalry took a brilliant decision, once we keep in mind their knowledge of the external world, their nominal education and their subjective life experiences! Those men were heroes, far superior to most post-1857 Muslim politicians and this includes all who have been on the scene to date!
An answer was provided by General Jang Bahadur the military ruler of Nepal to Sir Colin Campbell in March 1858. The situation was as following; the British had almost won the Sepoy Rebellion and were about to assault Lucknow which had been in Sepoy hands since July 1857. Jang Bahadur had led a Nepali Gurkha army to assist the British and his army was part of the force tasked to assault Lucknow! Jang Bahadur told Colin Campbell as soon as he joined him with his army ‘had he not visited England he would have been fighting against the British instead of with them! The readers can now compare the difference! The Sepoys were ‘Heroic’ but they were ‘Heroic’ because they unlike Jang Bahadur had never visited England. Delhi was the ultimate city for these brave albeit naive Rohtakis from villages like Kalanaur and Kanar!
It appears that the British realised that the Indians needed to be educated about the reality of the British Empire. Warburton records such an incident in his beautiful ‘Eighteen Years in Khyber’. This was when Warburton arranged a visit of the Khyber Maliks to Calcutta and Bombay so that it may widen their horizon and make them less ambitious in their plans to fight against Britain. The exercise it appears was not very successful since the Khyber Afridis once again rebelled in 1897! Heroism is good but the hero is different from a stock broker or a banker! His calculations are in terms of moral values which he perceives as more sacred than material gains. The hero lives after his death while the businessmen dies everyday despite living much longer than the hero, but goes on suffering indignities to gain greater dignity as that great man Bacon said! I remember an incident of a great bureaucrat as narrated by one of his relatives! The old fox, an ex-ICS and at that time a very senior man in a political government that once ruled Pakistan comes home and proudly tells his wife ‘Oh dear you know today what happened! Mr Prime Minister abused me! Oh dear he uses the particular word that he used only for those with whom he is very intimate’!
Ranjeet Singh was a great realist. At the height of his power a courtier asked him ‘Sir you should attack the English East India Company’s territory’. Ranjeet replied dismissing his sycophant advisors’ I may advance with my army as far as Aligarh but then the Englishmen would destroy me’. A fine assessment by a man who had not been to any War College or Defence College!
Syed Ahmad Khan was another great realist! In Bijnor he restrained the Indians from attacking English civilians and non-combatants and from joining the anti-British camp at a time when the Hindus of Bijnor were in full rebellion against the English Company! It was very unheroic and opportunistic as some may say! But the Syed had his reasons! Deep inside his heart was a conviction that the British would win and in the long-term the rebellion would do more harm to the Muslims than good! The Syed was much condemned by many Muslims after the rebellion as an ‘Ibnul Waqt’ but the Syed atoned for his ‘unheroic’ behaviour by establishing the MAO College Aligarh. Opportunism is excusable if the end result is positive, but this unfortunately is not the case in most ‘scenarios’. The Syed is remembered for his educational achievements today and not for any business empire that he left. He would have been a smaller hero had he died fighting against the British at Bijnor! He had a strategic vision and would have been an excellent Chief of General Staff or more had he been alive today in any Indo-Pak Army!
Now compare the Syed with later Muslim leaders. He advised the Muslims to desist from identifying themselves with Egyptian, Turk or Afghan Muslims in the period 1878-1898. The Turks were too far to be of any help to the Indian Muslims! The Egyptians too insignificant and again too far and the Afghans were the worst predators who had shamelessly looted the Indian Muslims during the period 1739-59. This golden advice was forgotten by outwardly more educated Muslims in 1920 when the Khilafat Movement was launched!
Isoruku Yamamoto later famous as Admiral Yamamoto was another great realist. He had studied at Yale and Harvard in between his military career and understood the limits of US military effectiveness! He counselled repeatedly against war with the US but his advice was over ruled by the more powerful Japanese Army and Japan went into a suicidal war that finally concluded with a nuclear holocaust at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Clausewitz makes a very fine distinction between types of courage and boldness and the level of command! Clausewitz put the lesson by using a beautiful example! Clausewitz thus stated ‘If a young man to show his skill in horsemanship leaps across a deep cleft, then he is bold; if he makes the same leap pursued by a troop of head chopping Jannisaries he is only resolute. But the further off the necessity from the point of action, the greater the number of relations intervening which the mind has to traverse in order to realize them’. As a matter of fact strategic decision making is more difficult since the time period is much greater than in tactical encounters and a much greater mind is required. This explains why ‘Military Crosses’ or ‘Military Cross Bars’ failed in East Pakistan. These men had earned fame imported from junior positions and did not deserve the ranks that they reached. In the final summing up their bad luck was the fact that a war broke out and they were exposed while their successors since 1971 have been far more lucky! They have not seen crisis or as Ikram Sehgal recollects his reply to late General Iqbal about actual war experience. ‘They have not heard a shot fired in anger’!
In my humble capacity I saw how perceptions are distorted during the Gulf war. The seniormost decision makers in our military thought that it would be a prolonged affair! I was at the School of Armour Nowshera. The Allied attack had not yet commenced and this was December 1990. I think it was Colonel Moin Rauf one of our senior instructors who said that the Iraqis would not last for more than a week! This was at a time when many far more senior people had totally different opinion. Moin Rauf I think had been to Fort Knox for a course and kept his eyes open. This scribe’s father who had been to Fort Belvoir in 1964 said that how could Iraq defeat USA once it had miserably failed to defeat Iran in far more advantageous circumstances in 1980! All this was crystal clear but all those who were something had ridiculous perceptions. Pakistan was lucky that Ghulam Ishaq Khan saw things more realistically and restored some sanity in the higher decision making echelons!
Unfortunately we have had too many meteors who came and disappeared but no great man with the slow solid but massive presence of a heavenly body in Clausewitzian terms! This is our tragedy! Mediocrity which as the saying brilliantly puts it ‘knows nothing higher than itself’ has been institutionalised on both sides of the Radcliffe Line! God help us! An Anglo Saxon westernised Nadir Shah to spread fire and sword may not be a remote possibility!
‘Realism’ ‘Courage’ ‘Vision’ and ‘Opportunism’ all have their limits and uses. We hope that those who at the moment are sitting on the pinnacles of power will understand this and will act in a judicious manner! The tide of history as Machiavelli says can be manipulated with if dykes are built in time ! In case this is not done it becomes irreversible and destroys anything that comes in its way!