Why does the idea of war excite us?

Last Updated: Fri, Jan 18, 2013 05:15 hrs

It’s been nearly two weeks since Indian soldiers Hemraj Singh and Sudhakar Singh were killed in a covert violation of the ceasefire along the Line of Control, by Pakistani troops. Since that day, the media has been divided into two camps – the warmongers who want India to show Pakistan just what we’re made of, and the peaceniks who have been doing their best to prove the Indian Army is as cruel as the Pakistani one.

Both regular and social media have been abuzz with rumours and opinions since the news broke. Some claimed there was no beheading, as if that made the killing of two Indian soldiers less serious a crime. Others claimed both India and Pakistan had violated the ceasefire multiple times.

There were reports of militant Hafiz Saeed, leader of Jama’at-ud-Da’wah, which is deemed a terrorist organisation by India, the United States, and the United Nations, being sighted along the LoC.

There were reports that a Kashmiri grandmother had caused the fighting on either side.

In Pakistani newspapers, there are several reports that claim the Indian Army had admitted to routine beheadings carried out against Pakistanis. And then, there were columns of this sort, pleading with the Indian media to make love, not war, and praising the purported restraint of the Pakistani media.

Both Indian and Pakistani politicians have made strong statements, with even our usually reticent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh coming out with an uncharacteristically severe speech, repeating his refrain from the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, that “it cannot be business as usual with Pakistan”.

While tension along the border is bound to have its repercussions, I find both camps of the media – the warmongers and the peaceniks – troubling. The latter because they are sure they know more than they do, and the former simply because they are calling for war.

At the time of the Mumbai terror attack, India and Pakistan held that democracies don’t go to war. And yet, at least three generations who inherited the two pieces our colonised country was split into, before being given independence, have witnessed war between those pieces.

When we call for yet another war, do we think of the human cost of war? Of what it means to the men who patrol the borders, losing their health – and sometimes their lives – to the bitter cold, and terrible isolation? Of what it means to the families that wait for them in faraway villages? Of what it means to the officers who will be sent there to lead operations?

When we sit down, typing at our laptops, posting links on our Facebook and Twitter pages, anchoring programmes crawling with talking heads, it all seems so clear and simple. We know exactly what our countries should do, and what they have been doing wrong. We know whom to blame on either side.

But how much do we really know? And why does the idea of war – or peace – excite us the way it does?

We all know there can never really be peace between our countries – what exists is pseudo-peace, the peace of things brushed under the carpet, of things delinked from talks. Of course, there are bonds between people – bonds of shared history, bonds of language, bonds of facial features, bonds of art and music and dance and literature and cricket. But peace between citizens doesn’t have much to do with peace between countries. Peace between countries is fragile, more so when they have a history of warring with each other.

Have we already forgotten the horror of the Kargil War? Or did we luxuriate in that horror? I think back now, to news reports of mutilated bodies of soldiers being found, to gory details of eyes gouged out and genitalia slashed. I think back to breathless television news reports, and “exclusive” interviews. I think back to the media celebrities the war created, of the glory it brought the likes of Barkha Dutt. Conflict reporting, which had for so long been the privilege of correspondents working in the Middle East and Africa, was actually here, in India, in the age of television.

And what did it mean to those of us who were reading the papers, those of us who were too young then to be part of the media? I remember the columns of names of donors to the cause of war and martyrs, columns which would be published in several national dailies. I remember feeling a sense of unity among all Indians mixed with a sense of despondence, and I remember that that was when the enmity between India and Pakistan became real to us teenagers.

But it would become more real when the war was over. When I heard a soldier speak about the war for the first time. We learnt that the husband of one of our schoolteachers was a Major in the Army, and had served in the war. When he spoke to us, he described an operation from which he hadn’t thought he would return. He had to climb up a steep rockface, and Pakistani troops held the higher positions. He did return, to his wife and little daughter. But many others didn’t. And it hit us then that there was nothing positive about a war, nothing that brings out the best in a country or its people or its armed forces.

A war is never about what is won. It’s about what is lost. The idea of a win, the idea of security, the idea of peace is the luxury of those of us who aren’t on the frontlines, and who don’t have family on the frontlines. Or the luxury of those of us who will go to the frontlines out of choice, looking to rattle off our eyewitness accounts to the world, looking for “exclusive” stories and interviews. War doesn’t excite those who have a real stake in it. It terrifies them.

And peace isn’t about relaxed visa norms, or potatoes, onions, tomatoes and bananas crossing the borders. It’s about the sort of trust – and the sort of control – that will ensure we don’t need to risk the lives of our soldiers in the brutal territory we do. When the sight of hundreds of soldiers decorating border fences as they celebrate Deepavali hundreds of kilometres away from their families doesn’t give newspapers their annual staple story.

Will we ever have that kind of peace?

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The author is a writer based in Chennai.

She blogs at

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