Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Image Courtesy : Rico, www.gimmefever.com

The American President Barack Obama recently accepted the Nobel Peace Prize under much speculation & debate over a wartime president being awarded such an honor. While Obama was gracious enough to accept that he has not done enough yet to deserve the prestigious award, there is no doubting the President's oratory skills, and might I add, honesty. At his acceptance speech, Obama actually defended war. And honestly, I think he did the right thing. Obama professes to be an ardent admirer of Mahatma Gandhi & civil rights leader Martin Luther King and believes in their principles. However, he confesses that "as a head of state sworn to protect & defend my nation, and in a world where war is sometimes necessary, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. A non-violent movement would not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda's leaders to lay down arms".

Don't get me wrong on this one though. No one with a head firmly on their shoulders would propagate war. The President doesn't. I don't. What hit me in Obama's statements, however, was that we live in a world where "war is sometimes necessary". And this is not a new phenomenon at all. Indeed, for all our desires of World peace, we cannot deny the unshakeable position war holds in mankind's past, present and future. If we take our own country, India for example, which has been invaded, ravaged, pillaged and ruled over by outsiders for eons, then probably we would realize the worth of this statement, and of war - the necessary evil.

In essence, why are wars waged? Either to protect or to expand. While wars waged on the lofty heights of ambition are the sorriest excuses of megalomania, who can oppose taking up arms in order to defend your land, your people and your dignity? I'm unapologetic if I attract controversy on this, but I've never really understood the principle of Ahimsa so deeply engraved in our history. I, like many Indians, am not a great fan of Mahatma Gandhi. I agree with his peaceful methods, but difficult times need difficult measures. The situation was surely different back then, and since I have only read about it and have not been a witness to the times, it would be easy for me to oppose the overtly peaceful path paved by Gandhi. However, I often ask myself & my friends, would the British have ruled over us for over 200 years if we had systematically taken up arms against them earlier? Would violence have won India its' freedom earlier than non-violence did? Was Subhash Chandra Bose a disillusioned villain- one who was intent on proving Gandhi wrong? Were Rani Laxmi Bai, Shivaji and the like wrong in fighting for their motherland? Sceptics would say that wars waged by rulers of the pre-British era yielded to nothing, but let's not forget that most of those defeats were party to bad organization, false pride, treachery and technological backwardness. If a burglar were to break into your house, would you back off trying to protect your family because he has a gun? If inevitable, you would engage him at the cost of your own life to protect those who're worth more than anything in the world to you. Let's not forget the pockets of violent resistance through the decades that seeded the British paranoia, and for the absence of them would have meant the invaders running roughshod over the motherland. If organized and well thought, they'd have had a far greater impact. Perhaps then, we'd have celebrated our independence much earlier. Perhaps, we were just lucky to have the British rule over us. I would love to know if turning the other cheek would have worked or would we be choking in a gas chamber had the Nazis ruled us - if it would have driven the Chinese away - If it would have deterred the repeat offender, the blood brother...

Then again, history gives us ample evidence that war is not the remedial solution to all of the world's ills. The American troops in Afghanistan have lost more than they've gained. The terrorists are still at large, and the troops' actions (due to depression, loneliness, hopelessness?) have not endeared them to the local populace either. The Heroes have fallen and in many pairs of eyes, have sunk as low as the villains. Simultaneously, several wars around the world have been just that - endless carnage, endless heartbreaks but no solutions. Closer home, Indian history throws up some interesting nuggets of wisdom. King Ashoka of the Maurya dynasty was determined to expand his empire pan-India, but got entrenched in intense soul-searching once he saw the madness of war and the lives that it engulfed unapologetically. The peaceful principles of Buddhism also converted Angulimaal, a dreaded dacoit who had a fetish for adding his victims' fingers to a garland around his neck, into a God fearing man. Why the world is still a peaceful place in spite of all the seemingly anarchic situations around the globe is perhaps because of the seeds of peace sowed by many of our philanthropic leaders, one of them perhaps the one who I am not a great fan of. Perhaps that is why, we as human beings - so uniquely diverse and diversely unique still share our lives in harmony. Small, petty quarrels are acceptable - after all, what is life without a little strife. Wars, however, have far greater implications than a mohalley ka jhagdaa. Can you imagine every man, woman and child across boundaries, cultures, religions, ethnicities and ideologies resorting to violence as a tool to settle their differences? The world would become one big Pandora's box - a domino of miseries and no way to shut it down. Remember, John Lennon's Imagine?

I am, by nature, a peaceful person. I love harmony in my life and a balance in people around me. I cringe at quarrels and scoff at being party to one. But I also know that when the time comes - when rightfully, my people, my dignity and what i hold dear are endangered, the cheek to be slapped will not be mine. Yes, we do live in a world where war is sometimes necessary.

(This is my take on war & peace, and I would love to hear yours…)

Image courtesy : www.kearnystreet.files.wordpress.com