Should war be celebrated?
On the walls along MA Jinnah Road, I came across certain graffiti, a bold approval in red paint, which read,
“Pak fauj qadam barhao, hum tumharay saath hain”
(Take a step, Pakistani Army, the people are with you)
This was a reminder for every passer-by that it is the duty of every Pakistani to support its army engaged in Zarb-e-Azb, the on-going military operation in North Waziristan.
In the past few months, there has been a shift in the rhetoric pertaining to the army; the protector has become the saviour, the last resort has become the beacon of hope and force has become the path to peace. Of course, this shift was inevitable given the failure of peace talks together with crumbling security in Karachi, culminating in the tragic event of June 8, when dozens lost their lives at the Jinnah Airport. The same army which was never talked about except for when referring to the evils of martial law has now been elevated to an almost heroic level.
I find nothing unusual or wrong with this. At a time when helplessness hung in the air like the stench of a dead body, the army swooped in with a clear vision, agenda and a plan of action, which is now rarely seen in the government ranks. The average Pakistani cannot help but idolise the men in uniform, marching alongside tanks, saving the day. It is not surprising that the first boy born in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) was named after the operation.
That said - there is another point that must be made.
Until about a century back, war had a different definition for people across the globe. John Mueller, in his paper ‘Changing Attitudes Towards War’, points out that before the First World War, war was described as ‘spiritual salvation and hope of regeneration’ among analysts in Europe and the United States. He reminds us of a time when war was romantic, essential for economic activity and a reality of life. Mueller argues that the First World War changed this perception; those who will battle and lose lives, those who sacrifice time and energy, and those who put their nation before themselves will always be hailed as heroes.
War will, and should, never be a celebration again.
The perception of a war in Pakistan today is not tragic. I find people rejoicing in war. I find people finding salvation in war. I find people making jokes about peace talks. I find myself making jokes about peace talks. And I find everything wrong with that.
As a nation, it is a matter of immense pride that we have men and women who serve themselves for the state by joining the armed forces. It is not a matter of pride, however, that we are at war. We have forgotten, focusing only on the predicted outcome of the operation, what led us to it. We have forgotten that peace talks, however ineffective, are the way to negotiate. We have forgotten that war is not a form of negotiation. We have forgotten that there are no winners in war. We have forgotten that, in the words of Andrea Gibson,
“Not all casualties return in body bags.”
There are those who would argue that to celebrate war is to honour our forces.
Go ahead. Ask the man in the uniform how worthy of celebration war is.
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