Recruiting the trigger-happy

Navy day, in India, was celebrated with all major Indian media streams covering the proud occasion (anniversary of the successful destruction of Pakistani assets and personnel on the day in 1972) and discussions ranged from the rapid modernization of equipment to the navy’s humanitarian efforts. More children toured warships and had their young minds influenced by the air of pomp and righteousness in an experience that was dubbed “educational and motivational” by the Times of India.

Ten days prior, on 24th November seven ads for recruitment into the Indian Navy littered the Hindu. It is not this space grab by a Government agency, putting commercial ventures to shame with amazing gross spend figures for a single day’s paper, that prompts this discussion. The ad on page 7 (regional) showed an image of soldiers firing machine guns, with the legend, “your video game”. It is possible to dismiss the ad as the immature effort of a jumpy copywriter, but the message it sends seems distressing enough to warrant closer examination.  Video games, especially first person assault themed, are known for their violent premises of gore, and many studies have linked prolonged exposure to such games to a disconnect from reality. In simpler terms, the more blood you spill, the better you are at the game. Primary pleasure factors of such games are, more often than not, the increasingly graphic depictions of blood and spattering bodies as they get shot down by the player. Did the Hindu, with its reputation of closely censoring its ads, have a blind spot for ads by the Armed Forces?

An ad that calls on a generation of youngsters to engage in violence to satisfy their bloodlust, is disturbing enough. Yet, a larger question beckons. Is reality any different? What are young recruits into any branch of any armed forces, anywhere in the world, but mindless mercenaries? What is the difference between a young mujahideen and a navy recruit, apart from the themes of indoctrination? The argument that a difference exists, falls sharply on the terrain of the recruits’ subjective knowledge of the larger context. The truth is that no such knowledge exists, if simply because armed forces (state or non-state) are highly secretive organizations by design.

It all comes down to question of trusting those in power, with your lives and the lives of others. The good soldier does not ask questions of the people who pay him his uniform-washing allowance. He trusts that the people he kills across a line drawn by unknown entities for unknown reasons, is his enemy. The pretext that the dominant group (government, army chief, tribal leader) always does what is in the best interests of the subjects they hold sway over, is not worth considering. Trust is a realpolitikally weak sentiment, ineffective like the gentlemen’s agreement in the Roman Republic that policed the gap between ambitus (electoral bribery) and harmless benignitas (generosity) of the candidates during elections.

Unimaginative cinema has for decades, fed the viewer with vague concepts like patriotism and glory in death, persuading the gullible to join up and die for reasons beyond their paygrade. It is important that censoring and monitoring bodies of all media reevaluate their considerations and take steps to ensure that subtle forms of propaganda are not unleashed by influential bodies(including government bodies) to manipulate yet another generation of confused individuals fed a system of invalid ethics.

The Indian forces, of course seem quite comfortable with civilian massacres and have repeatedly proven themselves beyond petty matters such a human rights, from Gawakadal to Jaffna . We have seen the war to end all wars and the International bodies working (supposedly) to end wars. We have heard enough diatribes about how the price of ending world hunger is around $195 billion a year, while the U.S military budget alone for 2012 hovers around $1.4 trillion. Any effective voice of dissent, short of a revolution, must rise from within the system.