Would you Die for your Country?

I’m not a particularly unpatriotic person. I love India – not just because I’m born into it, but because it has so much potential. There are plenty of flaws, but I believe that things will get better. I love its democracyand I more or less like the direction its taking.

Can you Blindly Obey?

Can you Blindly Obey?

But would I give up my life for it? After some thought, I’ve decided the answer is…No.

A “nation” is too vague an idea for me sacrifice something so precious. I can imagine giving my life to protect someone close to me – someone, or some people I love. Such as a family for instance if the threat is serious enough. But I can’t imagine dying to protect man made borders to which I have no real close connection.

In short, I would make a poor soldier.

It’s because I’m unable to blindly follow anything. I can never fully submerge myself in a larger entity, a larger cause, and will myself to shut my eyes to everything else. My core individualism simply doesn’t allow that to happen. I’m glad there are some people who can do that – put their lives at risk in unquestioning obedience to their superior officers. But there shouldn’t be too many. After all, that’s what fanatics are made of.

Just Following Orders?

Just Following Orders?

I view my life as too precious a gift to squander away without a tangible benefit. I get one shot at living and will dissolve into nothingness when I die. It’s so brief a spark after all. We’re all born alone, essentially die alone – and that’s the end.

Sometimes tactical sacrifices are needed in war. Maybe a contingent to delay the enemy for a while. They’re expected to fail. And often, only the superior officers know the expected outcome. Only they know the overall strategy. The rest of the soldiers are pawns. Pawns who don’t question why they’re asked to do whatever they’re asked to do. I could never be that pawn. To relinquish my grip on life just to serve a higher cause under someone else for purposes I don’t fully understand…not for me.

What does this mean as an Indian? I know it’s patriotic to say that you’ll give your life for your country. I know there’s no law saying that you must want to give up your life. And that’s one of the reasons why I love India. But how much is it expected informally? Are Indians expected to lay down their lives to protect their borders?

How many people are like me? Would you give up your life for your country in the manner outlined above?

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Comments

  1. A Passer By says:

    Dying for your country is often arguably less about blindly following a “larger entity” and more about having the courage to stand up to those that threaten your family and your community when matters sadly descend into violence. You don’t even have to join the millitary in order to die for your country, for example, during the Second World War hundreds of resistance fighters throughout Europe and beyond, not officially affiliated with any nation’s armed forces, gave up their lives in a struggle to defy Nazi oppression. I view their actions as highly admirable and unfortunately necessary for the preservation of human freedom. Prehaps the Human Race’ greatest fault is the lust for violence, uncomfortable as it may be, war is a recurring factor in human society and until lasting universal peace is achieved, the sacrfices of millions of young men and women is what’s keeping you and I safe and more importantly free.

    On the issue of soldiers commiting immoral acts as a result of orders from a senior rank, a soldier may not like what they have to do, and it may not allign with their moral position, however, if the orders are in line with the “rules of war”, laid out over numerous conventions and pacts such as the revised Geneva convention, then there is no reason why they should not be carried out with maximum efficiency.

    In summary, individuals choose to die for their country, not for themselves but for others, they manage to see past their own wellbeing, and instead find solace in the fact that their actions will positively influence the safety and wellbeing of those they love and care about. If their selfless sacrifices do not have said effect, then clearly their country and their fellow citizens have let them down and those that are left behind which includes civillians need to reflect on why they did not personally take action to ensure that those soldiers, who fearlessly represented their proud nation, went pointlessly to their death.

    Freedom does not come free. Someone has to pay. If you are willing to reap the benefits of that freedom but not to defend it, and instead let others give up their lives for your nation, then I believe you are as responsible for that loss of life, as the combatant who took it, and the nation who sent them. I would not label someone a ‘coward’ if they were uncomfortable with taking life or losing their own for the sake of their nation, but if you do nothing, if you sit idly by while your kin fall around you, and you remain to claim that you love country, then I’d label you a liar.

    Reply

    • In reply to A Passer By

      A few interesting observations.

      I don’t view everyone in my country as part of my “family”. I care only about a few people and would not give up my life for strangers.

      Second, the sovereignty of the country means very little to me if people’s human rights are unaffected. Say for example that the US took over India, but allowed India to remain democratic as a state, there is rule of law, etc etc, I wouldn’t give a damn about which country I belong to.

      Finally, there is an implicit contract between me and my country. I get my rights, access to roads, police etc. In return I follow the laws, and pay my taxes. Dying to preserve that contract was nowhere in the picture :)

      Reply

    • In reply to A Passer By

      A Passer By,

      Your comment made me think a bit further. :)

      Like Bhagwad, my repsonse to such war-like situations is also going to be one of avoidance of violence, but I don’t think it would be an outcome of such an intellectual exercise! It will largely be instinctive, involving fear of pain/death. Even on ideological level, I feel my primary responsibility is towards myself rather than anyone else. However, when such a situation were to actually arrive, it’s difficult to tell how I would respond. :) The fear of having to face my guilt for remaining passive might force me to be braver. It’s possible I might not see a life with curtailed liberties and without the ones I would have held dear – as one worthy of living.

      Largely, I’ve been thoroughly uncharmed by a ‘collectivist’ idea of nationalism. In its most extreme forms, nationalism undermines the individual.

      Reply

  2. A Passer By says:

    I agree with you on your point that there is a mutually beneficial partnership between an individual and the state, which does much to increase the quality of life for the individual, if the state does it’s job that is. And of course in the hyperthetical situation that the U.S. invaded India, and maintained democracy and your human rights, then there would be no need for a violent retaliation, which may lead to the loss of life, including your own.

    However, I can empathize with those involved in the Arab Spring. For example, if you were Syrian and you believed that your identity as a free Syrian individual was being compromised because of a cruel sectarian dictator, would you not be prepared to die yourself, in order to achieve democracy for not only your family but also your fellow citizens, many of whom you know nothing about?

    I think what I am trying to get at is that many individuals may be prepared to give up their own lives, because they know that their actions will have a drastic positive effect on the lives of others who share their own national identity. It may not be this national link which drives them to do it, I do not know, and I’m not saying that all human beings should or do feel this way, but I think many do.

    My grandfather’s brother, lost his life on the killing fields Europe in 1940, while fighting the Germans, after willingfuly enlisting at the start of the Second World War. I have been assured by relatives that he did not fight and die because he felt any great animosty towards the Germans, nor was he driven by a sense of sympathy towards the countries such as Poland. He simply answered his country’s call for help, because he felt duty bound to do so. He felt this way for a number of reasons, firstly, he believed that if he did not act then the world would become a worse place, secondly, he believed that the Germans had no right to take away, what was the British Empire’s, national identity, and finally, he knew that if he didn’t go out there and fight and die, then someone else would. I know for a fact, that his contribution and literally millions of others, has made this world a better place, without their sacrifice, who knows, we could all be swearing allegiance to evil Nazism?

    Many deaths in war are futile, I accept that totally. However, if no-one was prepared to go out and defend the state, then there is the awful chance that the state could be engulfed by another, who’s identity is evil or contradictory to your own, or both. It is then that maybe some individuals would willingfuly go to their deaths, even if their entire family had been slaughtered and they had no-one they knew personally left to fight for. They’d embrace the chance to die for their country because they know that their actions would provide hope for others, that maybe they may be able to live a better life. I celebrate Remembrance Day, here in the U.K. along with many others, every year at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, because I know that hundreds of thousands of people have died for my future.

    I know I have gone on abit! And my example for the Second World War may be abit dated! But while I was on the subject of Remembrance Day, I remembered something that is read out each year, at the cenotaph, in the presence of Her Majesty and the entire nation, it’s called the Exhortation. I thought it summed up quite well, where I was trying to come from.

    They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
    We will remember them

    Response: We will remember them.

    [2 MINUTES SILENCE]

    When you go home tell them of us and say –
    For your tomorrow we gave our today

    It is said in and around this part of the multiple hour long ceremony: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQqHKW7H89w

    Reply

    • In reply to A Passer By

      Thanks for your response APB. Tyranny has a way of spreading – so if other countries hadn’t fought the Germans, they would have been next on the list. In fact, it took a direct attack on the US (for example) to goad it into war. Till then they were just playing a supporting role. Even England, France etc finally decided to fight Germany only when Hitler’s ambitions to conquer Europe became painfully obvious. They tried to stay out of it for as long as possible.

      My point is that self interest can extend to others when their plight can become yours at some point of time. There’s a famous poem – first they came for xyz, then they cam for abc: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came

      I will fight. I will fight when there’s a chance of the danger spreading to me or my family. I cannot however fight blindly because my country calls on me to fight. I personally need to be convinced that what I’m doing is beneficial. And that is why I don’t call myself patriotic. A patriotic person will fight whenever his/her country calls on them to fight without asking any questions.

      Reply

  3. A Passer By says:

    I think it boils down to moral standing. But definitely not how much you love your country! Here in the U.K. troops are treated with utmost respect and many feel indebted to them in general. I don’t know how it is in India? But you have definitely helped me to realise that just because you aren’t willing to die for your country, doesn’t mean you aren’t a patriot. And I share your view that India has a very exciting future!.. even if we did beat you at Cricket just a few days ago, haha!

    Personally, I am hoping to join the British Army as an officer of the Parachute Regiment or the Rifles, very soon, once I’m done with my education. I don’t have a lust to kill, nor do I particuarly fancy dying at this present moment! However, if I was ever called upon in my future career to take actions which would severely endanger my own life or involve the taking of an enemy combatant’s life (stress on the word combatant there), I’d hope that I’d do so without a second thought. Not because I’m easily manipulated by a larger entitiy than myself or because I don’t love my life. I’d simply do so because I’d hope that my actions would further an effort which would secure a more peaceful future and a better quality of life for not only my loved ones but also the wider community, whether that simply be the national community or the international one.

    I’m still discovering my own position on the liklehood of God and an afterlife at this present time but I’m not sure if that matters, because it may simply be the positive effect of someone’s sacrifice in this world that justifies or provides a point to their loss of life. However, I think one thing is for sure. Anyone who has gone to their death, willingly, to better our future, is a very, very selfless person.

    Reply

  4. ABP,

    Your last paragraph reminded me of one of the last letters of an Indian freedom fighter called Bhagat Singh [ http://www.marxists.org/archive/bhagat-singh/1930/10/05.htm ], who’d incidentally been hanged by the then British rulers. I used to think he must have been this hot-headed reactionary, but his cold reasoning with regard to the existence of God and that despite not having much of an educational background in science had quite stunned me! I used to believe that the most common motive for people to die is hope for a better ‘afterlife’. For those influenced by the Indian (‘Hindu’) culture, the assurance of reincarnation seems to make giving up the presently available life even easier. Additionally, in most cultures ‘martyrs’ are promised a better after-life. Bhaght Singh knew what exactly he was about to lose by giving up his life. But, he had had none of these comforts, and hence his decision to give up his life for a perceived larger good is something I’ll keep on admiring.

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  5. Good english, but stupid , half chewed thoughts. This convent educated boy seems good at SEO and manages to make ppl stumble upon his site.

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  6. A Patriot says:

    General Kuribayashi said, If the people of my country can rest peacefully without fear of enemy invasion for just one more day, I would gladly die. He endured the hardest hardships and fearlessly sacrificed himself to protect everybody of my nation, including my ancestors. That’s why I enlisted in the JSDF, that’s why i’m willing to die for my country! To honor his memory and to make him proud.

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  7. I am very late reading this. I don’t think I could give my life over an imagined boundary(that is subject to change in the course of history)…I guess I am therefore unpatriotic. I have a definition of Patriotism that is very differently shown I guess, and it doesn’t involve dying for the Blunders the politicians caused.

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  8. VAISHALI SHARMA says:

    well i think i would agree to many of your points….today we have entered a welfare state globally …where majority nations are trying to work for the welfare of us natives…coz today ,war or the defence against external aggression for the nation is not much of a prevelant factor …also its not disrespecting or offending the profession but a very important thing to be open about why most of the people today choose to opt for the forces …its mainly the pay, the perks and the facilities…and that in no manner diminishes the significance of the choice a soldier makes ,as on a human level putting your life at risk for someone else is definitly honourable..so its not about glorification .its mostly that a person performing his job with all his dignity and perseverance must be given due credit…much like every other job that demands it …just that the military as an institution instills such values in its recruits that their job is not left to be just about his own survival and pay to sustain the family but much more…it comes to human virtue then..that too in times of crisis….and .ie.when theres a call they dont back out…a drain cleaner probably would if he had a choice..and thats it…the soldier wont falter in taking a call…and hence the glorification …but looking at the scenario today with us humans ready to let go of (as one of the commentors said )our lust for violence by managing to solve matters by mind games and political efforts,ergo all is at peace , so instead of wasting a precious part of the budget in the defence sector we should also be focusing on the farmers dying ,,the amount of deaths occuring due to multifarious diseases that no one is noticing…the stats are alarming…n coming to the main point…when it comes to sacrificing for the nation …i too would agree that blindly following a seniors orders is not the call for me either…but at a more personal psychological level and when there’s a call of duty or a situation of chaos and crisis, in the sense that in the moment of heat and violence ..it all boils down to human psychology…and a human being is afraid of change….and the uncertainity of what might happen next (we presume the worst) is what lets us make the choice as to what we might opt at that moment…its then not about me believing in the concept of nation or not….i would then definitly try and protect my community that i have shared my life and time with

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