Dear Army Brats, Who Made You the Authority on National Security?


Dear Army Brats, Who Made You the Authority on National Security?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

It’s almost a month since 40 of our soldiers were killed following a suicide bombing in Pulwama, and tensions surged unbearably when both India and Pakistan decided to cross the LoC  in a show of political intent and military might. Things took a turn for the better when Pakistan returned Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman as a “gesture of peace” after his plane was downed across the border. But “better” is a relative term when two nuclear powers are gnashing their teeth at each other while the world watches in horror, especially when one of them has elections hammering down the door and nothing much to show for by way of achievements. Wars distract, and win elections, after all.

It’s been a month of nail-biting stress for those horrified by the idea of war. And a month full of overenthusiastic keyboard warriors co-opting the cause of nationalism like it’s their pet project and doing everything in their power to create social media shit-storms fuelled by ignorance and lack of personal liability in the theatre of war. While these self-appointed national security experts belong to all religions, classes, and castes, making the rest of us wonder how their talents for foreign policy and defence strategy have been hidden from us for so long, there is one sub-section within this group that stands out for its odiousness: the smug, snivelling, self-congratulatory Army Brat.

You know these people, I’m talking about. The ones whose most interesting life stories are from 30-odd years ago, when their father was stationed in so-and-so place and they were forced to change schools for the fourth time. They could be working at start-ups, slaving away to get their MBA degrees so they can work at a bank, helping cola companies make money by devising strategies to seem more appealing to little kids, or spending their days lecturing people who are never going to listen on the importance of flossing — but in their hearts and to the world, they will always be the Army Brat.

On its own, disproportionate pride in one’s parent’s profession — past or present — does not make them unbearable to be around. I’d place them right under the Daddy’s Little Princess shelf, but above the Mummy Ka Ladla Beta bin. If going through life feeling nostalgic about one’s parents’ profession was an unacceptable way to live life, half of Bollywood would be forced to get actual jobs to pass their time.

The odiousness of the ubiquitous Army Brat is tiresome in peacetime, but positively insufferable when the very real threat of war lurks in the air.

I have the misfortune of being friends (now ex) with many creatures of these unique species. Something about a stir at the border (but not just any border, the glamorous one that is covered in media and immortalised in movies, like Kashmir) sends them in a tailspin, one that they can emerge from only once they’ve written long, emotional posts about the glory of serving the country, how it takes a different mettle to know that each day could be your loved one’s last, but deshbhakti comes first, and yada, yada, yada.

And yet they fling inclusive pronouns like “us”, “we”, and “ours” as if they actually have a personal stake, or even what having a personal stake feels like.

None of that is untrue, of course. Most of us can’t imagine what it must be like to live life knowing that all that stands between you and death is a war you had no say in. We can never know what a number it must do on the spouses, children, and families of soldiers in conflict zones; we can never imagine what it feels like expecting that dreaded phone call or living with the fear that they might never see their loved ones again. But I’ve noticed that neither do most of the Army Brats glued to Facebook, letting 280-character missiles fly on Twitter every time someone has the temerity to question a pro-war stance as the only way of showing love for the country.

And here’s an important distinction I must underline — I’m not saying all army kids are brats or all Army Brats are pro-war. But I’ve noticed that all the pro-war Army Brats I know are children of officers who have either served in peacetime, or were engaged in support/non-combat roles.

One — who was swiftly unfriended (but not before sharp words were exchanged) due to his vulgar, factually incorrect screed about Pakistan, concluding that if war is what they wanted, and war was what was needed to restore India’s izzat, war is what “we” will give them —  is the son of an officer who served in the Indian Army Remount And Veterinary Corps. At 240 years old, the RVC does the important work of breeding, rearing, and training the animals used in the army, but one can’t exactly call it a “dangerous” job in the same way that soldiers at the frontline face peril.

Another — who was mesmerised by the TV reenactments of the Balakot air strike and proceeded to make inane comments such as it was like watching Uri: The Surgical Strike come to life while simultaneously suggesting to redouble “our” efforts to fight the enemies — is the daughter of an officer who served for five years as a civil engineer, again during peacetime.

Yet another is the son of a short service commission officer in the executive branch.

None of these exceptionally skilled piggy-backers have had to ever leave behind big city comforts in service of the nation. And yet they fling inclusive pronouns like “us”, “we”, and “ours” as if they actually have a personal stake, or even what having a personal stake feels like.

Wars distract, and win elections, after all.

It’s amazing that the incendiary voices of these nostalgic ninjas ring louder in our collective ears than the pleas of all the children of officers who actually died during wars or acts of terrorism. They, unlike these baying for blood hounds, will never romanticise wars because they know what it costs in human terms.

A month after the first heart-stopping possibility of war, the threat of further escalation between India and Pakistan is finally dissipating. Indian and Pakistani high commissioners have resumed diplomatic work in Islamabad and Delhi. It might be business and electioneering as usual for the government, but moving on is not so easy when you’ve just spent a month googling “What happens in the event of a nuclear war?”.

I asked an enlightened Army Brat this question, and it was deeply satisfying to watch the discomfort on his face as he learned, for the first time, about mushroom clouds filled with radioactive particles, cities being flattened out, ionising radiation, and other not-very-pretty consequences of nuclear detonations. You would think that with their bottomless knowledge about wars, they would know at least this much about modern warfare. But as it turns out, the only thing they’re experts at is humble-bragging. And it’s not even about their own achievements.