National Interest: 1962, a different story
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In the darkness of defeat on the east, let's recall a bright, shining moment—of courage on the western front
It is a sad but touching fact that nations and militaries tend to have stronger, more durable memories of their defeats than of their victories. Maybe because victories soon lose their euphoria in the inevitable economic aftermath of a decisive war, high inflation, arrogant, victorious establishments and so on. We have the post-1971 (Bangladesh War) turn of events in India, leading to 27 per cent inflation and the Emergency, as a sobering example. Maybe it is also because the pain of a military defeat sours our minds much more, leaving permanent scars that endure through generations. And it may just be that for generations, the loser wishes he could fight the same battle, the same war, again, this time with different results of course. How else do we explain the wide interest now in the war with China, the anniversary of which is this very morning, exactly 50 years to the day that, on a freezing morning several kilometres north of Tawang, the Chinese attacked the Indian 7th Brigade at Namka Chu? (A tragedy described in great detail in Himalayan Blunder by J.P. Dalvi, who commanded this brigade and was taken prisoner, and later by Maj-Gen Ashok Kalyan Verma in his Rivers of Silence.)
It is also curious how, as nations and militaries reflect on campaigns as disastrous as these, they tend to forget the few moments of true military glory that they may have done well to cherish. Again, you can only guess why. Probably, the argument that besieges our collective conscience would be, what is the point of talking of one glorious charge, one incredible last stand here and there, when the end result was an utter disaster? Or could it also be that we are so overwhelmed by defeat and debacle that we tend not to take seriously any talk of something different, or maybe view with scepticism any story, any subplot that sounds a little bit different from the main script and its denouement? The 1962 War spawned more military literature and history than any other in independent India: it had to, as a defeat makes it very tempting for both, those accused of failure and the accusers, to explain. There has to be a reason why a bulk of the post-1962 books have focused on the eastern front, which was more or less a total rout. There was the odd show of dogged defence, but everything was overwhelmed by the rout in Kameng, the self-destruction and flight of one of the proudest divisions of the Indian army, proudly called the Famous Fourth. Thag la, Namka Chu, Tawang, Dirang Dzong, Se La, Bomdi La (as you move north to south in what is now Arunachal Pradesh's West Kameng district) are all imprinted in our national memory as distant, exotic stations on that awful trail from which our forces only fled, usually in panic and confusion, the strongest of them without firing a bullet — or almost so. Much of the post-1962 literature, Neville Maxwell's India's China War, B.M. Kaul's The Untold Story, B.N. Mullik's Chinese Betrayal and D.K. "Monty" Palit's War in High Himalaya, talks about the eastern front. Ladakh is mentioned in footnotes, or in passing.
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