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MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR

War brings about celebration for the victor, despair for the vanquished, frustration for the retreating troops and rejuvenation for the advancing troops. However, it appears that these conventional situations have not affected the commanders of the army of the United States of America. How else can one define the profound role non-combatant women have played in spoiling the reputations of at least two top US generals? Interestingly, there seems to be a common factor between American soldiers and their generals. They seem to be equally adept at handling love affairs as well as fighting in hostile terrain. If one were to turn the pages of history, one would find that the former secretary of state, Colin Powell, had warned during the Iraq war in 2003 that “We are in for a long, hard test of wills and we have to be prepared to meet that.” Within hours, however, what may have gone unnoticed was the news of a serious breach of discipline within the ranks of the army in a zone of conflict.

The adage, “Make love not war”, has become a reality with two American soldiers facing charges of dereliction of duty after they decided to convert to Islam and marry Iraqi Muslim women in defiance of orders. For the two soldiers — sergeant Sean Blackwell and corporal Brett Dagen — it was indeed a case of ‘love at first sight’ with ‘women translators’. Their sense of duty, loyalty and professionalism was allegedly compromised when they got bitten by the love bug. It is possible that they will be punished with a jail sentence or dismissed.

Different people may raise different questions on the matter. An outsider will ponder whether a soldier ought to get married to a woman hailing from the ‘enemy’ camp during a war. For the American commanders, the issue centres around the following aspect: how can soldiers on duty marry in full view of hostile people, flouting the orders of superiors in the process?

To make matters more complicated, the women, too, have been derided for deciding to marry members of the enemy forces. They have thus been accused as collaborators. The two marriages, solemnized on the banks of the Tigris, had opened a veritable front of psychological tug-of-war between the command and the combat soldier, jeopardizing the time-tested code of conduct and ethics that are supposed to be followed in a war zone.

The indiscretions of the top generals, however, do not pertain to marriage. Apart from embarrassing the US administration acutely, their shenanigans have also raised several questions — how did the generals get smitten? Unlike the soldiers, they do not have to face bullets from snipers or improvised explosive devices while on patrol. Neither do they have to sleep in cramped camps. It is understandable when troops — separated from home, denied hospitable conditions and under constant threat of hostile fire from enemy bazookas — fall head over heels in love with women. But this is not only an instance of the heart winning a battle against the head. It also reflects the loneliness of the men who are a part of the theatre of war. The lines become blurred, and this leads to errors in judgment. Consequently, one ends up losing one’s honour, self-respect and achievements in a flash.

Undoubtedly, the generals are in the wrong. But that is what happens during war. History is replete with instances of enemies tying knots when violence is at its height. The discredited soldiers and generals may have lost their faces but they can take solace from the fact that such violations of the code of conduct are neither unique nor unprecedented. The mightiest of combatants have not been able to resist such temptations in the midst of war.

If American combat soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan care to turn the pages of Indian history, they would discover that the tradition of marrying the enemy’s daughters had been followed by several rulers in South Asia. The American soldiers will be enlightened by the fact that the Kshatriyas — the so-called ‘warrior’ caste of India — often chose their brides by showing their martial prowess or by presenting themselves in full battle regalia in the courts of kings. On such occasions, the princesses would choose one warrior and garland him on her own volition. For the Kshatriyas, this was akin to winning the lottery. For instance, it was Rama’s ‘prowess’ that helped him win public approval as well as Sita’s hands. Rajput rulers from central India were known to have forcibly abducted and married women belonging to the enemy. Muslim rulers have also been known to resort to coercive tactic.

Although the American soldiers and generals have faced something that is an integral part of conflict, there is little doubt that the ‘erring’ combatants are likely to face censure and ignominy. Things would take a turn for the worse if the women are found to be involved in espionage. However, some questions need to be raised in this context. Why is the US so perturbed? Can the State come in the way of a soldier’s personal life? What is the big deal about the love lives of soldiers?

The marriage of American soldiers to Iraqi women and the love stories of the generals in combat zone contain all the ingredients of melodrama. These developments bring to light issues associated with our ideas of love, security, patriotism and human rights. The administrative machinery seems determined to find faults with the combatants. But what remains true is that generals and soldiers do not go to war to seek love. They go to war to fight.