WE MUST HONOUR MEN IN ARMS WHO FOUGHT AND FELL
By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM
I have had many opportunities to travel through many theatres of war after the guns had fallen silent and rifle shots ceased to be fired in anger. The epitaphs had been raised to commemorate the dear departed, sometimes known soldiers and sometimes unknown soldiers. The British Empire was known for raising war memorials because these were morale boosters of the Living who still mourned the Dead. The soldiers of the British Empire fought and fell in battlefields and zones of Islamist insurgency and Talibanisa all over the world. Their footfalls are silent now but their sacrifices for the King and the country are echoed by hills and dales where they defeated the enemies of the Spirit of Freedom. While wielding their arms for a great cause, many of them made the supreme sacrifice.
Epitaphs were built in many cases but in some their bodies were not recovered and they never found a final resting place. The INDIA GATE is such a war memorial built from 1921 to 1931 in New Delhi commemorating the war dead of World War I and the Third Anglo-Afghan War who never found a final resting place. The names of those 135 16 brave hearts are inscribed on the walls of the India Gate..
India is rightly proud of another simple but touching inscription on an obelisk erected in the war cemetery at Kohima, capital of Nagaland in India commemorating the dead and departed of the Allied Forces who fought against the Imperial Japanese Army in and around Burma as part of the XIV Army under command of General, later Field Marshal Slim. It was he and his soldiers who had turned Defeat into Victory. They successfully had stopped the Jap forces from invading the heartland of India. The inspiring words inscribed on the Memorial are:
“ WHEN YOU GO HOME,
TELL THEM OF US AND SAY
FOR THEIR TOMORROW
WE GAVE OUR TODAY.’
Having written glorious words appreciating these war memorials and Epitaphs, I must hasten to add that in Europe, the victorious armies politicized the text of the memorials before throwing them open to the common man in the country they are located in. Two such war memorials that readily come to my mind are located in Vienna, capital of Austria and Berlin, capital of Germany. The victorious Soviet Union had an inscription engraved on the memorial that read “ COMMEMORATING VICTORY OF THE RED ARMY OVER FASCIST GERMAN ATTACKERS – RAISED FOR THE FREEDOM OF EUROPE.” The statue of the Russian soldier carried the inscription “UNKNOWN SOLDIER” However, recalling what the Russian soldiers had done to the Austrian women in the post 1945 period, some Austrian patriot overwrote the words “ UNKNOWN RAPIST”. It was just an expression of indignation of the local population against the Soviet Army. Thus the idea of building a war memorial for the fallen soldier was lost in anguish.
It brings us to the point that irrespective of the political association of the country’s administration, the unknown soldier laid down his life doing his duty. We the people alive today should not say or write anything against the dead and departed out of hatred for the misdeeds of his compatriots. The underlying THOUGHT behind war memorials id “RESPECT FOR THE DEAD”. Please for God’s sake never entertain the idea that a war memorial is built to encourage people of one country to go to war against the people of another country.
Let us take a pledge to honour the dead soldier, irrespective of the army he belonged to and howsoever flawed was his cause. He fought and fell and deserves respect from soldiers and civilians who survived the war
In India the ceremonial dedication of a cenotaph or a war memorial commenced in the Middle Ages. The Hindus did not commemorate the war dead by building monuments or epitaphs or memorials but in due course of time immortalised the victory by preaching and propagating the philosophy of Peace and Non-violence that stood sublimated to the position of Universal Humanism and Spiritualism. Herein there was no risk of the Unknown Soldier being tarnished as the Unknown Rapist.
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