The War Course (Session 1998-1999) that I participated in at the National Defence College was a rejuvenating experience which can best be described in verse:
War Course Rhapsody
NDCs a place where greying men
Well past their pepped-up prime,
Shrug off their coats of dust
And end up in the grime.
This day you joined the course
That day you returned,
Time between is measured
By how much you earned.
Earning grades, not learning traits
Is all that really matters,
Else soon you find your worldly dreams
All shattered and in tatters.
If here you crave success,
The keyword is to please,
Now that work and study is
Just plainly obsolete.
Raising queries is our creed
Not to satisfy a need,
More to show we know
More than we really do.
Where you go in FST
Counts quite a lot,
Not in terms of learning,
Just shows the clout you’ve got!
Since our course immediately followed on from the ‘dhamakas’ at Chagai, it was memorable in that context, but was otherwise like all such courses, interspersed with tutorials, guest lectures, operational visits, presentations and war games. During the end-of-course interview with the Chief Instructor War Wing, I was asked about the last major wargame Markaa-e-Baqa, in which I happened to be the Foxland Naval Commander. In response, I simply narrated the following joke:
“The manager of the Hell team once challenged the Heaven’s team to a high-stake cricket match. ‘You don’t have a hope in hell’, Heaven responded, ‘we have all the best players on our side’. ‘You forget’ came the measured response, ‘we have all the umpires with us’.”
While making my point, I was however referring to an earlier era before the dawn of the neutral umpires and the match referees, wherein any umpire who dared to raise his finger for an LBW or a nicked catch decision had a lot of expletives hurled at him from every direction. In the current age, I am tempted to rephrase the joke’s punchline: ‘we have all the talented match-fixers’.
One thing you can’t help learning from the War Course is that a man’s excellence is only measured in terms of grades, so overhearing the following conversation during a tea break caused no great surprise:
Participant A: You know what Shakespeare said:
“His life was gentle; and the elements
So mix’d in him that nature might stand up
And say to all the world ‘This was a man!’”
Participant B: The guy he was referring to, must be a B+ at least, don’t you think?
The other thing the course does is encourage conformity, conformity with the DSs way of thinking, that is. Once in a while, a DS comes along (generally from the two smaller services) who spurs his proteges to think big, big, big, albeit in a single dimension. It is during such tutelage that flights of fancy take wing.
Here’s a simple solution to a pressing wartime problem: It we procure a million dhows and lay them end to end across the coast and into the Persian Gulf, we can meet all our fuel needs without the need to expend any fuel at all, by passing the products hand to hand in jerry-cans. I continue to place my trust in this concept despite being advised a million times not to exaggerate.
Again, while discussing the power potential of a nation, it suddenly occurred to me that if you have a neighbour ten times as large, you stand to gain ten times as much by attacking and occupying her than she does in doing the same to you. Haha! That’s looking at the bright side!
The sights and sounds, the hustle and bustle, the conspiracies on both sides of the curtain are difficult to bring to life on a lifeless sheaf of paper. I can try the next best thing: take the help of eminent men-of-letters to high-light a few specific aspects.
Views on the War Course by Eminent Men-of-Letters
(with an apology for the exercise of literary license)
Prayer of the War Course Participant
“Dear God! I pray to you to give me patience and I want it right now”. (Carl Sandburg)
“All participants are equal, but some are more equal than others” (George Orwell)
System of Assessment
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em” (Shakespeare)
Sound Advice to a War Course Participant
“Yours not to reason why, yours not to make reply” (Tennyson)
Alternate Naval Strategy
“Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war” (Shakespeare)
A Participant’s Lament
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings” (Shakespeare)
Shortly before IRP Submission Date
“So little done, so much to do” (Cecil Rhodes)
On the Countless in-house Discussions
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t” (Shakespeare)
Synopsis of a Wargame
“For fools rush in where angels fear to tread” (Alexander Pope)
Frank Post-debrief Comment
“I had nothing to offer anybody but my own confusion” (Jack Kerovac)
Caustic Post-course Critique
“The working of great institutions is mainly the result of a vast mass of routine, petty malice, self-interest, carelessness and sheer mistake. Only a residual fraction is thought” (Santayana)
Advice to a Participant leaving the ‘Phatta”
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” (Hickson)
Plight of the War Course Participant fielding a battery of questions
“Have I not reason to lament, what man has made of man?” (Wordsworth)
Oft-Used Terms Redefined
During the course, there are certain terms and certain themes that keep recurring, like a bad dream. I found that once the nightmare is over, one can actually readjust their meanings to something which is closer to what a course participant experiences in his daily life:
a) Saturating the Defenses: Flooding the personal lockers with reading material.
b) Strategy of Denial: Not placing any documents in the participants lockers.
c) Operational Manoeuvre: The quickest route to the tea bar.
d) Superior Exterior Manoeuvre: Casual leave during an officially-programmed mile-run.
e) Direct Strategy: Raising of hand to ask a question.
f) Indirect Strategy: Pressing of buttons to be selected for asking a question.
g) Strategy of Direct Approach: ‘I never knew what brilliance was till I set foot here’.
h) Strategy of Indirect Approach: ‘I completely forgot to consider this vital aspect at all’.
j) Ascertaining the Enemy’s Centre of Gravity: ‘The golden rule is that there are no golden rules’ (Shaw)
k) Strategy of Deterrence: ‘Chicken’; the word says it all, literally and metaphorically.
l) Strategic Deterrence: Escalation from ‘chicken’ to ‘bakra’ threat.
m) Strategic Threat: Cancellation of FST.
n) Attainment of the Desired Objectives: Rejuvenating the FST.
Permit me to add by way of clarification that when the course commenced, the much sought after Foreign Study Tour (FST) towards the end of the course was a lost cause, having fallen victim to the economic troubles stemming from the ‘dhamakas’. It was only when the course was about to end, that hope took root during the fortuitous visit of the Chief of Army Staff to the college campus. Planning and execution of FST was thus undertaken in a jiffy, so to say. It is in this context that the last two definitions need to be viewed.