Letters to the Editor | February 2018

Executive editor Ghazala Wahab’s column (January 2018) ‘Read. Reflect. Repeat’ has drawn a lot of response from the readers with many of them offering their own suggestions. We reproduce a selection.

Reintroduce Officer’s Week

Ghazala Wahab, in the January 2018 issue, has written on an important matter felt by the veterans — lack of reading habit in the new generation of defence officers (Read. Reflect. Repeat). The article reflects the predicament faced by the defence force but what is intriguing is the fact that some of the senior officers take it in their stride. They feel that spelling mistakes, vocabulary and lack of expression are well compensated by their enthusiasm and initiative!

There is no denying the fact that due to the commitment of the officers, especially those in the field areas, have no time and energy left to read. Over indulgence in WhatsApp and Twitter probably is another reason for deterioration, as the expressions on these platforms is abbreviated and in short forms. Then there is the issue of intake of the officers who are from all walks of life and lack the environment wherein they can form the habit of reading. Thus, the result is there to see. Therefore, an officer has to somehow find at least half an hour in a day to devote to reading.

Medium of instruction in India is largely English hence, to grasp any subject one must know the language well which also helps in reproducing the same whenever so required. Grasping allows one to express the same in different ways and one doesn’t have to bank on mugging.

Read Reflect RepeatI remember that till the late Eighties Officer’s Week were planned as a part of annual training schedule at Brigade levels. During this week all officers were required to present a book review and speak for half an hour on any subject other than their profession. In units, the Commanding Officer used to encourage officers to speak on general topic during tea breaks. This is how the officers were encouraged to form a habit of reading which was a very good trend.

Knowing the language well helps to project oneself and stand out in any gathering. Grasping any matter helps in the growth of an individual as he can participate in any discussion and debate on it logically. Thus, the advantages of mastering the English language are far too many, and moreover it is the official language in the Forces. There is no denying the fact that reading alone helps in improving one’s language and learn different nuances of expressions. The reading can be on any topic of general interest of an individual like fictions, autobiographies, thrillers, military history etc.  As one forms the habit of reading one can start selecting choicest authors, who have distinct methods of expression.

Those cadets in academies who have some mastery over the English language, generally fare better than the other cadets. It does not take them time to understand a topic and reproduce the same as when required. It is, therefore, essential that right from the academy days the cadets should be encouraged to read. The instructors should tweak the minds of the cadets and make them understand the advantages of knowing a language well. This trend should start at the school level as well; wherein teachers should make the students write essays on innovative topics as an impromptu competition. Most importantly, the hierarchy in the Forces should take it on to themselves, as an improvement agenda of officers under their command. As command over the English language is an important tool for the growth of an officer.

It is, therefore, the bounden duty of teaching staff at academies to endeavour to develop the habit of reading amongst cadets earnestly. It could also be made a part of assessment as a part of syllabus. At unit level, the Commanding Officers should inculcate the habit of reading amongst officers, irrespective of seniority as a part of training programme for every quarter, wherein an officer should read a book and speak on it before all the officers for half an hour and questions should be asked by the audience at the end. The Officer’s Week can be reintroduced at Brigade levels of Command and time permitting, the Divisional Commander should make a surprise visit as per the training programme.

Col CM Chavan (retd)

 

 

Need for Intellectual Development

Kindly refer to your piece in ‘First Person’ column on page 79 of FORCE magazine January 2018 issue.

You have touched upon a very critical issue, that of the imperative need of ‘intellectual development’ of our military officers. I have been leading a campaign called ‘Victory India’ for past six years relating to issues for improving the quality of our military leadership at all levels.

Your piece has highlighted the need for intellectual development through reading, reflecting, repeating and reproducing /writing. This glaring shortcoming has not only adversely affected the military but also the vast civil world from where our intake is inducted.

Your noble intention has been well comprehended not only by me but many other senior veterans with whom I been regularly interacting. The piece has already been circulated by me for a serious debate amongst military veterans and academicians in the civil world. Views and Counterviews are being obtained to reach a consensus and conclusion to enable the drafting of a practical vision/way forward to address this serious shortcoming that has already negatively impacted the intellectual level of our military leadership even in the apex/ higher levels, especially in the Army.

Col Vinay Dalvi (retd)

 

 

Reading Distinguishes Leaders

The author is bang on! On one side it is an established fact that reading distinguishes leaders. Research shows that one fact that distinguishes the best men/women who rise up as leaders is that they spare time amounting to a few hours of reading every week.

On the other hand, there is this vision about making military men and junior leaders in the academy where there is no relief from running around just to ‘survive’. ‘Blind obedience’, ‘if they start thinking they will not obey’, ‘don’t think, leave the thinking to us’ and such other notions rule the roost at the academy.

The cadets pledge themselves to a life of obedience in a military context when they sign on and they are aware of it. You don’t have to rub it in needlessly. Rather the aim should be to make them rise intellectually so that they can be military leaders with vision, erudite, and capable of holding their own in a forum of intellectuals. They must have the depth to understand their men, the context they come from, their aspirations and a whole lot of other things. This is an absolute necessity to be able to lead anybody for that matter.

NDA does not provide that opportunity, meaningfully at least, in the present context. ‘Cradle of military leadership’ or ‘Cradle of military heading’, what is the vision that is presently driving the NDA?

Nixon Fernando
Counsellor from NDA

 

Immediately Implement Reading

Ancient India, the cradle of civilisation and learning, nurtured the concept of saint-soldier. For a soldier/ commander/ king, virtues of mental balance and equanimity would emerge from values being imparted by a saint. Never hitting a man when he was down, never coveting somebody’s wife/ land were some of the basic values passed on to generations. Some of the rishis were equally adept in the art of warfare. However, one thing was common and that was erudition. Lord Rama is an iconic example of a learned saint-soldier, his gurus (Vashist and Vishwamitra) not only taught him all the vedas/ shastras/ ganit, but also taught him the deployment and use of Brahamastra, which was the ultimate deterrent. Late 18th century again witnessed this concept playing out in the battles fought by Guru Govind Singh and his band of legendary fighters.

Without reading how can the intellect be developed? Reading opens up the mind to different ideas, concepts and alternate ways of doing things. Had it not been for the reading of military history and some well-known classics we would be constantly staring at failure in battles as some basic concepts of warfare are perennial gems to be learnt and implemented:

  • Never reinforce failure (choose a different route)
  • Surprise is a force multiplier
  • Moral courage to Physical Force is 3:1
  • Know the enemy
  • Look after your men better than their mothers do

These are a few nuggets taken from classics like War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy), Sun Tzu, Napoleon Bonaparte, Gen. Douglas McArthur and George S. Patton Jr.

Reading, reflecting, discussing, debating, writing and doing basic arithmetic puzzles develops abstract/ creative thinking. Most of the complex solutions in battlefield are going to emerge from ‘out of the box implementation of ideas’. Following the tried and tested beaten path will yield diminishing returns as the enemy would also have studied our standard reaction patterns in a set piece of given situation.

I whole-heartedly endorse the concerns raised in the article ‘Read. Reflect. Repeat’ by Ghazala Wahab regarding lack of reading habit among the new generation of officers. Her contention that ‘reading is to mind what exercise is to body’ deserves immediate attention and implementation among the officer class.

Col P.K. ‘Royal’ Mehrishi (retd)

 

Read, Write and Grow

When I was seven years old my uncle told me to not only read but write as well. Writing could be anything from letters to poetry to stories et all. He further added that ‘Son as you grow you will see/hear lots of things that in your opinion ought to be changed.’ But he cautioned me that before opening your mouth (and putting your foot) you must consider writing your proposal. Sleep over it and read the next day. He elaborated further and said that ‘in most cases you will find that your proposal, which was delivered verbally, was a proposal put forward by an ass’. So, write before you open your mouth was the dictum.

Gp Capt. T.P. Srivastava (retd)