Soldiering: A Saga of Ethos And Values

Soldiering faces new challenges with the passage of time, in style of wars being fought and the accompanied technology evolution but ethics, values and moral continues to be the never changing qualities of a valiant soldier

By Maj Gen CP Singh

Army Day Feature

“We fight to win and win with a knockout because there are no runners up in war”:    General JJ Singh

Leadership is an art and not a science because leaders convert defeat into victory.  Military Leadership is at the highest pedestal of leadership because leading men into battle is a privilege given to a select few. From times immemorial, Indian Armed Forces have had a saga of finest military ethos and values, so essential for victory in battle.

It’s an awesome responsibility to train, motivate and lead your men to victory when both, the officer and the men he leads, are aware that some of them may not come back alive. Military service to the nation is, therefore, a tradition of bravest of brave.

Since the inception of our country, Indian Armed Forces have defended the nation primarily by the dedication of its soldiers. The country, proud of its soldiers, certainly appreciates their basic ethics like discipline, integrity, loyalty, patriotism, selfless service and courage.

Unchanged ethos of soldiering

Ethics, Values and Moral are the binding force of a soldier. The best example of leadership values comes from the great epic ‘Mahabharata’. In those days kings were also the military leaders.

After the war was over and Pandavas were victorious, Lord Krishna took the King Yudhistra and his brothers to great warrior, Bhishma Pitamah, lying on a bed of arrows, to learn some lessons in Rashtra Dharma’ and ’Principles of Leadership’.   Bhisma Pitamah gave them following three advices:

First, the conduct of a leader at all times must be above reproach. He must   control his passion and act in a righteous manner to perform ‘Rashtra Dharma’.

Second, a leader must place his own interests after the cause he is fighting for and welfare of the men, he is leading.

Third, a leader must not be too indulgent. He must not be too harsh otherwise that will adversely affect the morale of the men in attaining the goal.  

Bhishma Pitamah’s views on leadership, articulated thousands of years ago, continues to be relevant, even today.

Military Leadership is at the highest pedestal of leadership because leading men into battle is a privilege given to a select few

Fast forward, 5000 years to Indian Military Academy where the Gentlemen Cadets complete their training and take the oath as Officers. The Chetwode motto, given by General, Sir Philips Chetwode, Commander-in-Chief, India in 1932, during first ‘Passing Out Parade’ of Indian Military Academy, is etched in hearts of all officers, till date and remains the guiding principle throughout their military career.  The Chetwode Motto is:

“The safety, honour and welfare of your country comes first, always and every time,       

The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next,

Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.”

There are striking similarities between what Bhisma Pitamah said and what General Phillips Chetwode has laid down. The ethos and value system of military leadership remains same from Mahabharata till date.

The military ecosystem   

The Army reflects the character of a nation’s heritage, values and culture. The army ecosystem has to be in harmony with the society to co-exist and yet be the beacon of hope for all. The concept of duty, service and self-sacrifice has always been associated with the military leadership.

A leader must place his own interests after the cause he is fighting for and welfare of the men, he is leading

The sacrificial content of the leadership ethos built up over decades has served the country well and the military was able to maintain the general perception of being trustworthy professionals. While ethics is related to a long tradition and social values, morality is linked to one’s personal belief.  These three words of Ethics, Moral and Values are the binding force of a military man.

The moral principles of the Army’s ethics and values inherent within it have always existed and been a point of introspection amongst the members of the ecosystem. Over the years, the Army has repeatedly examined and articulated   institutional values and working ethos in the rapidly changing socio-economic environment of the country.  This evolution to be the best, at all times, continues even today.

The warrior ethos

The warrior ethos forms the heart of the military profession and operational effectiveness. The Indian soldier is amongst the best in the world, because he too is imbued with the qualities of putting the country above all else. He follows his officers unquestioningly and undergoes great discomfort in unbelievably difficult circumstances without complaint.

The ethos of the armed forces is the essence of life for its members and inspires them to carry out extraordinary acts of courage.  There are certain qualities of head and heart that separate the men in ‘Olive Greens’ from the rest of the world. Some of these qualities that set them apart are:

  • Nation First’ attitude
  • Last hope of the nation, therefore have to win all the time
  • Follow Rashtra Dharma, overcoming own affiliations.
  • Secular Credentials
  • Apolitical Nature
  • Role Model for the Society
  • Passion to do and die for the country, unmindful of own feelings, emotions and hardships.
  • Exemplary personal conduct.

The Army values  

The defining character of Armed Forces, entrusted with the security of our nation, is built upon an intrinsic value-based system. Essential qualities of professional commitment, loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honour, integrity and personal courage emanate from this ecosystem and ethical conduct of soldiers is driven by this value system.  Soldiers learn these values in detail during Basic Combat Training (BCT), from then on they live with them every day.

Challenges of the 21st century

The 21st century, is often labelled as the information age. With revolution in military technology, future conflicts will also face a great challenge of virtual warfare. The typical ‘hand to hand combat’ will be the last phase of any battle or may also be reduced to a miniscule level.

The advancement of Missile technology has enabled targeting beyond thousands of kilometers, with ICBMs having ranges between beyond 6000 km and capable of hitting any target in the world. The capability of the Air Force is being proved in Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Ukraine war, wherein thousands of people have been killed due to aerial bombing without loss of a single pilot. The recent killing of Al-Qaeda Chief Ayman Al Zawahiri by a drone fired missile, is a technology demonstrator.

The changing nature of warfare, equipped with Robots, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning as well as the expansion of national interests well beyond geographical boundaries, due to economic interests, have placed fresh challenges on soldiering.

The strategic aim in future conflicts will be to subdue the enemy without fighting. Thus, the context of Ethics, Morale, and Values of military leaders and soldiers will be defined in a new dimension

The strategic aim in future conflicts will be to subdue the enemy without fighting. Interestingly, we will be killing the enemy without even seeing it eye to eye. Thus, the context of Ethics, Morale, and Values of military leaders and soldiers will be defined in a new dimension and they are expected to bring major changes for military commanders at all levels.

As India emerges to find its rightful place in the world, the Indian Army will continue to be pivotal towards building a strong, modern and resurgent India. Its ‘Nation First’ ecosystem built upon the   ethos of a secular, motivated, apolitical and professional force   remain the pedestal of national growth and prosperity.

The Indian Army has a long and illustrious record; it has excelled both in war and peace; ensuring security against internal and external threats. While we have an enviable record, the future will demand increasingly higher levels of professionalism. The respect, dignity, wellbeing and stature of its soldier in turn must thus be preserved and nurtured by the nation.

Human resource is precious in Army because it’s the man behind the machine that wins the war. Creating an environment for learning and growth to excel in war and peace is the primary function of all commanders at each level. If the nation doesn’t invest in motivating and raising the morale of its soldiers, it’s sliding on a path of disaster.

A good example of unmotivated soldiers is the ’Bangladesh War’ where 93,000 soldiers having arms, equipment and rations to fight for six months, finally surrendered because they lost the will to fight. On this Army Day, let us join hands to applaud the efforts of the great ‘Indian Armed Forces’ who made it happen.

-The writer is an avid reader and prolific writer. Post retirement, he is a Social Activist, Career Consultant and a Motivational Speaker of repute. He can be contacted at www.majgencpsingh.com