Wednesday, June 20, 2012

ANIMALS IN SERVICE OF IMPERIUM


London has numerous interesting war memorials. However, the one that specifically caught my attention is neither dedicated to any General nor any soldier. It is a mark of respect to those numerous horses, pigeons, mules, dogs and myriad other animals, who laid their life in service of the British nation during the Wars in the 20th century. 

The war memorial is driven by British love for animals rather than animals’ desire for recognition. Sculpted by David Backhouse, the memorial is situated near Hyde Park. The monument shows a horse in the lead majestically gazing at the future. Following the leader’s tail is a dog. A wall divides these two warriors from two loaded mules bringing up the rear.

The nameless animals depicted in the memorial were neither citizen-soldiers nor mercenaries. They neither understood Clausewitzan ‘absolute war’ nor were they capable of comprehending Kant’s ‘perpetual peace’. The mammals merely followed the idiosyncratic and autocratic commands of their masters engaged in the pursuit of power, because terms like glory, honour and sacrifice were alien to them.

Unlike the human soldiers they never bothered their commanding officers with issues like morale, mother or matrimony. Barring the canine, the other animals could hardly distinguish between friend or foe. They neither required special war time rations nor the morale booster booze to plunge themselves into war zones. They became witness to the most brutal periods in human history not for any entertainment value but because their DNA strands were networked to serve the humans.

Viewed purely in military terms the horse represents the strike core, the dog symbolizes the importance of intelligence to military operations, the pigeons form the signal corps and the beast of burden carrying the supplies reveals the crucial role played by military logistics in any war.
 However, when I look at the monument as a student of international politics, I tend to superimpose my ideas on the hapless animal figures and transform them into nations. If horse represents the power of British imperialism and the wall symbolizes the divide between the core and the periphery, then where does India (the jewel in the British crown) fit into the scheme of things? Is India represented by the dog or the mule? India was a faithful servant of the empire, but was it considered good enough to be an intelligence agent?

India could not be a dog, because the British never considered Indians intelligent enough to be officer in the army. But the Indian colonial rulers recruited large number of Sepoys (foot soldiers) to consolidate their empire.

One could argue that India was a mule in the British war efforts; it bore the burden of war without questioning the supremacy of its masters. If India was one of the mules, then who is the other mule in the memorial? The other mule represents the Africans soldiers, who much like the Indians added to the British strength, without ever asking questions about the validity or legality of war.

We have identified the horse and the mules but the question still remains-who was the dog? Whom did the British consider to be the most trusted ally during WW I. Who did they consider intelligent enough to provide them with battle field information? It could not have been France, because it obviously was another big horse in the war? America was on the British side of the fence; moreover, it was a neutral observer at that time merely sniffing around to gauge the international situation. Possibly, America was the British dog during the First World War.

Unlike the sculpture, history continues to dynamic.; it has undergone a massive shift over past century. Britain is still in the forefront, but it is no longer the horse in international power equations. America is the new horse and Britain is its sniffer dog. Is India still a coolie in the present scheme of things? How can India be a mule? It has become an important American strategic ally. Moreover, war against terrorism and growing Chinese might requires better intelligence and therefore more number of dogs around the world.

So when India expresses it wishes to be a world power, it actually is hinting that it has crossed the Rubicon dividing the underdeveloped and the developed world. It is no longer a dud mule on the other side of the wall, it is in fact fit enough to be a dog of American empire.

Years later, if an American sculptor decides to pay his tribute to animals in war, he probably will have many more dogs following the American horse and the private military contractors or robots will have the privilege of being depicted as mules.