Gen. George S Patton, the controversial American general during the Second World War, whose memory still commands a fan following which runs into millions, (search his name on any good search engine on the internet to be convinced of this), had this piece of advice, or some say order, for his soldiers: “I don’t want any of you dying for your country. I want the enemies to die for their country.” The earthy, even if a little reckless charm of the man who must rank as one of the most endearing icons of the last century, is evident in this remark that snuffs out the romance of martyrdom in just one go. In an ironic tribute to his distaste for romance, the man considered to be one of America’s greatest Generals had to face the court martial after the war for physically assaulting one of his own soldiers on the eve of a major battle in the North African deserts for crying and admitting he was afraid and did not want to fight. The military commander after whose name the famous Patton Tank is christened, was indeed the anticlimax of the popular notions of heroism and martyrdom, and very much the opposite of the fire that drives suicide bombers to blast themselves up in their fanatical belief that they would have not only advanced the cause they fight for, but earned themselves an eternity in paradise after life.
While we admire the guts of martyrs and are overawed by their sense of sacrifice, we cannot always condone or encourage people to take their path. Our reservation is especially for the kind of almost voyeuristic obsession amongst people to nudge the society to throw up martyrs. We respect the martyrs, but are frightfully uneasy about the “martyrdom complex” that makes societies crave to see martyrs and treat the phenomenon as the proof of “manly” courage. Martyrdom must be the means to achieve a cause only when there are no other options left, and not the cause itself. It must be a means and not an end. We do believe martyrs and heroes will be thrown up by history on its own when the situation so demands it but we should not drive our young men and women to fruitless and even tragic martyrdom. Even in desperate situations, we believe there is always room for the kind of down to earth pragmatism of Gen Patton.
We have one person in particular in mind, and a string of events in Manipur in the recent past when we ruminate on the subject of martyrdom. There is a brave young lady, Irom Sharmila who has been on a fast for almost four years now demanding the revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. While her courage is awe inspiring, and her cause just, we still feel those in the gallery have no right to egg her on to die and be martyred. Somebody with her kind of guts can do much more as a living activist for justice, than as a dead martyr. We must work for ways for the revocation of the AFSPA, more importantly, the return of peace in the state relentlessly, but Sharmila must be made to live. We again are awestruck by the self immolation bid by the five brave youth three days ago in front of the chief minister’s office, but we are equally alarmed by the trend. If tomorrow suicide bombers emerge from our midst, rather than be proud, we would be grief stricken. It is of relevance that suicide bombers anywhere have not advanced the cause for which they fight, and if they have made a difference to the body politics of any nation, it has been by way of hardening the state response to the struggles for their causes. Whenever we are overwhelmed by the grandeur of the “death wish” of brave men and women like Sharmila and the five who sought to burn themselves alive for causes that are far from private, we pinch ourselves awake with Gen Patton’s pragmatism. We remind ourselves that living heroes are far more desirable than dead martyrs.