Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Dressed to Kill

The famed 'flag march', where Indian and Pakistani soldiers engage in a competitive display of high-camp macho posturing, is to be toned down, tragic collateral damage from improving relations between the two nuclear armed states.

This is bad news for tourists, who loved the spectacle, but somewhat indifferent news for military pundits, for whom a rule of thumb is that the more a nation postures in peacetime, the less effective it is in time of war.

To be fair to the Indian and Pakistani armies, the guys doing the high kicking with fans on their heads are only border guards: had things kicked off on the sub-continent the real fighting would have been carried out by scruffier soldiers.

The stereotype of the army that is all trouser and no mouth, so to speak, is that of the African 'banana republic'. These soldiers, with their paratrooper berets, starched camouflage gear and shades, used to be a feature of the evening news when I was growing up - every dictator worth his salt had division or so. You knew just by looking at them that the only operation they could carry out even semi-competently was the Military Coup. By contrast the soldiers that did the real fighting: the Viet Cong, the SAS, the Taliban, always looked like sh*t by comparison.

Historically the supreme prize for show over substance goes though to the Romanian army of the
First World War. The Romanians, at that time, has a reputation of being 'the Neapolitans of Eastern Europe' and under the leadership of General Ion Emanuel Florescu their army's drab Khaki became a work of art. Uniforms were enlivened with commemorative plaques and emblems, and special get-up was designed for engineers, brewers, baggage handlers and every other hanger-on in the army. The General's Orders of the Day usually included a dress code as well. So fastidious was the Romanian grunt about his appearance that a rule had be enacted that banned the use of make up to all except commissioned officers.

Whatever amorous thoughts the suited-and-booted Romanian soldier inspired in the ladies, it certainly wasn't matched by a lust for combat. When Romania entered the war on the Allies side in 1916, their army put on rather a poor show. Indeed stories abound of whole Romania units mistaking their frustrated Russian allies for their Austro-Hungarian enemies and trying to surrender to them.

All of which suggests that if we want peace, rather than toning down their flag ceremony, India and Pakistan should be spicing it up a bit, perhaps even letting the rest of the world take part.

So perhaps we should dream of a world where combat troops have been replaced by combat troupes and where we can all sleep safer in our beds?

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