Glorious Terrible War

As Arjuna looked through the corner of his eyes, he spotted Karna’s chariot ravaging through the battlefield. This was his chance to glory, all his life he had trained for this moment. Today, he will fight Karna, his arch-rival, the ultimate warrior, and a noble enemy. Stories will be written, and songs will be sung about his victory over Karna. And even if it does not go in his favor, the doors of heaven will be open! All the deities will welcome him as he died a noble death on the battlefield. As he approached Karna, a shower of arrows greeted him. He also started shooting arrows with exceptional speed and precision. All the great warriors and common foot-soldiers alike stopped fighting to watch this ultimate dual. Even the gods showed up to see this belle of death and glory. With tremendous skill, Karna would strike down all his arrows, as does he. But he is just a bit better than Karna. Amid this deadly dance, he saw an opportunity. He loaded his finest arrow, pulled the string of his might bow Gandiva to his ears–in this moment of excellence, he even forgot about the glory and the songs through the ages–and let the arrow go. It traveled like a beam of light, like a fish in the water, quick and nimble, it pierced through Karna’s shiny armor. Karna looked him in the eyes for the last time, not with enmity, but with friendly respect as he had beat him fair on the battlefield. He also gave a friendly nod, as Karna took his last breath. The soldiers cheered in a roar, and all the mighty warriors applauded, even the gods admired his skills. Ages will remember him for this moment!

And he woke up from his daydream. Karna’s chariot is in front of him, stuck in the mud. Karna is on the ground, desperately trying to get the wheel out of the mud. His clothes and his armor covered in filth. Sri Krishna, Arjuna’s Sarathi, tells him, “Shoot Arjuna! This is your chance.” “But he is unarmed,” his voice cracked. “This is not the time for pondering, Arjuna. Think about the thousands of Pandava soldiers he will kill. What if he kills one of your brothers? “. He took out an arrow, reluctantly and with shame. The arrow stuck Karna and open a large wound on his torso. Red blood started to flow, mixing with the dirt. Karna tried to stop the bleeding with his hands but in vain. The mighty Karna lay dead on the ground, covered in dirt, his eyes wide open with anger. But for Arjuna, it was he who was covered in filth. Filth and shame. He did not feel like a great warrior but a murderer. 

He felt like running away, leaving the war behind, never to touch a bow again. But as he saw around, soldiers hacking each other, beating the downed men to death, charioted warriors killing foot-soldiers by the dozens, blood and screams of the wounded. The rush of battle ran through his veins. He was no worse than the ones fighting around; he alone was not a murderer. And if it is in his destiny, like his son Abhimanyu, he will also see his day of glory. He raised his bow and engaged again in the Glorious Terrible War.

Note: Recently, I stumbled upon Jeff Wright’s excellent podcast on the Trojan War. One of the episodes in the podcast is titled Glorious Terrible War, where he talks about how Homer in The Iliad sings about the glory of war but does not shy away from showing it’s terror. I realized the Mahabharat also does the same and it served as the inspiration for this post. The killing of Karna exposes the terrible nature of war, but in the hearts and minds of the warriors, the hope of glory still endures.

Wars of our Time – War in Afghanistan (Not the one you think)

In December 1979, the Soviet Union launched an invasion on Afghanistan or, more precisely, on the Mujahideen rebels in Afghanistan. The Soviet intervention was mostly to support the communist lead government of Afghanistan. The Soviet operation was not the start of a war, per se. But in response to the civil war that was ravaging the country for the last 18 months — ever since the communist government took control of the country — a war that the Afghan government was not winning. However, this intervention will bring international “attention” to this poor land-locked country and will have some long-lasting effects on world diplomacy.

Big Brother is Watching (and supplying arms)

With the Soviets in Afghanistan, it was not long before the United States got interested. They just wanted to do whatever they can do to make life miserable for the Soviets. Pakistan supported the Mujahideen rebel groups ever since their inception, and now the United States was supporting Pakistan. This was a beautiful arrangement for the United States because, with all the arms they provided, the Mujahideen groups were giving real tough time to the Soviets. Although the Soviets were largely successful with their campaigns, in a war like this, the longer the war drags, the more they would get defeated, and defeated they were. In 1985 they gave up and pulled the army back from Afghanistan. This war — apparently a Jihad against atheist and progressive Soviets-also attracted a bunch of fighters/financiers/warlords from all over the world, one such individual was Osama Bin Laden.

Check out this awesome video by Feature History for more details

The Mess

The Soviets left, but the war did not. The Soviets were merely aiding the Afghan government if you remember, and now the government had to fight without their direct support. They backed the government with material for a while. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the aid dried up, and soon the Mujahideen groups took control of most of Afghanistan by 1992. This might seem like the end of the war, for better or for worse. However, as they were deciding on how to share the power among themselves, there were disagreements. Most groups under the leadership of Rabbani and Massoud agreed to share power, but Hekmatyar and his Pakistan backed militia wanted Kabul for themselves, and a new war commence. By 1996 a new group of militia called Taliban, also backed by Pakistan, emerged as the strongest force. Soon they conquered Kabul. Massoud and his supporters, often called the Northern Alliance, were facing tough odds.

What About the War?

On September 9, 2001, Massoud was assassinated by Taliban fighters disguised as journalists. With their leader gone, defeat was imminent for Northern Alliance. Two days later — 7000 miles away, in a world completely different from the barren hills of Afghanistan — something happened. As tragic and terrible as war. Soon a new military will join the fight, with drones and Kevlar vests and aircraft careers.

As for war, war will continue.