Saturday, November 12, 2005

Battle Cries

At With A Grain Of Salt, Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta reflects on how "the Iraqi insurgents’ video showed how the insurgents shot a downed pilot in cold blood, all the while intoning 'Allah-u-Akbar', in a revenge attack for the marines killing the wounded insurgent in a Fallujah mosque. Quite shocking, no? In another video, somebody was invoking the name of God, while going about lopping an Egyptian’s (accused of being an informer) head off":
The Vikings screamed and imitated animal sounds, during battle, to intimidate their enemies. One of their cries was "Ahoy!" which has now taken on a much kinder meaning in common usage. The other example is from Japanese war history where attacking the kamikaze and ordinary pilots battle cry was "Tora, Tora, Tora!" which means, "Tiger, Tiger, Tiger!". They would also shout “Banzai” as well, which means literally ‘may you live ten thousand years’ and was used in salutation of the emperor and not just as a battle cry. . Battle of Britain pilots would bellow “Tally-ho” as a sign that the enemy has been sighted and battle will commence.

The French revolutionaries used “Liberty” as a battle cry. But quite often, “follow me”, “charge”, “after me” were battle cries used by officers wanting to lead by example, we have disparate evidence of this battle cry being used by English Armoured corps officers in the North African Campaign, in various WW II battles, by Palmach in Israel, etc.

But it is crying out God’s name which seems to be the most common. During the Middle Ages, the English Kings use the motto "Dieu et mon droit" ("God and my right") as a battle cry, for example Edward III's rallying cry at the Battle of Crécy. In Spain, during the Reconquista from the Moors, they cried "Santiago", looking for holy protection from St. James, the patron saint of Spain. The French knights of the Middle Ages used "Montjoie! St Denis!", while the Crusaders used the cry “Denique coelum!” (‘Heaven at last!’). At the Battle of Hastings, the Saxon army officers cried "Olicrosse!" and "Godamite!", while the regular foot soldiers cried "Ut! Ut! Ut!" ("Out! Out! Out!"). The Normans' cry was "Dex Aie!" ("God aid us!"). This was last used by the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry during the First World War.

I have already mentioned the cries of ‘Allah-u-Akbar’, but when one sees the other religious ground in India, we see huge examples of battle cries. "Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal" is the battle cry of Sikhs who, by virtue of their religion, and their location in North West India, were involved in many wars and battles against the Muslim invaders, the British etc. The British Indian Army (and its predecessor, the British East India Company Presidency Armies) have a very long history. In addition, these regiments were usually arranged and organised on the basis of religion and region. So you would have Bengal Regiments, Madras Regiments, Sikh Regiment, Mahar Regiment, Maratha Regiment, so on and so forth. You would hear cries such as “Jai Bhavani”, “Jai Durga”, “Jai Kali” and “Jai Jagdamba” (strangely enough, the cries seem to be requests to the Goddesses for safety and protection).

It was a fascinating exercise to read all these collated research snippets about battle cries. If one closed one’s eyes, one could almost hear these cries, the sounds of battle, the screams and groans of the wounded, the ringing of swords or the sounds of explosions, smell the stench and the smoke and feel the horror of war. You could almost hear the battle cries floating over the mass of struggling men, down the ages, who have whipped themselves up into a frenzy, almost berserker rage. I wonder what would have happened at night, when tired, hungry, bloodied men would be sitting around their camp-fires, hearing the hyenas and dogs tearing apart the dead, looking at empty bed rolls, and wondering about the families of the dead soldiers. Not much use for a battle cry at this stage is there? Strange indeed are the ways of men at war. Eleanor Roosevelt talked about war being the worst way to solve a problem saying: "I can not believe that war is the best solution. No one won the last war, and no one will win the next war."
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