Rajputs – Why they Lost …

Posted on February 21, 2018. Filed under: From a Services Career, Regimental, Uncategorized |

From Scroll.in ……  They were defeated by Ghazni, Ghuri, Khilji, Babur, Akbar, the Marathas and the British.

A thousand years ago, Rajput kings ruled much of North India. Then they lost to Ghazni, lost to Ghuri, lost to Khilji, lost to Babur, lost to Akbar, lost to the Marathas, and keeled over before the British. The Marathas and Brits hardly count since the Rajputs were a spent force by the time Akbar was done with them. Having been confined to an arid part of the subcontinent by the early Sultans, they were reduced to vassals by the Mughals.

The three most famous Rajput heroes not only took a beating in crucial engagements, but also retreated from the field of battle. Prithviraj Chauhan was captured while bolting and executed after the second battle of Tarain in 1192 CE, while Rana Sanga got away after losing to Babur at Khanua in 1527, as did Rana Pratap after the battle of Haldighati in 1576. To compensate for, or explain away, these debacles, the bards of Rajputana replaced history with legend.

It is worth asking, surely, what made Rajputs such specialists in failure. Yet, the question hardly ever comes up. When it does, the usual explanation is that the Rajputs faced Muslim invaders whose fanaticism was their strength. Nothing could be further than the truth. Muslim rulers did use the language of faith to energise their troops, but commitment is only the first step to victory. The Rajputs themselves never lacked commitment, and their courage invariably drew the praise of their enemies.

Even a historian as fundamentalist as Badayuni rhapsodised about Rajput valour. Babur wrote that his troops were unnerved, ahead of the Khanua engagement, by the reputed fierceness of Rana Sanga’s forces, their willingness to fight to the death.

Let’s cancel out courage and fanaticism as explanations, then, for each side displayed these in equal measure. What remains is discipline, technical and technological prowess, and tactical acumen. In each of these departments, the Rajputs were found wanting. Their opponents, usually Turkic, used a complex battle plan involving up to five different divisions. Fleet, mounted archers would harry opponents at the start, and often make a strategic retreat, inducing their enemy to charge into an ambush.

Behind these stood the central division and two flanks. While the centre absorbed the brunt of the enemy’s thrust, the flanks would wheel around to surround and hem in opponents. Finally, there was a reserve that could be pressed into action wherever necessary. Communication channels between divisions were quick and answered to a clear hierarchy that was based largely on merit.

Contrast this with the Rajput system, which was simple, predictable, and profoundly foolish, consisting of a headlong attack with no Plan B. In campaigns against forces that had come through the Khyber Pass, Rajputs usually had a massive numerical advantage. Prithviraj’s troops outnumbered Ghuri’s at the second battle of Tarain by perhaps three to one. At Khanua, Rana Sanga commanded at least four soldiers for every one available to Babur. Unlike Sanga’s forces, though, Babur’s were hardy veterans.

After defeating Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat, the founder of the Mughal dynasty had the option of using the generals he inherited from the Delhi Sultan, but preferred to stick with soldiers he trusted. He knew numbers are meaningless except when acting on a coherent strategy under a unified command. Rajput troops rarely answered to one leader, because each member of the confederacy would have his own prestige and ego to uphold. Caste considerations made meritocracy impossible. The enemy general might be a freed Abyssinian slave, but Rajput leadership was decided by clan membership.

Absent meritocratic promotion, an established chain of command, a good communication system, and a contingency plan, Rajput forces were regularly taken apart by the opposition’s mobile cavalry. Occasionally, as with the composite bows and light armour of Ghuri’s horsemen, or the matchlocks employed by Babur, technological advances played a role in the outcome.

Ossified tactics

What’s astonishing is that centuries of being out-thought and out-manoeuvred had no impact on the Rajput approach to war. Rana Pratap used precisely the same full frontal attack at Haldighati in 1576 that had failed so often before. Haldighati was a minor clash by the standards of Tarain and Khanua. Pratap was at the head of perhaps 3,000 men and faced about 5,000 Mughal troops. The encounter was far from the Hindu Rajput versus Muslim confrontation it is often made out to be.

Rana Pratap had on his side a force of Bhil archers, as well as the assistance of Hakim Shah of the Sur clan, which had ruled North India before Akbar’s rise to power. Man Singh, a Rajput who had accepted Akbar’s suzerainty and adopted the Turko-Mongol battle plan led the Mughal troops. Though Pratap’s continued rebellion following his defeat at Haldighati was admirable in many ways, he was never anything more than an annoyance to the Mughal army. That he is now placed, in the minds of many Indians, on par with Akbar or on a higher plane says much about the twisted communal politics of the subcontinent.

There’s one other factor that contributed substantially to Rajput defeats: the opium habit. Taking opium was established practice among Rajputs in any case, but they considerably upped the quantity they consumed when going into battle. They ended up stoned out of their minds and in no fit state to process any instruction beyond, “kill or be killed”.

Opium contributed considerably to the fearlessness of Rajputs in the arena, but also rendered them incapable of coordinating complex manoeuvres. There’s an apt warning for school kids: don’t do drugs, or you’ll squander an empire.

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An NDA Cadet’s Father Writes ….

Posted on January 21, 2018. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Letters of an NDA Cadet’s Father to his Son’s Div Officer –

1. I have sent Vikas to National Defence Academy. My duty ended there. If he is not performing well in the Academy, then I suggest you review your own performance, because it is your responsibility to make him do the needful to pass all the subjects.

2. Girte Hain Shah-Sawar Hi Maidan-E-Jung Mein; Woh Tifl Kya Gire Jo Ghut-non Ke Bal Chala Karte Hain! (It is only those who ride a horse in the battle field who fall; How can cowards fall who walk only on their knees).

3. My son has dreamt to become a pilot and by shifting his stream to Social Studies you are taking him away from his dream. Vikas may fail, but he will learn. I have handed my son over to you. Do what is required. You can kick him, kill him, but I want to see him, as an Airforce Pilot.

Hard work and grit paid off and the Boy joined the IAF and won the Vayu Sena Medal

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Animal Facts You will Love …

Posted on November 24, 2017. Filed under: Personalities, Uncategorized |


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China and Realpolitik …

Posted on November 19, 2017. Filed under: Chinese Wisdom, Searching for Success, Uncategorized |

Times of India –

After a decade’s hibernation Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to rally Asia’s four democratic nations is again on the table. The name ‘China’ may not be in the mission of the Quadrilateral – comprising the US, Japan, Australia and India – but Beijing is understood by all to be the group’s core concern.

The rather low key launch of the Quad in Manila this week highlighted the caution of the once-bitten-twice-shy crowd. While the menace from a resurgent China has multiplied since Japan’s last attempt to bring together this loose union of democratic countries, so too have the risks of such a venture. The Quad’s members today face greater economic and even military consequences from antagonising China than they did a decade earlier.

In August 2007, fresh from his first electoral victory, Abe came to New Delhi and to the applause of Indian Parliament announced his plan for Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. The initiative had already led to its first quiet meeting on the sidelines of the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) gathering in Manila in June 2007.

Soon after Abe’s India visit, however, his government lost power and amid the more pressing priorities of the global financial crisis, the Quad project was shelved.

Strengthened by a strong new electoral mandate for his government and galvanised by China’s relentless advance towards a dominant position in east Asia, Abe has once again taken the lead in pushing for the Quad. Perhaps to avoid provoking China, at least in the initial stage, the launch was low key.

While the leaders of the four countries held consultations, they avoided a showy summit meeting. However, their differing perspectives on the Quad’s mission were revealed in the subtly different statements that they issued.

In separate statements issued by Quad partners they showed their preference and concerns in the a la carte selection of varied missions. For example, the Indian statement avoided mention of freedom of navigation and overflight – an issue that was highlighted by the others but one that is bound to raise Chinese hackles.

China has strongly criticised US Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) in South China Sea. India was silent on respect for international law and the peaceful resolution of disputes, also shying away from mentioning one of the key objectives sought by the other partners – upholding or coordinating maritime security in the Indo-Pacific. For its part, Japan was silent on “enhancing connectivity” sought by the other three, perhaps to avoid commitment on responding to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Behind the partners’ hesitant responses lies the hard reality of economics. While all are concerned by China’s aggressive moves in the South China and East Seas, along Sino-Indian border, and its heavy-handed moves vis-à-vis other neighbours, they cannot ignore the weight of their trade and investment relations.

In 2015-16, China ranked number one among Australia’s export markets, accounting for fully 28% of exports. China remains a major export destination for both Japan and India, and has shown no hesitation in administering economic punishment in response to what it views as hostile actions. Economic dependence on China is accentuated by economic disarray thrown by President Donald Trump among east Asian allies with his rejection of TPP.

In his single-minded transactional calculus, Trump seems to value bilateral relationships not based upon strategic or political consideration, but by some notional dollar value of a given business deal. Trump has stopped disparaging the US-Japan alliance after promise of, as Trump tweeted, “massive amounts” of military equipment purchase from the US.

Australia too has pleased Trump by ordering $1.3 billion worth of spy planes. Trump may well tweet that US support for the Quad will be contingent on American military sales to these countries.

Close economic ties form the backbone of any security cooperation and Trump’s disdain for multilateral trade pacts in favour of bilateral deals, as shown during the latest Apec summit, does not bode well for the Quad.

And yet there may be Hope —


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US vs N Korea 1950/2017 …

Posted on October 27, 2017. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The NY Times –

North Korea is gleefully shooting missiles over Japan and splashing them into the Pacific Ocean. With astounding technical felicity, it is building a weapons system that may soon be able to hoist hydrogen bombs into Los Angeles, Chicago or even Manhattan.

Meanwhile, two neophyte leaders with strange hair and thin skins are insulting each other in bizarre ways. President Trump called Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man” and threatens to “totally destroy North Korea.” Mr. Kim called Mr. Trump “a mentally deranged U.S. dotard” and threatens to “definitely tame” him with “fire.”

With a quiver of nuclear-tipped intercontinental missiles, the North Korean leader seems to have a good shot at doing what his father and grandfather did — living despotically to a ripe old age and dying from natural causes.

Yet deep in his dictatorial DNA, Kim Jong-un surely knows the risk of provoking a full-scale war with the United States. It did not go well for his family the last time around. During the Korean War (1950-53), his grandfather — Great Leader Kim Il-sung — cowered in bunkers as American bombs flattened his cities and legions of his people died.

What this should teach American policy makers — especially our history-challenged president and his blood-and-soil backers — is that a North Korean offensive strike is unlikely. That is, unless the Kim regime is provoked, perhaps by a particularly warmongering early-morning tweet, into believing that its existence really is at risk. The Trump administration needs to keep Kim family history in mind. It is a criminal enterprise focused on long-term survival, far more adept at enslaving its people than fighting big-boy wars.

Sadly, the United States has largely forgotten the lessons of the Korean War, even though that conflict cost the lives of more than 33,000 American combatants. The causes of this collective amnesia are varied: The Korean War ended in an inglorious tie that was impossible to celebrate. It produced no Greatest Generation myths and few memorable movies. Then came Vietnam — the first war to be truly televised, a war that is still being parsed on public television. Vietnam seared itself into our literary and cinematic culture, blotting out Korea, the Forgotten War.

In the summer of 1950, when North Korea started the Korean War with Soviet backing, Kim Il-sung was just 38 years old — a willful, pugnacious, wet-behind-the-ears dictator, not unlike his grandson today. In secret meetings with Stalin before the invasion, Kim delivered wildly enthusiastic and laughably wrongheaded analyses of how the war would unfold when his army stormed into South Korea.

He predicted that a formidable pro-Communist guerrilla force would spontaneously rise up in the South to fight with the North Korean military. It did not. He promised that the South Korean people would rally round his leadership. They did not. To top off his dubious claims, Kim assured Stalin that a North Korean victory would come in three days and the Americans would not intervene. The war has never ended; Americans still patrol the DMZ.

At his dacha outside Moscow, Stalin didn’t completely buy what Kim was trying to sell. He warned his eager Korean acolyte, “If you should get kicked in the teeth, I shall not lift a finger.” But the old Soviet boss wanted to torment the United States. So, he approved and supplied the invasion, while ordering Kim Il-sung to make it look as if South Korea had started the war.

The United States, of course, did fight back. President Harry S. Truman, Congress and the public were outraged by the invasion, interpreting it as a challenge to America’s character. In less than a week, Truman approved the use of ground forces.

After a halting and discouraging start that cost the lives of thousands of G.I.s, the American war machine became a murderous, unstoppable force. Using bombs and napalm, the United States Air Force blew up and burned down virtually every population center in North Korea. Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, estimated that “over a period of three years or so, we killed off — what — 20 percent of the population.” That’s about 1.9 million people.

American troops — fighting with South Korean and United Nations forces — shredded North Korea’s invading army, occupied Pyongyang, and marched north to the Chinese border, effectively erasing North Korea. Mao Zedong then stepped in, unwilling to tolerate American soldiers on his doorstep. Mao’s top general, Peng Dehuai, quickly sized up Kim Il-sung as a battlefield nincompoop. Calling his leadership “extremely childish,” Peng elbowed Kim out of the chain of command and made him a helpless spectator to his own war. Vast numbers of Chinese troops died to save North Korea from Kim’s bloody mistake; they kept his regime from becoming a footnote in Asian history.

Propagandists in Pyongyang have always lied to the North Korean people about this well-documented history, claiming that South Korea and the United States stealthily started the war and the Great Leader brilliantly won it. But his descendants and their military planners know better.

For all its Orwellian blather, the Kim family dictatorship has survived this long by being coldly rational, even as it projects wild-eyed belligerence.

If war were to come again, the regime must reckon that it is much less likely to get significant support from the countries that were the Communist mother ships of the mid-20th century. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a gangster shadow of Stalin’s Soviet Union. China’s political stability depends on vibrant trade with the West. What’s more, Kim Jong-un — with the timing of his nuclear tests and missile-launching antics — has gone out of his way to antagonize the Chinese president, Xi Jinping. North Korea, as a result, is more isolated than ever — even as it becomes a global nuclear threat.

The United States has to accept the obvious: Kim Jong-un is never going to give up his missiles. But he knows that if he uses them, he’s going to die or live in a bunker like Granddad. His nuclear hardware is most valuable on the shelf.

Mr. Trump should holster his “fire and fury” and cease uttering what Kim Jong-un accurately describes as “unprecedented rude nonsense.” Instead, Washington needs to settle in for an extended cold war with the Kims: strong military preparedness, energetic spying, flexible sanctions, quiet negotiations with China and Russia, and openness to conversations at whatever level is possible with North Koreans. It would help if Washington made unilateral gestures. Accept a North Korean ambassador in Washington. If possible, send an ambassador to Pyongyang. Acknowledge the heinous bombing of cities in the Korean War. Try to help the North Korean people feel as if the world is not against them.

War could still come and the United States would be lax if it wasn’t ready. The maturity of Kim Jong-un is questionable. Dazzled by the beauty of his weapons, he could try to use them to take control of the entire Korean Peninsula. But his family’s shattering history of wartime overreach suggests he knows better.

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1949 Set the Course of Chinese-American Relations …

Posted on October 15, 2017. Filed under: Uncategorized |

A FORCE SO SWIFT – Mao, Truman and the Birth of Modern China, 1949
By Kevin Peraino Reviewed by ORVILLE SCHELL

Kevin Peraino’s absorbing book covers that tipping-point year, 1949, when Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party came to power and things not only changed radically within China, but also for Chinese-American relations. After several decades of close ties to Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists, including a wartime alliance, the United States plunged first into cold war with China and then hot war (in Korea), followed by several decades of almost complete diplomatic separation.

“A Force So Swift” chronicles these epic changes through the eyes of a star-studded cast that includes President Harry Truman, the diplomat George Kennan, United States Representative Walter Judd, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, Madame Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin, with the United States secretary of state, Dean Acheson — whose foppish handlebar mustache was described as “a triumph of policy planning” by the New York Times columnist James Reston — playing the dramatic lead.

Instead of putting readers “present at the creation” of the postwar global architecture in Europe, Peraino’s narrative puts them present at the genesis of that storm system of ambiguities and contradictions that came to grip Asia once Mao defeated Chiang. “I arrived just in time to have him collapse on me,” Acheson lamented. This so-called loss of China has echoed down through the decades so that today the United States still finds itself groping for how best to deal with an even more consequential China.

Acheson fancied himself a pragmatist who, like his director of policy planning, George Kennan, viewed Mao’s victory as the result of “tremendous, deep-flowing indigenous forces which are beyond our power to control.” Because of wanton corruption, Chiang’s “house appeared to be falling down,” leading Acheson to call for “strategic restraint,” and for building “a great crescent” of containment around China so, as Senator Arthur Vandenberg put it, Washington could adopt “sort of a wait, look, see policy.”

Being a devout Christian and a believer in freedom of the individual, Madame Chiang was appalled when Acheson came out with a China White Paper that he himself described as a “giant firecracker.” It declared that “Nationalist armies did not have to be defeated; they disintegrated” and that “the unfortunate but inescapable fact is that the ominous result of the civil war in China was beyond the control of the government of the US”.

Indeed, as President Xi Jinping has more recently tightened state controls over important aspects of life, despite all the hopes about the tonic effects of “engagement,” the path of China is now farther away from liberal democratic norms or a convergence with American interests than during the beginning of the reform era four decades ago. Then, many party leaders openly aspired to see China evolve in a more constitutional, law-based direction.

But instead of being led by an elite trained abroad (and not just in engineering, business administration and the sciences), allowing them to feel comfortable on both sides of the East-West divide, ranking Chinese leaders today remain so encumbered by the party’s official historical narrative of humiliation, victimization and “hostile foreign forces,” and so pumped up on nationalism, that even close personal friendships with American counterparts are grounds for suspicion.

Even though almost seven decades have elapsed since 1949, the enduring gap between the two countries’ political systems and values continues to widen and incubate worrisome levels of suspicion. Without being able to interact with the openness and ease of their Nationalist forerunners, current Chinese officials charged with bridging the still wide East-West gap are deprived of an essential building block.

For example, I am not aware of a single ranking party official or military officer in China who has a foreign spouse. What is more, the party now squeezes out as untrustworthy those Chinese whom it fears to have been overly influenced by the West, and even seeks to ostracize those foreign voices with which it disagrees.

As a result, a whole set of muscles essential for any two societies to interact in a fulsome and healthy manner is going missing.

While the United States and China enjoy growing volumes of trade, investment and travel, an increasingly impermeable membrane is simultaneously now being interposed between decision makers that deprives the two countries of critical tools in being able to develop a more convergent future.

Despite China’s remarkable economic “rejuvenation” and new wealth and power, there has been no commensurate restoration of that elusive quality possessed by Chiang’s Nationalist officials, and even his wife, that allowed them to be more comprehensively engaged with the outside world. The absence of this elusive cosmopolitanism constitutes a serious obstruction between the two countries, hindering their ability to reset the terms of the game and get along. And it’s hard to see any quick remedy.

Washington must once again decide, as Acheson asked in 1949, “what is possible, what is impossible, what are the consequences of some actions, what are the consequences of others?”

The relationship, always a difficult one, once again begs reinvention. However, unlike the world of 1949, so dramatically described by Peraino in his timely book, our current globalized world renders separation not even thinkable.

Orville Schell is the Arthur Ross director of the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations and a longtime writer on Chinese history and policy.

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Ladakh …

Posted on October 4, 2017. Filed under: Indian Thought, Uncategorized |


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Battle of Two Museums …

Posted on September 20, 2017. Filed under: Light plus Weighty, Personalities, Uncategorized |

2017 is undoubtedly the year of the feud. As celebrities and corporations alike take to Twitter to hash things out, two of the UK’s most respected scientific institutions, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum, have got in on the action.


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Danger of a Jihadist Pakistan …

Posted on September 6, 2017. Filed under: Uncategorized |

John Bolton in WSJ …

Almost certainly, the war in Afghanistan will be won or lost in Pakistan. President Trump’s announcement last week that he will send more U.S. troops—some sources say another 4,000—to Afghanistan represents a change in tactics from President Obama’s policy. But the ultimate objective is still opaque, and even once the specifics are articulated, what may ultimately matter more is the still-undeveloped “South Asia policy” promised by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

That means dealing with Pakistan. Islamabad has provided financial and military aid, including privileged sanctuaries, to the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Islamic State, al Qaeda and other malefactors, allowing them not just to survive but flourish. President Trump rightly says this must stop and is encouraging Pakistan’s principal adversary, India, to increase its economic assistance to Afghanistan.

But the task isn’t so straightforward. The Bush and Obama administrations also criticized Pakistan’s support for terrorists, without effect. Putting too much pressure on Pakistan risks further destabilizing the already volatile country, tipping it into the hands of domestic radical Islamicists, who grow stronger by the day.

Peter Tomsen, a former State Department regional expert, once described Pakistan as the only government he knew consisting simultaneously of arsonists and firefighters—often the same people, depending on the situation. Pakistan has teetered on the edge of collapse ever since it was created in the 1947 partition of British India. Its civilian governments have too often been corrupt, incompetent or both. The ouster last month of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif —he stepped down after the Supreme Court disqualified him for not having been “honest”—is no reassurance. If anything, it shows the judiciary’s excessive politicization, which further weakens constitutional governance.

Islamabad’s military, sometimes called the country’s “steel skeleton,” is equally problematic. It recalls the old remark about Prussia: Whereas other countries have armies, Pakistan’s army has a country. The military is also becoming increasingly radicalized, with Islamicists already in control of its intelligence services and now working their way through the ranks of the combat branches.

In this unstable environment, blunt pressure by the U.S.—and, by inference, India—could backfire. Just as America must stay engaged in Afghanistan to prevent the Taliban and other terrorists from retaking control, it is also imperative to keep Islamabad from falling under the sway of radical Islamicists. Hence the danger of inadvertently strengthening their hand by supplying a convenient narrative of overt U.S. dominion. Such a blunder might help Pakistan’s radicals seize power even as the U.S. battles terrorists in Afghanistan.

Remember that Pakistan has been a nuclear state for nearly two decades. The gravest threat is that its arsenal of nuclear warheads, perhaps up to 100 of them, would fall into radical hands. The U.S. would instantly face many times the dangers posed by nuclear Iran or North Korea.

If American pressure were enough to compel Pakistan to act decisively against the terrorists within its borders, that would have happened long ago. What President Trump needs is a China component to his nascent South Asia policy, holding Beijing accountable for the misdeeds that helped create the current strategic dangers.

Of all the external actors, China bears primary responsibility for Pakistan’s and North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. For its own strategic reasons, China gave both countries direct financial, scientific and technological assistance and then flew political cover at the United Nations and elsewhere. Empowering Islamabad was a hedge against India, China’s biggest threat in South Asia. Helping Pyongyang was a play against the U.S. and its Asian allies. (And, increasingly, against the wider world, since North Korea appears to have sold its technology.)

In both cases China recklessly disregarded the risks of proliferation and breached its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. By comparison, Beijing’s flagrant violations of its World Trade Organization commitments are trifles. China was hardly unaware that Pakistan has fostered and aided Islamic terrorists in Kashmir, threatening Indian control. Yet Beijing has done nothing to stop it, thus indirectly keeping Indo-Pakistani relations tense.

China has also made Pakistan a considerable beneficiary of the massive transportation infrastructure and other projects related to its “One Belt, One Road” initiative. Clearly Beijing intends to bind Islamabad ever more tightly into its modern-day “co-prosperity sphere.”

It must, therefore, be core American policy to hold China to account, even belatedly. The U.S. can use its leverage to induce China to join the world in telling Pakistan it must sever ties with terrorists and close their sanctuaries. The Trump administration should make clear that Beijing will face consequences if it does not bring to bear its massive interests in support of this goal. Washington could also point out that this is in Beijing’s own interest, lest the terrorists rise next among the Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang province, what was once “East Turkestan.”

Whether Beijing truly intends to be a “responsible stakeholder” in international affairs, as its U.S. advocates insist, should be put to the test—and not merely on monetary and trade issues. Fighting international terrorism and nuclear proliferation requires determination and action, not the kind of smiling repetition of bumper-sticker phrases that the People’s Liberation Army and China’s political leadership blithely ignore.

Starting now in Afghanistan and Pakistan, China should be told its bona fides as a state engaging in a “peaceful rise” are on the line. If real proof of that conceit does not emerge, Washington will be entitled to draw the appropriate conclusions.

Mr. Bolton is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad” (Simon & Schuster, 2007).

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Merchant of Venice ………

Posted on August 25, 2017. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Antonio – a merchant of Venice in a melancholic mood
Bassanio – Antonio’s friend; suitor to Portia; later the husband of Portia.
Shylock – a miserly Jew; moneylender; father of Jessica
Jessica – daughter of Shylock, later the wife of Lorenzo
Lorenzo – friend of Antonio and Bassanio; in love with Jessica; later husband of Jessica
Portia – a rich heiress; later the wife of Bassanio
Nerissa – Portia’s waiting maid – in love with Gratiano; later the wife of Gratiano; disguises herself as Stephano
Balthazar – Portia’s servant, who Portia later disguises herself

Bassanio, a young Venetian of noble rank, wishes to woo the beautiful and wealthy heiress Portia. Having squandered his estate, he needs 3,000 ducats to subsidise his expenditures as a suitor.
Bassanio approaches his friend Antonio, a wealthy merchant of Venice who has previously and repeatedly bailed him out. Antonio agrees, but since he is cash-poor – his ships and merchandise are at sea – he promises to cover a bond if Bassanio can find a lender, so Bassanio turns to the Jewish moneylender Shylock and names Antonio as the loan’s guarantor.

Antonio has already antagonized Shylock through his outspoken antisemitism, and because Antonio’s habit of lending money without interest forces Shylock to charge lower rates.

Shylock is at first reluctant to grant the loan, citing abuse he has suffered at Antonio’s hand. He finally agrees to lend the sum to Bassanio without interest upon one condition ie if Bassanio is unable to repay it at the specified date, Shylock may take a “Pound (mass) of flesh from any part of the body of Antonio.

Bassanio does not want Antonio to accept such a risky condition but Antonio is surprised by what he sees as the moneylender’s generosity as no interest is asked and he signs the contract.

With money at hand, Bassanio leaves for Belmont with his friend Gratiano, who has asked to accompany him. Gratiano is a likeable young man but is often flippant, overly talkative and tactless. Bassanio warns his companion to exercise self-control and the two leave for Belmont.

Meanwhile in Belmont, Portia is awash with suitors. Her father left a will stipulating each of her suitors must choose correctly from one of three caskets – one each of gold, silver and lead. If he picks the right casket, he gets Portia.
The first suitor, the Prince of Morocco, chooses the gold casket, interpreting its slogan, “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire”, as referring to Portia.
The second suitor, the conceited Prince of Arragon, chooses the silver casket, which proclaims, “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves”, as he believes he is full of merit.
Both suitors leave empty-handed, having rejected the lead casket because of the baseness of its material and the uninviting nature of its slogan, “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath”.
The last suitor is Bassanio, whom Portia wishes to succeed, having met him before. As Bassanio ponders his choice, members of Portia’s household sing a song which says that “fancy” (not true love) is “engendered in the eyes, With gazing fed”
Bassanio chooses the lead casket and wins Portia’s hand.

At Venice, Antonio’s ships are reported lost at sea so the merchant cannot repay the bond. Shylock has become more determined to exact revenge from Christians because his daughter Jessica eloped with the Christian Lorenzo and converted. She took a substantial amount of Shylock’s wealth with her as well as a turquoise ring which Shylock had been given by his late wife, Leah. Shylock has Antonio brought before court.

At Belmont, Bassanio receives a letter telling him that Antonio has been unable to repay the loan from Shylock. Portia and Bassanio marry, as do Gratiano and Portia’s handmaid Nerissa. Bassanio and Gratiano leave for Venice With money from Portia, to save Antonio’s life by offering the money to Shylock.

Unknown to Bassanio and Gratiano, Portia sent her servant, Balthazar, to seek the counsel of Portia’s cousin, Bellario, a lawyer, at Padua.

The climax of the play takes place in the court of the Duke of Venice. Shylock refuses Bassanio’s offer of 6,000 ducats, twice the amount of the loan. He demands his pound of flesh from Antonio. The Duke, wishing to save Antonio but unable to nullify a contract, refers the case to a visitor who identifies himself as Balthazar, a young male “doctor of the law”, bearing a letter of recommendation to the Duke from the learned lawyer Bellario.

The doctor is Portia in disguise and the law clerk who accompanies her is Nerissa also disguised as a man. As Balthazar, Portia repeatedly asks Shylock to show mercy in a famous speech, advising him that mercy “is twice blessed – It blesseth him that gives and him that takes” However, Shylock adamantly refuses any compensations and insists on the pound of flesh.

As the court grants Shylock his bond and Antonio prepares for Shylock’s knife, Portia deftly appropriates Shylock’s argument for “specific performance”. She says that the contract allows Shylock only to remove the flesh, not the “blood”, of Antonio.

Thus, if Shylock were to shed any drop of Antonio’s blood, his “lands and goods” would be forfeited under Venetian laws. She tells him that he must cut precisely one pound of flesh, no more, no less. She advises him that “if the scale do turn, But in the estimation of a hair, Thou diest and all thy goods are confiscate.”

Defeated, Shylock concedes to accepting Bassanio’s offer of money for the defaulted bond – first his offer to pay “the bond thrice”, which Portia rebuffs, telling him to take his bond, and then merely the principal, which Portia also prevents him from doing on the ground that he has already refused it “in the open court”.

She cites a law under which Shylock, as a Jew and therefore an “alien”, having attempted to take the life of a citizen, has forfeited his property, half to the government and half to Antonio, leaving his life at the mercy of the Duke. The Duke pardons Shylock’s life. Antonio asks for his share “in use” until Shylock’s death, when the principal will be given to Lorenzo and Jessica.

At Antonio’s request, the Duke grants remission of the state’s half of forfeiture, but on the condition that Shylock convert to Christianity and bequeath his entire estate to Lorenzo and Jessica.

Bassanio does not recognise his disguised wife, but offers to give a present to the supposed lawyer. First she declines, but after he insists, Portia requests his ring and Antonio’s gloves. Antonio parts with his gloves without a second though but Bassanio gives the ring only after much persuasion from Antonio, as earlier in the play he promised his wife never to lose, sell or give it.

Nerissa, as the lawyer’s clerk, succeeds in likewise retrieving her ring from Gratiano, who does not see through her disguise.

At Belmont, Portia and Nerissa taunt and pretend to accuse their husbands before revealing they were really the lawyer and his clerk in disguise.
After all the other characters make amends, Antonio learns from Portia that three of his ships were not stranded and have returned safely after all.

Shylock and the antisemitism debate.

The play is frequently staged today, but is potentially troubling to modern audiences due to its central themes, which can easily appear antisemitic. Critics today still continue to argue over the play’s stance on the Jews and Judaism.

English society in the Elizabethan era has been described as “judeophobic” English Jews had been expelled under Edward I in 1290 and were not permitted to return until 1656 under the rule of Oliver Cromwell. In Venice and in some other places, Jews were required to wear a red hat at all times in public to make sure that they were easily identified, and had to live in a ghetto protected by Christian guards.

Shakespeare’s play may be seen as a continuation of this tradition. The title page indicates that the play was sometimes known as The Jew of Venice in its day, which suggests that it was seen as similar to Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta.

One interpretation of the play’s structure is that Shakespeare meant to contrast the mercy of the main Christian characters with the vengefulness of a Jew. Similarly, it is possible that Shakespeare meant Shylock’s “Forced conversion” to Christianity to be a “happy ending” for the character, as, to a Christian audience, it saves his soul and allows him to enter Heaven.

Regardless of what Shakespeare’s authorial intent may have been, the play has been made use of by anti semites throughout the play’s history. The Nazis used the usurious Shylock for their propaganda. Shortly after Kristallnacht in 1938, The Merchant of Venice was broadcast for propagandistic ends over the German airwaves.

Depiction of Jews in literature throughout the centuries bears the close imprint of Shylock. With slight variations much of English literature up until the 20th century depicts the Jew as “a monied, cruel, lecherous, avaricious outsider tolerated only because of his golden hoard”.

Shylock and Portia by Thomas Sully
Many modern readers and theatregoers have read the play as a plea for tolerance, noting that Shylock is a sympathetic character. They cite as evidence that Shylock’s “trial” at the end of the play is a mockery of justice, with Portia acting as a judge when she has no right to do so. The characters who berated Shylock for dishonesty resort to trickery in order to win. In addition, Shakespeare gives Shylock one of his most eloquent speeches –

“Why, I am sure, if he forfeit, thou wilt not take his flesh. What’s that good for? To bait fish withal; if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies – and what’s his reason? I am a Jew.

Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.

If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction”.

It is difficult to know whether the sympathetic reading of Shylock is entirely due to changing sensibilities among readers, or whether Shakespeare, a writer who created complex, multi-faceted characters, deliberately intended this reading.

One of the reasons for this interpretation is that Shylock’s painful status in Venetian society is emphasised. To some critics, Shylock’s celebrated “Hath not a Jew eyes?” speech redeems him and even makes him into something of a tragic figure; in the speech, Shylock argues that he is no different from the Christian characters.

Detractors note that Shylock ends the speech with a tone of revenge: “if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” Those who see the speech as sympathetic point out that Shylock says he learned the desire for revenge from the Christian characters: “If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.”

Even if Shakespeare did not intend the play to be read this way, the fact that it retains its power on stage for audiences who may perceive its central conflicts in radically different terms is an illustration of the subtlety of Shakespeare’s characterisations.

In the trial Shylock represents what Elizabethan Christians believed to be the Jewish desire for “justice”, contrasted with their obviously superior Christian value of mercy. The Christians in the courtroom urge Shylock to love his enemies, although they themselves have failed in the past.

Jewish critic Harold Bloom” suggests that, although the play gives merit to both cases, the portraits are not even-handed: “Shylock’s shrewd indictment of Christian hypocrisy delights us, but … Shakespeare’s intimations do not alleviate the savagery of his portrait of the Jew.

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