BLACK LIVES MATTER (BLM) – A GURKHA PERSPECTIVE
Many like me who have served in the Brigade will be looking on with bewilderment at the BLM Movement sweeping across much of the western world. Its genesis lay not just in the specific of the murder of George Floyd by a white policeman in Minnesota, but more generally in the long-standing racial tensions that are deeply embedded in United States society. It has now spread to this country.
The Movement on both sides of the Atlantic has moved quickly to focus on slavery and its legacy as the cause of racial tension. In America memories of the Civil War have provided a lightning rod for further unrest and dissent. In this country the toppling of Colston and associated demonstrations are indicative of our troubled history of racial integration. But is at this juncture that we diverge from the United States to move the debate on from slavery to colonialism, and in doing so embrace a wider BAME cohort, to challenge the means that made Britain “Great”. Government and the national conscience seem all too ready to pursue appeasement to those who demand that Rhodes – and others – should fall, that history should be at best re-written, or at least presented in a different way.
Where I wonder does this all leave the Brigade of Gurkhas and our 205 years of history? There are probably four issues:
– First, will some choose to view the Gurkha soldier and his history as an instrument of colonialism and oppression? To many the Indian Mutiny will forever be the first war of Indian independence, put down by the then Indian Army with the Gurkha at the forefront.
– Second, will disaffected ex-Gurkhas seek to align themselves with the BLM Movement in order to support their quest for equal pensions and recompense for other grievances? A renewed programme of agitation with the Movement as the backcloth may draw more sympathy than previous campaigns.
– Third, in the modern era is it appropriate that the Brigade and its formed units remain a separate entity from the wider Army? On grounds of military capability, of course it should. But are wider, social, arguments are now being introduced to drive change.
– Fourth, should we re-think how we present our heritage, specifically at the Gurkha Museum, to ensure it reflects the mood of the times? This is not so much a re-write of history, more a slight shift in emphasis.
Some food for thought. We live in interesting times.
William, your post is very timely. It would be interesting to know whether there has been any consideration of BLM’s impact in MOD and HQBG. I suspect the former has almost certainly grappled with it. If we keep our eyes and ears open I am sure we shall hear more on this score in the days to come.
Nick. I agree. My comments were generated in part by the re-vamping of the NAM that did much to undermine many of the achievements of the British Army abroad. The refurbishment was widely criticised as a result. But perhaps the instigators were ahead of their time ….?
Thanks William for shining a light on these perspectives. One tends to live in a cosy bubble and embrace the status quo without these prompts….I look forward to discussing with you and others over a bottle of claret in the Oriental Club as soon as possible…
Ex Kauri Pine January 1978 . OC B Coy descends from a RNZAF C130 which has flown non stop from Darwin to Christchurch to be met by an attractive Kiwi reporter whose first question is ‘ G’day M
It will be interesting to see how long the BLM movement remains in being. Its wider political aims are so opposed to the capitalist society in which we now live that it is doubtful it can survive, save as a noisy, small pressure group. A philosophical approach actually suggests that without capitalism there is no freedom anyway. If one looks at the examples of other regimes throughout the world, one is obliged to ask how free are the people in non-capitalist economies.
I hope our serving soldiers will be encouraged to see sense but to do so, the matter ought perhaps to be the subject of discussion with them, pointing out the difficulties associated with BLM. Surely any unrest would compromise the future of the Brigade. The Army Board will not be looking for new problems in addition to those they already face and if it becomes a matter of the strength of the Army, we must be careful not to do anything that might prejudice our continued service.
I believe part of our value remains in the skill, cohesion and standards of all military aspects that are brought by retaining all-Gurkha units in the order of battle. We would, I believe, lose the added value were the soldiers recruited as individuals into all units Army-wide. `Mystique` is an over-used word but the Brigade has it. Let us do all we can to retain this unique selling point.
As for our history, I am very much against attempts made to rewrite it in a more politically correct guise. We are what we are and to bow to ephemeral fashion might not be in our interests.
I think I should start by declaring my status – I was seconded to the 1st Battalion from 1970 to 1972 and therefore it might be thought have a very limited perspective of matters Gurkha! But I loved my time with the Regiment and often thought that perhaps I should have stayed if it were possible. When I retired from the army in 1997, I became a retired officer working in Horseguards for 14 years. In those days there was an organisation called the Retired Officers Association – in effect a sort of trade union. At some stage I joined the committee and was the London District representative. One of the cases that came before the committee was a complaint by a former QGO who was employed somewhere as a retired officer. I cannot remember the exact nature of his grievance but as a civil servant (which is what Retired Officers were in employment terms) he was to have an interview with a senior civil service personnel officer in London. It was decided that he should be accompanied to this interview and because I was based in London and had served with the Brigade of Gurkhas I was a shoe in for the job!
I met the former QGO Major on the appointed day and discovered that he had been a clerk, probably a head clock in one of the battalions – which shall be nameless as shall he! We went to the interview and sadly I cannot remember what the content of the grievance was but I’m sure that money and allowances came into it somewhere. The civil servant concerned was merely on listen and once it was over we departed. Naturally we had a conversation about his and my time in the Brigade and I was horrified to hear him speak and indeed his attitude. He was openly hostile and disloyal about the British officers he had served with, insolent I would say. He mentioned several by name who I knew or had known, and referred to them in what I can only describe as a rude and overfamiliar manner. This came as a great shock to me because it was not how I remembered the breed, and now I wonder how much poison people like him may have injected into the system and the BLM movement would seem to hold a place for such as him. I wonder too if there are more like him, I pray not. I recounted this to William Shuttlewood earlier in the year but I’ve only just seen his piece on the website.