Sikhs in the Yankee Army

As we tweeted earlier, here is an intriguing picture: A Sikh American Civil War veteran [via Sikhnet]

Here is the caption as to the origin of the picture:

I came across this photograph recently. It is a photo of British veterans of the American Civil War of 1861-65. The British veterans had gathered in London in 1917 to welcome the American troops on their way to Fight in France during World War One. Among them is (I believe ) a Sikh gentlemen sitting near the centre. I am curious to see if there were any Sikhs in the US army at this time.I am trying to discover this persons story as it is seems very interesting. Any insight in this matter would be most appreciated. -R.S. Kooner

Keep in mind that service in the U.S. military has always been one path to citizenship.

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WWII Flying ace passes away

SM tipster Amol notifies us of some sad news today out of the UK:

An Indian pilot who flew Hawker Hurricanes during World War II has died, it has been announced.

Squadron Leader Mahinder Singh Pujji, 92, died at Darent Valley Hospital in Kent on Saturday following a stroke.

Sqn Ldr Pujji was believed to be the last surviving fighter pilot from a group of 24 Indians who arrived in Britain in 1940.

He survived several crashes and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for services in Burma. [Google]

The photograph in the article conveys the swagger of a pilot who knows he’s a bad-ass.

He seems to have given an interview earlier this year:

Mohinder Singh remembers the start of the war vividly. Just a year after it had begun, at the height of the Battle of Britain, he decided to join the Royal Air Force (RAF). He was 22 years old and in search of adventure.

‘I saw London being bombed, I saw what people were suffering and I knew what they were going through and how cruel the enemy was because they were throwing bombs on civilians. They were not fighting soldier to soldier and hundreds of people were being made homeless so that changed my perspective, then I was very keen to fight for the country, for this country where I had come to seek adventure really.’

Two or three pilots would be lost everyday and Mohinder almost became a casualty himself several times.‘From day one in every letter to my parents I said don’t expect me back.’ [Link]

Here is a newer picture from an article in The Guardian last year that detailed a permanent exhibit at the RAF museum (that I once visited as a kid) called “Diversity in the Royal Air Force”:

I will likely re-visit this whole topic in greater detail at some point in the future.

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Sri Lanka: A Year After War’s End

We had some very vigorous discussions at Sepia Mutiny last year as the civil war in Sri Lanka ended, with the LTTE defeat, the death of Prabhakaran, and the placement of some 200,000 Tamils in temporary refugee camps.

I haven’t followed the week-to-week developments since then terribly closely, but several recent developments were mentioned in a thought-provoking Op-Ed by Bishop Desmond Tutu and Lakhdar Brahimi in the Guardian yesterday. There is some good news overall, as the peace has held, but Tutu and Brahimi also acknowledge that progress towards rebuilding the affected parts of northern Sri Lanka, and the broader project of healing and reintegration, has been painfully slow. Here are the specific things Tutu and Brahimi want to see the government do:

Respect for minorities, human rights and the rule of law must be centre stage in Sri Lanka’s future. The worsening conflict saw limitations imposed on civil liberties and democratic institutions. The recent relaxation of emergency laws and the promised presidential pardon for Tamil journalist JS Tissainayagam are welcome, but they are only a start. Real change must begin with repealing the state of emergency and re-establishing the constitutional council.

All displaced civilians should be helped to return home. Those suspected of being fighters must be treated humanely with full regard to international law.

[...] There is a growing body of evidence that there were repeated and intentional violations of international humanitarian law by both the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers) in the last months of the war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decision earlier this month to appoint a commission on lessons learnt and reconciliation is a step in the right direction but not nearly enough. There is no indication, as yet, that the commission intends to hold anyone to account for any violations of domestic or international law. (link)

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In the Army Now

These two guys are officers in the U.S. Army:

kamaldeep kalsi tejdeep rattan.jpg

In USA Today: Dentist Tejdeep Singh Rattan (right) is the first turbaned Sikh to graduate from U.S. officer basic training since 1984. (He is pictured with Kamaldeep Kalsi, who is doing basic training this summer.)

We heard about them last year, when they were first granted the exemption. (The Langar Hall had a post on the subject here.)

As I understand it, this is not a permanent policy change — in the future, observant Sikhs joining the U.S. military will again need to apply for a special exemption to uniform requirements to be allowed to serve while wearing a turban and unshorn beard. The fact that both Kalsi and Rattan have medical training makes me think that things might be different for someone applying for the same waiver at the ground level. That said, this still seems like a significant shift on a symbolic level, and I would fully expect there to be at least some controversy about it.

Predictably, some of the reactions I’m seeing online to this change are not exactly positive. The following comment on the story at USA Today is pretty typical:

This is an utter disgrace to the United States and the United States Army. How on God’s green earth did they allow this? It never ceases to amaze me the stupidity in our governments leadership. A civilian made this call on allowing this “individual” (that’s what he is not a trooper), to graduate.

But another commenter responded to that statement much more supportively:

He’s a Captain in the US Army. I find your disrespect for our military disgusting, ignorant and anti-American.

What kinds of reactions have people been hearing to this news?

(Incidentally, the Amardeep Singh quoted in the USA Today article is not me.) Continue reading

The Gurkha Way

This past week, journalist Anup Kaphle posted a video he had filmed in Helmand Province, Afghanistan (via The Atlantic). In it he explains the very important role Nepali Gurkha soldiers are playing in the war effort. As you will see, this video is timely considering the core of Obama’s new strategy: using military power to buy time in order to “de-corrupt” the Karzai government and to further train the Afghan National Army. I won’t address whether the first part of that strategy is possible, but I would like to briefly address the second. One of the historic problems in training Afghan soldiers has been getting them to work as a unit. In the Afghan warrior culture, one of the ways in which a man makes a name for himself is through individual acts of valor on the battlefield. However, in modern warfare it is incredibly difficult to prevail unless acting as a diciplined team. As seen in the video, the Afghan soldiers seem to identify with the Gurkhas due to similarities in culture, if not religion. Gurkhas also speak and understand Urdu.

The Brigade of Gurkhas is the collective term for units of the current British Army that are composed of Nepalese soldiers. The brigade, which is 3,640 strong, draws its heritage from Gurkha units that originally served in the British Indian Army prior to Indian independence, and prior to that of the East India Company. The brigade includes infantry, engineer, signal, logistic and training and support units. They are famous for their ever-present kukris, a distinctive heavy knife with a curved blade, and for their reputation of being fierce fighters and brave soldiers. They take their name from the hill town of Gorkha from which the Nepalese kingdom had expanded. The ranks have always been dominated by four ethnic groups, the Gurungs and Magars from central Nepal, the Rais and Limbus from the east, who live in hill villages of impoverished hill farmers. [Link]

Nepal is on the brink of all kinds of disaster due to political and economic instability. My Nepali sister-in-law often talks of Nepal as an already failed state with no future. Even though Nepal very clearly falls under India’s sphere-of-influence, I wonder if there might be a strategic opportunity here. Can the U.S. perhaps somehow better fold contributions from Nepal into it’s strategy. I ask because mention of Nepal is often left out of our public strategic discussions. I know the video above is just one small anecdote, but some more Gurkhas working with the British and American forces there sure wouldn’t hurt if our objective is to train Afghanistan’s army as quickly as possible so we can get out.

Also, even if you aren’t interested in this post, make sure to watch the video to see the Gurkha Soliders sing “Poker Face” by Lady GaGa.

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SM Reader (and my cousin) Manan Trivedi for Congress (PA-6)

I have been waiting all summer to do this post and would have posted yesterday (right as the gag was lifted) if not for the fact that I was en-route back from a vacation. My cousin Manan officially hopped in to the race for U.S. Congress from the 6th district of Pennsylvania as a Democratic candidate. This district stretches from the northwest suburbs of Philadelphia into Mennonite country toward the middle of the state where Manan grew up (Fleetwood, Pa). The incumbent here is Republican Jim Gerlach, but he is set to vacate the office at the end of this term to run for Governor. Thus, it is an open seat that the DCCC really really wants in a district that leaned Obama in 2008.

This is a new kind of political post for me here on SM because it’s the first time I have “skin in the game” with regards to a candidate I am writing about. What I can tell you about Manan is that he regularly reads Sepia Mutiny and sends me tips all the time on various political stories. While practicing medicine at UCLA he also took policy classes with our blogger Taz and he earned a Mater’s degree in Public Policy. He is pretty much a health care policy wonk that just finished a stint with the Surgeon General of the Navy’s Office. Oh, he is also a medical doctor and a Marine Devil Doc that served on one of the first ground units to enter into Iraq in 2003. He treated (on both sides) a lot of the worst kinds of injuries that you might expect to see when you are on one of the first units in to a war. Manan received the Combat Action Ribbon and his unit also received the Presidential Unit Citation.

“I was raised in this district by working-class parents and experienced what many families are going through now with the loss of their jobs and their pensions. But I also learned the importance of serving others and working hard for things that matter. These principles have guided my career, from the battlefield to the emergency room,” said Trivedi.

“I am now prepared to serve my community in a new capacity: in the halls of Congress. We have some big challenges facing our nation. Our health care system is broken, we’re engaged in two wars, and our economy continues to struggle. I know how to get things done under extremely difficult situations, and my direct experience with these challenges will give the working families in my district a strong and credible voice in Washington,” Trivedi concluded. [Link]

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Abuses by India’s Border Security Force; Questions about Media Coverage

Via the New York Times blog, The Lede, I’ve been looking at a number of links regarding India’s Border Security Force (BSF). The starting point for the coverage in the Times was the news in the Deccan Herald that 178 women have, for the first time, joined the force. But the real story The Lede blogger, Robert Mackey, is interested in are the numerous reports of abuses by the BSF, specifically the killing of unarmed people on both sides of the India-Bangladesh border, including both Bangladeshis and Indian citizens. The Lede embeds the following BBC Channel 4 report on the abuses, which is pretty horrifying:

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Cat’s Out of the Bag

The Times/UK launches a brilliant piece of investigative journalism that confirms what we’ve already known – that US forces have been pursuing the Global War on Terror from inside Pakistani territory as early as October 2001. What they judiciously add to the global knowledgebase is an exact location within Pakistan and composition of those forces -

Attention Brave Taliban! The Infidel Are Here!

The CIA is secretly using an airbase in southern Pakistan to launch the Predator drones that observe and attack al-Qaeda and Taleban militants on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan, a Times investigation has found.

The Pakistani and US governments have repeatedly denied that Washington is running military operations, covert or otherwise, on Pakistani territory — a hugely sensitive issue in the predominantly Muslim country.

…Shamsi lies in a sparsely populated area about 190 miles southwest of the city of Quetta, which US intelligence officials believe is used as a staging post by senior Taleban leaders, including Mullah Omar. It is also 100 miles south of the border with Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand and about 100 miles east of the border with Iran.

Aiding theTimes/UK’s hunt was the array of investigative tools more generally available to an ambitious first world reporter than a trapped-in-a-cave Jihadi – Continue reading

Speak Hindi? Join the army and become a citizen in 6 months

It’s not easy to get a green card in America, and harder still to become a citizen. However, under a new recruitment program for the armed forces, if you’ve been in the US for 2 years and have the skills the military needs, you can get your citizenship in as little as six months from the day you begin service. While in the past recruitment was open to green card holders (with 8,000 a year signing up for the military) this is the first time recruitment has been opened to temporary immigrants.

The program targets two groups: medical professionals and those with language expertise including speakers of “Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Igbo (a tongue spoken in Nigeria), Kurdish, Nepalese, Pashto, Russian and Tamil. [link]” In other words, this is a program tailor made for desis (although not exclusively so)

The only catch is that you have to serve out your time in the military honorably, or you might lose your citizenship (!) even if you received it in the first six months of service:

Language experts will have to serve four years of active duty, and health care professionals will serve three years of active duty or six years in the Reserves. If the immigrants do not complete their service honorably, they could lose their citizenship. [link]

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The rise of “Skynet?”

The Terminator: The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.

Not much I have heard about the state of affairs in Pakistan after their elections has given me confidence that this particular iteration of “democracy” will survive for very long there. I was initially most concerned that a weak (and corrupt) central government would hurt ordinary Pakistanis by failing to adequately confront the extremists that sought to de-stabilize their country.

Case in point, let’s consider the huge blast that occurred in September at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad killing 53 people (two of whom were Americans):

A suicide bomb attack that killed 53 people at the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan’s capital bore the hallmarks of an operation by al Qaeda or an affiliate, Pakistani and U.S. intelligence officials said on Sunday.

Teams combing the burnt shell of the hotel found more charred bodies after the blast on Saturday evening ignited a blaze that swept through the hotel, part of a U.S.-based chain and a favorite haunt of diplomats and wealthy Pakistanis. [Link]

So how did Pakistan respond around that same time to the threat of internal terrorism? For one, they declined investigative help from the FBI who are quite experienced with this kind of attack given past U.S. embassy bombings abroad:

Malik rejected FBI assistance and said Pakistani security agencies were capable of handling the probe.

A US official at the Guantanamo naval base told Reuters “the attack certainly bears all the hallmarks of… Al Qaeda or its associates”.

Six suspects: Online said six suspects from FATA had been held. [Link]

I understand the need to maintain the appearance of “standing up to the U.S.” to play to the domestic crowd, but not in the absence of doing anything. Now that we no longer have the slightly more compliant Musharraf to deal with, the U.S. has had to become a bit more proactive about rooting out terrorists:

Bush confronted Yousuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister, with evidence of involvement by its military intelligence (ISI) in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.

“They were very hot on the ISI,” said Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister. “Very hot. When we asked them for more information, Bush laughed and said, ‘When we share information with your guys, the bad guys always run away.’ “… [Link]

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