Monday, June 29, 2020

Himalayan Blunder

Recent Media Reports of the situation on the LAC create a sense of déjà vu.

Around 58 years ago – on 20 October 1962 – began the Sino Indian War – India's 1962 conflict with China.

Of all the books, references and literature on the 1962 India China War – I find the memoir of Brigadier JP Dalvi – HIMALAYAN BLUNDER – most engrossing. 

Here is a brief review of the book that I wrote 8 years ago in Oct 2012. 

Title: HIMALAYAN BLUNDER (The Curtain Raiser to the Sino-Indian War of 1962)
Author: Brigadier JP Dalvi (Retired)
Published by Thacker and Co. Ltd. Bombay (1969)

Book Review

(This is an abridged and updated version of my Book Review written in Oct 2012)

A few months ago, while browsing through my bookcase I chanced upon one of my favourite military autobiographies – HIMALAYAN BLUNDER by Brig JP Dalvi 

Whenever I start reading Himalayan Blunder, leafing through the pages of the book, I am filled with a sense of déjà vu. 

And as I read on further, drawing parallels between what was written in the book and the intriguing happenings of recent times, I wonder to myself: 

“Are we heading for another Himalayan Blunder...?” 

Is history going to repeat itself after 58 years...?

I have heard a saying: 

Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

That is why I feel that “Himalayan Blunder” is a “must read” for the “powers-that-be” – Political, Civil and Military. 

I am sure most politicians, bureaucrats, military officers, students of military history and the intelligentsia have read Himalayan Blunder – but – if you have not read the book – or even of you have read it – it would be worthwhile to read the book carefully once again – to draw parallels between what happened in 1962 – and what is happening now – and learn lessons – so that similar mistakes are not repeated again – and we do not have another “Himalayan Blunder” in the making.

Himalayan Blunder is a fascinating war memoir of the 1962 Conflict between India and China – in which India suffered a humiliating defeat. 

Brigadier Dalvi was the Commander of the Indian Army’s 7th Infantry Brigade (which was annihilated by the Chinese Army). 

I feel that it always better to read history written by those who have actually lived it – rather than those who have recorded it – merely by academic research.

First person accounts have an air of authenticity about them – which lends them credibility. 

I have read 6 first-hand accounts of the 1962 India China War:

1. The Untold Story by BM Kaul

2. Himalayan Blunder by JP Dalvi

3. The Unfought War of 1962 by JR Saigal

4. The Fall of Towang by Niranjan Prasad

5. War in the High Himalaya by DK Palit 

6. Recollections of the Sela Bomdila Debacle 1962 by Jaidev Singh Datta

(Of course – I have also read many other books/articles on the 1962 India China War including – “India’s China War” by Neville Maxwell – “1962 The War That Wasn’t” by Shiv Kunal Verma – and a number of analyses/memoirs of battles in the USI Journal – but – like I said – First Hand Memoirs have an air of authenticity)

Out of all these autobiographical first-hand war memoirs – I found Brigadier JP Dalvi’s Himalayan Blunder the most illuminating and enthralling. 

The writing style is articulate, reasoned, lucid – as well as most soul-searching and analytic – and – the book is extremely readable.

In my opinion, Himalayan Blunder is a military classic, arguably the best book by an Indian military author.

Himalayan Blunder tells you of the debacle that happened when ill-equipped, unprepared, confused and demoralized soldiers were rushed into battle against a strong adversary in an ad hoc manner because military decisions were influenced more by political prophecy rather than by military strategy.

Dalvi tells his story with remarkable wit and exceptional candour. 

His candid storytelling style captivates you – and – once you start reading – you get so engrossed – that the book becomes “unputdownable”. 

There is no military jargon or gobbledygook. 

Dalvi writes straight from the heart and that is why this book will not only educate you but also will move you emotionally, strike a chord and get you thinking. 

In the preface, Dalvi says: “India has a near unbroken record of military failures through the ages. Our peasantry has always fought gallantly; but it is an indisputable fact that seldom has this bravery been utilised to win battlefield victories and thus to attain our political objectives, due to inept political or military leadership, or both. Need we follow this tragic path interminably…?”

After giving the reader a lucid introduction of the background and events leading to the 1962 War – Dalvi tells us his story – a personal narrative of 7 Brigade in the Battle of Namka Chu – in a most eloquent and engrossing manner.

From his easy writing style, and the way he narrates the story, it is evident that besides being a soldier, the author was a thinker and a scholar, and like most officers of his generation, he was extremely well-read and well-informed, and possessed a witty, yet biting, sense of humour.

Dalvi has interspersed his book with anecdotes, quotes and similes. 

Sample this:

He writes that a Corps Commander was sacked because: 

“He refused to be a dog in obedience and a lion in action...”  

Why did India suffer the ignominy of such a crushing defeat in the 1962 war with China...? 

It seems to be the same story we keep witnessing from time to time – the civil-military divide, the lack of appreciation of ground realities by the Delhi-Centric “powers-that-be” who call the shots, and the “trust deficit” between various stakeholders – like it is happening even till today. 

Books like the Himalayan Blunder will make us aware of our mistakes of the past – so that we don’t repeat them. 

That is why – we must read such books – and take cognizance of the message they try to convey.  

In such matters – let history not repeat itself. 

That is why we cannot to afford to ignore the lessons of history – if we do so – it will be to our own peril.

Dear Reader: Do read HIMALAYAN BLUNDER – once again – even if you have read it before. Compare the situation today with that of 1962 – and reflect - whether lessons have been learnt from history – or – are the same mistakes being repeated again…?


Copyright © Vikram Karve
1. If you share this post, please give due credit to the author Vikram Karve
2. Please DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. Please DO NOT Cut/Copy/Paste this post
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

This Book Review was written by me Vikram Karve in October 2012 and First Posted Online by me in my blog at url: and revised/reposted an number of times at urls:  and and etc and in my other blogs too. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Devil’s Advocate

Musings of a Veteran

I am sure you have heard the term “Devil’s Advocate”.

The term “Devil’s Advocate” refers to a person who puts forth an unpopular opinion – expresses a contrarian view – or disputes an idea – just for the sake of argument.

I heard the term “Devil’s Advocate” around 43 years ago in the 1970’s during my first sea appointment.

During the customary monthly meeting with officers in the wardroom – while discussing a point – the Captain looked at me and said: “Well – what does my “Devil’s Advocate” have to say…?”

This was the first time I had heard the term “Devil’s Advocate”.

Those days I was an argumentative officer – a maverick – and I did not hesitate to speak my mind – irrespective of who was standing in front of me.

Sometimes – on professional and ethical issues – I would have heated arguments with my Captain too – and this made my Head of Department jittery – since he feared this would affect his ACR as I was in his department.

My Head of Department had warned me to keep my mouth shut during the monthly meeting – since he knew my strong views on the contentious issue that was on the agenda and was going to be discussed during the meeting.  

Normally – I would be quite vociferous at such meetings – so – maybe – the Captain was curious as to why I was strangely silent.

I candidly told the Captain that my Boss had warned me to keep my mouth shut.

The Captain smiled and said: “Come on – speak up – don’t worry about your boss – you just frankly tell me what you feel…”

“Sir – I don’t agree with what you have said – I have a contrarian opinion…” I said.

“That’s good…” the Captain said, “you are supposed to disagree with me – after all – you are my “Devil’s Advocate…”

(Dear Reader – I don’t want to digress from the topic – so – I will tell you the story of what happened in a subsequent “humor in uniform” blog post)

The Captain had called me “Devil’s Advocate” – and – having heard the term for the first time – I wanted to know what “Devil’s Advocate” meant – was it a compliment – or something adverse.

Those days – there was no internet – so you couldn’t “google” the term – so – I went to the ship’s library and pulled out the encyclopedia.

The term “Devil's advocate” was brought into English in the 18th century from the Medieval Latin expression “advocatus diaboli” – an old position in the Catholic Church.

There was a theologian known as the “Promotor Fidei” – or “promoter of the faith” – he had a tough job.

Whenever someone was nominated for canonization (sainthood) – the “Promotor Fidei” had to argue for all the reasons the person didn’t pass muster.

You could think of him as the official church sceptic – the doubter – the cynic.

The “Promotor Fedei” was expected to draw up a list of arguments against the nominee becoming canonized.

His job was to look critically at the candidate’s life and work – and put forth every possible disqualifying shortcoming – no matter how slight.

Because the role of the “Promotor Fidei” was to argue against others in the church – he became known as the “advocatus diabolic” – the “Devil’s Advocate”.

The Devil’s Advocate opposed God's Advocate (advocatus Dei) – also known as the Promoter of the Cause) – whose task was to make the argument in favour of canonization.

“Promoter of the Cause” – God’s Advocate (advocatus Dei) – he made arguments in favour of the candidate for canonization.

“Promoter of the Faith” – Devil’s Advocate (advocatus diaboli) – he made arguments against the canonization of the candidate.

The term shifted into popular usage – and soon – anyone who was arguing an unpopular point – or just being contrarian – he was said to be “playing the devil’s advocate.”

Figuratively –a “devil’s advocate” is a person who takes a contrary position for the sake of testing an argument.

Good Leaders surround themselves with men of integrity who will tell them the hard truth (even if it unpalatable) – not with a coterie of sycophants who isolate the leader from reality and say sweet things that the leader wants to hear.

In the Military – some senior officers do use this strategy of having a “Devil’s Advocate” in order to ensure that they aren’t led up the garden path by sycophants.

(Like the Story of the Captain I mentioned in the beginning of this article)

Some confident leaders avoid the pitfalls and temptations of absolute power by surrounding themselves with other confident, independent people, and encourage dissension and debate on every decision.

In his autobiography “A Soldier’s Story” – General ON Bradley has exemplified this aspect in the decision-making style of General George C Marshall, Chief of Staff of the US Army in World War II, a dominant leader who was instrumental in the Allied Victory owing to his resolute management of the entire war effort.

After one week in office – General Marshall called all his staff officers to his office and admonished them:

“Gentlemen – I am disappointed in you.

You haven’t yet disagreed with a single decision I have made.

When you carry a paper in here – I want you to give me every reason you can think of as to why I should not approve it.

If – in spite of your objections – my decision is still to go ahead – then I’ll know I am right.”

General Marshall wanted to hear differing and contrarian views before taking a decision – so he encouraged “devil’s advocacy” among his staff officers.

Like General Marshall – who did not encourage cronyism and “groupthink” – and – rather than search for views that might reinforce his own – a good leader seeks contrary opinions by encouraging “devil’s advocacy” to avoid Groupthink.

It is best to adopt the Devil’s Advocate methodology for all major decisions – by assigning some individuals in all groups and teams – to argue against the dominant view.

In Politics too – a leader must have a “Devil’s Advocate” in his decision-making circle – as this will help the leader in taking balanced decisions after considering contrarian opinions.

By observing the interactions of subordinates, staff and “advisors” with the leader – you can easily make out whether they are “Devil’s Advocates” or “Sycophants”.

During my Navy Days – I observed that Confident Officers fostered “Devil’s Advocacy” – whereas Insecure Officers encouraged sycophancy.


I wonder if Military Promotion Boards have a “Devil’s Advocate” who argues against the opinion of the rest of the board – bringing out reasons why each “selected” candidate should be rejected – and why each “rejected” candidate should be selected….?

Also – in Politics – do Cabinets/Committees/Ministries have “Devil’s Advocates” who argue against the dominant view – so that well-thought-out decisions are taken after considering all aspects and pros and cons….?

Copyright © Vikram Karve
1. If you share this post, please give due credit to the author Vikram Karve
2. Please DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. Please DO NOT Cut/Copy/Paste this post
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

1. This story is a fictional spoof, satire, pure fiction, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
2. All Stories in this Blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright Notice:
No part of this Blog may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Blog Author Vikram Karve who holds the copyright.

Copyright © Vikram Karve (all rights reserved)

Friday, June 19, 2020

“Moral Pliability” – the key to success

Musings of a Retired Military Veteran

Conventional Wisdom talks of many ingredients in the recipe for success like professional excellence, proficiency at work, integrity, sincerity, hard work, talent etc.

When I was a junior officer I thought that the above sterling personal qualities combined with military ethos and value system constituted what we called OLQ or OFFICER LIKE QUALITIES.

But as we grew up in service we realized that we had been wrong and our views about OLQ were rather idealistic.

We observed that  the key “Officer Like Quality” (OLQ) was “Moral Pliability”.

This is true for all Officers  whether in the Defence Services or Civil Services. 

If you take a moral or ethical position and stand by your principles – if you are one of those old-fashioned orthodox “man of principle” types with “unshakable integrity” – then you are destined for failure – or you may even come to grief.

We have seen so many examples of the above.

So – Dear Reader – if you intend joining the Defence Services or Civil Services – or any job for that matter – here are some musings on “Moral Pliability” – the Key “Officer Like Quality” (OLQ) for career success. 

MORAL PLIABILITY (The Key Ingredient in the Recipe for Success) 

Look around you and ask yourself:

Who is most successful in the present day world?

The answer will be clear:

The Ethical Chameleon.

– what is that quality that will enable you to be an Ethical Chameleon...? 

To be an Ethical Chameleon – you must possess the quality of Moral Pliability.

In today’s world 
 it does not pay you good dividends to be honest, straightforward and outspoken. 

Concepts like moral values and ethical conduct are outmoded and have no relevance in today
s times. 

If you practice ethical conduct and take a moral stand, and stand by your principles 
 you will be called difficult and dogmatic  and most likely – you will be written off in your career – you will fall by the wayside and be passed over for promotion  and you may spend your professional life in wilderness.  

So  remember  if you are one of those old-fashioned orthodox “men of principle” types with “unshakable integrity” – you are destined for failure. 

The key to success is to be able to swim with times and bend with the wind 
– and to be able to to metamorphose yourself and change colours like a Chameleon.

Yes, you must practice “Situational Ethics” and become an “Ethical Chameleon”.

In short  you should be Morally Pliable

Look around you. 

See for yourself that one common quality that most “successful” individuals have  MORAL PLIABILITY. 

You may observe that Moral Pliability is the sine qua non for career advancement and success in all types of organizations  government and non-government  civilian and military  business and academic  and of course  in politics. 

Conversely  if you are not morally pliable  you may get into trouble.


Look around you, in your workplace and outside, and you will realize that the most “successful” persons are those who are morally pliable.

In the early days of my navy career  when I was young and full of idealism  I used to wonder why so many professionally competent, talented, efficient and diligent officers do not get the success they deserve in their careers.

Now it is quite clear to me – they lacked that key Officer Like Quality (OLQ) which is the sine qua non to reach the top of the ladder: MORAL PLIABILITY

Yes  if you are morally pliable you will develop the ability to unquestioningly obey orders from your superiors without suffering qualms of conscience. 

Your bosses will feel comfortable with you and you will go a long way in your career.

Yes, proficiency may take you to a certain level but to rise beyond that you need that decisive ingredient in the recipe for success called moral pliability.

If you are honest, straightforward and upright you may even be labelled as an “idealist”, impractical, arrogant, conceited, dogmatic etc

Even worse  if you stand by your principles you may be branded as a difficult officer  as someone who cannot get along with others  and your career may be written off and you may be cast away by the wayside.

If you flow with the tide – if you bend your principles as the wind blows – then you will be appreciated as a “practical” person, tactful manager, a great team player.

After all  everyone loves an adaptable person with a flexible personality

This is true in most organizations – at work and also in personal relationships in a family.


Of course  there is a danger in being too flexible

Once you practice moral pliability for a long time and make it a habit to compromise your principles as the situation demands  you may reach a stage where you have no principles left to compromise.

Yes  the sustained practice of moral pliability is bound to affect your capability for creative and original thinking. 

To quote Norman Dixon:

A lifetime of having to curb the expression of original thought culminates so often in there being nothing left to express

I have seen this happen to so many morally pliable persons who turn into “Yes Sir Yes Sir, Three Bags Full Sir...” type obsequious sycophants.

So  Dear Reader  look around your workplace, observe your colleagues, especially the eager-beaver hot-shot go-getter “successful” types. 

Reflect for a while and ask yourself:

Is better to be morally rigid and ethically steadfast...?


Is it better to be morally “malleable” and ethically “ductile” and practice “situational ethics”...?   

When I see the number of morally pliable people achieve great “success” – I wonder whether this African saying is relevant here:

The wind does not break a tree that bends...” 

Or maybe the Ancient Chinese Wisdom:

“The tree that does not bend with the wind will be broken by the wind...”

Or should you stand by your principles as John Quincy Adams says:

Always stand on principle  even if you stand alone...”

Or is it wiser to follow the advice of Thomas Jefferson:

“In matters of style  swim with the current

 In matters of principle – stand like a rock...”

Think about it  and you decide for yourself – what is right for you.

As an afterthought  let me add that there is a flip side to moral pliability too. 

As we discussed earlier: 

The first danger you may face if you become morally pliable is that you may lose the capacity for original thought.

There is a bigger danger as well.

Sometimes these morally pliable persons who reach the topmost positions in the hierarchy may bring disrepute to themselves and tarnish the reputation of their organizations – owing to this very quality of moral pliability that catalyzed their ascent to the top. 

Quite a paradox  isn’t it...?

Dear Reader  I think now you must be quite convinced that Moral Pliability is the key “Officer Like Quality” (OLQ).

I have given you the mantra  the key to success. 

I have told you the pros and the cons. 

The choice is yours. 

Do you want to be a Morally Pliable Ethical Chameleon...?

You have to decide:


Remember  your juniors and your children are observing you.

So – do not blame them if they too become morally pliable  and turn into Ethical Chameleons like you...!

Enjoy your work – and  have a great day. 

Wish you all the success in your career. 

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
1. If you share this post, please give due credit to the author Vikram Karve
2. Please DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. Please DO NOT Cut/Copy/Paste this post
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

1. This is a spoof, satire, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
2. All Stories in this Blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Copyright Notice:
No part of this Blog may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Blog Author Vikram Karve who holds the copyright.

© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

Revised version of my article MORAL PLIABILITY - The Key to Success written by me more than 25 years ago in the 1990s and posted online in my various blogs including at url: and and etc