1962: The war that wasn’t , book review

The author of this book, Shiv Kunal Verma, is a filmmaker and a military historian, true to his credentials, the book starts with a filmesque introduction describing the war scenes, and tale of survival of an Indian soldier despite an entire AK 47 shelled into him with help from a Chinese nurse, who spoke fluent Hindi.

The title is picked up from the statement of then Army general in 1961-62, Pran Thapar, he said “it truly was a war that wasn’t”, because, officially neither China nor India ever declared war, and Chinese officials express surprise when we Indians keep referring to it as one.

This book is an immaculately researched, covers minute details of the war, related background, and thought-process that went on in the decision making, tracing the history of the borders with Tibet, Sinkiang. The author, given his family background in the military, has been able to get such kind of details which anyone else couldn’t have. It borrows heavily from his father Ashok Kalyan Verma’s book, diary, memoirs,notes references, who happened to be a captain in 1962, having seen the war place from close.

Up until I read this book, I had a hazy picture of how Nehru might have been responsible for this debacle. But, having read this, I can definitely say, it’s the Nehru-Menon-Kaul trio that was responsible.
The book traces the decision-making, makes very logical arguments and only then places the blame on the callous attitude of Nehru towards the army, his ineptitude in geopolitics, his turning away from the realpolitik for the want of his image of being the Afro-Asian leader of peace, his non-violent rhetoric, his insecurities with Army generals, and his favoritism in Army recruitment along with his defence minister V.K Menon for rendering Army rudderless and headless after COAS K.S Thimmayya and S.P.P Thorat were sidelined and ultimately culminating in a humiliating defeat.

For a general reader with interest in military history this book is a fine read, otherwise, one can skip the chapters which trace the history of the borders of Tibet with India and China, how Chinese employed the distortion of history on trivial details. And in a chapter or two, where the army was being mobilized it gets a bit heavy with lots of name droppings of Army leadership, soldiers, frontier posts, etc. It took me about 17hrs over 4  days to finish the book.

The book leaves us feeling hurt at the unavenged war and the Chinese betrayal, makes us realize how much India missed Sardar Patel after his death as he had predicted the Chinese betrayal way back in 1950 in a letter to Nehru and dies exactly after 38 days of writing his letter, probably that was his parting gift for India which our leadership didn’t take, as it resulted in a national disaster which could have been avoided, a national disaster in which over 2,000 Indian soldiers died in the month-long armed hostilities which began October 21, 1962, with a massive two-pronged offensive by the People’s Liberation Army in Ladakh and Arunachal. Over 4,000 were taken prisoners of war, and an entire division of over 15,000 ill-equipped, ill-trained soldiers was routed in the face of the massive Chinese onslaught.

This leaves us with a thought that hopefully our leadership wouldn’t do another of such mistake in the future.

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