Tag Archives: military honor

A Pep-Talk… For War?

The Interviewer will be referred to as ‘I’, and the informant as ‘D’. Explanations and translations for Hindi words will be italicised and in parentheses. The Informant is an 82-year-old Punjabi father and grandfather, a former military man, born and raised in what is now Pakistan, but moving to post-partition North India.

D: I am a retired infantry officer. In the 1965 war against our neighbour, I was a young officer. I was not fully trained, in… in weapons. War started and I was sent to a picket called [X] picket, along with my hundred-and-twenty men. As a young officer, whenever the enemy fired their shells, I used to go on top of my bunker and see it, take reconnaissance. I did not know that the enemy had been firing star shells, those are the shells which are air-burst—they burst inside the air only, can kill a person who’s standing on his bunker. [He smiles] God saved me that I was not killed… but I kept doing it, out of ignorance and youth. There cannot be a bigger story than this from my many years in the military. 

I: Is there anything you would tell your men, something motivational, to boost morale in times of war?

D: I would raise the morale of my troops, I would say what I remember being told to me, what I hope to have been told to others in—in the future. “Mere bahadur gujar jawaanon, yaad rakhna ki jahaan bhi ham honge, jeet hamari hogi. Apni paltan ki aan aur shaan hamari zindagi se hamesha upar hogi.” (My brave, fighting young men/armymen, remember that wherever we are, victory will be ours. Our platoon’s dignity and pride/honour will always be above our life.) It was like… what you call a pep-talk, like that. 


The words in this may not be proverbial, as such, but I would classify them as folk speech because they are inherently a performance, and one that was passed on from person to person, echoing the same sentiment, even if the words were different. Even as an eighty-two year old man, my informant shone with the same honour and dignity that he spoke of, as he performed these words, while also admitting to his own faults, earlier on. He does state that these words were passed down to him and from him, a cultural idea of patriotism, one that arose especially strongly after the partition of India and Pakistan, and the ensuing decades-long, violent bloodbath. Putting my own not-so-favourable-or-popular views on the India-Pakistan feud and the military/militarism as a whole aside for a second (we would be here for hours and I’d probably get mobbed, I’m against both the feud and the military), just hearing him speak like this was especially intriguing because he spoke with what seemed like a hundred voices. There is more to this than simple patriotism for a motherland, because technically this was his motherland in name but the other was in place. There may not be a rhyme or a special poetic structure to what he said, but when performed live, this was a sentiment that could be felt, palpable, even though a video-call interview. Again, this is especially odd to think about, especially since he was a man that was born and raised partially in what is now Pakistan, but this same speech that was given to him, and this same overwhelming post-partition sentiment of patriotism, honour, and nationalistic pride, led him to fight in several wars over the years, against essentially what became of his birthplace.

Military Ball Grog

Main Piece:

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (GK).

GK: “I’m a member of the US Army. And we have a tradition at our balls, well I’ve never been to our balls because I’m a new member, but I’ve heard about it from my lieutenant. At a lot of the balls, a bunch of people come to these balls, hundreds and hundreds with their significant other, depending on the unit a lot of times they will have like a huge, a cauldron isn’t a good word, but like a barrel, and they’ll fill it with the grog. Depending on the unit they will put a bunch of things in it, usually alcoholic but they put other things in it as well. So like if a unit had certain historic deployments, like say they fought a battle at a certain place in france, then one of the things that they would put in the Grog would be like a wine that was made from that town in France, or Italy, or Germany. But it’s not necessarily a wine it could be a whisky or anything like symbolizing that area and time where that unit fought. Like I think the 101st, the Screaming Eagles who are like a really distinguished unit, I believe they have like some sort of whiskey that was really popular from the era in WWII. And some people just put some really nasty shit in there too, and they used to drink it after like basic training, or other ceremonies. After the hardest part of basic training they used to just drink a really disgusting grog, but they can’t do that anymore, obviously because of people being underage and whatnot. So there’s usually enough for one person to have a shot, like at least a shot per person.”

CB “So what do you think is the point of the grog?”

GK “Um… to get drunk definitely. But it’s a little bit more than that because it’s definitely a big tradition. And usually people will just throw a lot of gross stuff into it for fun, and it’s definitely for fun and a little bit of tradition. Also honoring, like usually they’ll do it with a toast to the president or someone in the unit who did something very distinguished that year, like for example is someone won the medal of honor.”


My informant just graduated from basic training, and is now at a military base waiting to start further training and specialization. He grew up with an older brother in the army and has learned a lot about army culture from him, and then from his superiors at basic training. However, he has not yet been in the army long enough to participate in a lot of the traditions. Because of this, he is more of a passive bearer with this tradition. The military ball is an annual event for a specific unit. They are commonly hosted right before or after deployment. It can act as a final farewell, or a celebration of their safe return.


I called my informant to interview him over the phone, and recorded the interview on my laptop. I had often asked him about his experiences since enlisting, and so my questions were fairly normal for him. It was a casual comfortable conversation with the occasional input from his roommate.
A large part of the goal of a military ball is a celebration of life and accomplishment, as well as a way to offset the horrors of deployment. The grog itself is a way to ensure that the event stays lighthearted and fun. It would be very easy for an event right before or after deployment to turn somber as they think about their uncertain future or remember those they lost. The grog helps unite the attendees in the moment. It also helps overcome the divide between the dates and the unit itself by having everybody engage in the tradition. For my informant, the military ball and all the traditions that go along with it provides him with something to look forward to. When surrounded by so much death and uncertainty, it can be difficult to believe in a future for yourself. However, my informant would joke with his friends, discussing all of the gross things they might put in the grog once they get their chance. This provides a sense of hope for their future.

For another variation of military ball grog, see Rebecca Alwine’s article, “What Really Happens at a Army Ball” on VinePair. https://vinepair.com/articles/army-grog-bowl/