blog 366: a chat with freddy

September 7th
Nighttime
Baird-Smith, despite a bad attack of malaria and a wounded leg from a ricocheting bullet commences the siege of Delhi with the overnight engineering feat of the digging and hauling into position of the first battery to attack the key Mori Bastion which is only 700 feet away. This is the lynchpin of the entire operation! The battery that will shield the laying of the other batteries had to be dug and erected butt naked, totally vulnerable to cannon attack from the city walls. And it is a massive battery: 4 gigantic 24 pounders, 5 18 pounders, and a howitzer. It is done entirely at night. We seized and used Ludlow Castle ruins to facilitate the engineering feat. His snappers and diggers had rehearsed every step of it as if choreographing a Strauss Waltz for a herd of elephants! Using elephants! Camels. Bullocks! Hundreds of beasts and hundreds of men! Elephants can be used behind the lines but the massive guns must each be drawn by 20 bullocks into position in the killing zone because only bullocks are stoic or stupid enough to endue the explosions. And by dawn it was laid. At least the howitzer! It commenced blasting away! By mid morning the rest of the guns were hauled into position under desperate fire by the enemy. Each gigantic artillery gun was like a nail in the rebel’s collective coffin and they knew it.

Then Baird-Smith and Taylor nodded at me. “Right John! One down! Three more batteries to go!” His gunpowder burnt and calloused fingers tapped the map of the city walls. Per Baird- Smith’s expert opinion our plan was blow breaches in the city walls between Kashmiri Gate and the Water Bastion. At his signal Major Brind commenced the onslaught.
——————
September 8th

We watch as our Battery # 1 commences the formal volleys at the Mori Bastion. The towering city wall of massive stone exploded into dust as tons of metal crashed into the stone of the city wall. The rebel artillery of the massive bastion fired back desperately as our massive siege guns assaulted the bastion. For a while it resembled as deafening duel of artillery titans as if Greek Titans waging war against Greek Gods. But then suddenly the massive stone of the bastion simply crumbled as if melting, the stone suddenly giving away and collapsing into a massive heap of rubble. I could not imagine any rebel artilleryman in that bastion surviving it. The Mori Bastion went eerily silent. But then the guns on either side and along the wall commenced desperate firing as the ritual commenced below the towering walls.

Major Brind then expanded the range of Battery # 1 to attack the Kashmiri Bastion and harass the Water Bastion. He would sprawl carelessly on the ground as if in a park as the earth heaved and shuddered with the incoming and outgoing volleys of artillery fire calmly reading his bible. When rebel volleys came he would casually mark the spot on the page and then jump up, peer out on the enemy to study how they were shooting, then command a volley from Battery # 1 to zone into the exact spot to silence the rebel artillery. Then he would study the map, insert a pin, then sprawl back down on the ground as if a picnic, and resume reading his bible.

In the ground engineers and snappers and diggers tunneled outwards, toward the towering city walls, digging elongating trenches like spidery fingers creeping outwards. The enemy now seeing the point of attack, which probably would be the Kashmiri Gate and not the Kabul Gate, hauled every mobile gun, rocket launcher, and musket they could muster to pepper the earth with a rain of death as if hailstones. A monsoon of metal.

The heroism of the engineers, snappers, miners, and diggers is amazing. They are now engineering under continuous fire from above! Freddy came to report that he could not conceive of the heroism of the ordinary Indian diggers digging away under a hail of bullets. “Sir. With such passive and unemotional bravery so characteristic of the Native diggers, as man after man is knocked over and slain, they would stop but for a moment, weep a little over a fallen pal or mate, then place his body on the row along with the rest and then work on as before.” We stood on the foremost point of the Ridge that towered over the fearsome scene raging far below us.

“The Indians are a stoic people in their ability to endure extreme suffering” I agreed. “It is the same amazing heroism as the common British soldier who charges across the killing ground, racing the lowering of the guns, to drive their bayonets into the guts of their enemy. It is a heroism that cannot be conceived or comprehended by the home front or civilians or even battlefield commanders watching like demigods from above. See.” I turned Freddy around to watch the scene from high up on the Ridge. “It looks like an ant hill. But the earth is red as if already sodden with the blood of nameless heros whom history will never bother to learn the names of!”

“I think it is all rather dreadful Sir” Freddy Roberts said.

“It is. The day you forget that those ants are human beings and cease weeping is the day you quit the service! A good general never forgets to weep! Or boast of his glorious victory — bought at the price of human suffering of nameless others!”

“I think I shall feel damnably guilty Sir!” Freddy Roberts replied.

“As will I!”

“So why is this happening then?” Freddy Roberts asked. “Everyone knows how a siege proceeds and how a siege ends. The rebels have very limited gunpowder and munitions and hospital supplies and rumors say the ordinary people trapped inside Delhi are all but starving by now. There are even the most dreadful rumors of cannibalism. No mythical Persian Army or Afghanistan Army is coming to their rescue. The Russians have not opened a second front to aid them. 2/3’s of India, nay, 3/4’s of India, has not joined the revolt. The rebellion is bottlenecked in the traditional Mughal Muslim Bastions of the Northeast Punjab. The Maratha Confederation is holding the line along the Decca despite rebels attacks from Jhansi. The rebels have no ports or monies or patrons or military advisors or industrial complex to support them in any way. Logistics is against them. Every science of war is against them. No miracle will happen! If the siege of Delhi continues and the Rebels do not sue for surrender then Delhi will fall in battle and be sacked! Destroyed! Utterly destroyed! Why don’t they surrender? If only to save the city and the innocent people?”

“Because the faces in the shadows who plotted this rebellion do not weep because those tiny dots far below us are ants. Human ants! But still just ants. Cannon fodder. Like the people trapped in Delhi. And it does not matter to the faces in the shadows how many human ants die!” I replied.

“But at least we will capture and punish the faces in the shadows won’t we Sir?”

“No. The faces in the shadows will slither away because they are like the Merchants of Death who create and sell munitions of war! They profit from carnage! They savor the carnage! They enjoy the carnage! They never allow themselves to become part of the carnage!” I replied. “I met one once! A merchant of war! Really! Freddy! He lives in Abbottabad! A mansion in a balmy climate! In Abbottabad! Founded by Moses Abbott! A great mansion on a hill overlooking the city! And he plots and plans on maps with pins where each war will start and what he can sell! To kill this many souls! To kill that many people! Soldiers! Sure! Civilians too! And once a month his banker comes to report his riches! And the latest turn of the stock exchange! War you understand! It makes certain men so very rich! The merchants of war! And I visited him, being there for military business. And I plucked out a pin from a map and asked this benevolent looking gentleman how many deaths this one pin represented. And the benign looking gentlemen laughed very manner of fact and said ‘20,000 souls’.”

“How can he sleep at night knowing he is plotting and planning carnage?” Freddy asked.

“In fact dear sweet Freddy that merchant of death probably sleeps better than you or I. We have consciences. Consciences are prickly with guilt and fear and regret. The merchants of death in their mansions and the fanatics in their holy towers have no consciences. People are pins. People are ants. People are statistics. They sleep very well at night!”

“Then how can you be so calm right now?” Freddy asked.

“Because I volunteered to lead the forlorn hope. I always knew I would die in Delhi Freddy. So now….. I am ….oddly free. Free of fear. Free of guilt. Free of regret even! But enough of this Olympian debate! Let us ride down to be briefed by Baird-Smith! Ground level! Then I have to inspect the staging arena. Then the hospital. And of course the dead. I have to pay respect to the dead. Let us leave Olympus to the gods and men of no conscience!”
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