A soldier in the Great War

Anybody who knows anything about the military history of Sikhs knows that they are precisely the people you want in your military. The Sikhs’ version of the Alamo was the Battle of Saragarhi in 1897, in which 21 Sikhs belonging to the 36th Sikh Regiment took on 10,000 Afghan invaders in defense of what was then British India. They fought to the death, inflicting untold damage on the invaders before being wiped out. Suffice it to say that a religion requiring as one of five articles of faith the carrying of a dagger is very likely a good place to go looking for soldiers.

Sikhs have served in the U.S. military since at least World War I, during which Bhagat Singh Thind, a British national studying in the United States, volunteered to fight the Hun with the doughboys. He was promoted to sergeant and given an honorable discharge. He later went through a long, drawn-out legal battle to become a U.S. citizen, having his citizenship granted and revoked several times as the courts sorted out whether he qualified as a “free white man,” to whom naturalization was at the time restricted. (“White” was a fairly fluid category at the time, and high-born Indians often were designated “white” for legal purposes.) Eventually the dispute was settled in his favor, and he became known as an author of Transcendentalist-flavored spiritual books, including Jesus, the Christ: In the Light of Spiritual Science. He was an admirer of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walt Whitman — he could hardly have been more of an American if he’d been born in Chicago…

I’m an admitted Sikhophile, and not just because I found Corbusier’s Chandigarh to be so much more amenable a place than Lutyens’ Delhi. (I’m told that my high estimate of Corbusier is my least conservative opinion.) Drawn by our free economy and open society, many of the finest sons and daughters of India have made America their home. Some of them wear beards and turbans. Some of them are ready to put their lives in jeopardy in defense of their country, its Constitution, and its principles. To exclude them is not only un-American and far removed from historical military norms — including our own — it is foolish. We want the very best, and free societies are best defended by free men. The military aesthetic of the Eisenhower era is not the only acceptable one.