FRESNO, CA -- I think I've finally found a religion I can convert to. I'm thinking of turning Sikh. And we'll just slide right by all the puns popping into your little heads, if you don't mind. The Sikhs are just the coolest warrior tribe around. Take their scripture. My Bible goes on about beating swords into plowshares -- I always hated that bit, because all you'd get was a wrecked sword and a lousy plow. But the Sikh scripture actually says that the sword predates the universe: "After the primal manifestation of the sword, the universe was created."
See? That's a god who's got his priorities in order! No doubt about it, I'm letting my beard grow and practicing wrapping old socks around my head. Gary B. Singh, you can call me from now on.
It all started when I got a letter from a guy named Gill, a Sikh in the UK, whining about how I'd talked up all the other warrior tribes but never had a word to say for the Sikhs. "Give us some love, Gary," Gill whined.
Well, the War Nerd makes war, not love, but after weeks of looking into this Sikh thing, I gotta give the bearded boys their due. The Sikhs have one of the most amazing military histories on the planet. And they're still living through their Golden Age right now. One of the great last stands in Sikh history happened less than 25 years ago, when 200 Sikh militants holed up in their version of the Mormon Tabernacle, the "Golden Temple" in Amritsar, India. Anybody with sense knew those 200 Sikhs were going to fight like demons, because that's what Sikhs have been doing for the past 400 years. Sikh military history is so packed with glorious last stands that George Armstrong Custer would be a smalltime footnote if he'd worn a big turban to go with that long hair and beard of his.
It was 1984, and the Indian Army must have known it was in for a big bloody mess to get the temple back, especially since its upper ranks are filled mostly with Sikh generals, Sikhs being the designated hitters of the Indian war game. But Indira Gandhi was PM, and she was a lady who didn't like being disobeyed, so she ordered her Sikh Commanding General to overrun the temple.
Mistake. The Sikh CO inside the temple was a dude named Shahbeg Singh, who pretty much single-handedly engineered the collapse of the Pakistani Army in the 1971 Indo-Pak War. It was Shahbeg who organized the Mukhti Bahini, the Bangladeshi guerrillas who made history by being the first Bengali armed force in history not to pee in their dhotis and flee at the sound of gunfire. In fact, this Sikh must've given the Bengalis some kind of Sikh blood transfusion because they fought well enough to make the West Pak garrisons surrender en masse even before Indian troops crossed the Bengal border. After that it was the end of history for East Bengal, except for a bunch of whiney George Harrison begging chanteys, and a tidal wave or two.
Well, this same Shahbeg arranged the defense of the Golden Temple so well that at the end of a seven-day battle with the Indian Army's best units, his 200-odd amateur militants had inflicted 83 KIA on the army and even managed to blast the first tank to enter the compound. They paid a price, naturally - at least 500 Sikh dead and the Temple blasted into gold dust. But Sikhs -- well, if there's one thing you can say about 'em, it's that they're willing to pay any price.
And they make the enemy pay, too. Less than five months after Indira Gandhi ordered the attack on the Temple, she was strolling into her garden to be interviewed by that fat old Brit with the Russian name, Peter Ustinov, when the Sikhs got their revenge. It must have been a pretty scene, the fat man sweating in the Delhi heat, Indira swirling up in her best sari -- when BOOM! Two of her bodyguards, who were Sikhs, naturally, opened fire on her with machine guns, turning her into human chutney. She died before the sweat dried on Ustinov's chins. And then, just to add to Ustinov's fun, her other non-Sikh bodyguards started blasting at the Sikh shooters, killing one and wounding another.