The war of 1965 against Pakistan occupies a penumbral position in Indian history as well as memory. Sandwiched between the wars with China in 1962 and Pakistan in 1971, the 1965 conflict evokes neither the humiliation of defeat nor the frisson of decisive victory. From scholars and historians it has elicited little more than a collective professional yawn. Indeed, there is hardly any new writing on the war that is comparable to what is now available for the other two conflicts that bookended the decade. Yet, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the war, it is important to recall its magnitude for India. In the full-scale conventional war lasting 22 days, India captured some 1,920 sq km of Pakistani territory—at the cost of nearly 11,500 casualties and the loss of almost 550 sq km of its own territory. These are not trivial numbers. The neglect of posterity is not a good measure of the significance of this war.
To understand the import of the 1965 war, it is essential to see it as a conflict waged in the shadow of the 1962 war. This was not just a matter of temporal adjacency. Rather, the defeat against China had deeply impacted on Indian politics, diplomacy and strategy. It was the unspoken background to practically every major move by India in 1965. It is the key to understanding popular reaction to the conflict and its outcome.