SHELL SHOCK TO PALALY SYNDROME : SOME REFLECTIONS
Posted on August 2nd, 2011

By Gamini Gunwardane  Rtd. Snr. DIG 

I am indebted to Dr. Ruwan Jayatunge for his two part article in “ƒ”¹…”The Island’ of 2nd  and 4th Jan. with the above heading i.e. on PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It helped me to understand the behaviour of some of my men in Jaffna in 1984/85 which baffled 
me all this time, without being able to find an explanation as to the cause of such behaviour.  
 
Before I state the behavioral problems that baffled me, I must give a brief background  description of the circumstances in which these incidents occurred. I assumed duties as Co-ordinating Superintendent to the then Jaffna Co-ordinating  Officer (Late) Brig. Nalin Seneviratne, (later Lt. Gen & Army Commander), on 1 st  Aug.  1984. That was in fact the day that the Terrorists formally declared “ƒ”¹…”war’ on the SL  Government. Of course, I had arrived in Jaffna a few days earlier to familiarize myself  with the setup. I took up residence in the Jaffna Fort where the Jaffna Police H.Q. was. 
 
 The Terrorists did not expect their “ƒ”¹…”war’ to last very long. They expected the government  forces to cave in, in a short time. Their strategy was simple. They mined all the  approaches to the Police stations and Camps. They mounted units to monitor movements 
of troops and police squads from the Camps and Police stations, to give early warnings of  the approaching army, police units. They also setup units to attack air craft that brought food and provisions to the Camps. Before long, they blasted the railway and the train 
service at Murugandy. That was the end of rail transport of people and fuel. Their plan was to besiege the security establishments and slowly starve us into submission over time, without food, water and other provisions including arms & ammunition.  
 
A few days after 1st Aug. ASP Siri Jayasundera who was on a patrol with an Army unit on the VVT “”…” Pt. Pedro road was killed in a crude claymore charge (probably their first one and first senior police officers to die). Two days later, P.H.M.A. Herath SSP 
Vavuniya who spoke to me on the phone around 10 a.m. was blasted seated on his office chair at about 4 p.m. His pieces had to be collected from the roof top of the office. Chunnakam Police station was attacked in the night shortly afterwards. 
On 1st September, the Ist  STF unit got caught in a landmine on their way to Point Pedro police station from Jaffna, where 4 police constables died. On 26th Nov. Chavakachcheri Police station which was attacked for the 3rd time, was blasted at 1.15 p.m. by a lorry packed with explosives that drove through the front gate, killing all men there except S.I. Subramaniam. The I.G. Mr. Rudra Rajasingham wanted me to close down immediately all the police stations in the Peninsula which were vulnerable. He told me that he would 2 hold me personally responsible if any more police stations were attacked. The tension and panic was so much! So, all police stations other than Point Pedro which was backed by the Army and VVT Police station remained open, other than the Jaffna HQ Police Station. However, many Tamil Police officers who traveled from home to work were killed intermittently. 
Somewhere in September or October, all Sinhalese people in the Dollar and Kent farms in Vavuniya jungles were slaughtered in the night, with knives and swords. Kotakedeniya SSP at VVN, was asked by Police H.Q. to undertake the daunting task of leading a combined Army Police team to visit the scene, investigate and retrieve the bodies and any survivors. We followed with awe, on the Police Radio Net, Mr. K’s journey on his dangerous mission, through the heart of the jungle. We did not know at what point his 
convoy would run into an ambush. He reported on the radio, the gruesome scenes he witnessed. There were no survivors. No witnesses. He was asked to bury the dead bodies. 
          
Police had no military training or combat equipment. Men who were engaged in peaceful police work in the South were transferred against their wishes for a six month tour of duty to the North and the East, to defend the police stations there. All were scared stiff 
and did not know what moment one would be killed. In these circumstances I realized that role of the police was to “just hang on, without capitulation”. “Just survive at any cost!” And hold your men. The situation was that desperate. So, we hurriedly organized 
crash training courses of mental toughening and defensive fighting etc. 
 
Going over these memories may be a good exercise now, to remind these conditions to those who are already trying to trivialize the subsequent victories, for various reasons. When Chunnakam Police station was attacked by the terrorists one night in the second 
week of August, I visited that station at about 1 a.m. with a combined Army-Police convoy. We found that the Police officers and men led by SI Sudeshanathan and another SI whose name I cannot recall now had done extremely well to repulse the attack. They 
were quite confident in holding the station. But when I visited this station two days later, I found that this other SI behaving in a queer fashion, bordering on unruly behaviour. The others were embarrassed. He was demanding an immediate recognition of their good performance and supply of sophisticated weapons etc. Not being aware of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at that time, I thought the SI was behaving in a reprehensible manner in this crisis situation when he should set an example to his men building on his gallant performance. I was also suspecting whether he was now getting the jitters reflecting over his new experience.  
After 25 years, thanks to the Dr. Jayatunge’s article I realize that this SI must have been suffering from PTSD. He was probably, “psychologically wounded” in Dr. Jayatunge’s words. “PTSD denotes an intense prolonged and sometimes delayed reaction to an 
extremely stressful event.” This must have been such a case. There was a similar situation at VVT a few weeks later. The terrorists mounted an attack on the police station one night. Police did well to repulse the attack with out suffering any 3 casualties. When I visited this station the next morning, many men were quite agitated despite faring well at battle. They were very upset that the attackers abused them in filth and in disparaging language. They said it was very demoralizing. For the first time they had tasted what they were giving the public! Here too, the agitated police officers demanded more sophisticated weapons and ammo other equipment and additional strength overnight, and wanted to be relieved, which was out of the question at that time. Now I know that they too may have been suffering from PTSD Syndrome. 
         
In the landmine blasting of the STF party on 1st  Sept. on their way to Point Pedro referred to earlier, the heavy truck in which the troop traveled was thrown higher than the electricity post near by, by the blast. When they came down, 4 constables were dead. 
Several were injured. (To my recollection, this was the 1st successful landmine blast by the terrorists.) The survivors fought a pitched battle and drove away the terrorists who ambushed them. The SI who led the unit in this gallant fight, had the presence of mind to recover his Service pistol and the bag containing the salaries of the men from among the debris in the sand. This SI lasted through the subsequent thorough interrogations done to reconstruct the incident, but a few days later he began to become unruly in his conduct. 
 
As his behaviour later deteriorated further, I learnt that subsequently he was sent out of the STF and was on long medical leave. While on leave too, he clashed with a doctor on the streets of Kandy. A few years later he was killed in his home by the JVP in the “ƒ”¹…”88/89 Insurgency. All this time, I had a dim view of this person, as I was ignorant of PTSD at that time. Perhaps, he never recovered from his psychological injury, though up till then considered to be a tough STF man. If this was known to us at that time, we could have helped him to rehabilitate himself psychologically. Hence this must be a clear case of what Dr. Jayatunge describes as “mismanagement of combat trauma.”   
 
In hindsight, probably the American soldier who went berserk in Mylai, Vietnam killing so many villagers too may have suffered form PTSD. Similarly, the soldiers all over the world who engage themselves in indescribable acts of cruelty too may be suffering from some psychological condition which we conventionally condemn and dismiss as just “ƒ”¹…”sadism’. 
Dr. Jayatunge has dealt with the case of Rajasinghe I of Seethawake in the 16th Century.         
 
Very probably, the king suffered from the “ƒ”¹…”burn out’ of his exploits. Otherwise, one could not account for some of his conduct especially in the latter stages of his life. I started to think on the same lines, of his contemporary warrior, Veediye Bandara, the most daring and ruthless fighter under all three kings of Kotte, Seethawaka and Kandy, who was said to have been feared by the Portuguese. He is reported to have killed his wife, the Kotte king’s daughter, by drowning her in the Diyawanna. He fell out with all three kings at different times and fought the Portuguese on his own with his own army, from Kotte to Dondra. He then fled to Jaffna with the hope of getting the assistance of the regional ruler of Jaffna. At some point when in the company of the Ruler’s soldiers he suddenly felt suspicious that someone was trying to kill him. He stood in front of banyan tree drew his sword and challenged the people who were negotiating with him. With his fighting skills and undaunted bravery, he fought alone with the whole group killing many of the when finally; a desperate soldier climbed the banyan tree from behind, jumped on his neck 4killing him. It would appear that most of the things that he did despite his bravery and daring were irrational. It could only be explained with PSTD. 
Then again, something that was always worrying me was the case of our last King, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe who turned out to be a tyrant and lost his kingdom to the British marking the end of our independence. I was trying to figure out as to how this king became a tyrant. He was supposed to have been a tall and handsome man who loved beauty, music and enjoyed his liquor which his confidantes and the British later exploited.
 
 What beat me was how a man who could entertained in his thought, the concept of the beauty of the city of Kandy that we see it today, could have turned out to be such a tyrant cruel enough to order the gruesome killing of the Ehalepola Kumarihamy and her children and how he could witness from the Patthirippuwa, the barbaric act being carried out. The story is that, one day he summoned his Architect, Devendra Moolachari and told him that he wanted a city designed like Alakamanda where he would feel as if he was Kubera, the Yama, the king of splendour. The Moolachari after some time brought before him a design model made out pieces banana trunk which showed the Kings palace, the proposed  Dalada maligawa,  Pattirippuwa (octagon), the lake surrounded with the Walakulu bemma (the wall representing the clouds), the plan to convert the paddy field in front to a lake which he called Kiri muhuda. The Moolachari converted the dream of the king thus, into reality on the ground. And this is the most beautiful part of the city of Kandy that the whole world admires today. One could discern in the contemporary book of verse, Ehelepola Hatana the effort the king made to make this design a reality by driving his officials and subjects hard. He had even wanted to make the streets beautiful. 
But there was much resistance from the people because the king was unpopular. The book itself is a reflection of the resentment toward the king. He had even wanted to build a new palace for himself on the Palace Square, but two royal astrologers whom he 
consulted independently, advised against it. Now the question is, how a man who was obsessed with such a high aesthetic sense could turn out to be a senseless tyrant within a short time?  
 
His Ministers, down from his chief Adigar, Pilimathalawwe were conspiring against him,  to oust him. There were the chieftains who carried tales to him against each other, driven by mutual jealousy, each aspiring to usurp the throne. He became suspicious of all of 
them and trusted only his Nayakkar relatives which compounded the hatred of the Kandyan aristocracy towards him. This led to his killing some of his best generals like Lewke Methindu on mere suspicion of their loyalty. This made the situation even worse, driving his next Chief Adigar, Ehalepola, to the British. On the other hand, there were the British who were engineering conspiracy after conspiracy against him, waiting for the right opportunity to pounce on him to grab his Kingdom. He lived in constant fear, tormented by suspicion of everyone around him. A truly unenviable position for any one to be in. He had become addicted to liquor, probably as an escape route. In describing Seethawaka Rajasinghe’s plight, Dr. Jayatunge writes: “”¦showed outbursts of anger, irritability, deep mistrust, alienation, emotional numbing and various other PTSD related symptoms.” He also mentions: “Emotional anesthesia or emotional numbing is a distinctive feature of PTSD.” Elsewhere he says” It (PTSD) can change he mark up of a person making him more dysfunctional.” I think these descriptions fit the behaviour of 5Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe and offer a plausible explanation to the major contradictions in his character. 
 
My thoughts meandered towards the operation of Karma theory in such circumstances. For, according to Buddhist analysis of Karma, presence of Chetana, intention, is the key factor for moral responsibility. If for instance, the Mylai soldier was affected by PTSD  he was probably not in his senses to realize the implications of his action. Though he acted with volition in a limited sense, he probably did not intend to do what he did, if was of sane mind. He was probably in a kind of diseased mind. Hence, there could not be any moral responsibility for his action. Then, does it become an Ahosi Kamma? Perhaps, this might need a larger discussion by more knowledgeable people. Dr. Jayatunge says: “Rehabitation programmes include education, vocational training, income generating projects, loans, housing that is tailored to the needs of the survivors and post disaster situation.” While not challenging these remedial measures, a commonsense  approach tell me engaging such victims in art, music, dancing, writing down their experiences, describing the incidents and living in areas of scenic beauty may also be helpful cathartic exercises in helping to relieve their trauma. My wife had some degree of success with the seriously injured and traumatized police officers kept at the Police Hospital, by adopting such methods, during those gloomy days. 
 

2 Responses to “SHELL SHOCK TO PALALY SYNDROME : SOME REFLECTIONS”

  1. Samson Says:

    Believe it or not, the best modern remedy is to expose PTSD sufferers to war images and clips like landmine explosions, killings, artillery attacks, suicide bomber attacks. That reawakens their senses that were present at the time they faced a similar challenge. When they come to know these things happen and that now they are out of danger, it begins to cure.

    I’m sure Sarath Fonseka suffers from PTSD. He raised a private army to guard his fortress at Cinamon Grand hotel as if terrorists were still after him. After the war he participated at a victory celebration in Abmalangoda where he cordoned off the area as if the bad guys were after him.

    Out of his PTSD he gave wrong information to Sunday Leader that landed the country in trouble.

    President Premadasa too suffered from PTSD that took him to strange addictions.

    Not just LTTE, army guys too need some rehabilitation.

  2. AnuD Says:

    Most of the weird behaviour that we hear from personnel form forces should be attributed to PTSD. Most of those behaviours should be hidden as they will not talk those things openly.

    Sarath Fonseka definitely should have other biochemical changes in the body too because of the suicide attack that he faced. Some of his behaviour should be attributed to that. But, Sri Lanka, expects even the men who escaped the death to be perfectly normal.

    Do we here about any psychiatrist or psychological help that they are getting

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