Continuing the review of Dayan Jayatilleka’s book, Long War, Cold Peace — Part II- Searching for ethics in a five-month war
Posted on May 5th, 2013

H. L. D. Mahindapala

Of the many tangled and intertwining issues that are bound to sprout from the 33-year-old war there are only two serious questions worth asking for those pursing reconciliation, peace, justice, understanding the past and, above all, the ethics of the overwhelming violence that impacted on all communities: 1. was the war declared by the Tamil leadership in the Vadukoddai Resolution of May 14, 1976 necessary? and 2. what did the Tamil leadership, which insisted on waging war rejecting national and international offers of peace even on the banks of Nandikadal, achieve in dragging the Tamil people from Vadukoddai in May 14, 1976 to Nandikadal in May 18, 2009 — 33 years in all, give or take a few days?
 
 Of all the communities only the Jaffna Tamil leadership decided deliberately to go down the path of violence. Unlike the JVP uprisings which were confined to the south, the north-south conflict affected all communities cutting across all geographical boundaries. Any critical moral issue arising from the Vadukoddai violence that ravaged our times must necessarily begin from these two questions. The Vadukoddai violence determined the political landscape for 33 years. Every other issue is secondary to these two central questions in judging the Vadukoddai violence which they claimed were political and security imperatives needed for their survival. Opting for the military solution was the last resort they said and they stuck to their military solution to the dying days. After Nandikadal they have to ask whether Vadukoddai violence that reigned supreme under their quasi-state gave them the political and personal security which, they said, could not be found under “Sinhala governments”.
 
 Since the military option was their calculated choice, when there were alternatives available in the mainstream to work out pragmatic compromises, they should also ask who should be held responsible for the unleashing of violence of the longest running war in Asia and its consequences. It was they who set their own political goals. They adopted the military solution. They mobilised their forces. They financed and directed their violence. They lost and it is “the Sinhala-Buddhist” governments that are blamed for their intransigent Vadukoddai violence and failure to achieve their political illusions.
 
 Besides, Sri Lanka is facing the current international backlash mainly on this issue of the ethics of combating the Vadukoddai violence unleashed by the northern leadership. Oddly enough, the accusations against the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) are based not on the entire duration of the devastating war but only on the last five months of the 33-year-old war. Sri Lanka should go down in the Guinness Book of Records for being the only country in history that is judged on the last five months of any war. Picking five months out of a 33-year-old war makes no sense, particularly if the aim is to evaluate the ethics of the violence on all sides. Why were the preceding 32 years and seven months excluded from the political equation of the UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka? Why did India and the West, prime movers of the UNHRC resolution, set the agenda of judging GOSL only on the last five months of a 33-year-old war? What is the rationale? Where is the justification to exclude the preceding years, months and days? Who benefits from this time frame?
 
 Isn’t the focus on the last five months a devious attempt to blame only GOSL and exonerate all the other actors who were a part of the war, including India, that began with the Vadukoddai Resolution in 1976? There were, of course, sporadic killings like that of Alfred Duraiyappah in 1975. But the endorsement of Tamil violence against a democratically elected state was formally, officially and collectively passed by the Tamil leadership that gathered in Vadukoddai. And to this day it remains the guiding and critical point of reference for Jaffna Tamil politics.
 
 Clearly, any rational attempt to examine the ethics of violence should begin from May 14, 1976. To limit any examination to only five months is a mockery. There could be several reasons for this arbitrary limitation. If it goes beyond the last five months will not India — one of the principal movers of the anti-Sri Lankan resolution — also be dragged in for the war crimes and the crimes against humanity committed by the IPKF forces in Jaffna? Will not the West that provided safe havens for the LTTE agents to collect funds ( $300 million annually, according Janes’ Weekly) also be found guilty of violating UN Security Council Resolutions (particularly 1373) that prohibited the funding, propagandizing, procuring arms in any part of the world for terrorism ? Isn’t this a deliberate attempt to avoid facing the critical issues that pins the blame on the Tamil leadership, as outlined in the two questions above?
 
 Tamil Tiger terrorism, like all other raging terrorist movements, could not have gone as far as it went, without the help of the international actors like India, the West and the Tamil diaspora. The UN report states that GOSL, the LTTE and the UN are responsible for what happened in the last five months of the war. Yet the finger-pointing in the UNHRC resolution is directed only at GOSL. There are no punitive measures or naming and shaming of the others on the same scale as the GOSL. So why is everybody picking on Sri Lanka only? Should not the finger-pointing be distributed equally to all involved, including India?
 
 After the injection of militarism embedded in the Vadukoddai Resolution, together with the internationalising of Jaffna Tamil politics, Sri Lanka has been the victim of the diverse manipulations, interventions, plots and conspiracies to undermine its sovereignty and independence. The first massive assault on Sri Lanka’s sovereignty began with the unprincipled, imperialistic interventions of India, posing as our best friend and neighbour. It is universally acknowledged that the prime source of armed Tamil terrorism, on an organised scale, was India. TIME magazine was the first to expose internationally the Indian bases for Tamil terrorism in its one and only cover story on Sri Lanka. If Indira Gandhi did not activate the RAW to destabilize Sri Lanka then Sri Lanka would not be facing the Indian charges levelled at the UNHRC. India first creates the conditions for the violations of human rights and then accuses the Sri Lankan victims of its imperialistic provocations of betraying the international humanitarian law.
 
 India is the mother that bred the Tamil Tiger cubs. India exported two powerful forces to Sri Lanka: 1. Buddhism and 2. Prabhakaranism. Sri Lanka built a great civilisation based on Buddhism. But Prabhkaran was exported to destroy all that was built by Buddhism. So isn’t it morally outrageous for India to move a resolution in the UNHRC accusing Sri Lanka of not ending terrorism according to international humanitarian law? To begin with, what international law did it observe when it dropped parippu in Jaffna violating Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity? India’s claim to moral purity in foreign affairs, particularly in dealing with its SAARC neighbours, can be as credible and acceptable as their attempt to make the Indian excreta found in practically every street corner, running down from the bottom of Himalayas to the tip end of Tamil Nadu, smell like roses.
 
 Confining moral judgement just to five months is counter-productive to peace and reconciliation. Can the victims of Vadukoddai violence that ran for 33 years be reconciled with an international inquiry that probes only five months? Besides, it is a blunt refusal to come to terms with our collective memory / history.
 
 The two questions (stated above) also relate directly to my friend Dayan Jayatilleka whose Ph D thesis was on the ethics of violence. He, of course, is more focused on the ethics of the revolutionary violence of “Saint Castro” (p.253) which, I believe, is elevated by him to be of superior kind than any other kind of political violence. It is not my intention to go into Castro’s saintliness now. Since the violence of the 33-year-old war is closer to our existential experiences he has a moral obligation to focus on the ethics of violence in our times in his latest book, Long War, Cold Peace, particularly the 33-year-old Vadukoddai violence which touched all our lives.
 
 Dayan does touch on the intensity and increased casualties in the last stages of the war but only from one angle. He says: “Fascists launch a final surge before they lose wars” (p.248). So do democratically elected governments before they win wars. Wars intensify in the last stages because it is a matter of life and death for both sides. In fact, it is because the fascists (including the LTTE) launch their final surge that the governments are forced to retaliate with pulverising force as in Dresden and in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.
 
 I am not saying like Gordon Weiss, the UN representative in Sri Lanka in the last stages of the war, Frances Harrison of BBlC, Channel 4 and other anti-Sri Lankan media and academia that GOSL forces conducted the war in the last five months trying to do a Hiroshima or Nagasaki. On the contrary, the Sri Lankan forces were commended for their restraint by no less authorities than the American Ambassador Robert Blake and the ICRC head, Jacques de Maio. In a confidential embassy cable (Wikileak 09 COLOMBO 86) to Washington on January 26, 2009 Blake wrote that the Army has a generally good track record of taking care to minimize civilian casualties during its advances.
 
 Later in July 2009 US Ambassador John Clint Williamson, Ambassador- at- Large for War Crimes, met and discussed the recent fighting in Sri Lanka with several INGO heads in Geneva, Switzerland. One of these heads was Jacques de Maio, the ICRC’s Head of Operations for South Asia. Whilst discussing potential violations of International Humanitarian Law, Jacques de Maio noted (as revealed revealed in Wikileak 09 GENEVA 584) that the Sri Lankan military was somewhat responsive to accusations of violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and was open to adapting its actions to reduce casualties. […] He could cite examples of where the Army had stopped shelling when ICRC informed them it was killing civilians. In fact, the Army actually could have won the military battle faster with higher civilian casualties yet chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths.
 
 In the same cable, Jacques de Maio had this to say about the LTTE and its strategies : On the LTTE, de Maio said that it had tried to keep civilians in the middle of a permanent state of violence. It saw the civilian population as a “protective asset”and kept its fighters embedded amongst them. De Maio said that the LTTE commanders’ objective was to keep the distinction between civilian and military assets blurred
This is culled from Introducing “Numbers Game” — A detailed Study of Eelam War IV, a thorough and compelling investigation into the myths of the final offensive, written by Michael Roberts. See http://www.scribd.com/doc/132499266/The-Numbers-Game-Politics-of-Retributive-Justice OR http://www.margasrilanka.org/

These objective reports confirm that the GOSL forces were not bent on bombing the Tamil civilians, locked by Prabhakaran inside his self-serving human shield, into the Stone Age. Besides, in the last stages there was undoubtedly a positive result that worked for the Tamil civilians: it was the retaliatory fire-power of the Forces that weakened the resistance of the LTTE and enabled the Tamil civilians to vote with their feet and run away from the grip of Prabhakaran. If the final offensive was not launched the Tamil civilians would still be prisoners of Prabhakaran with the I/NGO’s and other moralists blaming the GOSL for not negotiating a peace with intransigent Prabhakaran.

On any cost-benefit ratio it can be argued that the gains of ending the war in May 2009 saved more lives than halting it to save the lives sacrificed in ending the war. In any case, halting the war to save the lives would not have resulted in peace or saving lives for the simple reason that militaristic Prabhhakaran would never have accepted defeat in the battlefield and agreed to play second fiddle within a united Sri Lanka. Nor could he survive in non-violent, competitive politics in the democratic mainstream. As revealed in his past, from the time he killed Alfred Duraiyappah in 1975, he could maintain his authoritarian style of governing only on violence.

Clearly, the claims of saving lives by halting the last offensive would never have materialised as long as belligerent Prabhakaran was alive. At best it could have only postponed the inevitable show down where both sides would fight to a finish. The military situation had a reached a decisive peak and neither side was in the mood to return to barracks. What happened on the banks of Nandikadal is what has happened in all wars and what will continue to happen in all future wars. Irrespective of the pieties declared in the UN Charter, Geneva Conventions, R2P, the Treaty of Rome, and other instruments of peace nothing has contained the intensity of wars in the last stages and nothing is likely to do so. That is the inescapable law of war. So when US, India, I/NGOs, Tamil diaspora accuse GOSL of violating international humanitarian law in defeating terrorism they are resorting to the usual humbuggery of telling Sri Lanka not to do what they do but to do what they say.

 The only way to avoid such a catastrophic end is not to launch wars which the Jaffna Tamil leadership did in 1976. After all wars are waged to achieve what can’t be achieved through non-violent means. And if the war-mongers and their abettors fail to achieve their declared objectives through organised violence (i.e., war) who should be held responsible for the carnage? And also how fair is it to draw the ethics and the judgments by limiting the violence of a 33-year-old war to just five months?
 
 Probing the two questions stated above could go a long way to find the answers to peace, justice, reconciliation and the ethics of Vadukoddai violence. Of course, such a quest cannot be confined to the last five months of the war, starting from January 2009 to May 2009. But that is precisely what has happened in the post-Nandikadal politics cranked up by the high priests of morality in the I/NGOs and their paymasters in the anti-Sri Lankan Western governments. All relevant issues, together with the violence of the 33-year-old war, have been brushed aside and the issue of violence in the last five months alone has been raised within days of ending the war as if the preceding years of war were conducted by angels sitting on pin heads.
 
 After his role in the UNHRC in 2009 Dayan mission subsequently should have been to confront the issue of ethics in violence of the 33-year-old war confined to five months. The issue of violence in the last five months has been over-rated, exaggerated and blown out of proportion as if no other war had ever escalated violence in the last stages. Dayan could have rendered a great service to scholarship alone had he shone his searchlight on this critical issue and clarified the ethical content that has kicked up so much dust internationally.
 
 Regretfully, he either skips or pussyfoots around the historical roots of the violent path taken by the Jaffna leadership, at a time when they were still in the democratic mainstream, hanging on to their seats in the Parliament, with one foot in the “Sinhala governments” and the other foot in the Vadukoddai violence. The path was always open for the Jaffna Tamil elite to follow the pragmatic leadership of the other two Tamil-speaking communities — the Muslims and Indian Tamils — eschewing mono-ethnic extremism and negotiating their way non-violently to resolve differences with the majority Sinhalese, avoiding the bloody Vadukoddai route.
 
 Dayan too agrees that “there is a need for conceptual clarity on these different, yet intersecting, forms of political violence of non-state-actors.” (p.2), Unfortunately, instead of going directly into the roots of Vadukoddai violence he goes to dissect hairs of terrorism and liberation movements and gets lost in “treating terrorism as either a problem of criminal law or a problem law of war.” As usuay he tends to box Sri Lanka in Western categories without analysing the crisis within the Sri Lanka context. This is like Mao writing his famous Hunan report on the conditions of the farms in Yorkshire without going deep into the prevailing Chinese realities. Mao’s opening line reads: “During my recent visit to Hunan I made a first-hand investigation of conditions in the five counties of Hsiangtan, Hsianghsiang, Hengshan, Liling and Changsha.” Dayan talks of the interventions he made in Paris and elsewhere in debates with foreign lecturers etc. Mao, of course, was at an advantage because he never went out of China like Chou En-lai etc.
 
 Like all left-wing intellectuals Dayan exposes his proclivity to repeat the cliches, slogans and propaganda, with a few variations, in his segment titled: Roots of the Crisis (p.34). I do not know whether it is intellectual sloth, sloppiness or a stubborn refusal to recognise the realities which contradict their anti-Sinhala-Buddhist dogma but they all either go for the mono-causal theory of blaming the south exonerating the north, or, like Dayan, state that it is not “either/or” but “and/and”. Of course, there is nothing original in recalling either stances. However, in the case of Dayan, after saying “and/and”, he blames D. S. Senanayake and S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike for breaking the Social Contract which has to be an Ethnic Contract in a polyethnic society (p. 37 — Long War, Cold Peace). Perhaps unwittingly, here he reverts to Tamil slogans repeating the “either/or” mantra.
 
 He says that “DS” sundered the Social Contract first by introducing the bill to define who Sri Lanka’s citizens should be — a task performed by every state that had to redefine the nation by defining its citizens first in the post-colonial era. He also admits that it was not done by “sinister ethnic motivations”. He, however, does not admit that it was done with the advice and consent of G. G. Ponnambalam, the acknowledged leader of the Jaffna Tamils of the time. If the recognised and elected leaders of all communities — G. G. Ponnambalam and T. B. Jayah — voted for the citizenship act how can it be a sundering of the Ethnic Social Contract?
 
He also refuses to recognise that though Chelvanayakam objected and broke away from Ceylon Tamil Congress to beat his arch rival Ponnambalam and become the sole representative of the Jaffrna Tamils, the Indian government agreed to take back the Indian estate workers who did not qualify for citizenship as citizens of India. One significant factor ignored by Dayan is that Chelvanayakam was promoting his mono-ethnic extremist politics by pretending to be the champion of Indian estate workers. Though he championed the citizenship of Indian to increase the vote bank of the Tamils through his pan-Tamil-speaking movement (Thamil Payasoom Makkal), (p. 70 – S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947 – 1977, A Political Biography, A.J. Wilson) which never took off, he would not give his daughter in marriage to an Indian “coolie”.
 
 Dayan also does not concede that D. S. Senanayake was committed to multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society and laid the foundations for communal harmony by inviting and incorporating all ethnic leaders in his first Cabinet. And, just to take one example, “DS” set up a multi-ethnic committee (including Ponnambalam) to design the national flag which gave the highest place of respect and dignity to all major minorities, the Tamils and Muslims. He did not remove Section 29 which was introduced into the Constitution as a safety net for minorities. He did not threaten the ethnic composition of the public service — a domain dominated by the English-speaking Vellahla elite (p.140 – Wilson). In fact, “DS’s” Permanent Secretary, the highest office in public service, was Sir. Kandiah Vaithianathan. He did not introduce Sinhala Only legislation. He did not change the colonial adminstration one bit and, to all intents and purposes, he retained all the colonial traditions, including English language, which should not have caused any concern to any minority group.
 
 But one year after independence — on December 18, 1949, to be precise, and long before the Tamils’ bete noir, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike came on the scene — S. J. V. Chelvanayakam broke away from the Ceylon Tamil Congress, headed by G. G. Ponnambalam, and drove peninsular politics into mono-ethnic extremism by launching his Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Tamil State Party) on the pretext of defending the franchise of the Indian workers. Like all Jaffna Tamil politicoes he saw every act of the centre as an anti-Tamil act. For instance, G. G. Ponnambalam, the father of the cry of discrimination, went before the Soulbury Commission and complained that the cooperative movement was set up to undermine the Tamil traders! Chelvanayakam painted the citizenship bill as an anti-Tamil act when the Marxists and the respected academics Dayan quotes agree that it was a class act. So what is the rationale for a “political scientist” like Dayan to blame “DS” for breaking the Ethnic Social Contract when he himself cites evidence to prove that it was a class act. I do not want to deal with the most distorted aspects of Bandaranaike’s policies which Dayan had swallowed hook, line and sinker. The tragedy is that he had swallowed it not out of ignorance but because he feels that it would undermine his dogged stance of blaming the “Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinists”.
 
 These historical and political inaccuracies devalues him and his book. He tries hard to balance his position between the two major contending forces. But the balancing in the generalised statements is contradicted in the details and, as they say, the devil is always in the detail. The worst is that he does not know he is eating his own words when the details contradict the generalisations. I must, however, concede that he excels in his analysis of the period when Tamil politics was dominated by Velupillai Prabhakaran, the Pol Pot of Asia.
 
 Dayan and I have been on the same page in the post-JRJ period. We both backed presidents Ranasinghe Premadasa and Mahinda Rajapakse. We both defended the nation against the terrorist onslaught of Prabhakaran. He defended from the left. I defended from the centre-right. I even defended him once when he was attacked by Anton Balasingham, the LTTE ideologue, who wrote under the pseudonym Bramagiani in his father’s magazine, Lanka Guardian. But we part company when it comes to his analyses of foreign policy (e.g, like “Saint Castro”) or his blinkered view of national history and politics. Nor do I agree with his mantras to solve or manage the north-south crisis. I disagree with him on the issue of 13th Amendment. He is wedded to it. I am not.
 
 That’s another issue that will have to wait till I deal with it in next article.
 
 To be continued

2 Responses to “Continuing the review of Dayan Jayatilleka’s book, Long War, Cold Peace — Part II- Searching for ethics in a five-month war”

  1. herman Says:

    Its not the USA, its not India, there is a Bigger Picture which is not evidently and currently obvious to most and hopefully with the dots been connected in the near future, some of us will get the Fuller Picture!

  2. lingamAndy Says:

    Poor Dayan Jayatilleka’s never understad Sri Lanka is only belongs to Bhuddist Sinhala Nation & Thamil Eelam is belongs to Only saiva Thamil Nation !!!!

    Unity ? what is that ? between whom ? Two Nation, how is possible !!!

    Naalai pirakkum Saiva Thamil eelam , jesus will back !!!

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