1. The stuff of heroes

Every yarn in the fabric of history is held together by a common thread. From the story of the light bulb to the grand history of nations, it is the colourful lives of its heroes and villains and dissensions between them, that keep the stories of our past animated and so compelling even today. Our study and understanding of history is therefore devoted to individuals on whose shoulders the direction of our civilization and evolutionary past pivots and turns; and on whose heroism our destiny is often secured and at times imperilled. History is a veneration of those mountainous giants whose lives have shaped its course through the valleys of time, carrying with it in myth and legend, a bountiful legacy that inspires us still. It is impossible to sustain the historical narrative without reference to the lives of those who shaped it. Even the history of science lends itself willingly to myths about apples falling on the brightest heads at the most crucial moments.

Legends that make up the history of nations often stretch further back from living memory to the memory of tomes and beyond, where they take root in times immemorial. We draw from that unverifiable magic of time, the narratives that define our present identity, culture and view of the world. Perched at the edge of those long and thorny tales – of heroism and villainy, insight and ignorance, disaster and fortune, war and peace – our own lives and times bloom into existence. Though told and retold until truth is no longer distinguishable from myth, the narratives of history and its heroes bear more relevance to the colour and tone of present times than we would fain admit.

Therefore, to understand a country and its people; their tinted past, present anxieties and hopes for the future, we must necessarily understand their heroes. Though heroes of all times and all cultures share much in common, their heroic status is as much a product of circumstance as much as will. Heroism is never self-professed, but always dependant on popular consensus. It is the common man who elevates heroes and heroins to such status and immortalise them in legend. Heroes are made exceptional among the common and ordinary – and the relationship is symbiotic.

Some heroes are ridiculed and rejected by their own and in their own age, only for their heroic acts and words to be recognised and venerated by posterity. Others who assume heroic status in their lifetimes by their people, are vilified by generations that follow. In so far as heroes are not of the common mould, they invariably give rise to bands of admirers as well as detractors. Indeed some iconic figures of history owe the transmission of their heroic image to little more than an inconclusive debate about how well their heroic status is earned.

Heroes are defined to a large extent by the moments in history and the geography they inhabit. It cannot be coincidence that Mahatma Gandhi should rise out of colonial India and Nelson Mandela out of apartheid South Africa? Yet their heroic status is also undeniably a reflection of the masses because it is they who ultimately define what constitutes heroism, its time and place. Even though the greatest heroes transcend both time and geography, most are known to and remembered by the communities that they impacted and in whose opinion they are considered heroes in the first place.

People choose heroes for peculiar reasons and under diverse circumstances. Therefore, the nature, character and values that are enshrined in heroic tales of the past are perhaps the most sincere account of the real anxieties, fears and hopes of the common man – inadvertently scribbled in the pages of history. We too in our turn add footnotes about our own values, fears and hopes in the pages of history by who we choose to be the iconic heroes of our times.

Heroes do not lend themselves to every generation. Indeed, some do not borrow from heroes or heroism as readily as others. Most heroes are made in times of adversity. Few manifest themselves in times of abundance and even when they do, they are rarely recognised. Bertolt Brecht observes this interesting fact in his iconic dramatisation of the “Life of Galileo”, where a dejected Andrea says “Unhappy the land that has no heroes”;To which Galileo replies: “No. Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.”

Of course, times of adversity and war lends themselves to more tales of heroism, and more readily than times of peace. Homer’s Iliad, which marks the dawn of classical western literature, is dedicated to the story of Achilles – perhaps the first popular hero of the western world.

Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans.

Thus, it’s first sentence of the Iliad captures perhaps the most alluring quality of any popular hero: anger! Heroes are more commonly identified with “anger”, even violent rage, restlessness that is symptomatic of an absolute and non-negotiable moral bias – often for what is righteous and just. Therein lies the irony. Those who cause distress, turmoil and violent destruction for a popular – and often just – cause, captivates us in awe and admiration. Those who despise the safety and comfort of a timid peace at mortal risk – rather than a willingness to compromise or negotiate moral values for the sake of preserving peace and stability – is the stuff of heroism. It is this quality that makes heroes akin to times of adversity.

The uncompromising idealism, unrestrained ambition and willingness to risk themselves and others in what they believe to be a just cause – the definitive qualities of heroism – makes heroes out of explosive and even violent characters. As William Shakespeare confesses through the voice of Hamlet;

“Rightly to be great is not to stir without great argument, but greatly to find quarrel in a straw when honor’s at the stake.”

– Hamlet Act IV, Scene IV

In rising up to nd revelling in the fight and inspiring others to do the same with single-minded perseverance – without dimplomacy or fear of adverse consequences – heroes often imperil themselves, the people they fight for and fight with. Their disregard for death is percieved as bravery, their lack of inhibition to destroy and harm – as courage. Perhaps it befits this careless idealism that heroes are not defined by the outcomes of their glorious pursuits; but so long as the ideals they fight for remain relevant and worthy of aspiration, they remain heroes – equally in both victory and defeat.

And so a reading of the history of Sri Lanka, which is often invoked and speculated about in discussions about nationalism, politics, conflict and identity, can also be read by the tales of countless heroes whose imprint we bear in our individual as well as collective identities.

Can we dismiss as irrelevant, the dubious stories of ministers who claim a direct linage to King Dutugamunu? A discourse on “what makes Madduma Bandara a hero?” (and not Kumar Sangakkara; whose inspiration, I believe, is far more meaningful?) would be both intriguing and insightful.  And there are also more pertinent questions: at what cost do we ignore the legacy and contribution of heroes from our recent past such as Anagarika Dharmapala (so defined in the national curriculum) and Velupillai Prabhakaran (dare we entertain the thought of him as a hero) in shaping our present and future?

  • sambar

    “A hero …in Greek mythology and folklore, … Later, hero came to refer to characters who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self sacrifice … for some greater good … This definition originally referred to martial courage or excellence but extended to more general moral excellence.” — Wikipedia.

    If we go by the above, then Velupillai Prabhakaran easily falls into the category of hero.
    And if we courageously dare to state this despite the adversity and even possible danger from certain extremists then perhaps there is something of a hero in us too!

    Was Anagarika Dharmapala a hero? Not by the above definition. Anagarika Dharamapala was in search of an identity [he was suffering from a huge identity crisis at the time] when rather fortuitously for him [but not for lots of others] the Mahavamsa was found and the Indo-European linguistic connection of the Sinhalese language was discovered.
    Thus Anagarika Dharmapala then came up with a new identity: the Arya-Sihala-Buddhist. (He had a huge inferiority complex when it came to the British so he seems to have thought that European was synonymous with Aryan, and confused linguistic categorisation with race).
    Thus the Sinhala-Buddhist extremist was fathered by Anagarika Dharmapala.
    This was an identity with no historical or logical basis, it never existed before, and therefore not surprisingly it grew into a murderous monster. (It is also not surprising that the Sinhalese having abandoned their sense of original identity, are now themselves confused about who they are.)

    If not for Anagarika Dharmapala and his extremist followers, Velupillai Prabhakaran might well have lived a quiet life!

    • sambar: Thank you for adding your thoughts to the discussion. I feel your comments bring out more than you intend to – some points in support of the argument you make and some detrimental to it. Given the course that history has taken, we may never know for sure whether “Velupillai Prabhakaran might well have lived a quiet life” – “if not for Anagarika Dharmapala and his extremist followers” but I believe that question can stimulate much introspection and reflection on the social factors that led to Tamil militancy in Sri Lanka as well as any inhibitions for progress in the aftermath of war.
      I would also contend that what constitutes a hero is more complex and generic than what Wikipedia outlines. I would respectfully argue that the status of a hero is not earned as much as it is conferred. Sure enough there is a specific formula of “bravery in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self sacrifice… for some greater good” that works more often than not.

      I do not believe it is easy to categorise Velupillai Prabhakaran as a hero. Granted that to a generation of Tamils who sought liberation through armed struggle, he was and still remains a hero. But history will be written by the victor – and the world will remember Prabhakaran for suicide terrorism that deliberately targeted civilians, his lethal opposition to moderate Tamil leaders, employment of child soldiers etc (actions that are not in service of the greater good), while he himself spent much time, resources and effort to live in relative safety and comfort (lack of will for self sacrifice). Also, in choosing to compete with other Tamil militant organisations (and obliterating them in the process) and in choosing to attack civilians – including heads of strategically vital states – he proved to lack moral judgement and strategic vision. His ultimate failure was more a result of wilfully conceding the moral high-ground which the oppressed Tamil community automatically held at the beginning of the conflict.

      I do not doubt that his heroic status will not be seriously challenged as long as Tamils in Sri Lanka remain disadvantaged – because history can romanticise and gloss over his sins for as long as the ideals he fought for remain a common aspiration. However, I believe that in a future state where Tamils are able to live with equal dignity, Prabhakara’s moral basis as well as his failures as a leader and tactician will be more objectively scrutinised by future generations. If you disagree; I would be interested to know why.

      • sambar

        Haren,

        You wrote: “I feel your comments bring out more than you intend to – some points in support of the argument you make and some detrimental to it.”

        Ohh? I had absolutely no idea that I said brought out more that I intended to!
        Please feel free to say more.

        When I said that if not for Anagarika Dharmapala and his extremist followers, Velupillai Prabhakaran might well have lived a quiet life, of course it was meant to provoke discussion and stimulate reflection!

        Haren: “I would also contend that what constitutes a hero is more complex and generic than what Wikipedia outlines.”

        By all means contend away, but then do also put forward your definitions.

        Haren: “I would respectfully argue that the status of a hero is not earned as much as it is conferred … Granted that to a generation of Tamils who sought liberation through armed struggle, he was and still remains a hero.”

        Therefore, Haren you would have to say that you do believe it is easy to categorise Velupillai Prabhakaran as a hero – rather than not.

        The allegations that Prabhakaren ‘lived a luxury life’ while the cadres were ‘fighting for him’, is of course part of the GOSL anti-LTTE propaganda.
        How was it then that Prabhakaren never left the battle-ground even when he could have?

        But we do know for a fact that many GOSL members top to bottom did live a luxurious life in Colombo and abroad while the common soldiers gave their lives for them and killed in the name of patriotism but for them.

        Undoubtedly Prabhakaren made mistakes but that does not diminish the fact that he both fits into the definition of a hero, and is held to be a hero by many.

        Nothing wrong with acknowledging the truth and moving forward!

        If the GOSL builds a monument to Vellupillai Prabhakaran and the LTTE, and acknowledges the cause of the Tamils that they took up, reconcilliation will be eezy peezy!! 🙂

      • sambar: You have responded very selectively. There is no meaningful definition of what constitutes a hero because it seems more an emotional response than a reasoned one. The whole purpose of this discussion is to explore those ambiguous and intangible traits that are often percieved as “heroic”.
        I can understand why you argue that Prabhakaran is a hero, but I do not agree with you – chiefly because of his immorality and tactical incompetance. Even though he may be a hero to some today, “Prabhakara’s moral basis as well as his failures as a leader and tactician will be more objectively scrutinised by future generations.”

      • sambar

        Haren,

        I see you have made up your mind, in the negative, and closed it concerning whether or not Velupillai Prabhakaran could be considered a hero.

        You wrote: “Even though he may be a hero to some today, “Prabhakara’s moral basis as well as his failures as a leader and tactician will be more objectively scrutinised by future generations.””

        How can you be so that future generations will come to agree with you?

        You even believe that you are being objective, and hold that objective conclusions are possible, while not even noticing that it contradicts your opinion that “There is no meaningful definition of what constitutes a hero because it seems more an emotional response than a reasoned one”.

        So your emotional responses should be agreed with??

        Surely it is you who is being closed minded and selective, not I.

        So given your admission to emotional responses, and your absurd faith that future generations will conclude in agreement with you, I will dare to state that according to certain definitions and because many people hold him to be one, Velupillai Prabhakaran must be taken as a Lankan Hero!

        So: Three Big Cheers for Velupillai Prabhakaran…
        Hip Hip Hooray x 3

        🙂

      • Sambar: I hope to keep an open mind on the broader issue of what makes ‘heroes’ and how. To that end, welcome and rational argument you may present as to who your heroes are and why you have chosen them as your heroes. I would also like to acknowledge that it is your right to make that choice as it is mine to decide who I consider to be heroes – and not.

        I have articulated why I do not consider the said individual as a hero – and i will repeat mysef – given that “the Tamil struggle for dignity and equality is significantly weaker today than it was before the war as a direct result of strategic incompetence and immoral actions of Prabhakaran.”

        I may be wrong, but my openion is not so much indicative of a “mine made up, or closed as much as a reasonable conclusion. I would like to hear a rational argument proving otherwise – if you can present one preferably consicely.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Sambar, you’ve really lived up to your pseudonym! There should be no ambiguity about Prabhakaran’s status as a non-hero. This has nothing to do with my present role and designation. If I may seek to advance the discussion by an excerpt precisely on Heroism from a piece published way back, ten years ago, in the Island’s Midweek Review (Oct 10, 2001), under the title WHY OSAMA AIN’T MY HERO, which is republished now on Groundviews.

    • Dr Jayatilleka: I believe the making of heroes is more an emotional impulse than a reasoned judgement. The common man does not choose heroes after careful analysis of the constituent components of their personality. I don’t perceive Prabhakaran as a hero for obvious reasons which I am sure are yours too.

      However, given the reality that both Prabhakaran and Osama were capable of inspiring people to sacrifice their lives for their missions (granted a fraction of Prabhakaran’s followers may have been coerced), I would understand if at least some Tamil friends still consider him a hero. I also believe that future generations of Tamils will be more dispassionate and therefore will not be kind in their scrutiny of Prabhakara’s moral basis as well as his failures as a leader and tactician – provided they inherit a more equitable and inclusive Sri Lanka.

      • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

        Haren,congratulations once more on a thoughtful piece.

        The nature of postwar Sri Lanka should not be the decider in a moral-ethical evaluation of Prabhakaran as hero or fascist, any more than the character of postwar Cambodia is the decisive factor in the evaluation of Pol Pot.

        If some Tamils continue to regard Prabhakaran as a hero, that is and would be more of an idictment of them and where they are coming form, than of postwar Sri Lanka — which, by the way, permits the TNA to contest and win elections.

        Furthermore, if Tamil politics fails to break with Prabhakaran and his legacy, and continues to brandish LTTE flags in Trafalgar square, it will certainly affect the evolution of post war Sri Lanka in a negative direction.

        Thus, the de-hero-isation of Prabhakaran is a prerequisite for the more democratic, pluralist and inclusive society you and I wish to see in Sri Lanka—not necessarily the other way around.

      • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

        Surely, Puran Appu was a far greater hero than Anagarika Dharmapala? It is the LSSP-CPs inability to embrace the former ( as the Latin American Left did their equivalents) that resulted in their succumbing to the legacy of the latter!

        It also says something of the Sinhala chauvinists that they celebrate Keppetipola and even more so, Dharmapala, than they do Puran Appu.

      • Dr Jayatilake: I appreciate your generous compliment. Indeed our choice of Heroes is one of the questions I raise here and plan to explore further. I deliberately choose to call them “our heroes” because they are heroes of our choosing more than of their own making. In so far as we choose our heroes, they reflect our own values, aspirations and moral biases.

        The reason I chose this topic is because I felt, reflecting on our choice of heroes over the course of history would help – especially us Gen Ys – shed more light on our own place in the history of Sri Lanka. We know little about the characters who were prescribed “national heroes” in our history text books – and even less about *why* they (of all people) were considered as such. A critical analysis would also – I hope – open an avenue for introspection that will serve to caution us; to exercise better moral judgement when choosing our own heroes…

  • yapa

    Heroes set examples for their followers.

    In this line all LTTE leaders are heroes. They never let their carders to swallow cyanide capsules at defeat but instructed them to wave white flags and surrender to the SL forces. They never sent pregnant women as suicide bombers. They sent the small children of their community for education abroad while sending their own children to the battle field. They banned themselves for getting married, while giving permission to all their carders for that.

    They faced the enemy in the win and defeat alike and killed themselves proudly as heroes by themselves by swallowing cyanide capsules hung around their necks. They are real heroes!

    Thanks

    • Yapa: It does not serve us well to look at it from the “us” verses “them” perspective anymore. Leaders on both sides sent the poor marginalised youth to battle fronts of their design making; while sending their own kids to study abroad or brawl at night-clubs (depending on the kid’s competencies). The laws that apply to “Lokkas” of “Arsik Land” are not the same as what applies to the “sokkas”.
      Also the pathology of swallowing cyanide capsules in aspiration of heroic status is analysed in engaging detail by Prof. Michael Roberts in a series of articles published on Ground Views in 2009 titled “LTTE and Tamil People”.

  • PitastharaPuthraya

    Is the word ‘hero’ an absolute concept? I do not think so. In most of the cases, one person’s hero is another’s villain. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Che, Castro, Mao, Osama, Prabhakaran, Sarath Fonseka are some examples. Therefore, there is no point of splitting hairs about it.

    On the other hand there are non-militant heroes, whom we can unanimously hail as such e.g. Mandela, Mother Theresa.

    However, we like it or not, Prabhakaran, as the writer claims, was a man who will have a huge impact on the Sri Lanka’s furture for many years to come.

    Dr. Dayan Jayathilaka,

    Who permited the TNA to contest and win the election? Is it the government or/and the post-war Sri Lanaka?

    In my opinion, the the credit has to go to the International community and its watch dogs, whom you dislikes so much. Imagine a situation where no body had looked at what is happening in Sri Lanka and let the GoSL a free hand what would have happened? Do you think the GoSL with all these different kinds of politicians, thugs, nationalists, racists etc would let the TNA to contest this election and win?

    • PitastharaPuthraya: Indeed, “hero” is an ambiguous concept. However it is also arguably a very relevant and significant concept in the history and future direction of a nation and hence the motivation for this discourse. Therfore perhaps there is some worth in it as a topic of discussion – not only because it provides an avenue for discussing issues that could otherwise prove devisive if approched directly. I suppose the point is not to “split hairs about it” but to combine all the various strands together.

  • If you wear prism glasses for a few weeks and then remove them, you see the world upside-down with the naked eye. It seems to be like that with brains affected by the superstition called nationalism and the “natural” respect for authority it embraces. As Goethe so pithily put it: “Was weiss man, seht man” [The eye sees what the brain knows.]

    If the choice I’m given is between two lots of murderers, thugs and thieves, I don’t waste time debating the morals of either group. My question is what is the job they are being elected to do? If it’s political, then the only thing I need to know is which group will govern better? It’s not an ethical mandate, it a governance mandate. If my choice included an African Mandela, a Mauryan Ashoka or a Mughal Akurr, in any of the choices I have to vote for in Sri Lanka, none here would get a look-in. You can be sure of that.

    An empirical survey of the ability of the LLTE to organise, manage, administer and govern shows a distance of “ar-sigh kar-nu-va” (sky and drain). When I visited Tamil Eelam in 2005, leaving Sri Lanka at Omanthai, I could not have been more amazed at my experience of good governance. In Sri Lanka, hiding as we do beneath the skirts of “but we’ve have a war for so many years”, I do not experience even a primitive understanding of what governance involves – like having departments with employees who actually know how to work – in stead of being a hostel for politicians “catchers” and hangers-on. With none of the perks and privileges of so-called “government” the LTTE administration was very able. They created a civil administration and a security force unsurpassed anywhere in the world. What other such group could boast an army, navy and airforce – and bomb the capital city of the territory they were fighting ~ twice?

    Of course they were a bunch of uneducated villagers. They did not understand the international dimension – and died thanks to the satellite surveillance info passed on by countries like India (thank you, Sonia) and the US. They also suffered from certain primitive ethical notions:
    – “those who are not for us are against us”. Tell that to the United States.
    – if their security was threatened, they felt they had every right to fight back, even if civilians died. Tell that to the Iraqi and Afghans, not to mention the Pakistanis being routinely slaughtered by US drones.
    if their women were raped they executed where “the buck stops [here]” – not even Indians may rape Tamil women. So Rajiv Gandhi was sent to heaven prematurely (if there is a heaven that politicians can get into), by a woman raped by his army. Rough justice, but justice. Not arbitrary, megalomaniac slaughter, like so many local journalists have suffered.

    When did you last remove your prism spectacles? I submit that anyone who has committed such a heinous act of cultural vandalism as to burn down the Jaffna library has forfeited any right, moral or otherwise, to govern there.

    • Ranjan: The question of who is/has been wearing prism glasses is difficult to agreen on because it is all a matter of subjective openion. A man standing on the north-pole can argue that one standing at the south-pole is upside-down and vice-versa. One can chose to keep arguing or – acknowledge a common centre of gravity and start walking towards each other and converge in the tropics… (sorry – i was never good at analogies :-))
      The question about ‘heroes’ is a far more personal one. your heroes may not be my heroes, but understanding why and how you choose your heroes will help me understand you – and vice versa.

  • Buddhika Thambugala

    may i ask what exactly Mr.Prabhakaran’s photo doing at the top while referring to “Heroes”?

    While i fundamentally agree with the analysis, i cant help but be rather skeptical about “heroism” of so-called “heroes” and may be it’s just a problem with point of view.. whatever the definition of “hero” may be, i find quite reluctant to glorify them, especially when their causes have been violence-inciting, and the very outcome of their actions was a negative one. For instance, LTTE cadres may be “heroes” by one definition or other (they never rape women, they are ready to give up life rather than surrender, they strictly adhere to their course etc etc), but still i find it hilarious to see them glorified. Hitler was a vegetarian, a teetotaler and most importantly BELIEVED in the course he took. (so did Prabhakaran and Osama).. But that doesnt make their courses anymore justifiable than they are (in fact they arent), because the consequences of all three above mentioned men’s acts were savage blood-baths. (one may wonder it’s usual that the guy who lost becomes the enemy while the guy who won, often ends up being the hero.. well, that surely is NOT the case.. Unlike Hitler or Prabhakaran, Starlin in fact WON the war, but still history wouldnt make him a hero (mayb people did, when he was alive, out of fear)..

    Looking at things in a different scale, is it all too useful to look at “heroes” and analyze their characteristics? ahm.. well, i dont think so? suppose we are to teach our kids to become “heroes”.. well, “heroes” of what exact kind??

    I believe, that “heroes” or “not heroes”, if any persons deserve glorification, they would be those who SAVED lives, not who TOOK lives.. well, one can again argue that since taking and saving lives can take place simultaneously, what are we to believe?? true.. American and Russian airforces brutally bombed German cities throughout the course of world war two (risking their own lives as well), killing more than a million civilians. So aren’t they heroes?? well of course they are.. they saved the peoples of entire world from Hitler, and saved millions upon millions of Jews from certain combustion, even risking their own lives.. So the question is natural and implausible, as to what should be our stance ; what should we teach kids.. We must glorify GOOD DEEDS done by people, NOT THE IDEALS THEY FOLLOWED.. Hardly anyone will disagree that while saving lives (with or without ideals) is a noble thing, and taking lives because of ideals is not so noble (only those who are blinded by ideals can disagree with this).. and while glorification of good deeds (NOT GOOD MEN), the line between “Heroes” and “non-Heroes” increase its obscurity.. so let it be..

    • Buddhika Thambugala: I am keen to know whether you object to Prabhakaran’s photo being featured here and if so why?

      I agree with your core analysis that an analysis of a hero must put significant weight on the morality and ethics of their mission and how they pursued that mission. That is why I believe Prabhakaran is a poor (and indeed failed) ambassador of the cause of Tamil liberation in Sri Lanka – not because he was weak, but because he was immoral and strategically incompetant – and hence not a hero.

      I do not agree with your statement however that it is futile to analye heroes of our past. The point you seem to miss is that this discussion is not abouta single hero or aeven a few selected heroes – let alone Prabhakaran. It is about heroes in general – but more importantly about factors that have hostorically influenced our choice of heroes, which says a great deal about the morality of our values and clarity of our judgement.

      • sambar

        Haren,

        I think Buddika Thambugala is objecting because he wanted to see a more heroic looking picture!

      • sambar: I don’t think you totally lack a sense of humour, but it definitely needs to be a lot sharper if the intention is to seem “funny”.

  • PitastharaPuthraya

    Ranjan,

    Well said sir!

  • sambar

    Dear Buddhika Thambugala

    I too very much disagree with that use of that particular photograph of Vellupillai Prbhakaran in the context of referring to Heroes.

    There are many other photographs of Vellupillai Prbhakaran that would have been far better to use!

  • PitastharaPuthraya

    At least we know what Prabhakaran did.

    How many of us know what our Sinhalese Buddhist leaders did or asked others to do in secret from at least 1971, 1983, 87/89, and later till the end of the war (and probably still).

    There is a sinhala pithy saying: ‘you can’t see a coconut raftr in you eye but you can see a needle in another’s eye’.

    Crimes can be committed by ‘commission’ or ‘ommission’ and the former does not meant that one should committ a crime by their own hands.

  • PitastharaPuthraya

    First of all I should say that I am against all forms of killings unless it is done for self-defence. Unfortunately definition of ‘self-defence’ is defined according to the whims of the perpetrator.

    Althogh in the eyes of the Sinhalese there has never been a more hated villain than Prabhakaran he is supposed to have killed a statistically moderate number of apporximately 4000 civilians by his notorious suicide bombers during last 30 years or so.

    During the same period how many Tamil civilians have been killed by the SL armed forces, Sinhala gooons duuring 1983 black july, government paramilitary forces etc.?

    When obviously Prabhakaran was responsible for the civilian killings (mainly sinhalese) in the south and borders who is responsible for the killings of Tamil civilians in north/east and other parts of the country?

    In the case of Prabhakaran it is easy to point the finger as all the evil is concenrated in one person whereas in the case of tamil civilians it is not possible to point a finger at only one sinhala politician. It was a collective responsibility.

    Who is the hero and who is the villain?

    • wijayapala

      Althogh in the eyes of the Sinhalese there has never been a more hated villain than Prabhakaran he is supposed to have killed a statistically moderate number of apporximately 4000 civilians by his notorious suicide bombers during last 30 years or so.

      And how many civilians in the N-E did Prabakaran kill without having to use suicide bombers?

    • yapa

      Prabakaran’s killings were intentional and targeted. SL forces didn’t go on rampage killing civilians and they were unintentional and results of the provocations by Prbakaran and SL forces took action to counter them. If Prabakaran’s maniac atrocities were not there, there wouldn’t have any killings. That is why no killings were reported after the death of him.

      Prabakaran was the first cause of all killings. He is the incomparable hero of all killings.

      Thanks!

      • sambar

        Yapa,

        You wrote “SL forces didn’t go on rampage killing civilians and they were unintentional and results of the provocations …”

        I would just like to point out that your mind appears to be illogically rampaging too.

        1) If the killings were the result of provocations then surely they were intentional!
        I.e. the SL forces were provoked and therefore responded to the provocation and intentionally killed.
        You can’t have unintentional killings if they are conscious responses to provocations!

        2)If the SL forces didn’t go on rampage kilings then those killings were methodical and cold blooded! So you, Yapa, are saying that the Sl forces are cold blooded murderers!

        3) On the other hand, would you like to say that the kilings were due to the SL forces going on wild semi-conscious reactive emotional rampages?

        See what happens when your mind is closed and you refuse to see things from other points of view?
        Your mind itself starts rampaging! 🙂

      • Dear sambar;

        It seems you are fond of simple logic. But Logic is not that simple dear sambar.

        We will analyze and see your simple logic and the conclusions, a bit.

        You say: “1) If the killings were the result of provocations then surely they were intentional!

        I.e. the SL forces were provoked and therefore responded to the provocation and intentionally killed.
        You can’t have unintentional killings if they are conscious responses to provocations!”

        Answer: Yes!, when the SL forces were provocated by LTTE terrorists, SL forces responded appropriately. The responses were intentional and aimed at killing the enemy. So what was wrong in there? Did LTTE or you expected SL forces to meditate when enemy attacked and provocated them?

        These killings are surely intentional and obviously justifiable and correct.

        You say: “2)If the SL forces didn’t go on rampage kilings then those killings were methodical and cold blooded! So you, Yapa, are saying that the Sl forces are cold blooded murderers!”

        Answer: Forces are meant to kill, this is the hard reality. Didn’t LTTE carders were trained to kill? Can you tell me any army not meant for killing?

        If you brand SL forces as “cold blooded murderers”, no forces in the world could be exempted from the label.

        The general label does not make our forces an exception over others and hence we are not worried but proud of them. You also can be proud of them as they are the people who saved the country from that cancer of Terrorism.

        You say: “3) On the other hand, would you like to say that the killings were due to the SL forces going on wild semi-conscious reactive emotional rampages?”

        Answer: I don’t say so. I think you have interpreted what I said, the way you like. SL forces targeted enemy forces intentionally, however, there may have had obviously inevitable civilian killings in any war that are un-intentional.

        You seems again to fond of arriving at conclusion on average. You added up intentional to unintentional and taken the average as “semi-conscious”, No, they are two different things and their average is never “semi-conscious”.

        You have made arbitrary assumptions in your process of arguments and you go your own way to gain conclusions, not the conclusions implied in the argument.

        Have you heard of “Logical Fallacies”? Your conclusions are a result of logical fallacies, not of arguments.

        See what happen when you try to handle things you are not familiar of. Logic is not a thing that can be handle by every Nick and Harry, my dear sambar.

        Thanks!

      • sambar

        Yapa,

        you have perhaps heard of the well known Sinhala saying:
        “kohede yanne? malle pol”

        You raised the matter of the SL forces mindlessly and heartlessly going on the rampage killing CIVILIANS.

        I pointed out that in trying to deny that, your mind went on a rampage too.
        But now you are trying to talk about SL forces fighting the LTTE cadres and vice versa. Not the same thing is it? So you are still rampaging!

      • yapa

        Dear sambar;

        Are you sure you are not trying to induce what you are doing – upon me?

        Thanks!

      • sambar

        Dear Yapa,

        How can that be?

        I am being completely logical, while you are illogicaly rampaging.
        The two are not compatible.

        So, since I can clearly see the difference, how can it be that I am trying to impose what I am doing on you?
        🙂

        Notice also that you are now commiting a kind of an ad hominem fallacy!

    • PitastharaPuthraya: No one is inherently a hero or villain – it is the masses that elevate individuals to heroic/villainous status. That is why a hero to one group of people may be a villain to another and vice-versa.

      But our choice of heroes says a lot about our moral values as well as the clarity of our judgement. I wish to keep this discussion generic as much as possible, however, I must concede that Prabhakaran did a disservice to those who considered him a hero and put their faith in him. As a supporter of the struggle for dignity and equal status for Tamils and communities in Sri Lanka, I am personally disappointed in those who still consider Prabhakaran and members of the LTTE as “heroes”. That is because the Tamil’s struggle for dignity and equality in particular has been significantly weakened as a direct result of strategic incompetence and immoral actions of Prabhakaran and his organisation.

  • PitastharaPuthraya

    Wijayapala,

    Yes, I accept that he killed many tamil civilians as well.

    Neverthless, my point is that Prabakaran is not so black as we would like to think if you accept the actions of Sinhala politicians in the south as alright.

    In 87/89 an estimated number of 30,000 Sinhala youths were killed by the Armed forces and Pro-Govt paramilitary forces. Do you consider the people, who ordered them to be killed, as equal to Prbakaran? Ofcourse not. Why?

    Yapa,

    Your calim that SL forces did not go on rampage and kill civilians is debatable. There are enough evidence to contrary.

    You say everything was started by Prabakaran. The debate on who started this is like the proverbial ‘hen or the egg’ question.

    Your stated that Prabakaran should be the fountain of evil because after his death killings have stopped. This is oversimplification of this complex problem.

    What we have seen in SL underworld is that when a leader of one faction is killed there is a temporary lull in the violence among them. If somebody says that that particular underworld leader is the evil of everything because the killings have stopped how true would be that statement?

    Haren

    Prbakaran is not my hero. I am trying to open the eyes of the people who see the world in Black and White.

    • yapa

      Dear PitastharaPuthraya;

      I don’t know what yardstick you are using to measure SL forces. If you measure them by the yardstick you use to measure the civilians and say SL forces are brutal or whatever it is, that conclusion could be correct. However, the forces should be evaluated using the common yardstick used to measure forces, not anything else. Forces are not supposed to be pious as civilians, that is why forces are not civilians and they are called forces, and they are supposed to be “forceful”. However, if you measure SL forces in terms of the common yardstick of forces of the world, SL forces are very much advanced in many of the facets, including discipline.

      Sl forces are more advanced than all the forces of the Europe in the history. All those forces killed millions of people to capture the world for their benefits. In WW-1 and WW-2 how many people were killed by those forces, just to divide the world among them. In the present US, UK, French, Italian, Canadian forces are engaged in killing people in foreign countries. You cannot find a moment, one of these forces engaged in destruction somewhere in the world. Their killings are just for economic and power gain and these forces have no value for human lives than a dollar they gain through war activities.

      Do you say our forces are not more disciplined than the IPKF? Can you show ten more civilized and disciplined forces than SL forces among the forces of the 3rd world countries?

      They are forces, not saints.

      Our forced did not invade any land, but they did their expected duty to protect the country.

      I never said everything was started by Prabakaran. He was just an instrument in the arms of the educated Tamils who brainwashed him with false theories to gain power by dividing this country. They poisoned the Tamil youth against Sinhalese creating false theories like “Traditional Homeland Theory” and teaching a created history to them.

      Really colonials are the root of evil of the problem. Prabakaran was an illegitimate son of colonialism/imperialism.

      It is true that there are other reasons behind the evils other than that of the underworld leader in the case you have mentioned. However, it also does not justify that underworld leader himself is not one of the reasons behind the evils. Otherwise all the people of the particular surrounding should have become gangsters. It does not happen so. So, though Prabakaran is only an instrument, it does not mean he is free of guilt.

      Only potential killers become killers when the appropriate surrounding is set for them.

      Thanks!

    • yapa

      Dear PitastharaPuthraya;

      Do you think politicians of so called counties are better than ours, keep aside forces?

      http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=32215

      Thanks!

    • wijayapala

      PP,

      In 87/89 an estimated number of 30,000 Sinhala youths were killed by the Armed forces and Pro-Govt paramilitary forces. Do you consider the people, who ordered them to be killed, as equal to Prbakaran? Ofcourse not. Why?

      There is one factor you have neglected. The politicians, for better or worse, operated within a democratic setup. The parties responsible for the deaths of those youth were the UNP and JVP, and the electorate has accordingly punished them.

      This environment/setup did not exist within the north. Prabakaran killed anyone who was not with him to become the “sole” Tamil leader. As far as I know, no Sinhala leader has ever claimed that distinction for the Sinhalese. Prabakaran thus ensured that no matter what mistakes he made, the LTTE would be the ONLY option the Tamils had. He arranged things such that if he were to be killed, Tamil society would have NOTHING. We are seeing the results today.

      MR was not one of the politicians who murdered the Sinhala youth (although in those years he played an opportunistic role hobnobbing with the JVP, much like Mano Ganesan with the LTTE). Some people, even myself, have compared MR with Prabakaran in terms of ruthlessness. But again, the different political setups led to different outcomes. MR was elected in 2005 on a platform of dealing firmly with the LTTE, and when the war started the next year he had popular support (whether right or wrong). Prabakaran on the other hand had no such popular support from the Tamils for war, and it is not surprising that he lost.

  • sambar

    Haren,

    You wrote: :”I would like to hear a rational argument proving otherwise”

    But you also wrote: “There is no meaningful definition of what constitutes a hero because it seems more an emotional response than a reasoned one.”

    Which one is it to be?

    Anyway, I see that you failed to notice that I said Velupillai Prabhakaran should be regarded as a LANKAN hero (not just a hero who stood up for Tamil rights).

    The reason is this: all the problems of the lovely island Lanka are due to the ignorant and vicious extremist group of people who refer to themselves as Sinhala-Buddhists and the ignorant and greedy self-seeking politicians who have always tried to make use of the Sinhala-Buddhists to gain power.

    These are the wretched people who have ruined Lanka’s possibilities and created inter-communal strife.

    [I emphasise that there is nothing wrong with Sinhala speakers who sincerely practice Buddhism]

    Since in the final analysis it is these deluded wretches (the ruiners of Lanka) and their influence that Prabhakaran stood up against, he must be regarded as first and foremost a Lankan hero!

    I would regard every single person (Sinhalese or Tamil or any other) who stands up to these deluded wretches as a true Lankan hero.

    • I defend your right to choose your own heroes. I have put forward my views on your choice of Prabhakaran as a hero which clearly are in conflict with yours – which is fine because my intention is not to ‘convert you’.

      It is in this context that “I would like to hear a rational argument proving otherwise” – given you bear the opposite view. I am sincerely curious to understand the reasons have inspired you to argue that VP is a hero given his demonstrable failuers in terms of
      1) strategic incompetence: inability to identify the core and seeking a separate state (least probable outcome) rather than dignity and equality for Tamils (an achievable goal), killing of RG, unilaterally pulling out of negotiations, employment of terrorist tactics and failure to transform the organisation even after 9/11…..
      2) poor leadership: inability to unite Tamil movements, choosing to eleminate – instead of utilise – all other militant, democratic and intellectual resources that could have contributed immensely towards a common objective due to his own incapacity to tolerate openions that differed from his own, the only common objective that he was able to inspire his supporters to embrace was the idea of a “heroic death”!!!
      3) Immoral actions: choosing to deliberately attack civillian targets and maximise civilian casualities in attackes carried out hundreds of kilometers away from the battle front, choosing suicide terrorism as a means to achieving liberation, blatant disregard for the sanctity of life in general, failure to live by his own edicts and changing them to suit his momentary needs and circumstances, child conscription which has debilitated the Tamil community in the North and East in a way that they may not recover for at least an unborn generation to come…

      I have putforward – what I hope would be – a reasonable argument why i do not consider VP to be a hero. Nelson Mandela is my hero. His words as he stepped out of 27 years in prison was not of incitement to violence, retribution or of vengence, but he said “I have come to liberate the opressed as well as the opressor”. It is that attitude which ensured the success of his movement and elevated the self-respect and dignity of his people. That is how great heroes have gained the respect and appreciation of not only their own people but also of their enemies.

      I will repeat mysef once more – that “the Tamil struggle for dignity and equality is significantly weaker today than it was before the war as a direct result of strategic incompetence and immoral actions of Prabhakaran.”

    • wijayapala

      Sambar,

      Since in the final analysis it is these deluded wretches (the ruiners of Lanka) and their influence that Prabhakaran stood up against, he must be regarded as first and foremost a Lankan hero!

      Then why did Prabakaran kill more Tamils than these “Sinhala Buddhists”?

      • sambar

        Dear Wijayapala,

        You really believe that Sinhala-Buddhist propaganda?

        Of course the LTTE under Prabhakaran killed Tamils too.

        But the Sinhala-Buddhists and SL armed forces (which can in the socio-political context be taken as representing the Sinhala-Buddhists) killed far far far more (and they also killed babies).

        Do a number check for yourself!

        Also the SL armed forces/Sinhala-Buddhists raped many Tamil women. etc. etc.