Letter to the President from Bradman Weerakoon

This is part of an exercise where Fulbright Scholars were requested to write a letter, for their 60th Anniversary, to the President referring to what they learned through their exposure to the US political system during their stay in USA.

Dear President Rajapakse,

I am addressing this letter to you as part of a project initiated by the Fullbright Commission of Sri Lanka to commemorate the 6oth Anniversary of the Fullbright programme in Sri Lanka. The Project called for Fullbright awardees over the years to write a letter to the Presidents of their countries indicating how their period of academic study abroad and the broader experiences gained through that exposure to the United States, its government, culture and people,  influenced their subsequent careers.

In my own case my work as a public officer in Sri Lanka both at the Centre and for several years at the periphery, was undoubtedly very much guided and informed by what I had observed in those early impressionistic months I spent in New York state (Bard College) where I had my orientation to America and at Michigan in Ann Arbor.

I was one of the early Fullbright scholars who in 1952 at the age of 22 was selected as one of the two Fullbright awardees that year to undertake an year’s academic study in the United States. I had earlier completed my Bachelors degree in Economics at the University of Ceylon (1951) and took advantage of the Fullbright scholarship to obtain a post – graduate Masters Degree in Sociology at the University of Michigan. It meant a rather intensive application to books and papers but also provided an unique experience through engagement with colleagues and staff members who were most generous in the exchange of thoughts, in gaining an understanding of the deeper implications of some momentous happenings on the domestic American scene. Two of these in particular were for me of a defining quality.

The first was the 1952 Presidential Election which was won by Dwight Eisenhower the Republican candidate against Adlai Stevenson the candidate of the Democratic Party. I arrived in the United States in September and the Election was in the first week of November so I had a good opportunity to learn about how this important election in a country which prided itself on its adherence to democracy was actually handled by all parties concerned with it. Like many others in academia I favoured the intellectual Stevenson but the one – time war hero Eisenhower won handsomely winning most of the electoral votes and States. The contest was transparent and basically clean and the result was a win for the power of democracy as well. That the voice of the people was truly reflected by the result was the unanimous verdict of all analysts and observers. There was a great deal here I could learn and did learn about the ways of elections to public office, transparency, the rule of law and due process, the accountability of public office – holders and so on.

The other profound happening was the rumbling of Black turbulence I heard and saw in Little Rock, Arkansas  in that same year 1952. The struggle of the black minority for equal opportunity in the US – through the non – violent attempt at desegregation in the school system and the entry of black students into State schools in Arkansas, had begun in earnest. What was significant at this time was that Eisenhower, elected by the majority of white voters, took decisive Presidential action to use Federal troops  against the action of the State Governor to ensure that black children enjoyed the same rights as their white brothers and sisters. As you would appreciate what began in Little Rock grew into a full scale civil rights movement whose struggle for minority rights and equality perhaps saw its final success in the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States in 2008. I thought the courage that President Eisenhower showed on the occasion had powerful lessons for our own country as our ethnic problem moved from bad to worse.

 I followed the course of both events, interconnected as they were both during my Michigan years and thereafter with avid interest.

I always considered, through my years in the public service of Sri Lanka as Secretary to several Prime Ministers and Advisor on International Affairs to three Presidents (as well as of course in my 7 years as Government Agent of 3 Districts in the East and South of this country) that the basic lessons I had acquired through my US exposure and experience, of general election procedure and processes on the one hand and the executive treatment of minority issues on the other and the basic principles which governed such action were valid for our own country.

 I tried with all the authority I was fortunate enough to hold from time to time, to establish these principles and concepts as standard practice in Sri Lanka. If I were to generalize, the true value and richness of the Fullbright experience to me as an individual and professional, would have to relate to the manner in which I perceived my office and how I performed my public duty through my career years. There were of course occasions in which the final result was not up to my expectation but many intervening factors were at work and I believe I honestly strove to the best of my ability to adhere to best practice as I knew it. Since my public service enabled me to engage with large numbers of younger colleagues some of whom tell me that they have attempted to use me as some sort of model in their thought and public action it is possible to speculate that the Fullbright experience that I gained yet lives on.

In the autumn of my life, in my 82nd year, I believe you, dear President would allow me some latitude to conclude with some candid thoughts.

There are many things I am very proud about in this wonderful country in which I was fortunate to have been born, live and die. I would not choose to do so anywhere else in the world. But I would be less than honest if I did not express my grave disappointment and dismay at the way things have developed over the years in two of the important areas I have alluded to in this letter. That of elections as a fundamental part of an authentic democracy and the other the question of resolving for all time our minorities rights for equality and dignity. Many of our countrymen and women will hold with me that in these two areas many of our administrations over the past three or four decades have been sadly deficient. The United States too from which experience I garnered my Fullbright heritage is no doubt deficient in many respects too. But its political culture and society constitutes a self – correcting mechanism. We don’t seem to have that here and this devolves on our political leadership a greater and more profound responsibility.

All I can hope and pray for is that in your historic role as President for many more years you will have the strength and courage to correct the imperfections that now detract from the image of Sri Lanka as a contented and peaceful nation and a people living in an effective, functioning democracy.

Yours sincerely

Bradman Weerakoon

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Image courtesy REUTERS/Presidential Media Office/Handout, taken from FT.lk. Letter emailed to us by a reader of the site. Text formatting preserved from the original email.

  • Dev

    Reminds me of a Tamil proverb “blowing a conch shell in a deaf man’s ear”.

    This would be simply a waste of paper. I have lost count the number of letters that anti-LTTE TULF leader Anandasangaree wrote to Mahinda, 20+? 50+ 100+ ? nothing came of those…nothing will come of this one either.

  • anonymous

    You are absolutely right Dev. There is a verse in the Dammapada, the most valued ancient scripts of the ‘Buddhists’.
    ” It is not on a well trained animal that you can ride to the land of liberation; it is only on the vehicle of a well-trained self that you will arrive there” # Dammapada verse:323

  • james

    You too are responsible for the mess in SL…this is not something happened overnight, political mess in SL is due to bad leadership since independence and you were very much part of all this mess. SL politics has to be the worst in the world and has very little hope for correction any time in the future.

    • Dimo

      When you are old and close to the inevitable you see the truth but it is too late and cannot do anything other than trying to gloss over your past follies by some vague excuses. You are the people who made Rajapakses. [Edited out] You had your 15 minutes but at what cost to the country!

  • renu

    The President is not building the nation but the Family and culprits in our beloved country. This is the most corrupt period I have experienced in my 70 years in this country

  • P.R.

    No BW, it is not elections that is responsible for equality and dignity of a minority. That is the result of a proper education and understanding of correct human values. The US is the most morally corrupt country the world has ever seen..their ‘democracy’ though more representative of the people than in most other countries, lacks a basic honesty which even you, with the education you had in the exalted company you kept in the inner circle of governance with so many Prime Ministers cannot understand or see. That is a tragedy. You have been brainwashed by the US during your stay in that country..they are very clever with that process with lesser mortals. Is it the glitter of Times Square that has blinded you to the travails faced by the minority blacks in the US? The minority issue in Sri Lanka is historical and poverty related..South Asia carries a big burden in that the economies have to be raised to the point that their basic life styles will not be determined by an accident of birth. Then the ‘equality and dignity’ of a people, minorities or majorities, will be achieved. And that the current government is doing.

    • Dingri Banda

      Bradman was a well trained officer by excellent product of Fullbright – USA. Training was excellent he has completed his mission that during his lifetime.

    • guest

      When the British left SL. It was one of the best in South East Asia. Poverty was brought upon Sri Lanka by the continuous bad governance of the SINHALA BUDHIST leaders!! If you can get back all the money swindled by the leaders and their clans, Sri Lanka may not be so poor. If the money spent on killing/victimising/subjugating/depriving the Tamils since independence were spent on the country and its people, SL would have retained its position as the best in Asia!! Even now it is not too late, instead of telling lies and continuing to harass the minorities, treat them as equal and the country will benefit. Elect the suitable candidates, not for a packet of rice, or a bottle of arrack. Appoint qualified people to jobs, not the unqualified thugs and morons. Build more schools, don’t spend money on roaming the world with 100 friends and relations. Which is the government in the world which spend money to hire and cart 100s of thugs from the South to North just to protest against the Tamils, to stop the train/bus in which they were travelling to highlight their tragic plight? It can only happen in the miracle of Asia!!!

  • Jayalath

    First of all that deeply disappointing about not publicising my previous comment regarding to weerakoon’s article . And I have no intention of writing another long article once again . But I would mind to ask you few questions regarding to your concern about elections as a fundamental part of an authentic democracy . As far as you probably know how JR and Premadasa conducted democracy in Sri Lanka in the past , when JR extended the period of staying as president by playing the game of LAMPU Kalagedi at that time how did you feel about the way he treated to the democracy in Sri Lanka ? and when he get signs up blank letters from parliamentarians at that time how did you see the democracy of such a state ? if Premadasa sworn as president even before receive the ballot boxes to counting stations at that time how did you recommend about his democracy. When a legally elected government of a country had a murdering group called Black Cats and Yellow Cats how would you recommend such a state as a high profile figure of the same state ?
    How did you see the democracy when a president of a country kept silence when the some of minority of the same country were murdered and destroyed their businesses day light ? (83)

  • Jayalath

    Dear . Mr. Weerakoon .

    I will see your great disappointment over growing situation in Sri Lanka for number of decades . I do not know how far that can be ironical for you personally as you have spun around with most politicians in the country last few decades . As I highlighted on my other comment that I see your association and contribution to many presidents who served in the past . As far as I concern to your active period in politics that I seriously felt it as the fruit time of Sri Lankan politics and amazingly we have had great politicians who were unfettered and uncorrupted with full strengthen of ability. In such a context , what make me sad and angry is , why the hell those who were failed to do what could have done to the country .

    You are one among them who still alive to see the misfortune . If the foundation of a building could have done well that building will not shake for the small winds or storms , therefore , I believe we are today facing what you lot missed in the past
    . Rajapaksa is a product of new world , where I meant how the world work today .you may know after 77 in Sri Lanka the politics turned out to a new era , which isn’t to good at all , but it is named Globalisation which was established in the name of maximum profit . Where the humanity will be last thing to consider . So, product like Rajapaksa is a product of South Asians , similar products can be found any where you go in the South Asia and even many other countries . That is why a recent survey exposed that 50% of Indian politicians in the parliament have charges of corruptions, raping and murdering , one or other , but they are still in the parliamentarians which is very similar sign to us . And just think of Pakistan , Bangladesh and about our neighbor Countries all who are resemblance . Similar products to Rajapaksa . Rajapaksa products are based on the entire corruption and arbitrary decisions where good things are not lack but they are little . If you think of previous regimes like JR Who did not earn money from the politics but his Henchmen did , like Gamini Dissanayaka, Who once named as one of the richest . How did he make money ? And at that time whole society was overwhelmed by thugs like Gamini lokuge , siril Mathew , sirisena coo ray , so I do not need to remind you about other fellows of nasty past that we lived , where we did not enjoy any sign of democracy or equality .

    So , we are falling and crumbling in a volatile situation ,where no one knows who is right and who is literally responsible for the plight , growing tension between religions and races easily can trigger to another mayhem . In such situation will never work any praying or beliefs unless actively involve to prevent it happening although it can be not easy as we think . It also can be a huge lost to country of lacking the numbers like you any more , instead taking over the countries by the demons , therefore , we can see where would our future lie ahead , However It would be interesting to know one day how will the future generation judge people like you !!!!’
    Please watch this site on you tube as well ( nasa end of mankind leaked documentary 2013)