Photography by AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena, via South China Morning Post
“I would ask them to stop a moment, to take the time to listen to our time (we had no other one)…” – Jacques Derrida: text delivered at Althusser’s funeral
“Human rights, dissidence, antiracism, SOS-this, SOS-that: these are soft, easy, post coitum historicum ideologies, ‘after the orgy’ ideologies for an easy going generation which has known neither hard ideologies nor radical philosophies. The ideology of a generation which is neo-sentimental in its politics too, which has rediscovered altruism, conviviality, international charity and the individual bleeding heart. Emotional outpourings, solidarity, cosmopolitan emotiveness, multi-media pathos: all soft values harshly condemned by the Nietzschean, Marxo-Freudian age… A new generation, that of the spoilt children of the crisis, whereas the preceding one was that of the accursed children of history.” – Jean Baudrillard, Cool Memories, London, Verso, 1990, pp 223-24.
The central contention of the anti-victory celebration civil society intelligentsia seems to be that violent civil conflicts should not be celebrated and never are. This is ironic because most of them would be familiar with Bastille Day and I expect to see some of them on the occasion. They would know that July 4th, Bastille Day is France’s National Day. That is of course the day that the prison, the Bastille was stormed. In other words, France marks as its National Day, the day that the Revolution triumphed. Though the storming of the Bastille was itself relatively bloodless, the Revolution was a very violent civil conflict which had an even bloodier aftermath. Bastille Day July 4th is celebrated and not only by receptions. As I have been privileged to witness during my tenure as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to France, it is marked by a most impressive display of military might, culminating in parachute drops and a spectacular fly past by advanced military aircraft of all categories.
Those who argue that civil wars are not commemorated are ignorant of the historical fact that when there is a liberating aspect to a civil war and when a civil war has ended in victory, it almost always is commemorated. The Russian Revolution was commemorated by military parades in the Red Square for decades, while as I have just noted, the French Revolution still is—and every victorious revolution was preceded, accompanied or followed by bitter civil war. The defeat of the Tigers and the felling of Prabhakaran the Monster-King, were felt to be an emancipation; an authentic liberation from decades-old terror.
Doesn’t any anti-war, anti-victory celebration Sri Lankan intellectual or aspirant intellectual remember or know what the Vietnam War was? It was originally and finally a civil war, in which the US intervened. The Vietnam War commenced as a war for reunification of North and South Vietnam which had been divided at the Geneva peace conference of 1954 on the proviso that elections would be held. The war resumed because Geneva Peace accords were violated by the South and its western backer, the USA, who feared that Ho Chi Minh would win an election throughout the country massively, not because he was a Communist — which he indubitably was— but precisely because he was also or primarily perceived as, a nationalist. Therefore the struggle for reunification took the form of guerrilla war and after the US intervened in that civil war on the side of its ideological protégés, it became a full scale conventional war. After the Paris Peace talks led to the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement, the US no longer had a combat role. The last years of the Vietnam War were once again a civil war for reunification of North and South. Following the victory of April 30th 1975, the capital of the South, long known as Saigon, was re-named Ho Chi Minh City. That victory is celebrated with military parades every year.
If Germany can celebrate its Reunification Day, when the Berlin Wall fell and the two halves of Germany were reunited, why should Sri Lanka not celebrate the day when the LTTE’s Iron Curtain was destroyed, a radical evil defeated, a monster (a South Asian Hitler) slain and the island reunified after decades?
Not every reunification is peaceful. In most cases the unification or reunification of the national territory and state required civil wars, as we know from Bismark’s Prussian unification of Germany through “blood and iron”, Italy’s Risorgimento and the history of most of Europe, not to mention the military campaigns of Sun Yat Sen and the Kuomintang which reunified China.
Which collective political formation/entity, be it state, nation, community, or peoples, would not celebrate a mere half a decade later, the reunification of its territory; the return and repair of its borders so that its sovereign territory is coextensive with its natural boundaries?
As for the liberal-pacifist argument in Colombo that the unification of peoples is far more important than the ‘mere’ unification of territorial borders, it demonstrates a complete ignorance of the history of the modern era. The magnificent democratic revolutionary awakening of 1848 dubbed ‘The Springtime of Nations’ saw the unification of territories and creation of nation-states by the shattering of the separate kingdoms or principalities (as Tamil Eelam was), and the unification under the language and often the religion of the group that constituted the majority. 1848 was a majoritarian phenomenon which left behind or kindled many a Nationalities or Minority Question throughout Europe.
I am glad we won the war. I am proud of it. If as Nietzsche says, there is a pattern of eternal recurrence in existence, if the only choices available were (a) the victory of the Tigers (b) their evacuation (c) a return to negotiations with them on the basis of the CFA, ISGA or PTOMS, i.e. anything other than outright surrender or (d) the outcome that we had with all the horrors that are coming to light, I would support that final offensive all over again. In Geneva in April-May 2009, we cleared the decks for the final decisive military endgame by staving off the West’s attempts to obtain a UN mandate for a cessation of hostilities. Having prevented the Special Session until Prabhakaran was dead we then defeated the West diplomatically when the special session was finally held ten days later. If I were put on a time machine and taken back to that time, I would unhesitating do it all over again.
As Regis Debray, philosopher Louis Althusser’s student, Fidel Castro’s acolyte, Che Guevara’s comrade, Francois Mitterrand’s advisor and one of Europe’s most renowned thinkers says:
“In the beginning was War’. The demand for security (of people, property, and ideas) constitutes political ‘need’, for the state of war is the horizon of the social and societies can never see beyond it except in terms of juridical mirages of humanitarian pacifism…War is a universal and recurrent fact of history of societies because…it is inherent in the existence of social groups and actually conditions their constitution and dissolution…Everyone knows that war is waged so that we can have peace, but that we cannot have peace without making war.” (Regis Debray: ‘Critique of Political Reason’ 1981: 276)
The LTTE was a racist and fascistic force which had dismembered sleeping women and children and child monks, exploded bombs against wholly civilian targets in the South and serially murdered many leaders of the Sinhalese and Tamils. It is hardly surprising that in the last stage of the war, the motivating spirit of the Sri Lankan soldiers, some of whom would have come from villages which experienced atrocities, would have been a blood lust to exterminate the leadership and hard core of such an enemy which had engaged in a decades-long orgy of unbridled Nazi-like exterminism against the Sinhalese nation. When one fights radical evil, one is tempted to eliminate any chance of its revival. It is “human, all too human” to borrow Nietzsche’s phrase. It happens to the most rational and literate of us: who after all, has not heard of the Jacobin Terror after the French revolution and the elimination of the Tzar’s family— which Regi Siriwardhana termed the Original Sin of the Bolshevik Revolution?
It is a testament to the humanity of our armed forces that specialised units lost men and limbs in penetrating the bunker-bund complexes, engaging in bitter trench warfare, to rescue two hundred thousand Tamil civilians who were with the Tigers. It is evidence of their humanity that 11,000 Tiger fighters were taken into captivity unharmed.
As Nietzsche cautioned, when one looks for too long into the abyss, the abyss looks into you. We, my generation, “the accursed children of history” which preceded “the spoilt children of the crisis” to use Baudrillard’s phrases, had to look into the abyss for three decades (four if you date it from the April ’71 insurrection) and the abyss has looked into us. Our lives were directly impacted by the war. We knew many who were slain, and not in combat, by the Tigers. We had an emotional stake in the war and its outcome. We lived the crisis; the long ‘extreme situation’. We are the products of that two-way gaze, into the abyss with the abyss looking back into us. Someday, we as a society, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, shall settle accounts with our traumatic, terror filled past. We shall decide when that is. That choice and timing will not be imposed upon us by Western governments driven, among other things by the same elements of the Tamil Diaspora who supported the Tigers and materially contributed to the carnage they inflicted.
To open an inquiry prematurely would cause a psychological eruption among three hundred thousand armed men, veterans of a bitter and victorious war. Who are we to judge them? That is the task of another generation or other generations. Certainly Western states and societies have no right to judge them, or us, who experienced these harsh and bloody decades. This is why I remain as unalterably opposed to an international inquiry into the war as I was in Geneva in 2009 and before. We shall not permit it; we must and shall resist.
It is ludicrous of soi disant liberals and radicals to advocate or excuse an intrusive, lacerating external inquiry into the war while at the same time lamenting the closure, as I do, of the Sri Lankan state, society and mentality. These academics, commentators and critics lament the consequence while supporting the cause! As Regis Debray points out: “the besieger creates the ramparts…There would be no circumscription if there were no encirclement.” (Debray 1981: 276)
Thus only among those who oppose the external siege are consistent opponents of closure, paranoia and the siege mentality, to be found.
To leave the last philosophical word to Regis Debray: “The political world is a world in which there are always two of us; the enemy and me…War itself is a principle of delineation. There can be no really open society, no society whose essence or identity (or both) is not to some extent threatened by a neighbouring or more distant society. Enclosure is the basic category of the political world, since the opposition between inside and outside establishes both its identity and its necessity.”(Debray, 1981: 277)
Let no one repeat the mistake of underestimating the resolve of a people-nation which did not surrender to decades of terrorism but decided instead to fight and win.
Dayan Jayatilleka, PhD, was Sri Lanka’s Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva (2007-2009) and Sri Lanka’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to France and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO (2011-2013).
This article is part of a larger collection of articles and content commemorating five years after the end of war in Sri Lanka. An introduction to this special edition by the Editor of Groundviews can be read here. This, and all other articles in the special edition, is published under a Creative Commons license that allows for republication with attribution.