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Selected Writings - Dr. Adrian Wijemanne
A Sinhalese call
for a return to sanity & righteousness -
1 November 1996
1. I have read Frederica Jansz's article in your issue of 27th October reporting this horrendous event. The knee-jerk reaction is to cast about for someone to blame. The very last thing we want to do is to reflect on how much each of us, each one of us Sinhala people, is responsible. I live in England, 6,000 miles away and am no longer a Sri Lankan citizen. I am, however, a Sinhalese, a member of the Sinhala nation, for which I have a deep, visceral, abiding love. That heritage I cannot, and will not, renounce. It is now an heritage of pain and despair.
2. I am now 71 years old. I have been a lifelong student of history. I am well acquainted with wars of all kinds and in recent times I have concentrated on guerrilla wars of national secession fought on the guerrillas' home ground. I have good reason for choosing this particular kind of war - it was experienced by the country of which I am now a national (The Netherlands) in the 1830s; it was experienced and is still being experienced by the country in which I am now resident (the U.K.) and the land of my birth and nurture (Sri Lanka) is now wracked by it.
3. In every war, without exception, each party has blamed its adversary as the aggressor. We are well acquainted with this phenomenon in our own present conflict. It goes sorely against our innermost nature to inquire how far we ourselves are responsible. There is a concomitant, and far more serious, question and that is whether the war upon which we are engaged is a just war. Our moral integrity as a nation hangs on the answer to that question. On that answer depends also our individual responsibility for the poignant tragedy reported by Frederica Jansz.
4. The Sri Lankan army today is overwhelmingly a Sinhala army. An high proportion of it is an army of occupation quartered in the Jaffna peninsula among an wholly Tamil population. The occupying forces regard, often rightly, the civilian population as potential enemies who could harbour guerrillas in their midst or give them aid and comfort in a multitude of ways. The troops have been taught the limits to which they can go in combat. If not the men, certainly their officers are alsoaware of the doctrine of proportionality and the restraints of the Geneva Conventions. There never has been there is not now nor will there ever be a war in which these rules of war are observed to the letter. It is more in the breach that they are honoured. Every Commander-in-chief of forces in the field knows this. The Sri Lankan army's Commander-in-chief is no exception. She knows, and we know, that the Kumaraswamy family's tragedy will occur and will recur. We take their blood upon our heads in cold and deliberate choice.
5. What is our rationale for so frightening a decision ? We have many. answers. At times we say it is ,to deliver the Tamil people from the oppression and terror of the LTTE. Can we establish in some rational and objective way that the Tamil people have asked us for such a deliverance ? We have no right to act on their behalf and use their name without an express, unequivocal mandate from them asking us to intervene on their behalf. We can point to no such mandate.
6. At other times we say we fight to preserve the unity of the state. The manifest reality, however, is that the state left behind by the British, in which their writ ran throughout the island, disappeared in 1983 and has never since been restored. The truth is that we fight to recover that long-lost state. We do so in opposition to the overwhelming vote of the Tamil people at the general election of 1977 for outright, sovereign independence in a state of their own in the land of their domicile.
7. As we well know from the preamble to the 1972 constitution, sovereignty is an attribute that a nation assumes and expresses in the form of a state endowed with its several components. It is not something for which anyone else's permission or consent is required, Least of all is it a gift from someone else for it is not something possessed by others who can make a donation of it. If it is our position that the Tamil nation has not the right to assume sovereignty we must explain how it is that we have a right to come to such a conclusion and seek to impose it by war upon a nation which has voted for independence. We have neither demonstrated nor established how we have acquired the right to determine another nation's destiny.
8. The conclusion is inescapable that we are in egregious error morally in respect of the casus belli.
9. As for the practical possibility of enforcing our wrongful decision upon the Tamil people by exterminating the LTTE we display an ignorance not sec-and to the immorality of our choice. We believe we can succeed by fielding 10 troops to 1 guerrilla whereas in other theatres of identical conflict (Northern Ireland is a case in point) a ratio of 100 troops to 1 guerrilla has proved unavailing. The LTTE is the only guerrilla force in the world which has a naval capability as well as experience in the use of ground-to-air missiles. The financial provision that the Sri Lanka government can make for so serious a conflict is an insignificant fraction of what is required even to match other failing efforts. A great play is made of an annual appropriation of Sri Lanka Rs. 50 billion for the war effort; even Rs. 400 billion per year is abysmally inadequate for the purpose. Britain spends the equivalent of Sri Lanka Rs. 280 billion per year on the conflict with an adversary (the IRA) who is on&-thirtieth the size of the LTTE. Warfare in Britain is six times more expensive than in Sri Lanka but discounting that cast differential it will be seen readily that even Rs. 400 billion per year is nowhere near what is needed to match Britain' failing performance.
10. The position of the Sinhala nation in this war is anchored in immorality and ignorance. It is only by coming to a clear understanding of this that the Sinhala people can cry halt to the desperate course which is taking them as a nation to impoverishment. degradation and eventual disintegration. With the blood of many thousands of innocent Tamil people upon our heads, with the death of many thousands of our own on such an unjust and quixotic war it is high time for the Sinhala nation to see clearly the abyss into which they are looking, recognize the right of the Tamil nation to a state cif its own, by so doing end the war and return to sanity and righteousness.
I am, dear Sir, Yours despairingly, Adrian Wijemanne