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Editorial > A Nice Little War
TAMIL NATIONAL FORUM
A Nice Little War
Oru Paper, 7 August 2006
"..As has been said before: it is much easier to start a
war than to finish one. President Rajapakse’s government believes that
it controls the war, but in reality it is the war that controls them.
They have mounted the tiger, and can not be sure of getting off without
being torn to pieces..."
It is the old story about the losing gambler: he cannot stop. He
continues to play, in order to win his losses back. He continues to lose and
continues to gamble, until he has lost everything: his house, his wife, his
The same thing happens in the biggest gamble of all: war. The leaders that start
a war and get stuck in the mud are compelled to fight their way ever deeper into
the mud. That is a part of the very essence of war: it is impossible to stop
after a failure. Public opinion demands the promised victory. Incompetent
generals need to cover up their failure. Military commentators and other
armchair strategists demand a massive offensive.
Cynical politicians are riding the wave. Sri Lankan government got carried away
by the floods that they themselves have let loose. That is what happened this
week, following the battle of Mavil Aaru.
As has been said before: it is much easier to start a war than to finish one.
President Rajapakse’s government believes that it controls the war, but in
reality it is the war that controls them. They have mounted the tiger, and can
not be sure of getting off without being torn to pieces.
War has its own rules. Unexpected things happen and dictate the next moves. And
the next moves tend to be in one direction: escalation.
President Rajapakse, the father of this war, thinks that he could eliminate
Tamil resistance by
means of the air force and shelling. A few days of massive pounding,
hundreds of tonnes of bombs on ‘identified targets’- and that’s it, a ‘lion
response’ he must have told himself. Well, that wasn’t it, as it turned out.
Tamil resistance continues to hold.
Now the generals are convinced that there is no alternative to occupying the
whole area, in order to prevent future water blockades. What next? One
cannot stop. Public opinion will demand more decisive moves. Political
demagogues will shout. Commentators will grumble. The people in the south will
cry out. The generals will feel the heat.
Everybody will clamour to storm forwards. Where to? Towards Vanni in the north?
Or towards Thoppikal, in the east? Rajapakse and his friends will recite in
unison: No! Never ever! This is not war! Just a humanitarian issue!
Perhaps some of them really don’t intend to. They do not dream of a war with the
Tamils. But these politicians only delude themselves when they believe that they
control the war. The war controls them.
When it becomes clear that nothing is helping, that LTTE goes on fighting and
the bombs continue to explode, including in the South, the political and
military leadership will face bankruptcy. They will need to pin the blame on
somebody. On who? Well, on Norwegians, UNP, of course, India perhaps.
How is it possible that a small “terrorist outfit”, with a few thousand fighters
altogether, goes on fighting? Where do they get the arms from? The finger will
point towards the Tamil Expatriates.
President Rajapakse and his generals did not think about that when they decided
on 28th of July 2006 in haste and light heartedly, without serious debate,
without examining other options, without calculating the risks, to attack Mavil
Aru. For a president who does not know what war is, it was an irresistible
temptation: there was a clear provocation by the Tamils, international support
was assured, what a wonderful opportunity!
Buddhist monks submitted an offer that could not be refused. A nice little war.
Military plans were ready and well rehearsed. Certain victory. The more so,
since on the other side there was no real enemy army, just a “bunch of
How hotly the desire was burning in the hearts of Rajapakse and
his generals is attested by the fact that they started to bomb while the
SLMM chief was trying to find a way out for this particular problem. The
main thing was to rush in and gather the laurels and to show their primary
colours to their core supporters.
They had no time to think seriously about the war aim. Now they resemble archers
who shoot their arrows at a blank sheet and then draw the rings around the
arrow. The aims change daily: to open a dam, to destroy LTTE positions around
the dam, to drive the LTTE out of that area, to kill Tamil fighters, to
re-establish the sovereignty of the Sinhalese government over all of Sri Lanka,
to establish new Sinhala settlements, to deploy the army every where in the
Northeast, to rehabilitate deterrence and so on.
Or just to imprint into the consciousness of the Tamils. The more this nice
little war continues, the clearer it becomes that these changing aims are not
The term “guerrilla” (“small war”) was coined in Spain, during the occupation of
the country by Napoleon. Irregular bands of Spanish fighters attacked the
occupiers and beat them. The same happened to the Russians in Afghanistan, to
the French in Algeria, to the British in Palestine and a dozen other colonies,
to the Americans in Vietnam, and is happening to them now in Iraq. Even assuming
that Rajapakse and Sarath Fonseka are greater commanders than Napoleon and his
marshals, they will not succeed where those failed.