Tamil Tigers and America’s Founding Fathers
4 July 2002
The Asiaweek magazine, published from Hong Kong for 26 years,
folded abruptly on November 29 of last year. Its owner the Time-Warner Inc.
opted to pull its plug on the Asiaweek magazine following the financial fallout
from the September 11 incidents in New York.
Since its inception in 1975, the Asiaweek magazine had provided continuous
coverage on the Tamil politics and culture. It featured the LTTE leader
Pirabhakaran in its cover on more than one occasion. In its waning years, since
1994, it had published offensive and unverified coverage on the LTTE, to salvage
its meager sales figures in Sri Lanka.
However, the Asiaweek magazine also frequently provided me space to present my
views in its Letter’s Page. I should be grateful for that privilege. Apart from
me, Ana Pararajasingham from Australia also contributed a few letters presenting
our point of view. Nearly 40 of my brief letters (most in mangled versions of
course) were published in the Asiaweek magazine between 1987 and 1996. An equal
number of the letters posted and faxed to the editorial desk went unpublished.
In one of such unpublished letters, I had even humorously predicted the demise
of Asiaweek, before it actually happened.
The role of Asiaweek in elevating the stature of LTTE in the eyes of Asian
readers beyond the boundaries of India deserve an in-depth analysis and time
permitting, it will be done at a later time.
I present below a 1990-1991 debate in which I participated with a Sri Lankan (?)
correspondent, who did not have the courtesy or gumption to identify himself or
herself. It was about comparing Tamil Tigers with America’s Founding Fathers.
A Debate on Tamil Tigers and
America’s Founding Fathers
I present below excerpts of six letters (three of mine, and
three from that anonymous correspondent) in which the issue of Tamil Tigers and
America’s Founding Fathers was touched peripherally.
In the excerpts which follow, the terms ‘loyalists’ and ‘dissidents’ refer to
those who opposed George Washington, and the term ‘rebels’ refer to those who
supported the American leader of independence.
Letter 1: (by Sachi Sri Kantha, in Asiaweek, Aug.31, 1990)
“…Only a minority of Americans supported the revolution in the 1770s. John Adams
noted that about a third of the population were hostile to the idea [of
independence] and a third were quite indifferent. That did not deter America’s
founding fathers from fighting British colonialism.”
Letter 2: (by an anonymous correspondent, in Asiaweek, Oct.19, 1990)
“…Citing John Adams, Sachi Sri Kantha of Philadelphia implies that America’s
founding fathers, like the Tamil Tigers, represented a minority when they fought
British colonialism. It would be interesting to know whether they, like the
Tamil Tigers, summarily executed fellow citizens who did not share their
Letter 3: (by Sachi Sri Kantha, in Asiaweek, Nov.16, 1990)
“Perhaps the reader who wrote on ‘Sri Lanka’s Tamils’ should read more history
instead of musing whether America’s Founding Fathers, ‘like the Tamil Tigers,
summarily executed fellow citizens who did not share their revolutionary
fervour’. As many as 100,000 people who supported British rule (almost 1 in 30
of the people in the original thirteen states) chose to leave the newly formed
U.S. for England, Canada and the West Indies. Why? Historians say countless
loyalists were tarred and feathered. Why are there hardly any versions of the
loyalist point of view? Simply because they were not tolerated by the founding
fathers. Consider the fate of hero-turned-traitor Benedict Arnold. After the war
he had to leave Philadelphia for London, where he died in obscurity.”
Letter 4: (by the Anonymous correspondent, in Asiaweek, Dec.14, 1990)
“Thanks to Sachi Sri Kantha of Philadelphia I now know the difference between
Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers and America’s founding fathers. The fathers merely
tarred and feathered dissidents; the Tigers summarily execute them…”
Letter 5: (by Sachi Sri Kantha, in Asiaweek, Feb.8, 1991)
“The naďve and anonymous reader who thinks America’s founding fathers ‘merely
tarred and feathered dissidents’ and did not execute them is wrong. In many
cases tarring and feathering was only the preliminary phase of the punishment of
loyalists and was followed by hanging.
For example, in 1774 one John Malcomb, an officer of the Customs at Boston, was
‘tarred, feathered and led to the gallows with a rope about his neck’ [Oxford
English Dictionary, 1989]. On June 27, 1776, Thomas Hickey became the first
American soldier to be executed in New York City. He was condemned as a traitor
for conspiring to deliver George Washington to the British [The Encyclopedia of
American Facts and Dates, 1987]. In March 1779 John Mason of the Loyal American
Rangers warned that the loyalists would henceforth hang six rebels for every
loyalist so dealt with. [the book: Secret History of the American Revolution,
1941]. Trying to portray America’s founding fathers as paragons compared to the
Tamil Tigers is preposterous.”
Letter 6 (by the Anonymous correspondent, in Asiaweek, March 15, 1991)
“Sri Kantha does not deny that the Tamil Tigers have massacred thousands,
including other Tamils, in their fight for a separate state. He defends them by
arguing that the Tigers are no different from the likes of George Washington.
One cannot argue against such a value judgement.”
Value judgement or not, in this acrimonious debate, which lasted
for nearly eight months in the Asiaweek magazine, I persisted in putting forth
my point of view in approximately 200 words, despite heavy odds (especially
mangling of submitted text by the editors and the uneasiness of having a debate
with an anonymous guy who is scared to reveal his name).
It was also unusual for an international magazine to open its Readers Forum for
such a lengthy volley of exchange between two correspondents. But as long as the
Asiaweek was interested in hearing my view I didn’t give up, since I felt that
at least I could educate the editors of Asiaweek and some unbiased readers. My
last response to Letter 6 (noted above), unfortunately didn’t appear in print.
If a copy survives in my files, it’s bad that as of now I couldn’t retrieve it.
When the debate began, I was residing in Philadelphia. By the time, it came to
an end, I have moved to Osaka.
I wish to touch on a related issue mentioned in the debate. When I wrote these
letters 11 years ago, I did not anticipate that the Tamil Tigers will also face
a sad episode of treachery as experienced by George Washington and his army from
Benedict Arnold. But the subsequent episode related to Mahataya's (the then
nominal deputy leader of LTTE) downfall also shows that the history of Tamil
Tigers has much in common with the history of American revolutionary army.
It demonstrated that treachery and double cross is part and parcel of
independence struggles. It is apparent that the themes which I have touched on
these letters deserve further exploration from academics, independent analysts