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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
LTTE�s Military Debacle - A Postmortem
On Black Tiger's Day, 5 July 2009
Come to think of it, there is much sense in the above quote of Russian author Solzhenitsyn delivered two decades ago, when it comes to interpreting the LTTE�s military debacle at the hands of Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) army. In the coming months and years, professors and pundits of all shades and standing would pollute the pages of academic journals such as Asian Survey to write their version of history. Already I have read some ephemera paraded by the likes of Mia Bloom and Ramesh Takur, whom I recognize as academics who are illiterate in Tamil language and cultural history.
What I present below is my interpretation of LTTE�s military debacle. The reasons are manifold. What playwright Arthur Miller, noted in his autobiography �There was never a lack of reasons to wonder on fate�s capriciousness� (Timebends �a Life, 1987, p. 19.) applies to LTTE as well.
Item 1: military angle
First I present the two paragraphs of what the Newsweek International magazine carried on 23 May 2009, under the byline of Christian Caryl.
So, LTTE lost out on advancing military technology, and global positioning system (GPS) proved to be lethal. Is that all? There has to be other compounding factors. Here are five items, which had been left out inadvertently or indulgently by Christian Caryl and Newsweek�s editorial overseers.
Item 2: Trust-busting betrayal by Karuna.
Col. Karuna, aka Vinayagamoorthy Muralidharan, officially designated himself as a Tamil turncoat in March 2004. Though initially LTTE leadership considered Karuna as a �one man issue�, it was mistaken in its initial evaluation and grip of handling the problem. Karuna�s trust-busting treason was a blessing out of all proportions to LTTE�s adversaries (Sinhalese political and military leadership, global and regional gumshoes). Shakespeare�s lines for Marc Antony said it all for Caesar in 44 BC and for Prabhakaran in AD 2003:
Item 3: Tripe propaganda by Tamil traditors
The Concise Oxford Dictionary (6th ed., 10th impression, 1980) defines the noun traditor as �Early Christian who to save his life surrendered copies of Scripture, or Church property, to persecutors�. Eelam Tamils have had traditors among them, and it�s unfortunate that some of them turned out to be more vocal in their denunciation of LTTE to paint a distorted image at global podia and media. A list of these traditors include, Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Hoole brothers, Rohini Hensman, Rajani Thiranagama and D.B.S. Jeyaraj. The themes of tripe propaganda included child warriors, human right violations and militarization of the Tamil society. For survival reasons, the same Tamil traditors turned a blind eye to the deeds of the Sri Lankan government. The worst culprit in this category was Lakshman Kadirgamar.
Item 4: Tsunami of Dec. 26, 2004
The damage done by the Big Tsunami of December 2004 to LTTE�s infrastructure (personnel and resources) cannot be underestimated. According to one published count, the death toll in Amparai district was highest 10,436. Though this district had significant proportions of Muslims and Sinhalese, Tamil deaths in Amparai cannot be discounted. The death toll in other LTTE�s influential districts Mullaitivu (3,000), Batticaloa (2,836), Jaffna (2,640), Trincomalee (1,078) and Kilinochchi (560) were numerous (Science, January 28, 2005, pp. 502-504). Though for tactical reasons, LTTE didn�t release a cumulative estimate of its losses, it was patently obvious that LTTE suffered deadlier losses compared to its adversary in the battlefield.
Item 5: Terrible norms set by �Little� Bush administration (2001-2008) officials
I�d like to identify alpha male guys like Richard Armitage and his coterie such as Ashley Wills, Jeffrey Lunstead and Robert Blake as �Little� Bush administration officials. All were white Christians who projected an image of having a mindset of color-prejudiced, colonial era exploiters, despite university education. In their book, they worked on one formula: LTTE and its leadership (�Black� ethnics from colonized territories) were �terrorists�.
Equating blacks with devil and terrorism had a long-standing history and tradition in the color-prejudiced and paranoid USA. A 210 year-old cartoon print of �Paris monster� presented adjacently shows that a �Negro and the devil� were feasting with Jacobins (the French terrorists).
For the uninitiated, Jacobins were the middle-class radical advocates of terrorism during the French Revolution (1789-1794). In the post-cold war phase, American militarists and bureaucrats had to search for new enemies and new issues badly. �Terrorism� became the new issue, and non-Christian, non-white ethnics became the �new enemies�. LTTE came to be tainted as �surrogate devils�, working in tandem with Osama bin Laden and Al-Queda. Note that LTTE and its leadership never ever advocated violence against USA and had never attacked any American citizen or American property anywhere in the world.
For a clear perspective on the mindset of �Little� Bush administration officials, I provide below (as appendix) a readable commentary authored by Michael Kinsley (the then editor of Slate electronic magazine) that appeared in the aftermath of Sept.11, 2001, on the questionable issue of defining the war on terrorism. Some dimwitted Sinhalese commentators like Rohan Gunaratna and Palitha Kohona had attempted in vain to tag Prabhakaran and LTTE with Osama bin Laden and Al Queda. This commentary by Michael Kinsley refutes such half-baked comparisons.
One more issue noted by Michael Kinsley deserves recognition here. He had noted that the casualties in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 vastly exceeded that of Sept.11, 2001 terror attack by the Al Queda, though Americans for chauvinistic pride wouldn�t dare to recognize the two atomic bombs as terrorist bombs. I have proof for this. The venerable National Geographic magazine published an article �World of Terror� in its Nov. 2004 issue. It contained some information on LTTE. I submitted the following letter to the National Geographic magazine:
All I received was a courteous, form e-mail �Thank you for contacting the National Geographic Society. This automatic reply is sent in response to all e-mails�� Understandingly, my letter did not appear in the �Letters� feature of the National Geographic magazine. Walter Laqueur (b. 1921), the author of National Geographic essay, is one example of the �Jewish terrorism experts� who had smeared LTTE (based on second or third hand sources), without clearly understanding the ethnic frictions of Sri Lanka.
Item 6: Antagonism and apartheid of India�s Brahmin Mafia (IBMs)
The caste-conscious India�s Brahmin Mafia (IBMs) never came to appreciate the rise and prominence of LTTE led by Prabhakaran. The recent Indian history reveals that the IBM mafia in all its manifestations (politics, media, law, business and academics) had a penchant to associate itself with power-wielders of any color and tribe, and to castigate militancy promoted by non-Brahmin leaders. The early years (from 1919 to 1932) of Bania caste- born Mahatma Gandhi�s campaign for India�s freedom provides numerous examples of how the House of Hindu folks disapproved and violated Mahatma�s non-violence campaign in spirit and action.
The attitude and hypocrisy taken by the House of Hindu journalists (the likes of Narasimhan Ram and Malini Parthasarathi) is an example of how their scale of freedom fighters and terrorists was error-prone. Whereas the mainstream American media and public viewed Yasser Arafat (1929-2004) and Hafez al Assad (1930-2000) as �terrorists� (for employing some specific battle field strategies against the Israelis), the House of Hindu journalists treated them as �freedom fighters� and their deaths were eulogized.
But, LTTE and Prabhakaran, though viewed by the mainstream American media as �terrorists� (for employing similar battle field strategies against the Sinhalese), was never eulogized by the House of Hindu journalists as �freedom fighters�.
It was as if the scale used by the Hindu journalists on terrorism was different for Muslims (nominal outcastes by Brahmin standards) and Hindus (led by a non-Brahmin leader). The worse scenario was that the House of Hindu used the Sri Lankan Christian Tamil traditors (Kadirgamar, Jeyaraj, Hensman et al.) profusely to bad mouth LTTE and its leadership for the past 20 years.
To sum up, apart from the GPS, the reasons for LTTE�s military debacle include a natural cause (big tsunami of Dec. 2004), and four human causes (trust-busting betrayal by Karuna, tripe propaganda of Tamil traditors, terrible norms set by the �Little� Bush administration officials and the antagonism of IBMs).
Did LTTE succeed in its Objectives?
Currently, opinion is divided on the issue of whether LTTE succeeded in its objectives. Those influenced by the IBMs tend to favor the hypothesis that LTTE miserably failed in its objectives. Forget about what Sinhalese or Indian Brahmins or Americans think about LTTE, or about globalization. Think about what Eelam Tamils view about LTTE.
I bring to my defence Bertrand Russell�s logic to answer this posed question. I cite below a passage from Bertrand Russell�s thoughts in his work Power: A New Social Analysis (1938). Though more than 70 years have passed since it appeared first, the British polymath�s clarity is what we need at the moment.
Dimwitted analysts had painted a dismal picture about LTTE�s performance. But, by Bertrand Russell�s three criteria, I infer that after 25 year of struggle, LTTE had brought the Tamil consciousness for a separate state to the second stage, and even to the entry range of the third stage. How the third stage will play out depends on now unpredictable factors such as (1) how the dumb Sinhalese political leadership accommodates the Tamil aspirations, (2) how the young Tamils growing in the diaspora would integrate the notion of Tamil statehood into their hearts and minds, (3) whether a �Prabhakaran� born in the 21st century may arrive, unannounced. The last one may appear like wishful thinking. But nobody predicted or foresaw in 1950s and 1960s, the arrival of the military-savvy Prabhakaran, among the book-wormish Jaffna cowards who cringed at the hollering of racial epithet �panam-kottai� (literally, palmyra-seed)!
It is Time to Define the War Aims
[courtesy: International Herald Tribune, Oct.6-7, 2001]
Now may seem like an odd time to be worrying that one person�s terrorist is another person�s freedom fighter. If ever there was a man of violence who didn�t pose this issue, it is Osama bin Laden.
Mr. Bin Laden is triply easy to classify. First, the attack of Sept.11, assuming he was responsible for it, was on a murderous scale that makes quibbling over definitions seem absurd. Second, his political vision is the opposite of freedom: a repressive clerical state. Third, his method is terrorism in the narrowest definitional sense. It is designed to spread terror, almost apart from any larger goal.
Nevertheless, the definition of the word terrorism is a problem in that we�d better start calling the war effort. It�s a problem for journalists: Reuters has banned the word in reference to Sept.11 and CNN officially discourages it.
The definition of terrorism is a problem for law enforcement and civil liberties. If Americans are to compromise their liberties over it without turning into a police state, they want the definition to be as narrow as possible and still do the job.
Above all, the definition of terrorism is a problem because President George W. Bush has chosen to define the mission as a war against terrorism, not just against the perpetrators of the particular crime of Sept. 11. And he has promised victory.
The advantages of defining the war as one against terrorism, not just Osama bin Laden, are obvious: It helps in rallying both the American citizenry and other nations, and if things go well it creates an opportunity to take care of other items on the agenda, such as Saddam Hussein.
But the disadvantages are also obvious. First, unlike a war against Osama bin Laden specifically, a war against terrorism cannot be won. Terrorism is like a chronic disease that can be controlled and suppressed, but not cured. By promising a total cure, Mr. Bush is setting America and himself up to turn victory into the appearance of defeat.
Second, using terrorism to win the support of other nations can backfire unless you have a definition you apply consistently. And there is no such definition. Defining terrorism was a major industry in Washington during the 1980s, when a definition was badly needed to explain why Americans were supporting a guerrilla movement against the government of Nicaragua and doing the opposite in El Salvador.
So what distinguishes terrorism? Is it the scope of the harm? Most terrorist actions are fairly small scale compared with the death and destruction committed by nation states acting in their official capacities. Even Sept.11 killed fewer people than, say the bomb on Hiroshima � an act that many Americans find easy to defend. So can terrorism mean acts of violence in support of political goals except when committed by a government?
The difficulty is that looking for practical ways to get at furtive and elusive terrorists inevitably leads to the concept of state-sponsored terrorism. This provides someone to attack � and is often factually accurate � but is a hopeless conceptual muddle if non-government is the key to defining terrorism. �State-sponsored� also fails to distinguish the anti-Taliban rebel groups that America is flooding with help from other groups that the United States is trying to destroy.
So can terrorism be defined as gruesome practices that are unacceptable no matter what the cause? As tactics aimed at civilian noncombatants rather than professional soldiers? As strategies literally designed to create terror � fear, panic, despair � as their primary purpose?
All these notions are carted out regularly, but none does the trick. All, in fact, are double inadequate: They leave out people some wish to include, and they include people others don�t think deserve the label �terrorist�.
The most accurate definition of terrorism may be the famous Potter Stewart standard of obscenity: �I know it when I see it.� Unfortunately, that kind of frankness would rob the term of its moral power of course, of most of its propaganda power as well.