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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha

Tamil Tigers and America's Founding Fathers

29 August 2000

[see also the Price that the Signatories of the US Declaration Paid for Independence]

After the publication of my brief letter with the caption, 'Comeback Commandos', in the Time magazine of July 3, in which I compared V. Prabhakaran to George Washington, I received a kind note from my 77-year old father. He had mentioned that, not only he, but many other Tamils may not be aware of the similarities between the LTTE's campaign for Eelam and the American revolutionary campaign for freedom led by Washington.

Well, ten years ago in the Readers Forum pages of the Asiaweek magazine (Hongkong), I enthusiastically took part in a debate with an anonymous correspondent (about whose identity I was not informed; and he could have been an anti-LTTE Tamil or a Sinhalese or a Muslim) on this issue. For the benefit of tamilnation.org readers, I present excerpts of six letters (three of mine, and three from that anonymous correspondent) in which, this issue of Eelam campaign and American revolutionary campaign was touched peripherally. These excerpts are as follows, and kindly note that 'loyalists' and 'dissidents' refer to those who opposed George Washington and 'rebels' are those who supported the American leader of independence.

Letter 1: [ 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: [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 revolutionary fervour."

Letter 3: [Sachi Sri Kantha, in Asiaweek, Nov.16, 1990]

"Perhaps the reader who wrote '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: [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: [Sachi Sri Kantha, in Asiaweek, Feb.8, 1991]

"The naive 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 [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: [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 exchange of words, which lasted for nearly 8 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!). It is also unusual for an international magazine to open its Readers Forum page 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 unbiassed readers.

Another point of interest is worth noting. When I wrote these letters ten 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 Mahattaya's (the then nominal deputy leader of LTTE) downfall also shows that the history of Tamil Tigers have so much in common with the history of American revolutionary army.

The themes which I have touched in these letters may deserve  further exploration from academics, journalists and peace-seekers as well.


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