H. L. D. MAHINDAPALA
With incontrovertible evidence gleaned from unimpeachable international sources Daya Gamage, by far the most knowledgeable analyst of America’s role in Sri Lanka – he once worked in the American Embassy acquiring detailed insights into the operations of the mission – has revealed that the decision to place a travel ban on Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva originated from the Embassy in Colombo though the American Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz, playing the role of Pontius Pilate, pretended at the meeting with the Foreign Minister, Dinesh Gunawardena, that the decision came down from Washington. Simultaneously he revealed, quoting internal documents of the State Department, that the American Embassy in Colombo is run by Americans who are guided by their introverted biases that reject the ground realities. It is the innate inability of the American diplomats to grasp the internal dynamics of the countries to which they are posted that turns them into misguided missiles. American diplomats who arrogantly assume that they know the right prescription to cure the ills of the world have failed, time and again, leaving the world in a twisted mess that was not there when they began their provocative and counter-productive interventions. Example: Iran.
Of course, there are times when they are pushed to defend the miscalculated politics of their leaders like planting the American embassy in Jerusalem. But more often they rush blindly, on their own initiatives, into places where angels fear to tread. They have a penchant for creating problems where none existed. The latest is the travel restrictions placed on Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva. This decision does not reflect her impressive academic and professional credentials. It looks more like an act of an irrational and vindictive Kali Amma – the Hindu goddess of death and doomsday. It is a provocative act that will not serve Lanka-American relations, peace or human rights. Her theoretical knowledge acquired from academia and her hands-on experience derived from serving in war-torn zones in Asia (she also served in Kabul) should have informed her to be more cautious.
The massive backlash against her counter-productive decision should teach her in the future to make mature and balanced decisions taking into consideration not only the American practices of ending its horrendous wars but also the inevitable exigencies of the battlefield. If, for instance, in her moral conscience she had remembered the images of the Nobel Peace prize winning President Barak Obama watching with anxious intensity his Navy Seals raiding the den of Osama Bin Laden and massacring the millionaire terrorist, his wife and his son she would never have had the arrogance to pass her provocative judgment on Gen. Silva. If she had bothered to remember how the Americans hunted the driver of Osama Bin Laden and tortured him at Guantanamo Bay while giving permanent residency to Prabhakaran’s lawyer, Rudrakumaran, who was a partner in the crimes of the Tamil terrorist leader, she would have had second thoughts about rushing to impose a travel ban.
Would Teplitz ever issue a visa to Osama bin Laden’s lawyer from Kabul? So on what moral basis does America permit Rudrakumaran to live in America and, in the same breath, refuse to give even a visa to Gen. Silva? But then the chicken memories of insensitive and half-baked American diplomats are geared to serve only their perverse objectives of creating unnecessary trouble where none exists. Diplomats are supposed to pour oil over troubled waters not to set fire.
Above all, any judgment on the conduct of the war must take into consideration the objectives achieved by ending the war. Since human rights have become the prime concern of the political moralists it is only fair to assess the conduct of Gen. Silva’s offensive in terms of how it related to human rights. The first question that has to be asked is: Did his offensive which ended the war put an end to the violations of human rights perpetuated by the war? If so on what side should morality fall? In this instance the ends justify the means because there isn’t a higher objective in a battlefield than saving human lives and human rights. By ending the war swiftly without letting it drag on Gen. Silva did serve human rights. His successful strategy to end the war also ended the perpetuation of the violations of human rights that had plagued the nation for 33 years (between 1976 when the Tamil leadership declared war in Vadukoddai and 2009).
Teplitz’s judgment to selectively target Gen. Silva indicates that she has brushed aside the higher moral value of saving and serving human rights by ending a needless war that would have only perpetuated the violations of human rights. She has gone overboard to impose her arbitrary judgment which will neither serve human rights nor set an example to other generals engaged in battles to end fascism and terrorism. There are limits to compliance with human rights in the battlefield. It should not tie the hands of those fighting to save human rights from the enemies of human rights.
However desirable and moral it may be to observe the decent rules of engagement in the battlefield the generals will be pushed at times, particularly when facing fascist terrorists, to the ends of their wits to be within the prescribed norms. If they happen to violate the norms within tolerable limits then they should not be condemned if they had achieved the higher goal of ending the violations of human rights by ending the war.
Her knowledge of the history of wars should have also informed her that the best means of ending violations of human rights in conflict zones is by ending wars. Appeasing an intransigent and ruthless enemy, or postponing the inevitable end of eliminating the blood-thirsty enemy is not an acceptable moral or viable answer. Those hoping to save victims of violence cannot depend on moral theories to eradicate violators of human rights. It has never worked. For instance, she should know, with all her academic background, that World War II was not ended by observing the highest principles of human rights but by bombing the hell out of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden in Germany. The ultimate command responsibility was with Truman and Churchill. Which one of them was tried in Nuremberg for war crimes?
The Sri Lankan generals fighting the “world’s deadliest terrorist” were faced with a greater moral dilemma: How do you end the war in its last stages and save human lives and human rights in a battlefield where the intransigent and ruthless enemy was waging a war behind a human shield? The immorality of throwing his own people as cannon fodder to stave off an advancing force is not only cowardly but inhuman. This is the ultimate dignity given by the Tamil hero to the Tamil people. He was forcing his people to fight his futile war hoping to gain military and propaganda advantages. He was a barbaric coward who was hoping to live by sacrificing the lives of other Tamil people. In the battlefield how was any general to know the difference between Tamil Tiger terrorists and the innocent Tamil victims forced to stand as a human shield?
The issue before the Sri Lankan generals was simple: It was either to end the war with the minimum of casualties which is what happened according to the statistical evidence available at the British Foreign office. Or to stop waging war altogether hoping that it would end violations of human rights by Prabhakaran, the ”pathological killer” (James Jupp, ANU, Australia,) who had killed more Tamils than all the others put together, as stated by Tamil leaders.
This was never going to happen because Prabhakaran could survive only as a leader of war and not as a democratic leader of peace. Faced with dwindling cadres in his own ranks, his last defence line was to create a human shield for his survival. Besides, throwing human shields to the frontline was a deliberate tactic used to mobilise international opinion against the Sri Lankan government to stop the war and save Prabhakaran. Using immoral tactics to create moral dilemmas for policy-makers should be rejected as a justifiable moral base for passing judgment on the victims of the Machiavellian tactics. The justifiable sympathy should go to the victims of the immoral tactics that led to the violations of human rights and not to the criminal originators who deliberately planned the violations of human rights to gain political mileage out of their tactics. To pass judgment on the victims of immoral tacticians is to exonerate and justify the criminals who deliberately planned strategies to cause violations of human rights. Any moral law should recognise first the responsibility of those who consciously abandon the non-violent democratic mainstream and chooses the violent path to achieve political goals.
History is not without alternatives. Non-violent paths are always open for those who have the courage to take that path. The Tamil leadership chose the violent path. It was the Tamil leadership that declared war against the rest of the nation in their notorious Vadukoddai Resolution of 1976. It was they who mobilised the local and global forces to wage their war. It was they who financed the war from Western bases.
It was they who weaponised local politics to justify their Vadukoddai violence. It was they who urged the Tamil youth to take up arms against the “Sinhala state”. It was they who justified the forcible recruitment of under aged Tamil children to fight their futile war. It was the Tamil leadership that rejected national and international peace deals that could have ended violence and human rights violations much earlier than 2009. It was the Tamil leadership that broke all international agreements, including the UN agreement not to recruit children and accept peace deals like the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement. It was the Tamil leadership that threw a human shield to prolong and perpetuate violence and violations of human rights. The first victim of the declaration of war in the Vadukoddai Resolution was human rights. The criminal history of the Tamil elite to suppress and deny their own people even the right to walk in God-given daylight was not prevalent either in the Bible belt of America or in S. Africa. She puts a ban on the general who put an end to all these crimes with his military strategies.
If any violations took place it was not as a result of a deliberate policy of the state or the forces to target civilians. However, if she was finicky about the minutest violations of human rights why has she not taken up the issue of the IPKF forces that rushed into the Jaffna Teaching Hospital and massacred doctors, nurses, patients and even children? Before rushing hastily to pass judgment on those who fought to end this evil war and restore human rights, justice and peace it was her moral and professional duty to have acquainted herself with a sufficient degree of the ground realities. Her unfair and arbitrary judgment passed on Gen. Silva reveals only her incapacity to balance the hard facts with the logic that leads to a credible and fair morality. If she knew about these historical factors would she have passed judgment on those who ended the violations of human rights by ending the war? Her first priority should have been to reward those who saved lives by ending the perpetuation of the violations of human rights. Instead she sits like Madame Defarge knitting her yarns about human rights while those who were operating the guillotine were exonerated by her silent patronage. It was easy for her to pontificate and pass judgment. But the people of Sri Lanka – including the Tamils – were not saved by American pontificators. They were saved by the generals who fought, risking their lives, to restore peace, liberty, democracy and human rights.
Most of all, if she is the moralist that she pretends to be why does she selectively turn a blind eye to the moral precedents set by her revered leaders who had ended their wars by using excessive force knowing that the enemies (Germans and Japanese) were beaten to their knees? Why does she embrace the tactic of annihilating the enemy at any cost as moral when it is used by her leaders and in the same breath reject it as immoral when it is used by Sri Lanka generals with the minimum of force?
What is her valid argument to impose her holier-than-thou morality to punish Sri Lankan generals who had saved liberty, dignity and human rights of the Tamils kept under the boots of a Tamil tyrannical fascist? In no way could the Sri Lankan forces / government prevented the violations of human rights as long as Prabhakaran lived to fight another day. In punishing Gen. Silva she is guilty of endorsing the brutal practices of Prabhakaran to perpetuate his inhuman and irrational war that did not take the Tamil people into depths of despair and suffering. If Teplitz has a better moral way of saving human rights than the strategy adopted by Gen. Silva she should first state that before condemning him.
There were two forces battling for supremacy for 33 years in Sri Lanka. I unhesitatingly back the Sri Lankan forces, with some remorse of course, because they served the higher morality of liberating the Tamils from the tyranny of a Tamil megalomaniac who had killed more Tamils than all the other forces put together, as stated by Tamil leaders. It was also a great battle between a democracy and a fascist tyranny. With all its imperfections Sri Lanka fought Tamil fascism within a democratic framework, even providing protection to the most slavish agents of Prabhakaran in the TNA. As opposed to this Teplitz should consider how her nation treated the domiciled Japanese as enemies.
She must be quite au fait with the concentration camps erected to imprison innocent Japanese civilians in World War II because Tojo had bombed the American base in Pearl Harbour. The American–Japanese were imprisoned simply because they were Japanese and not because they were guilty of complicity with the Japanese government. Shouldn’t Teplitz place the GOSL on the highest moral plane because they did not follow the unjust and inhumane example of incarcerating the Tamils in concentration camps in times of war?
Last but not the least, Teplitz should answer one question: If in the name of human rights Gen. Silva ceased his operations and allowed Prabhakaran to pursue his violent politics what would have been the fate of human rights? The chances are that she would come back and blame the GOSL for not making concessions to Prabhakaran to end the war. In other words, she would have preferred Prabhakaran to run his fascist Eelam the way he wanted in the name of human rights.
Does she believe that human rights would be served in the last resort by the rule of Prabhakaran or by victories of Sri Lankan generals? She has enough sense to know that it is the victories of the Sri Lankan generals that had saved and served human rights at its optimum level. If so why has she rushed to impose travel bans on Gen. Silva?
America has produced several female geniuses. Among them are my favourites Emily Dickinson, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Nobel laureate Toni Morrison.