At long last, have you no decency, sir?”-Joseph Welch at the McCarthy Hearings.
“Sri Lanka’s Armed Forces need to decide what kind of organization they will be. They have previously claimed to be a professional military that matches its technological advancements, and improvements in its strategy and tactics, with a superior moral and ethical standard than those used by their enemies.”
As fireworks are lit in the streets and a thousand parties in Colombo celebrate the fall of the LTTE and the death of their leadership, the Sri Lankan Army continues to mop up remaining pockets of resistance and begins the grim task of identifying the dead. Finally proving the total success of the military, Sri Lankan troops have identified the body of the founder and leader of the LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
His death symbolizes the utter failure of the Tamil Tigers to divide the nation of Sri Lanka and is final proof that, on this island, civil war and the creation of a monoethnic, racist, state is not an acceptable solution to previous racism. The people of Sri Lanka, through force of arms and the ballot box, have declared their wish that this island, be it Sri Lanka or Ceylon, will be united and free for all races. There is still much work to be done to make this dream a reality, but the death of Prabhakaran and the fall of the LTTE are huge steps in that direction.
Authors Note : The difference between professional soldiers and skilled shooters is how they handle themselves before and after battles. Professionals do not desecrate the dead and any organization (army) that claims to be professional and honorable and represents the nation should try and punish those who do not meet a high moral standard.
Stripping the body of any person, even Prabhakaran, is a thug-like desecration, and soiling his body with dirt is the act of a gang, not a professional soldier or true patriot.
Unfortunately, there has also been a major step backwards, made when dishonorable thugs who are trapped in the hatred and revenge mentalities of Sri Lanka’s past and have no place in Sri Lanka’s future desecrated, photographed, and showed off the body of Prabhakaran. Earlier pictures show the terrorist leader as having died in his iconic uniform, the tiger stripe camouflage unique to the LTTE. He also had his dog tags and a laminated identification card. He had clearly been shot in the head in what could be an execution style shooting, though the wound was covered by a cloth. Disturbing as that is, that Sri Lankan soldiers may have murdered a prisoner of war instead of making him stand trial, more shocking photos were soon released, showing that soldiers had stripped his body naked, not even leaving his underwear, and had desecrated his body with dirt.
Prabhakaran was a brutal terrorist and it is no surprise that such feelings brewed in the soldiers who defiled his body. He was hated throughout the country and for good reason. His organization murdered thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians of every ethnic and religious background in the country and developed terrorist technology such as the suicide belt and boat that sent soldier and civilian alike to an early grave. However, despite being one of the most evil men in history, even Velupillai Prabhakaran deserves certain basics of respect in death. What the soldiers did to desecrate the body of a fallen enemy, no matter how evil and deserving of death, was abhorrent and should be totally denounced by the Sri Lankan government and Army. These soldiers should be held accountable for their actions.
Thought to be one of the best trained and most disciplined armed forces in South Asia, the Sri Lankan Army has had praise heaped upon it for victories from Jaffna, to Sampur, to Adampan, to Paranthan and Kilinochchi, to the final destruction of the LTTE. The task taken on by the Sri Lankan army in assisting Tamil civilians and taking measures to protect them from the LTTE in recent months has also been an admirable effort, often ridiculed outside of Sri Lanka by those who do not understand the horrible alternatives Tamil refugees faced and the logistical nightmare still facing all of Northern Sri Lanka. It will also be the Sri Lankan military that will lead the way in reconstructing the Wanni and getting supplies to those in need.
The brutish act of desecrating a fallen enemy’s body, however, is a scar on the face of the Sri Lankan military. It is an unacceptable insult, not just against the remains of one man, albeit an evil man, but against the entire Sri Lankan Army by making this decorated military outfit look like a band of savages. The soldiers who committed this act either forgot or did not care that their uniforms make them representatives to the world on behalf of their country and they have sent us all a very bad message. By desecrating the dead body of an enemy, they are stating that the Sri Lankan Army does not value human life, and takes those lives lightly. They are declaring that this war is some sort of game to them by treating a corpse like a toy. This is not how professional soldiers act and it will reflect very poorly on the Sri Lankan military and government if this is tolerated. The precedent this act will create, should it go unpunished, may result in many more mutilations of Tiger remnants and will show the Tamil people that they are considered animals by the Sinhalese. This act against Prabhakaran alone sends that message, but allowing it to continue will set that message in stone.
Sri Lanka’s Armed Forces need to decide what kind of organization they will be. They have previously claimed to be a professional military that matches its technological advancements, and improvements in its strategy and tactics, with a superior moral and ethical standard than those used by their enemies. Countless acts of mercy and kindness, often unsung outside of Sri Lanka, have helped shape that image and has given the Sri Lankan military a reputation for excellence. If the military wishes to keep those values and their image along this path, it must take action against the soldiers responsible for this heinous act of barbarism.
The difference between soldiers and any other group of killers isn’t their ability to kill more people faster than a criminal. It is their status as a political tool of their country and their status as national symbols. The difference between professional soldiers and thug-like soldiers isn’t why or who they are fighting. The difference is in how they act before and after the battles they fight.
Professional soldiers understand that they are being entrusted with their country’s reputation. They follow a code of conduct that allows them and all Sri Lankan citizens to take pride in their work. They have personal honor that will not allow them to participate in or tolerate intentionally morally corrupt acts, especially those that are war crimes. Finally they place emphasis on their loyalty to their country and unit. The soldiers responsible for this act have forsaken all of these values. They have embarrassed their country, they have shown themselves to be without honor, and they have been disloyal to their unit by marring the good name of the 53 Division.
There have been four “Eelam Wars” in the Sri Lankan Civil War and with the end of Eelam War IV, the nation finally has the opportunity to win a lasting peace. Every effort should be made to ensure that this peace is successful and that all races can live together without hatred and the constant fear of violence. The Tamil people are watching to see if the Sri Lankan government will make good on its promises to make a country safe for all ethnic groups. How it handles this desecration of Prabhakaran’s body will give some insight into how dedicated the government really is to these ideals.
(Sri Lanka Guardian)