“They died by the thousands but over the years the Sri Lankan soldier turned out to be more than a match for the well equipped guerrillas of Pirapaharan. It is indeed ironic that some of these intellectuals who 20 years ago were advising Tamil militants that they had to ‘pick up guns’ to fight for self determination are now in full praise of these ‘buth packet’ soldiers. The ‘buth packet’ soldiers ultimately turned out to be the real war heroes and none can deny that.”
This is a land packed with patriots and heroes. On a crowded Pettah pavement you can’t help avoiding bumping into a patriot or stepping on the toes of a war hero after every step you take. Patriots are easily recognisable thanks to the definition of President Mahinda Rajapakse: ‘Patriots are those who are with us (on Mahinda Rajapakse’s side) others are not.’
The mood in this ‘Resplendent Isle’ right now is that if you are not a patriot, you are a traitor. This would, you would agree, place quite a proportion of the populace in a quandary because close to 50 percent of the country did not vote for Rajapakse last time. However, the thinking of those well placed and well heeled now sitting in judgement on patriots and traitors is that the ‘Superlative Victory’ (Vijayagrahanaya) would have eliminated all those doubting Thomas’ and that ‘all are on our side.’
Perils of heroism
In finding heroes we are confronted with much more difficulties. Of course the greatest of them have been found, worshipped, adulated and blessed an infinite number of times much more than heroes of previous times. We do agree that most of them deserve the rapturous cries accorded, the highest ever honours accorded et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
But we feel that a warning should be sounded on syrupy sycophancy. The hyperbolic references, the great sacrifices made etc. should be taken with a pinch of salt. Worshippers at the altars of gods or heroes often expect rewards — divine or mundane. This is a peril of heroism which our newly proclaimed heroes should be wary of.
Heroes, it should be realised, live in the hearts and minds of the people and their golden memories are passed down in memory from generation to generation. Those of the past were not felicitated in cardboard cut-outs or posters that defiled neighbourhoods.
No heroes of the past?
A notable feature in the victory celebrations of this 30-year-war we noticed was the failure to remember the heroes of the past 28 years or so. There may have been brief references made to them but surely they should be better remembered? What of those like Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Vijaya Wimalaratne who died on the battlefield? It is no exaggeration to say that the nation wept for days on the death of Kobbekaduwa who was admired by even his enemies.
There are others like Gen. Cecil Waidyaratne who rid the country of the JVP menace that threatened the nation even more that the LTTE and also cleared the Eastern Province along with Maj. Gen Lucky Algama.
There was Gen. Janaka Perera, one of the most successful military commanders against the LTTE. It was he with Gen. Sarath Fonseka who held the Jaffna peninsula when the LTTE broke through Elephant Pass and was threatening to run through the Jaffna peninsula where an estimated 45,000 soldiers were trapped.
This is not the occasion to recall all those war heroes, most of whom perished on land, air and sea. But they too are war heroes who cannot be forgotten. Certainly during the last two years the armed forces made tremendous progress and accomplished what could not have been made in all those years due to various extraneous conditions.
Old school ties
But the Kobbekaduwas, Wimalaratnes, Waidyaratnes, Algamas Janaka Pereras and many others were war heroes who cannot be confined to the limbo of history. They need no cardboard images or propaganda posters; they live in the hearts and minds of the freedom loving people of Sri Lanka.
Remembrance of war heroes have now gone down to schools. Schools have now commenced ‘felicitating’ their war heroes in earnest.
A notable thing about Sri Lankan schools is that most boys do not grow out of school. In reality though they have left school long years ago, their thoughts keep going back to their old school. To some their old school is the ‘centre of their universe’ and they will do ‘anything’ for their school. It must be said that this fanatical devotion is confined to boys’ schools and not seen even in the more sophisticated Colombo girls’ schools.
The real heroes
It is said that this old school loyalty is a thing that the British left with us but it is not as strong in Britain today as it is here. Now this old school loyalty is filtering down to village schools — for better or worse.
Schools remembering their war dead and living heroes is to be appreciated but let us remember that amidst all these remembrance ceremonies we tend to forget in my opinion — the real war heroes who won the war, the poor village boys and boys from the urban slums who lost their limbs, became living zombies or perished in the dust, sand or mud of the north and east. Whether they were equipped with required arms, sufficiently trained and motivated particularly in the early years of the conflict have been debated often.
These were boys who were ridiculed by Colombo’s elite intellectuals and typewriter strategists as warriors fighting for their ‘buth packet’. Yes, the poor boys joined the forces for a meagre salary to be enjoyed not by themselves but to send their salaries home for their humble parents to live on. These ‘mercenaries’ it was said were no match for the highly motivated guerrillas fighting for a ‘just cause.’
They died by the thousands but over the years the Sri Lankan soldier turned out to be more than a match for the well equipped guerrillas of Pirapaharan. It is indeed ironic that some of these intellectuals who 20 years ago were advising Tamil militants that they had to ‘pick up guns’ to fight for self determination are now in full praise of these ‘buth packet’ soldiers. The ‘buth packet’ soldiers ultimately turned out to be the real war heroes and none can deny that.
Napoleon Bonaparte who knew war perhaps as no other, is on record saying: ‘A soldier is he whose blood makes the glory of generals.’ It is indeed satisfying for this columnist to recall that we placed our faith in these poor soldiers in the early years of the conflict in another newspaper many a time (in a column also titled Serendipity) when most others were ridiculing today’s heroes.
The lines of Thomas Grey written in praise of humble English peasantry comes to our mind as we think of the thousands of poor rural and urban youth from the army, navy, air force and the police (over 600 policemen slaughtered in one go in cold blood) now lying in unknown graves in the jungles of the east.
Here rests his head upon the lap of earth
A youth to fortune and fame unknown
Fair science frowned not on his humble birth
And melancholy marked him for his own
Large was his bounty and his soul sincere
Heaven did recompense as largely sent:
He gave to memory all he had, a tear,
He gained from heaven (it was all he wished) a friend.
(Sri Lanka Guardian)