To have or not to have? Questioning victory day, military parades et al.

BY DAVID BLACKER

For those saying that Victory Day should be retained, and who use VE Day as an example, and also cite the reasoning that we need a day to remember the men who fell in the cause of national unity, let me point out a few things

Sri Lankan war amputee soldiers participate in a victory day parade marking the second anniversary of the end of the civil war, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, May 27, 2011. President Mahinda Rajapaksa vowed Friday to protect the country's armed forces from possible international action over allegations of human rights violations during the final months of the island-nation's 26-year civil war. (AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne)

Sri Lankan war amputee soldiers participate in a victory day parade marking the second anniversary of the end of the civil war, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, May 27, 2011. President Mahinda Rajapaksa vowed Friday to protect the country’s armed forces from possible international action over allegations of human rights violations during the final months of the island-nation’s 26-year civil war. (AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne)

VE Day is a celebration of one set of nations defeating another; not a nation defeating an internal insurrection or the winning of a civil war.  The US (as far as I know) doesn’t celebrate its victory over the Confederates.  As for remembrance, we already have Poppy Day on November 11th, and there’s no reason why this can’t be a day of national remembrance for all the men and women who have fallen in defence of Sri Lanka in all our wars. Personally, I don’t think Sri Lanka will really gain anything by one part of the country celebrating the defeat of the other part. More on this later, however.

On the other hand, for those wishing to simply dismiss Victory Day under the reasoning that the rise of separatism and terrorism was the fault of the state, that thousands of civilians died in the war, and that somehow the defeating of that separatism and terrorism isn’t worthy of celebration, let me say this:

The war was a 30-year-long chain of events; not a single one; and it is therefore simplistic to look at it as being all a creation of the state or simply a defeat of terrorism. It is far more complex than that. While it is obvious that racist and oppressive policies by the state led to a taking up of arms by the Tamils in order to establish a separate state, it is absurd to ignore the fact that the strategies and tactics employed by the separatists transformed them from a liberation movement fighting for the rights of an oppressed people (which they were at the outset) into a terrorist organisation that murdered thousands of innocents themselves. They were arguably far more oppressive to the people that they sought to liberate than even the state.  Similarly one cannot ignore the fact that an oppressive state eventually corrected itself via various measures (including legislative ones) and was forced to militarily engage with and defeat Tamil militancy for the sake of all concerned (including the Tamils themselves).

However unsatisfactory the status quo in the northeast of Sri Lanka maybe today, I don’t think anyone in their right mind believes that it is worse than being in perpetual conflict. I don’t believe the Tamil people themselves living in Sri Lanka believe so.

Another noteworthy point is that the deaths of large numbers of civilians always has been, and always will be, a hallmark of war. Except in very rare circumstances (like the Falklands War), civilian casualties outnumber the military ones, and technology and increased firepower has demonstrated that that gap in the ratio is only going to widen with time, and not narrow. The civilian casualties in our war therefore shouldn’t be taken to indicate anything more than a natural but tragic characteristic of modern warfare. 

It is also important that those opposing the Victory Day event shouldn’t kill the goose before it lays that golden egg. Many Colombo-centric commentators wish to see a 180 degree turn today, but don’t forget that Sri Lanka isn’t Colombo, and if this government wishes to win the next general election it must walk a fine line. It will be a tragedy if this government is defeated at the elections thanks to short-sighted decisions that could alienate many voters.

Screen shot 2015-05-19 at 9.00.10 AMHaving said all that, personally, I don’t see a problem with military parades. France still celebrates Bastille Day (which set off a chain of events that saw thousands of innocents perish) as its liberation from an oppressive monarchy. To somehow pretend that it wasn’t a military victory is rather pointless.
Perhaps one day in the future, Tiger veterans of this war could also be invited to participate in some way just like the Axis veterans participate in commemorations by the former Western Allies. However, this latter participation is only a recent act, half a century after the event, when sentiments have softened. I still see no sign of Japanese pilots being invited to participate in ceremonies commemorating the Pearl Harbour raid, or Luftwaffe crews participating at Battle of Britain Day. So let’s be sensible and not too demanding, and understand that a little now and more later might be the best way to go.

David Blacker was a former member of the Sri Lanka armed forces, and is the author of A Cause Untrue. He is Creative Director, J. Walter Thompson (JWT) and lives in Colombo.

Comments

  1. Well said, if you were former member of Sri Lankan armed forces, I appreciate very much the way you think. Your article goes beyond normal thinking, there is a two sides to any story.

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