The War Must Come to Colombo

Forgive my blatant disregard towards being politically correct. I intend to make my point as clear as possible, thus the usual diplomatic wrappings that form a masquerade around my true opinion will be set aside on this occasion.

The recent massacre at Virginia Tech University was indeed an event that we all condemn and regret. We as members of a global community have realized the necessity to empathize with our fellow brethren across continents whenever fate deals them a cruel blow.

However, it occurred to me that we in Colombo have a nasty tendency to empathize with the West at the expense of neglecting the issues within our present civil war. A classic example of this was the reaction of individuals in Colombo which even included facebook groups for the purpose of displaying solidarity against the massacre. It would have been equally polite to have a couple of groups dedicated to the children in the North and East that are lost to war each day.

To avoid misunderstanding, let me make it clear that I too empathize with the families of the victims of this massacre. However, I find it puzzling that events such as this along with Oklahoma, 9/11 and Katrina seem to affect our conscience in far greater proportions than events within our own country. The international media, which is for obvious reasons West-centric, will continue to inundate us with news items that relate mainly to the West. And we seem to simply fall in line like well-trained monkeys.

It is obvious that we Colombo dwellers are more Western than in fact Sri Lankan. We remember our nation mostly when the cricket is on. Feel free to despise me for hazardously generalizing. The ethnic conflict (and yes, there is a conflict out there which is deeply imbedded in the psyche of the people) will never cease unless the conflict comes to our own doorstep.

No, I am certainly not asking you to wear sackcloth, weep and gnash your teeth in despair. However, I invite you to ponder upon the dynamics of our conflict and how we in Colombo, as we grow tired of the politics, choose to ignore its realities. I feel it is unlikely that a viable solution will be found until we, as the supposed crème-de-la-crème, are physically affected by the conflict. What I mean by “physically affected” is open to interpretation. I however do not possess the morbid wish for violence to take place within our city merely for us to learn our lesson. Personally, I believe mandatory military service may do the trick. But that’s a different debate altogether.

The truth is, we have grown comfortable in our own depression and look elsewhere to offer our condolences. Charity must begin at home.

Thank you for reading.

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~ by Archangel on April 23, 2007.

90 Responses to “The War Must Come to Colombo”

  1. So umm… what?

  2. I agree the behaviour of the class of society you refer to is
    distanced from the day to day live of ppl in the war zones.

    I would comment though that a war in Colombo won’t make a difference to the overall situation in the country (unless it finishes off the economy). The government of the day and its policies are no longer based on what the Westernized Colombo types want. It may change the mindset of the new middle class with rural and semi-urban votes who have recently moved
    into Colombo (many of whom seem to believe that a military
    solutiuon is possible) but again, how much voting power to they
    have?

  3. The war my friend, is very much in the minds of Colombo. Other than for the North and the East it is Colombo that gets the worst of the War, with the bombs, the extensive security checks and such. Compare that with more more southern areas in the country.

    These people are totally indifferent to the war. Its not that they care about Virginia Tech or Oklahoma either.

    They live in their own little world. The war doesn’t affect them much. They have little understanding of the impact of the war on the economy. Therefore they care little whether the war is waged or not.

    So Colombo feels the war to a much greater extent that many other parts of Sri Lanka. It’s just a certain sector (a very small sector) of people who are more interested in other issues.

  4. same happened with the tsunami.
    the majority of ppl didnt give a damn and still dont realize what happened!

  5. msn… i come from the south and my heart will always remain there. it seems to me your understanding of my home and its people comes from a perspective enjoyed from the comfort of an air-conditioned 4WD while whizzing down galle road towards the latest bohemian escapades planned for in Sri Lankas own cesspit of moral degradation and vice – hikkaduwa.
    You MSN, may not see the same frequency and concentration of security barriers and guard posts, the same quaint butterfly road paintings reminding you of past suicide bombings on your travles down-south from your perch up on high, but you seem to also have missed the many memorials built to fallen soldiers that can be seen by the roadside. You would not be able to experience the chronic grief that families are plunged into when their children have been sacrificed to the war machine. Tell me… how many of your friends have joined the armed forces? Politicians may sign their children up but where are those children now? Where do you think those sun burnt dark faces looking over you in Colombo, Jaffna, Vavuniya and Batticaloa come from? Colombo?

    When these kids are losing their lives on both sides how can you say
    “They live in their own little world. The war doesn’t affect them much. They have little understanding of the impact of the war on the economy. Therefore they care little whether the war is waged or not.”

    Go off to war, send your children to war, lose your limbs to a landmine… the war MUST come to Colombo!

  6. I think the war has already come to Colombo my friend. And it’s here to stay whether we like it or not. I think MSN’s point…before you chose to judge him in the most biased stereotypical manner…is that the rest of the country, which votes in Mahinda on a war mandate are not as deeply affected on a daily basis as people in the NE or even in Colombo.

    Perhaps MSN’s assertion that ‘they live in their own little worlds’ was equally misinformed as your opinion of him. But that said it must be admitted that a large section of the electorate do not face the trauma of war harshly enough for them to realise peace ‘at any cost’ really is worth it.

    ADD part of reason for empathising more with the West is the obvious coverage these events receive as opposed to the obvious censorship imposed on local events. It’s a propoganda war.

  7. I think you make a very interesting point about conscription ADD. As long as the forces recruit on a voluntary basis (in any country), the vagaries of war will only be felt deeply by those who live in the midst of the war proper and the economically marginalized who are forced to send their kids off to the forces in search of employment and ‘greener’ pastures. Perhaps mandatory military service will convince people to vote for war and tolerate war only when they are really convinced it is necessary for their protection. Having said that, the chances are that a regime that introduces mandatory military service will be deeply authoritarian and thus immune to democratic pressures.

  8. Contrary to popular belief conscription is unlikely to affect the upper-class Sri Lankan. It will still be the poor and disenfranchised who go to war. There will always be deferments (uni students, essential services, businessmen, etc), and you will find the upper class living in these loopholes (as they did in the US during the Vietnam War). However, given the fact that SL has a faar greater number of poor and disenfranchised as a percentage to the USA, it’s arguable that a population facing conscription will call for aa change of policy. But with the levels of corruption and political patronage in SL, it’s quite possible that supporters of political parties and even individual politicians will be given ways of evading the draft. So it’s questionable whether this is of any use. Add to this the fact that most conscript armies while increasing in size due to the draft, have a proportionate drop in quality, thereby countering the numerical advantage (see Vietnam & Afghanistan). For now, you can rest assured that no SL govt will introduce conscription; not as long as the draftee has the vote. During the Vietnam War, draftees were 18-20 years of age, aand voting began at 21. So the US govt didn’t mobilise the reserves (who could vote), but picked on the disenfranchised. In the USSR it didn’t matter what age yyou were, since there was no vote aanyway.

  9. One more thing — I agree that the south’s less exposed to the war than Colombo. The Army (which does the bulk of the killing & dying) is less than 150,000 strong (about 1% of the population), of which less than a third (say 50,000 or 0.5% of the populace) is in harms way. Of this half a percent, an even smaller fraction (less than 1 in 10 on average) is likely to be killed or seriously wounded in combat. Now, do you really think those numbers impact the psyche of the southern population?

  10. I appreciate the comment, David. True enough, the success of mandatory military service will depend on how it is implemented as a system. But isn’t this true of any administrative or legal mechanism? So pleading corruption and likelihood of loopholes does not justify the evading of the principle.
    Also, while I take your point on the statistics on the Army, isn’t it likely that in addition to 150,000 individuals being affected by war, 150,000 families will also be directly and indirectly affected. I believe this was Southern Man’s point, and it is a valid one.

    Sophist, yes, this is a propaganda war. The question is whether we continue to accept the status quo. Does obvious coverage of incidents in the west, and censorship of incidents here justify greater empathy towards the white man’s worries? I believe you were giving an explanation and I was not only previously aware of it, but I also agree with it. However, if others such as you manage to figure this out as you’ve demonstrated, remaining empathetic towards the west at the expense of neglecting our own issues is unjustified.

    Remember, I am not submitting a comparative analysis on which district is most affected by the war. However the Colombo mentality is such that we adopt a “life must go on” attitude and grow numb to the events that occur elsewhere. The war is now merely a numbers game for many of us. The sentiment has already been demonstrated well on this blog.

    Thank you for reading.

  11. Look.. who cares about these sorry bastards dying in the North. Let the peaceniks worry about that lot. That’s what they are getting paid for. Sit back, relax and enjoy the Kfirs.

  12. Justmal, wow I was hoping to catch a few stereotypes. This is too good to be true. You must be satirical…surely?

    Thank you for reading.

  13. Why worry about anyone living in the whole damn country if you happen to be living in Ozzie. No mal? Remember Hari and the star? Do they worry about people living in the NorthEast?

  14. Dear all,

    firstly, the principles behind the post made by ADD, have been repeated with a slight but important variation, in many social circles, not only in colombo. And that is that the war must come to the south.

    To elaborate, the war HAS come to colombo. The majority of suicide attacks have targeted colombo, or its environs, and even if MSN does wizz by in a SUV over nice pastel coloured road art, that art dear sourthen man, showcases where death/terorism actually occured. Its a fucking remembrence!
    and no, i do not want to be drawn into a argument as to where the war should come or not, and i dont want to engage in “we suffered more than you” type arguments, which is what the sourthen man seems to draw us to.

    The point i wish to make, is that this perception that colombo lives in a cocoon, is unjustified.

    Yes it is true that the social conditions experienced in colombo, are worlds removed from that of the north and east, but that is not synonimous with being unaffected by war.

    Colombo might wizz by in shiny new BMW’s and the latest SUV’s, but the owners of such vehicles suffer from an terorist attack as well, the stock market goes down, the rupee falters, as does the economy etc. and it affects them, it affects their businesses, and by cycle, it affects everbody.

    so who are we to be judgmental on the effects of war. It effects all of us, just diferently, your article ADD is bitter, ignorant, and condesending.

    If you accept what i just mentioned above, then the other point in ADD’s argument, seems hard to explain. Why does suffering in other’s affect us way more than our own. To be honest i cant come up any watertight reasoning for such. It could well be a colonial hangover, it could well be properganda, or the lack of it, it could even be the media, and our exposure to suferring, in visual terms, as opposed to just hearsay, and conflicting, and staid government reports.

    Whatever it is, it does not justify bringing the war to colombo. Take a walk mate, look at those roadside memorials, see the amount of checkpoints, and kids barely out of school holding guns and waiting by the roadside,
    the war HAS come to colombo!

  15. I wrote something on a somewhat similar vein a while back which can be found here

    Basically what I said was how disconnected we in Colombo are from reality and from a war that kills our fellow countrymen everday. I also mentioned how recently on a trip down south I lost count of the number of bus stands and monuments built in honor of soldiers who were killed in battle.

    I have no idea what the relevant statistics are but regardless of that it can be clearly said that the war is closer to the South than it is to Colombo. Like you said, it is not that Colombo should come under a massive attack but a reality check is much needed. The kind of reality Colombo sees is the fear and anxiety of two or three days right after a bomb blast after which life gets back to normal.

    About the empathy shown about events such as the VT Massacre, I don’t understand why it is so much easier for most people to sympathize and condemn such things so openly and also know every little detail about those while not knowing basic details about the conflict in our own country. The facebook groups I assume are just tweenies piling into the bandwagon, not really thinking about what they are doing.

    What one person said regarding the post I made was, “How do you feel for something that has no relation to you or your life?” which is how most people justify it. That I suppose is exactly why the war must come to Colombo.

  16. Archangel, even an efficiently run conscription policy isn’t necessarily a sound one from a military point of view. As I said earlier it failed both in Vietnam and in Afghanistan because it was coupled with a long and seemingly pointless conflict (sound familiar?). The only really successful wartime models of conscription are the Allies in WW2 and the present-day Israelis. In the former case, we’re looking at an era where individual rights were not so important to the civil populace, and propogand played a great part in focusing the mind on a foreseeable and gradually approaching victory, coupled with a relatively short war (by present day standards). In Israel, while conscription is the norm, no large scale mobilisation is done except at wartime, and the Israeli wars have been short & sweet. It is for these and other reasons that the SL military brass has always been against conscription.

    My point, Archangel, in my second post, is that 150,000 families are NOT affected. Only around fifty thousand families (or less) have members in combat roles, and of that 50,000 only a very small percentage will have their relative killed or injured.

  17. @david blacker
    you ignore the injured, MIA, KIA and the impact on those families even though i agree with your point.

    @archangel
    mandatory military service. why?
    putting a gun into the hand of someone who does not want to be there and was forced to join does not make them a soldier. nobody needs more deserters from the military.

    would dressing you in a chicken suit make you empathize more with the source of your chicken dinner?

    conscription is a failed experiment of the 20th century – let it end in the 1900s.

    @all the whiners
    would it make everyone feel better if there was a facebook group for the war in sl and everyone joined that too? obviously it is impossible to empathize with both the war in sl and a tragic event elsewhere at the same time.

  18. But the war must come to Colombo to achieve what end? Will it
    cause the conflict to end quicker? It may do if that causes an
    economic collapse – which means an LTTE “victory”. Or should it
    come to Colombo to punish those who are isolated from it’s
    effects? It’s the latter, you may think these ppl deserve that
    but we still won’t have a solution to the death and destruction.

    The LTTE will still follow its agenda and the Govt. will still
    have a mandate carry out its current policies – rich Colombo
    types suffering or not.

  19. 99% of my friends are from “down south”, of these 70/80% have lost a relative, close friend, neighbour…

  20. Ranil, perhaps you should take a walk mate….down somewhere else other than the city of Colombo. You may find an almost completely different world. Perhaps you will then realize what it truly means to be affected by war.

    I’m sorry I sound bitter, but the truth is, I am. As I said before, I dropped the verbosity and perhaps took on a more childish and ignorant demeanor to put my point across. But the point is still clear. We have taken up the unjustified view that we are victims of war, when this is not always the case.

    You have missed my other point. This is that we as Colombo dwellers hold a duty as the intellectual elites of this country to take on a more empathetic stance to groups living in war-torn areas.
    Hear me out on this one please: You and I may be victims of sporadic attacks. But we have the knowledge and means to get back on our feet. We DO NOT face a day to day struggle the average person in Batticaloa faces. If we are part of one nation, should it not be our priority to lobby for those living within our own country? Is not the time and energy spent on getting so affected about events in the West put to better use in our own North and East. Just consider this from the viewpoint of one who is more privileged than the average.

    Thank you for reading.

  21. Galleblogger you might want to revisit the authenticity of those statistics mate.

    ADD, I don’t necessarily think that your assertion that people empathise more with the West, is true. In fact, for a lot of peoople Virgina Tech was a comedy moment. And it’s not hard to see why.

    I don’t think the grief at the tsunami was in any way rivalled at the sympathy to Katrina. True we are unfortunately more aware of tragedies in the West. But this awareness does not translate automatically into empathy.

    A lot of the Colombo populace is not to blame for their unfortunate ignorance. We must address it…not condemn it.

  22. Sophist, then you are in agreement with me that there is a problem of unfortunate ignorance in Colombo. That’s a good starting point. But I fear neglect and apathy can often be shrouded in ignorance. We need conviction, not condemnation.

    Five, you have not understood the concept of mandatory military service. Consider reading up on it when convenient.

    Anon, I clearly stated that I do not advocate mayhem in Colombo. I’ve suggested a possible interpretation. Another could simply be wanting a solution as badly as wanting a 6-figure salary and an SUV. It obviously varies from individual to individual.

    David, I fail to see the distinction between 150,000 and 50,000 families in terms of arguing that war affects the Southern populous. Still, my argument is not that the South is more affected by the war than Colombo. That is Southern man’s understanding based on his own experiences. I can verify this only due to the fact that I have worked in the rural South. Yet, I do no prescribe to comparing the South with Colombo in a competition to see who is affected most. The issue lies elsewhere and this is with our lack of empathy towards the people of the North and East.

    Thank you for reading.

  23. A person i met today had a most interesting observation. This person went back to her village for the holidays. A village in the deep south. Apparently the forces have just stopped recruiting people in large numbers from the deep south. Even those interested in joining are dissuaded by the forces. Consequently, less funerals in the area and the cost of war is not felt as much. Might have something to do with the fact that the deep south is the voter base of some of the most influential politicians. Anecdotal evidence but interesting nonetheless.

  24. I suppose the term is ‘Spot On!’

  25. lived most of my life in the west, so not sure if this wud go down well with the colombo ppl. but dont forget the major channels are funded by the west and the main audience is the west too. so sorry guys, CNN and BBC is not really targeting u guys. so the big stories in the US and UK and europe will always overshadow ur stories. so if u guys want to drown in foreign media and feel sorry for whitey….that’s ur problem.
    as for sympathy for ppl dying in the north and east…i dont see wut difference that wud make. does colombo have the power to make a solution happen??????? hmm…dont think anyone does.

  26. imo most sri lankans are well aware what war is. their seeming indifference is a perfectly human reaction; war will last along time – life must go on. that is how ppl behaved in other wars in other places.

    ppl react more to such news as virgina tech massacre bc its unusualness and concentration. it is like air craft accidents. lot of coverage and reaction is generated to such accidents while more ppl die each hour from road accidents.

    may be you judge too quickly when you said
    ‘ethnic conflict will never cease unless the conflict comes to our own doorstep’.
    there is disconnect here. what actually makes you think war will cease if it ‘comes to colombo’ as you say?

    are you sure it will not intensify instead?
    may be some ppl here will realize that as long as a fascist organization rules part of the country there will not be peace anywhere. may be ppl will realize what it is like to live without rights, freedoms and justice as is the case with hundreds of thousands who live under ltte. may be some of those naive colombo peaceniks who advocate appeasement of terrorists to achieve ‘peace’ will realize the absurdity of their position..

    i don’t think ‘war coming to colombo’ as you say, it will make much difference bc imo most sri lankan know what war is. and ppl such as peaceniks and appeasers who do not know what it is ( and thus be affected by its coming to colombo) are small in number and completely out of touch with public (thus powerless in democracy ) in any case.

    nor will it make any difference in ltte . and as long as ltte remains what it is sustainable peace is impossible.

    so if war will ‘comes to colombo’ ppl will adapt and continue with the war in same intensity as now. imo that is the only way forward. so it is good ( yes good) that military has adapted a strategy of slow attrition of the ltte through small scale focused operations and other methods. they would not let it spread it wider if they can help it. ltte will explode a bomb or two once in a while when they can get past the security but that will be all .

    some comments were made about censorship, may i know of any war related incident that was not reported in local media from all angles including the ltte’s? you should discriminate between attempts (alleged or real) at censorship and actual censorship. as any visit to a newspaper stand will make clear, there isn’t any actual censorship. nor will an actual official censorship be effective here when they have failed here and elsewhere in the past.

    there is no need for a censorship argument to explain the seeming indifference of public to war. it is the natural human reaction.

  27. I appreciate the comment, sittingnut. Perhaps I have been too quick to judge. However, I look at other conflict driven countries and see the elite band of intellectuals taking a more active role in lobbying for the more affected groups. I presumed this sort of culture has been “numbed out” by a 24 year old vicious cycle, but should we let apathy set in? The reactions of Colombo dwellers to Katrina and the VT massacre demonstrates our willingness to empathize. It’s just that this precious sentiment is wasted on events that do not need our support. The North and East does.

    Thank you for reading.

  28. I agree with Five that conscription is a failed experiment that reached its zenith in the mid 20th century. Before that century, most if not all armies were volunteer. Even in the middle ages, the mass of foot soldiers were tenents on the property of aristocrats and military service (for a limited period) was part of that tenancy. Arguably conscription, but not really. By the end of the 1970s, most nations haad recognised the failure of conscription, and by the end of the ’80s it had almost totally been done away with, except as a dire last ditch necessity.

    Five, I am not forgetting the KIA, WIA, MIA. That was exactly my point. I’ve just checked, and the Army strength is currently 120,000 of which only about 40,000 or less are in combat roles. So if you argue that therefore 40,000 faamilies in the south are affected by the war, my question is, what’s the impact of 40,000 families on the psyche of the southern population? And remember, of that 40,000 less than 10% are likely to have their family member killed, wounded or missing. Maybe that answers Archangel’s question as well.

    As for bringing the war to Colombo, the war’s already been and gone. Don’t you remember 1996? Kolonnawa, Central Bank, Taj Samudra, the Dehiwela train bomb, all happened within a short period of time. Did it change anything?

  29. Dear ADD, how do you want us to be affected by war? by getting shelled every night, not have access to safe drinking water cause the pathway is mined tec? if that is what you desire, then no, we dont face it. But that does not make us uneffected. as i mentioned earlyer, being affected by a war can take different paths, and having your savings almost wiped out on the stock exchange because of a terrorist attack does qualify.

    And what do you want once the war does come to colombo? for us to get affected, get moving, lobby, shout, demand a change? lovely, except you forget the fact that we have tried? But we do not have the political numbers to do so. Look at the election results, this city has continously voted for peace. But our numbers are just not enough.

    P.S. this is also a cork city. Cork like, because no matter how many times people have tried to knock it down, we just keep on going. you may diss the non-commitality of this city mate, but’s just beacuse we wake up, put the past behind us, and go about our business, that we can still maintain a semblance of stability, economic and political in this country.

    Uf you want change, convince the south for that, not us,

  30. Quoting the song, Disco occasionally asks himself: “what are we fighting for?”

  31. @archangel
    I understand mandatory military service. lol. did you understand my point? maybe not. forcing anyone to put on a uniform or carry a gun against their will does not make them empathize with a situation. perhaps that dismissive tone works well with your dog or cat.

    you want the intellectuals of the country to do something. what exactly is it you wnat? demonstrate on lipton circus? vote for someone who promises peace? colombo has done both of those things but here we still are.

    I would remind you of the times that the ltte has broken ceasefires but why bother eh? one of the combatants allows dissent. the other doesn’t. almost by definition your as yet undeclared course of action will only have a negative impact on the combatant that allows dissent. call me a chauvinist if you wish. I’m done here.

  32. Ranil, I thought you would bother to read my post a little more carefully. Perhaps I need to reiterate that:
    “[n]o, I am certainly not asking you to wear sackcloth, weep and gnash your teeth in despair. However, I invite you to ponder upon the dynamics of our conflict and how we in Colombo, as we grow tired of the politics, choose to ignore its realities.”

    We do not need a bomb to go off every day for us to start lobbying for human rights violations to cease in the North and East. We do not need to go to Lipton circus for that either. You’re a lawyer, you know very well what lobbying and advocacy means. If the elite circles in Colombo did empathize a little more, may be Amnesty International wouldn’t have had to make a fool of itself to try and get its point across.

    How do you think China decided to open up to the world? US influence? No, it was the educated elite that chipped away for years and years. The same relentless commitment seen in the rice fields was seen in lobbying for change there. I see the same apathy seen in our paddy fields is replicated by Colombo’s elite. May be its a cultural thing.

    Five, mandatory military service for the educated elite wouldn’t require you to go to the battlefront. Don’t worry so much. The military is not just about picking up a gun and killing the badies. It’s an entire institution and educated personnel would not only come to terms with the realities of war but also the quality of the services provided by the military would drastically improve. Take Sweden for example.
    And please, this is a principle I’m talking about so don’t throw jargon back at me. Yes, I admit there will be serious problems in getting a mandatory military service implemented. But if it’s cynicism you want to demonstrate, there are other forums for that.

    Here’s my course of action: ADMIT THAT YOU ARE SITTING ON YOUR BUTT WASTING YOUR BRAINCELLS ON EXCUSES AND EXPLANATIONS.
    That’s a great place to start. May be then it will dawn on you that you are not completely useless in influencing policy makers.

    Thank you for reading.

  33. ADD what do you mean by our support for katrina victims has been demonstrated? Did we collect donations and send it off or post ‘don’t worry, time heals all’ cards to those folks in louisiana? If at all we spoke of it amongst ourselves in the context of expressing shock at the inability of the most powerful nation on earth to do a better job at natural disaster management.
    The V Tech support gorup of the little kids hobnobbing on facebook could merely be a manifestation of their support for people of the same age, and same social and possibly cultural groups suffering from a tragedy that today could take place anywhere in the world really. The group may have been started by a Sri Lankan kid in the States wanting to draw attention to an issue that is real and close to his heart.
    If you have a problem with that start your north east support group/ sri lanka war victim (thats all of us!) support group or just join one of the many that already exist. Different people express support and grief in different ways. You may possibly have to be more tolerant of the mannerisms of those who not within your elite band of intellectuals.

    The VT incident was shocking, I believe as or close to as shocking in a sense as war attrocities, but when compared with acts that have been continuing, replicating and spiralling for 20 odd years now and an isolated event perpetrated by a random psychotic, the VT incident would create somewhat of a larger knee-jerk emotional reaction if you will amongst the man on the street (on the clapham omnibus maybe?;) ). It would be similar in the case of large scale natural disasters… In the immediate aftermath of the Tsunami didnt you do you bit for days on end at some NGO or State agency to get help out? Why arent you doing it for the war victims? Then in contrast what did you and how much of it did you do for the Vakarai displaced? The Batti displaced? The Mannar displaced? IT’s just that as a tragedy and associated its victims and continuing incidents are mentioned more and more our minds get jaded and our ability sympathize appropriately irrationally leaves us. You see, it’s only human.

  34. Archangel – if Ranil is regarded as a overly Westernised ponaya by the masses what chances do the sort of people you talk about have?

    “May be then it will dawn on you that you are not completely useless in influencing policy makers.” As for influencing the policy makers – which ones pray tell? There’s three policy makers in this country and none of them give a shit about what any of us have to say.

    The kind of people you talk about lost this country at the last election and it belongs to someone else now. They wanted peace (at almost any cost) when there were bombs in Colombo and they want peace now (again at almost any cost) now. But they won’t get it because they have don’t have influence over the majority of the population.

    The only change you will see is if the SL Army starts losing battles or if something catastrophic happens to the economy.

  35. That’s hardly a tangent, bob. You make some good points in terms of explaining our lack of empathy. But now that you admit it, do you think it’s ok to continue this way?

    You’re right, anon. Let’s all roll over and play dead.

    Thank you for reading.

  36. by Ranil I mean Ranil W of course, not the guy who is commenting here 🙂

  37. @archangel
    will a desk job in uniform bring about the awareness that you opine is necessary?

    you want an example. how many wars has sweden fought recently? the greek army is outnumbered by the turkish. military service is also mandatory in greece.

    yet even those serving admit that the ingress of educated greek truck drivers, bottle washers and short order cooks and clerks does nothing to enhance the military.

    i presume you are also unaware that rubberbanding people in and out of the service (18-24 month tours) only stretches the training capacity of the military far beyond its existing infrastructure. to what end?

    don’t let the inconvenience of reality hamper your idealism ad principles though.

    worry about picking up a weapon? me? i wish more people would. but I will never force anyone else to don a uniform or pick up a weapon if they do not choose that life. unlike you, sir, i do not presume to impose my standard of behaviour on others – in principle or reality.

    i’ve done something about it in the past besides sitting on my butt. unfortunately i am no longer capable. what have you done? influence policy makers by writing on a blog?

  38. Five, my respect for you grows. You’re not a cynic like the rest of them, after all. Just a quitter.
    Here’s a dilemma, do I tell you what I’ve done, or plan to do to influence policy makers, and throw away the point of a pseudonym? Or do I let you think you’ve somehow managed to prove a point by asking this question? Frankly, you’re not that important.

    However, you make a valid point and I’m not one to deny the devil his due. Sweden was not a good example. And a desk job would be of no help. But for instance, a lawyer serving in the military for a minimum of two years may expose him to certain dynamics he would appreciate as empathy-building. This would apply to a doctor and a human resource expert too. The list goes on, but I’m sure you can find equally convincing examples to prove your point. I guess that’s why it’s called a debate.

    It is my opinion that mandatory military service will cause an anxiety that will lead to a desire to influence policy makers. If the educated elite gives up, we might as well call it a day…perhaps we should all emulate you.

    Thank you for reading.

  39. I was only attempting to clear things up for you as to how things work in the big bad world… my expectation of appreciation from your affected-teenager perspective seems to have been a mistake on my part.

    Some things in life, my child, are better left as is. You should expend your seemingly considerable talents on an area where you could truly achieve tangible change. It’s important that you make SMART decisions after all, is it not? 😉

  40. I heard that police powers are being handed over to the Sri Rajapakse brothers like a lot of elite Sri Lankans have dual citizenship…so if the plan fails they can get out. Heard police power is being handed over to the millitary. This discussion could become irelevant. Either people know all this and are afraid to speak about this…or the whole of colombo is sleeping. Or I am misinformed.

  41. If you think the educated elite are gonna get a nice cushy desk job when they’re drafted, Archangel, have another think. That may work in peace time, in Greece, Germany, South Korea etc, but not in wartime. Do you think the regular volunteer troups in the infantry battalions are gonna face the bullets while draftee Colombo RAMFs sit on their arses? You gotta be kidding. Besides, what job are you gonna give a CIMA grad for, instance? Fighting off the Tigers with a calculator? If you look at wartime draftees, the bulk of them serve as grunts.

  42. Dear ADD,

    You referenced the gradual, but relentless presurre applied on the government of china, by its citizens, as an example of why we in Colombo need to be affected, in order to be effective.

    I agree that it worked, to an extent, in China. However we, in SL, face a diferrent situation. whatever the rights and wrongs of this country, it is still a democracy, where people, and the vote, hold the ultimate say. this has worked against us.

    Yes we in Colombo can lobby, can protest, and often do. Do not underestimate the presurre that has been applied by interest groups, the business community, and the average individual, in asking for change. It is because of us that this country has not become a totally failed state, and the situation would have been a lot worse, were it not for the commitments taken by us.

    But with the vote, our lobbying, however vocal, and/or well based, will not be heeded by a political establishment that knows, and knows well, that however rich, or influential a person may be, he still has one vote. and a political establishment that know how to manipulate the large, poor and impressionable vote base, would ever pay heed to us, if it goes against there own designes.

    This is why the WAR must come to the south. People have spoken about the endless amount of monuments maintained down south to fallen soldiers. True. but what occurs in the south is the martyredom of the fallen and the glorificant of war. If they remain convinced in pinciple to the necessity of war, then dead bodies become only a necessary result for a noble cause.

    If you are to stop this madness, you have to convinve them that the principle of this war itself is wrong, and ironically, that would probably take a war itself to do so.

  43. David, I wasn’t I who stated that the educated elite would get desk jobs. My point was that we would NOT be necessarily limited to desk jobs and have furnished appropriate examples for this. Read the comments again.

    I’m sure you can provide a million implementation-related problems that would arise, but I stand for the principle. Besides, launching such an initiative may act as a motivation for people such as you and I to lobby for peace, since from the looks of it, there are some people out there who wouldn’t like the idea of getting their fingernails dirty.

    Let me be direct now, David. Would you join the military service if there was mandatory military service in your country? Or would you attempt to find yourself a nice little loophole? Please state reasons for your choice.

    Let’s really find out if Colombo’s elite think that their war needs to be fought by the lower classes.

    You complain about being victims of war. But what about the fact that you are also beneficiaries of a reasonably secure capital city? The “Regular Volunteer Troops” are just doing their job, I guess. The misfortune of being born poor, perhaps?

    Ranil, thanks for that well-articulated comment. Yes, perhaps the voter base in the South needs to empathize more. And for lasting peace, the question ultimately boils down to what the Southern constituency wants. One small addition though. I believe, however useless we feel when it comes to influencing policy makers, the responsibility which rests on our shoulders to act relentlessly must be appreciated. If the educated elite chipped away in an authoritarian China, in principle, it should be easier (though this may not be necessarily true in practice) to do so in a democratic Sri Lanka.

    Thank you for reading.

  44. ADD, wasnt david blacker in the army at some point to begin with … hes written a book on it

  45. Precisely why I asked him the question. I’ve read the book. I’m interested to know if he’s experience in Elephant Pass has something to offer this debate. I’m more than willing to be proven wrong in my insistence that mandatory military service would work. But a good enough reason in terms of refuting the principle (as opposed to the practicalities involved) has yet to be provided.

    The only valid point really has been the paradox pointed out by Niran in that it would probably take a very authoritarian regime to actually implement the system.

    Thank you for reading.

  46. I believe this is what you said, Archangel: “Five, mandatory military service for the educated elite wouldn’t require you to go to the battlefront. Don’t worry so much.”

    No one else brought this up.

    You can be damned sure that if the elite were drafted and there was no corruption or other string-pulling, you would bloody well go to the battlefront with the rest.

    “I’m sure you can provide a million implementation-related problems that would arise, but I stand for the principle. ”

    Principles are fine things, Archangel, especially when they don’t have to face up to reality. The reality is that post-WW2 wartime conscription has been a proven failure. It has mostly resulted in a drastic drop in quality of the army concerned, and as in the Falklands, Vietnam, and Afghanistan ended with defeat.

    “Besides, launching such an initiative may act as a motivation for people such as you and I to lobby for peace,”

    So you suggest that all the peace activists call for conscription? Good luck with that, even if you survive the media rape, you’ll never get it past the generals.

    “Let me be direct now, David. Would you join the military service if there was mandatory military service in your country?”

    I am a former soldier of the Sri Lanka Army. They didn’t have to conscript me. Does that answer your question?

    “You complain about being victims of war. But what about the fact that you are also beneficiaries of a reasonably secure capital city?”

    No one said Colombo citizens were victims of war. However, I agreed with a comment that Colombo faces the effects of war far more than say Matara.

    “The “Regular Volunteer Troops” are just doing their job, I guess. The misfortune of being born poor, perhaps?”

    The common volunteer soldier has always been from the working class, throughout the world, just as construction workers, truck drivers, farmers etc are also from that class. But if your point is that they are forced into the Army by poverty (one more cliche of our war), you’d be wrong.

  47. On desk jobs, here’s my response to Five:
    “However, you make a valid point and I’m not one to deny the devil his due. Sweden was not a good example. And a desk job would be of no help. But for instance, a lawyer serving in the military for a minimum of two years may expose him to certain dynamics he would appreciate as empathy-building. This would apply to a doctor and a human resource expert too. The list goes on, but I’m sure you can find equally convincing examples to prove your point. I guess that’s why it’s called a debate.”

    No you didn’t answer my question. You’re avoiding it all together. Would you join the army if required or find yourself a loophole?
    By your arrogant quip I assume you would join at the drop of a hat, seasoned veteran and all. So why be part of a system that is destined for failure? Why not do a Cassius Clay?
    (Now live up to my low expectations and tell me you wouldn’t want to break the law)

    So what do you suggest after all things considered? Just uphold the status quo? We’re fine as we are since Colombo dwellers can do no wrong? Please, enlighten me on what your opinion is in terms of Colombo’s approach to the war. Or is that irrelevant to the main point of my post (which incidentally had very little to do with mandatory military service…)

    Thank you for reading.

  48. ha ha. ADD has lost his cool! can i ask u if u’v got all inspired or something after visiting the war zones????? sounds like it. i think u’r words r fallin on a bunch of deaf ears!! the ppl who keep commenting on this blog sound a like a bunch of spoiled rich kids. and i think u probably are one too…just that u’v had a little revelation or sumthing. how touching.
    u guys need to realize that SL is two or three countries in one. since i’ve been home, its so obvious that ppl put the war in a little box and store it in a place no one can find. typical denial.
    david, since u’r the only one with a little experience here, what do u think we shud all do???????

  49. Disco Bob is often amused at the angst ridden rants that rend the blogosphere whenever the ethnic conflict comes up. The swift deterioration of the discussion to include apathy, militarism, peacenikism, anti-peacenikism, and possibly alcoholism is often hilarious, and Disco is somewhat disappointed that this argument hasn’t quite sparked into life yet. And so he has come to stir the pot.

    First: the response to the VT massacres in Colombo per se is not at all what Archangel makes it out to be. A handful of Hollywoodised teenyboppers may have jumped on the bandwagon, but Joe Colombo’s response thus far been quite sane. But Joe Colombo and the people Archangel blogs about (and to) are rather different. The generalisation is not always harmful, but it is always misleading: Colombo is not Colombo Seven, and Colombo’s response is not reflected on the Internet.

    This tendency to blindly equate Colombo with its ‘intellectual elite’ gives way to a further problem implicit in the initial post and many subsequent comments: the tendency to treat the ‘intellectual’ response as monolithic. Not every intellectual is a peacenik (think Wolfowitz); not every intellectual is ‘nice’ (think Pol Pot). An open invitation for the elites to agitate for change could result in the anything and everything from peacenik invasions of Lipton Circus to hatchet wielding mobs ethnically cleansing the streets. It’s unlikely that the intellectuals will get their hands physically dirty, but you can bet your nadgers they’d be behind the rabble.

    As for this whole childish babble about war having to come to the south for people to understand that war is pointless: what exactly are you suggesting? That if we suffer enough and get butchered enough, ‘Colombo’ would be happy to draft people into the military and then go all out and finish the damned thing once and for all, instead of fighting a war of attrition? Might ‘Colombo’ not be happier to package the North and East and hand it over, gift-wrapped and ribbon-bound, to Mr. Pirapaharan? Or is it pointless solidarity, condescending intellectual concern, misguided and misdirected agitation and/or facebook support groups that you’re after?

  50. “No you didn’t answer my question. You’re avoiding it all together. Would you join the army if required or find yourself a loophole?”

    I’m not avoiding it, and if yoou had even a modicum of perception, you’d have found the answer in my response. But since you need it spelled out, yes, if I were called up, I would go.

    “By your arrogant quip I assume you would join at the drop of a hat, seasoned veteran and all.”

    You’re quite good at the assumptions, aren’t you, Archie? And like most of your other assumptions, you’d be wrong. Again.

    “So why be part of a system that is destined for failure?”

    For the same reasons you’re part of that same failure, Archie. Why do you pay taxes to a regime that is corrupt and is destined to misuse those monies? Why do you blog when it’s obvious that these blogs can do nothing to change the course of events?

    “Now live up to my low expectations and tell me you wouldn’t want to break the law”

    Your expectations are indeed low, my friend.

    “We’re fine as we are since Colombo dwellers can do no wrong? Please, enlighten me on what your opinion is in terms of Colombo’s approach to the war. ”

    You tell me, Archie. You’re the expert with the blog. Do you really think Colombo dwellers can do no wrong — or is that more of your pointless rhetoric?

    “Or is that irrelevant to the main point of my post (which incidentally had very little to do with mandatory military service…)”

    I’m not too sure what the main point of your post was, Archie, since the war’s been to Colombo many times with no change to the overall situ. Or are you too young to remember? But you practically end your post with “Personally, I believe mandatory military service may do the trick.” To which I responded. If you’ve changed your mind, at least something would’ve bee achieved here.

    “david, since u’r the only one with a little experience here, what do u think we shud all do???????”

    About what, Isabell?

  51. David having, I gather some experience, may disagree…but the war is just the symptom. Of course, that doesn’t provide an excuse for not having a ceasefire. After all ahem….people are dying and it is an important short term measure.

    But there are so many other things that have to be addressed. And Im sure it must be pretty obvious to everyone.

  52. I’ve just read some of the comments and wish to make a few points.

    Firstly, when some on this post say that the war has indeed come to Colombo, I hope they approach this with some perspective. The issue is not whether the effects of the war have impacted on Colombo, nor is it whether the manifestations of war have on rare occasions escaped the theatre of the NorthEast. The issue is whether the war and human suffering really impacts deeply on the psyche of the people in Colombo. Has the war really affected people’s lives on a day to day level. I’m sure there are a few who live with the scars of a few incidents, but in general the populace has been insulated from the realities of war. Of course the effects of war have impacted on Colombo, in the same way that the so called war on terror came to Manhattan and to Spain and to London. The effects of the Iraqi war have had an impact on people all over the globe, but I doubt that this type of effect is not what ADD meant.

    Having been one of the first to comment on mandatory military service I fear I must take some of the responsibility for this degenerating into a debate over the practicalities of the implementation of a scheme on those lines. This was unfortunate because that was not the point. That’s clearly one for the policy makers to figure out and the military higher ups. I know of one who did support the move a few years ago and heard him defend his position in a private context, although he is said to have made these views in public as well. I did not intend to make the point that such a scheme would be a viable practical option, but rather that such a scheme would bring the war to Colombo in a manner different to how it has impacted Colombo to date. It’s not a policy I’d implement, but unless the violence really hits Colombo this is the only way the people of this city would be sensitized to the problem as a problem of their own. This does not mean that the war must come to Colombo, rather that the status quo will continue as long as it does not. There is no good way for the war to come to Colombo, but the reality that nothing will change as long as it does not is itself an indictment of ‘Colombo’ society.

    But what has happened because the people of Colombo have been insulated is that the moderate thinking that is prevalent among th elites does not translate into public policy making. I’m a strong believer that people follow leaders, even in a democracy. The presence of a strong, genuine moderate leader would definitely have seen the conflict been played out differently and could have resulted in a different attitude towards the conflict among in the South(not the Southern Province but the Sinhala people) I’ve met many fine minds and good moderate gentlemen from Colombo, who because they see the war as an effect to be avoided as opposed to a personal problem to fix, either pretend that the problem does not exist or pretend that nothing can be done. Of course one person will not change anything, but a community that is more sensitized to the problems in the rest of the country will churn out leaders who will direct the rest of the country to take these problems more seriously. But the Colombo elite has not produced this type of leader because the Colombo elite is not interested in taking the lead. Their intellectual energies are thus diverted to how best to prevent the next Columbine. This is surely not good, and may have been the point that ADD was making in his post.

  53. Shit, the grammar there is all over the place. Was too distracted by the Ozzie demolition of SA to pat enough attention to how the idea were presented. The idea themselves were given some thought.

  54. *pay enough attention to how the ideaS were presented. Awful.

  55. This comment section is quite long, so I have to apologise if Im making a point already made.

    I realise, that most of you are from Colombo. There is almost an implication that Colombo can somehow provide the solution. If you think this, you are falling into the trap that previous generations have fallen into.

    People not directly affected by the war need to consider what motives they have for wanting the war to end. Is it just because we want our shares to go up, or our businesses and tourism to thrive, or to be able to jog safely through Galle Face green etc. or are we genuinely concerned about the lives being lost due to this war.

    The problem is systemic, as I pointed out just earlier, war is a symptom of something deeper. The uncomfortable truth is we are the elite, and we have taken this for granted. You can appear smug and satisfied that you are more moderate or more informed than those in other regions, but the fact remains, our society overall based not just in Colombo is structured inequitably. Due to the availability of jobs, Colombo probably has a greater concentration of elites.

    What can we do? A democratic system is one where the people are informed and consulted. The better informed people (in this case the elite), need to interact and engage with the less informed.

    With our hierarchichal society, can anyone imagine that happening easily?

  56. Disco, thanks for the comment. I agree my post was a departure from the usual manner in which I present my case but my intention was to involve a wider cross-section of the Colombo blogging community by doing so. I see I have succeeded, so I apologize if I disappointed you in the process.

    My point is one of empathy and I believe in its power. I merely pointed out the need for Colombo to empathize more with the North and East. The empathy itself may be brought on by a number of means, one of which I referred to as mandatory military service.

    David, it’s curious that in your little point by point rebuttal of my comments (which is reminiscent of some school day debate), you conveniently left out the part where I said “But that’s a different debate altogether”.
    My post is about people like you who find excuses for their lack of empathy for others who face this war as a matter of daily concern. Military service is an ancillary opinion I put in in terms of a possible vehicle through which this may be achieved.
    Now that others have caught on, perhaps you should join the real debate.

    Isabel, I’m not sure he wants to answer your question so don’t pressurize him.

    Niran, thank you indeed for articulating my point much better than I had in my original post. Do not worry about the minor spelling errors. We are all deeply affected by the cricket match. Your comment is greatly appreciated.

    Thank you for reading.

  57. Archangel, Disco Bob isn’t really disappointed by the tone of your post. Anything that lends itself to egregious DiscomBobulation is right up his street. But what he would prefer to see, given that you are an intelligent and articulate celestial lackey, is a proposal more worthwhile than a mere call to empathy.

    Niran comments that a society more in tune with the situation will turn out leaders capable of directing us towards a solution. Perhaps he’s right. But given the responses to this post, it’s clear that some people are willing to grapple with the problem without the war having to come to Colombo (more than it already has).

    In this respect, the deterioration of the conversation to deal with conscription is not necessarily a bad thing. The ancillary point is far more constructive than the primary one. A call for empathy may result in “everyone [becoming] united in mawkishness and sloppiness and false sentiment”. But a solid proposal or an argument will get everyone thinking.

  58. That’s a good point. May be an event or the introduction of a system merely as a means for empathy building, would be insufficient in the long term.
    So I’ll concede. The military service argument may be the only debate worth having here in terms of long term impact.

    However, I stand by the observation that Colombo lacks empathy for the North and East. No one has questioned the validity of this observation directly.

    David, I apologize. The truth is I may not know enough about the implementation of a system of conscription, thus I argued on principle alone. I hope Disco or Niran will aid me in this regard. Since I do not know you personally, I might as well explicitly state that the banter was obviously friendly and not to be taken too seriously.

    Thank you for reading.

  59. shud we be taking up arms?…hmm. i think as long as the war is kept caged in NE and only rarely comes to the city…ppl will feel that its someone else’s war. the idea of havin to put on a uniform and riskin death freaks the holy ghost out of me. i hope the war doesnt come to a situation where u folks hav to really face that! but i suppose if ppl start freakin out and think this is a real possibility….they wud view things a little differently! am i makin any sense!??!
    btw, ranil….so nice to see u back on the game! and u’r a lawyer??????? hmm..i saw that coming a mile away. 😉

  60. “My post is about people like you who find excuses for their lack of empathy for others who face this war as a matter of daily concern”

    Again, you’re assuming that I have no empathy for people who face this war on a daily basis. Do you have any foundation for this inaccurate assumption? Having myself faced war on a daily basis in the past, I can only imagine that this assumption comes out of your inability to even understand what war is like. The fact that you wish the war to “come to Colombo” bringing even more suffering to people, reinforces the silliness of your post. Your broad generalisations, articulated in comments like “people like you” and “it is obvious that we Colombo dwellers are more Western than in fact Sri Lankan” cripples your analysis of the situ.

    If military conscription is a different debate altogether, why bring it up as a possible solution in this debate? At least stand by your comment and defend it, or admit you were wrong; don’t cop out by saying it’s irrelevant. A solution to the war cannot be brought about by military conscription. Can we move on now?

    “David, it’s curious that in your little point by point rebuttal of my comments (which is reminiscent of some school day debate”

    Ok, I understand that you prefer to debate broad generalisations rather than inconvenient details, but sadly it’s those little inconvenient details that contribute to making your theory faulty.

    “David having, I gather some experience, may disagree…but the war is just the symptom.”

    Actually, I agree.

    “Firstly, when some on this post say that the war has indeed come to Colombo, I hope they approach this with some perspective. The issue is not whether the effects of the war have impacted on Colombo, nor is it whether the manifestations of war have on rare occasions escaped the theatre of the NorthEast. The issue is whether the war and human suffering really impacts deeply on the psyche of the people in Colombo. Has the war really affected people’s lives on a day to day level. ”

    Speaking for myself, Niran, I don’t think the war impacts the life of Colombo citizens even remotely as much as it does people in the NE or in the border areas, but my point was that the awareness of the war is more acute in Colombo (because we see the high levels of security, the regular assassinations, etc) than in the deep south.

  61. I see you’ve got quite excited, David. Relax. Conscription was not my solution to the war. It was my solution to building empathy amongst people in Colombo. You haven’t addressed this issue at all. You merely assumed (something you yourself seem to despise when others do) that I was trying to solve the war through the introduction of a mandatory military service. No, I never said that. I referred to it as a possible means to ensure that Colombo dwellers are physically affected by the war. It was you who took this out of context and analyzed conscription as a solution to the war. Now THAT is indeed a different debate altogether.

    But like I said, David. I apologize. This debate has already been brought up on this blog and I shall no longer try to recontextualize it by reference to my original intentions. You may very well continue with your arguments uninterrupted.

    Thank you for reading.

  62. isabell…asked David, what shold we do? David replied: about what?

    Could Isabell explain?

  63. “…but my point was that the awareness of the war is more acute in Colombo (because we see the high levels of security, the regular assassinations, etc) than in the deep south.”

    May be so David, but the sad fact is that Colombo has the moderates and the climate of tolerance within it to effect change for the better. The problem is that Colombo is not sensitised enough. I think the South is demonstrating an inability to deal with the issues moderately and without subscribing to ethno nationalist values. So whether Colombo or Matara has suffered more is irrelevant. The issue is whether Colombo has suffered enough? Or does it need to suffer in order to effect change?

    Your diversions on the details regarding conscription and the quantum of suffering due to war of Matara and Colombo on a relative scale are welcome, but they miss the main point. Perhaps this lack of focus and propensity to be distracted by interesting, yet irrelevant data is what ADD was complaining about in the first place when he bemoaned the kind of unusual interest displayed by ‘Colomboites’ in killings in America when domestic realities were being ignored.

  64. I don’t think many people are disputing that people in Colombo are not as sensitised to the war as those directly affected by it.

    Discussions about even the killings in America are simply discussions. I don’t think anyone in Colombo has decided to help the Americans to deal with this. Furthermore, the large number of comments here and some of the other blogs when the war in Sri Lanka or the ethnic issue is discussed, demonstrates that people are concerned about this issue. They probably don’t know what to do no.

  65. Archangel, apology accepted, but blog posts rarely excite me, though they often amuse me. My point is that conscription is unlikely to build empathy amongst the Colombo crowd. It’ll more likely to be seen as an ineffectual tactic that will cause disaffection with the ruling party rather than empathy with the victims of war. During the Vietnam War, the most empathy shown toward the Vietnamese were by the Americans least affected by conscription. There are other ways to get the Colombo citizenry to feel the pain of war, but conscription isn’t one of them.

    “but the sad fact is that Colombo has the moderates and the climate of tolerance within it to effect change for the better”

    Not too sure this is true in the context of the war. As someone pointed out already, Colombo has fairly consistently voted for governments that were more moderate and tolerant to the minorities, but to no avail. The nation as a whole has to show that it wants the war to end. I see very little sign that Colombo has ever had the ability to influence change in the GoSL.

    And I also saw very little unusual interest in Virginia Tech outside the media and the blogs. Even on the blogs, there was relaatively little discussion.

  66. “the sad fact is that Colombo has the moderates and the climate of tolerance within it to effect change for the better. The problem is that Colombo is not sensitised enough. I think the South is demonstrating an inability to deal with the issues moderately and without subscribing to ethno nationalist values.”

    Niran, we cannot just dismiss the people in the South. By doing so we are making the mistake that caused the war in the North-East in the first place. I mentioned before, that you have to accept that Sri lanka is a sort of democracy where people from all parts of the country should be involved. As David mentioned above, this assumption that Colombo is able to steer the whole country away from disaster simply by influencing the government is, I think unrealistic.

  67. “There are other ways to get the Colombo citizenry to feel the pain of war, but conscription isn’t one of them.”

    What methods do you envisage David Blacker?

    “It’ll more likely to be seen as an ineffectual tactic that will cause disaffection with the ruling party rather than empathy with the victims of war.”

    But the historical evidence, especially of the Vietnam war suggests that this dissatisfaction manifests as a protest against the war. That’s the whole point.

    “Colombo has fairly consistently voted for governments that were more moderate and tolerant to the minorities, but to no avail.”

    That;s not the point. Democracy is more than mere voting, it is facilitation of a melting pot of ideas, and the idea of moderation and tolerance flourishes among Colombo society. But it does not translate into public policy making. That’s the problem.

    “And I also saw very little unusual interest in Virginia Tech outside the media and the blogs.”

    Almost as much attention that is generated among the same blogs regarding problems like starvation, malnutrition and deprivation in the North and the East. That’s the point.

    “I mentioned before, that you have to accept that Sri lanka is a sort of democracy where people from all parts of the country should be involved. As David mentioned above, this assumption that Colombo is able to steer the whole country away from disaster simply by influencing the government is, I think unrealistic.”

    Colombo must take the lead. To pretend that the multicultural, multi ethnic, moderate Colombo can do nothing other than vote periodically for peace supporting candidates is just myopic. There’s more to democracy than just exercising your franchise.

  68. Drawing from David’s last comment as well as a comment made earlier by ranil, an important concern crossed my mind.

    Over the past 50 years, Sinhalese politics have been more or less governed by the speculative consensus of the Southern polity. The Sinhala only Act, the Indo-Lanka accord, the Executive Presidency all of which have led to the aggravation of the present crisis have been reactions of ruling parties to what they perceived as the will of the South. This has been a great hindrance to finding a long term solution to the ethnic conflict.

    The vicious cycle is such: since the number one priority of ruling political parties has been the sustenance of power and reelection, the speculative will of the largest voter base has always remained a governing factor. The most influential constituency in this country comes from the South and this is not a disputable fact. The priorities of the Southern polity lies clearly elsewhere as opposed to solving the war in the North and East. Issues of poverty and unemployment clearly overshadow that of the ethnic conflict. Thus, as past regimes have demonstrated, the ruling party caters its agenda to suit these priorities with the intention of securing the short term goal of ensuring another term in office.

    It would be interesting to ponder upon the approach Colombo must take in response to this grim reality.

    Thank you for reading.

  69. “To pretend that the multicultural, multi ethnic, moderate Colombo can do nothing other than vote periodically for peace supporting candidates is just myopic. There’s more to democracy than just exercising your franchise.”

    Niran, I agree. I was concerned the following statement I made sounded cynical:
    “this assumption that Colombo is able to steer the whole country away from disaster simply by influencing the government is, I think unrealistic.”

    I think firstly, in someways,archangel is right. While people are concerned about the war, for effective change, people in Colombo should to an extent try and understand and empathise with those who are victims in the North East, as originally suggested by this Arch. To do this, they have to be informed about the situation..not just in terms of body counts, and a inventory of the arsenals of respective combatants, but the actual stories or groundviews of civilians affected by the war, in the same way as the world was exposed to the emotions of the victims in Virginia. With press freedom being curtailed, this is not easy. A number of journalists in the North have been killed. Furthermore, communication between the North and the South has been deliberately curtailed.

    People in Colombo are human like anywhere else, and I think human decency will prevail, if they are better informed, not just about politics and millitary tactics. This is why they may have been able to relate to the individuals in Virginia not just as a statistic. We know the stories of the Professors and the students and even the perpetrator was portrayed in a human light.

    I am sure Colombo can effect a short-term cessation of hostilities by influencing the government and it is important they do so asap to avert the humnitarian crisis. But to effect a long-term change, the general population has to be informed and educated and made to feel included in the process. The people in Colombo certainly have the most amount of resources to try and effect this change.

    I would like to suggest that if the issues of poverty and unemployement in the South were also addressed, this war would have taken a different direction.

    Meanwhile, for those who don’t know what to do, creating a facebook group to display solidarity against the massacre of those who are dying in the North and the East as Archangel is an easy way to start and be part of the process of change. Can’t see it doing any harm at least.

    “It would be interesting to ponder upon the approach Colombo must take in response to this grim reality.”

    Yes indeed. Maybe it could be your next post?

  70. Why cant we try to presurreize the media into showing what the real situ is like in the NE? Idealistic it may be, but nothing can beat the effect a stream of visuals would have on the minds of the local psyche.

    Look at the effect the war in iraq is hoving on the minds of the averahe American. The fact that it can become so unpopuler in a country that actually claoumoured for it, is purely the effect of seeing what the average GI/civilian is going through there. And while people might still support it there, no doubt, there has been a gradual change in the populace regarding the necissity for it

    After 20 years of war, what do we know about what the day to day life of a average civilian, soldier etc is like there? We have been fed on a diet of propaganda for the last 2 decades, and while colombo has become cynical and immune to it, society in general has not. Furthermore, while we might have become immune/cynical, such emotions have not galvanised us into action.

  71. Ranil,
    the point you make is a valid one and as you said it is idealistic and some may believe even ridiculous considering the transparency of the war here in Sri Lanka.
    Unlike the Iraq war or invasion (which ever one you prefer) the war in Sri Lanka continues behind closed doors. It’s not as easy as you may like to think to report on issues concerning soldiers and families affected by the war when most effected parts are closed to the media and the public (and in most occasions for their personal safety).
    However, having said that, if you do delve a little bit deeper into the subject, you may find that there are sectors of the media that have strived to get such issues across to the public.
    I remember reading a story on life in Batticaloa by a journalist in the Sunday Times. Having traveled to Batti she followed a few families and learnt about the different hardships of day to day life amongst kidnappings, bombings and extortion.
    Apart from that stories on life in Vakarai and other parts of the NE have been highlighted in the media.
    Maybe some may feel that a few stories on the subject are not adequate in bringing such a sensitive subject to life, but when considering the difficulty in gaining authorization to travel to war-torn areas, it is almost all you can expect.
    Unlike the Iraq and Afghanistan war, journalists do not gain access to film or write on soldiers and life in the camps as the government says it may compromise strategies and divulge to much information to the enemy. Journalists are not given authorization to travel with a group of soldiers or report from inside a army bunker as you may see the BBC/CNN corespondents do in Iraq.
    Some may argue that the government’s lack of transparency is purely based on giving as least amount of information to the LTTE as possible, but it is this ambiguity that may have caused the ignorance found in people of Colombo and other ‘less affected’ parts.

  72. considering that journalists in sri lanka are mainly made up of kids barely out of school with little training in their craft, these restrictions are not a surprise. once the media proves itself to be responsible let it make demands. unfortunately in todays world, responsible media is an oxymoron

  73. That’s a ridiculous excuse, Media-watch. You’re understanding of the media is somewhat prohibitive. I completely agree with both Ranil and Ares and I am more than willing to consider lobbying for a more hard line, informative media as a respectable means for building empathy. More on this a little later.

    Thank you for reading.

  74. “What methods do you envisage David Blacker?”

    Well, any situation that would affect the day to day lives of Colombo citizens, would bring forth a reaction. However, it seems unethical and callous to hope for such a situation as it means hoping that more civilians will suffer.

    “But the historical evidence, especially of the Vietnam war suggests that this dissatisfaction manifests as a protest against the war. That’s the whole point.”

    It might, Niran, but not necessarily. There were many reasons for the high visibility protests that were carried out during the Vietnam War. There was a general anti-war culture throughout the western world in the ’60s, there was a very strong anti-Vietnam stance by a largely left-leaning media. None of these was a result of conscription. SL media has been cowed by the GoSL, and the general population doesn’t have the anti-war attitude that ’60s America had.

    “Look at the effect the war in iraq is hoving on the minds of the averahe American. The fact that it can become so unpopuler in a country that actually claoumoured for it, is purely the effect of seeing what the average GI/civilian is going through there”

    The war is far from unpopular with the average American, Ranil. Most polls show that the majority of Americans support the war. What they do empathise with is the US GI, not the Iraqi civilians. Any disaffection is with US military policy and execution in Iraq, not with the war itself, which most see as necessary. Present daay US media is divided in its attitude to the war, unlike in the ’60s.

    “That;s not the point. Democracy is more than mere voting, it is facilitation of a melting pot of ideas, and the idea of moderation and tolerance flourishes among Colombo society. But it does not translate into public policy making. That’s the problem.”

    And it never has. It didn’t change GoSL policy to tsunami rehabilitation, it hasn’t forced the GoSL to investigate abductions, it hasn’t pressed the GoSL to tighten up on HR violations. In fact, as I said, there’s never been evidence that Colombo has ever been able to influence policy. So why will it start now?

    The fact is, unlike in the US or Europe, national leaders haven’t sprung from the urban elite, but from the rural masses (or aat least projected themselves as such). Therefore pressure by Colombo to change policies that are not unpopular in the rural areas will be seen by the majority as tactics of the rich elite, and not in the national interest. For policy to change, the masses must want change. A small minority cannot do that in a democratic society, unless they have control of a vital asset. Which is why I said, in spite of Colombo’s higher awareness and empathy with the NE’s suffering, it will be of no use without similar awareness and empathy in the south.

    “Almost as much attention that is generated among the same blogs regarding problems like starvation, malnutrition and deprivation in the North and the East. That’s the point.”

    OK, take a blog like Indi. Now look at the number of comments on a post about the war or government. I’ve seen many top 50, and some over a 100. He blogged about Virginia Tech and got all of a dozen comments. The interest in the NE is far higher than in VT.

    “Colombo must take the lead. ”

    As I said, Colombo has never led. Colombo’s traditionally been the saddle rather than the rider on the horse. If you want Colombo to lead (and if they want to), you have to put forward practical ways to do it.Saying because we’re Colombo therefore we must lead won’t cut it.

    And as Archie’s pointed out, the war isn’t top of mind for the majority of Sri Lankans. Economic issues are. Mahinda was voted in for his economic policies, not his military ones. Colombo dwellers may know that the country’s economy is impacted by the war, but for the rural folk, it isn’t as clear.

    Anon, Colombo is probably has the most empathy for the civilian population of the NE than any other segment of society outside the NE. Doing things like a facebook is all very well, but it’ll have no impact on the GoSL, which is aware that SL has only 250,000 internet users, the majority in Colombo. They don’t care.

    You have to talk to the rural masses where the only empathy is for the military who arte seeen as doing a difficult job under pressure from an unpatriotic media. Most rural folk would call for more media restrictions rather than less, for example.

  75. Dear David,

    On the comment regarding the popularity in America regarding the war in iraq, the question as to whether the “majority” is still in favour, is disputable, solely for the reason that conflicting reports appear on the media. What has been a constant though, is the ‘falling’ popularity rating of the war. It is not as populer as it was maybe 2 years ago, is, i hope, something we can all agree upon.

    The reasons for this decline, could be due to the empathy shown to the US GI, and not to the average iraqi civilian. What what is important to note, in SRi Lanka’s context, that empathy with any party, to the extent that is makes you disagreeable to th continuation of war, is welcome. After all, it is a start on which a proper peace package can be built. What we have now, is a complete lack of empathy, with ‘any’ party. The boys in the north are defending us, the Tigers are bad. Fuck the civilians,…. all these seem to have been quitly accepted by us. In such a situation, you have to admit, a change, even if it is partial, is welcome.

    As to the comment made prviously by Ares, i agree, there are huge logistical, legal, and self imposed barriers, to an effective reporting on this matter. But policy is made in colombo, and the majority of the media is based in colombo too. It is not unfeasibile for us to clamour for a change in the system that actually allows us to be better informed.

    Finally, on an interesting point brought up by David on the social conditions prevalent for a conducive ‘Anti-War’ ethos during ’60’s America, the dynamics of the generation have been argued about for quite a while now, with no proper reason, or no one tangible reason, being attached to it.

    Having said that, i personally feel that, historically, there are instances that gradually lead up to a situation where, if on act of distate were to occur that would affect the general populace, there are better prepared, and more willing to protest against it.i.e. the ’60’s culture was conducive to an ‘Anti-War feeling, as opposed to the War giving rise to the ’60’s culture…i hope i made sense.

    But there are possibilities that, while the culture now can not be conducive to any such propest of such magnitude being taken, it is possible that, with a growth in awareness, we CAN create such a culture. At the end of the day, it is paramount that someone takes a step, however radical, in trying to mobilise the masses, for a peaceful solution…

  76. “As I said, Colombo has never led. Colombo’s traditionally been the saddle rather than the rider on the horse. If you want Colombo to lead (and if they want to), you have to put forward practical ways to do it.Saying because we’re Colombo therefore we must lead won’t cut it.”

    I don’t think that’s true. Chelva and Banda were voted in from electorates outside Colombo, but they were at heart Colomboites. Both studied at S. Thomas’s, were born into the same faith, both were descended from upper caste Tamil nobility, they probably frequented the same kinds of social events, lived in Colombo 07 and were very anglicized lawyers. Not too much of a surprise that they are the ones who came closest solving the ethnic problem. Of course they failed, one made a huge strategic blunder and lacked balls. That screwed up the whole thing and fueled the flames.

    Of course Colombo has failed. That’s not in dispute. But I doubt that the status quo can never change. I’m just speculating that desensitization may be the cause for it to never even try. This is not some kind of policy debate that you approach with a clear and definite plan of what you want to do. We like to discuss things here, think through issues and hopefully one or two ideas will emerge, like the one presented by Ranil which seems a very good one. This is not an election platform you know.

  77. Niran, correction on Chelva. (Probably irrelevant to discussion.) He never owned property in Colombo. He lived in a rented house in Alfred House Gardens, Colombo 3 when he was a parlimentarian till he died. Owned property in Jaffna. Was a Thomian only when doing his matriculation and probably was in the boarding because his entire nuclear and extended family lived in Jaffna. Think he studied at St. John’s College in Jaffna before that (Thomians and Royalists like to claim credit for everything!!). Banda lived in Rosmead place, Colombo 7. Can check up more facts on him too if you like. Know someone who knows both families well…you know how it is with Sri Lankans. 🙂 Especially people from Colombo. 🙂

  78. By the way Banda became a Buddhist. So did Kadirgamar. Story of Sri lankan politics.

  79. Anon, I think the only error there was to say he lived in Colombo 07. But Alfred House Gardens is as Colombo 07 as it gets no. I think the rented house attests to the simplicity of the man, which has been seen in the next generation also. I think Chelvanayakam practiced in Colombo as well. He did his early education at Union College actually. But once a Thomian, always a Thomian! He also taught for a brief time at College. Apparently Chelva and Banda were class mates and Thomian lore has it that they were on the same debate team! Any visit to the College archives will be able to verify this.

    You’re right though, this is largely irrelevant.

    JR also unethically converted, but apparently had hymns sung for him at his death bed.

  80. David, my suggestion about facebook is for some who may not be
    brave or feel inadequate about lobbying media, politicians etc. Every little contribution is better than apathy. A teenager from Colombo surfing the net and finding it, could be a Judge or defence secretary in the future. It is important to work towards changing the mindset of a wide cross section of the population for now and the future.

    “The fact is, unlike in the US or Europe, national leaders haven’t sprung from the urban elite, but from the rural masses (or at least projected themselves as such).”
    Bill Clinton came from Arkansas, blue collar family. Bush comes from the elite but projects himself as average Jo from Texas.

    I would like to reiterate, the dismissal of people’s contributions or opinions from the rural areas, or even southern cities such as Matara and Galle is disturbing and patronising.

    Ranil’s point should be considered:
    “while the culture now can not be conducive to any such propest of such magnitude being taken, it is possible that, with a growth in awareness, we CAN create such a culture. At the end of the day, it is paramount that someone takes a step, however radical, in trying to mobilise the masses, for a peaceful solution…”

    As I have said before, in addition to lobbying the government, people in Colombo which is resourced better than most other areas, should look to utilising these resources to inform and influence people in other areas.

    The dismissal and lack of resourcing of people in the North and East is one of the factors that lead to unrest in the North/East. You also need to make sure you don’t have another war or insurgency on your hands in the South.

    Finally, one thing that has struck me about the Americans during the Vietnam War is the fact that many soldiers joined the protesters. (Think there was a movie with Tom Cruise in it?) I am not aware of much of that sort of thing happening in Sri lanka. It comes down to I suppose, freedom to report, freedom to protest etc.

  81. Ranil, of course the backing for the war in Iraq has fallen over the past two years. Support for war inevitably weakens the longer the conflict continues. That’s inevitable. However, even the most optimistic of doves accept that at least half of the US supports the war in principle. And that’s the rub. A lot of the anti-war sentiment in the US springs from the lack of perceived strategy by the US government. In the ’60s it was more of a rejection of war per se.

    So while in the US the empathy felt for the GI translates into an anti-war sentiment because it is perceived that the GI is hard done by, whereas here that empathy for the soldier (and it certainly exists outside Colombo) translates into support for the war. Therefore “some” empathy is useless here because some empathy exists. What is needed is empathy for the Tamils by the people who make up the GoSL’s power base.

    Mobilising the masses is necessary, as you’ve said, Ranil, but there has to be a clear and evocative message for them to rally around. There was a similar discussion on Moju earlier this year which came out of a call by some bloggers to organise protests. It fizzled out because such a rallying point could not be found.

    Niran, I said that national leaders were people who either were or projected themselves to be from the Sinhalese power base, not that they invariably were. Perception is everything. It was one of the reasons Ranil lost the confidence of the rural masses. Saying Banda came close to solving the ethnic issue is highly inaccurate, since his policies probably were one of the root causes for the conflict.

    You cannot apply pressure to the GoSL unless you can select the right pressure points. Two of those are the voter base and the economy.

    “Bill Clinton came from Arkansas, blue collar family. Bush comes from the elite but projects himself as average Jo from Texas.”

    Ok, maybe my examples were not the best, but my point is that there’s a clear cut difference between the SL elite and the masses which is geographical and maybe cultural. That isn’t so in the US.

    “Finally, one thing that has struck me about the Americans during the Vietnam War is the fact that many soldiers joined the protesters”

    Many did, and they have achieved a position in the spotlight far in excess of their proportionate representation (sort of like the ones who suffered from PTSD). The vast majority of Vietnam vets did not protest the war on their return, but got on with life, regardless of their views.

  82. I see this debate has taken an interesting twist. Leaving conscription aside, yes, I would have to agree that a more informative media will take Colombo further in terms of empathizing with a number of stakeholders in this war.

    The question is whether this is a feasible option. I would have to ask, how much does Colombo value accurate and uncensored reporting? I’m not entirely sure this is much of a priority in the eyes of Colombo dwellers. One more aspect we seem to be apathetic about is media freedom. The reports we read on events in the North and East are so contradictory that one wonders as to what proportions of truth is being sacrificed in each report. So in the present climate, propaganda blinds us to the realities of war. We must therefore place a free and uncensored media as one of the topmost priorities within our interests. Even if this does not include sensitive security information, the media if not circumvented, may be an invaluable tool in bringing the lives and the nature of the hardships of those in the North and East to our attention.

    Thank you for reading.

  83. But the point is that with the widescale restriction of civil liberties and space for dissent, it’s not easy for the media to be objective, even if the journos themselves actually do care. maybe that’s where bloggers come in handy??

    But David, it’s not only just having a motley crew rally round a cause and protesting something. That’s never going to happen. But is a kind of subversive undercurrent of dissatisfaction with war possible? And can it be projected to the masses. I don’t know. I sure wish so.

    I agreed as much with your observation about the fact that SWRD’s policies had a catastrophic effect on the country. The point however is that he actually did make a deal with Chelva that would have nipped it in the bud. We all know what happened, JR marched with the monks and the rest is history.

  84. Have a look at this example of American school children empathising with Iraqis:
    Letter From an American History Teacher Sunday 25 March 2007
    http://afamilyinbaghdad.blogspot.com/
    It describes the reaction of American school kids after they watched a documentary made by American musician Michael Franti (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Franti). There are documnetaries made for example about the A9 Highway in Sri Lanka and it is interesting to know how many people in Sri Lanka have watched some of them.

    Also, the blog in which this account was posted is by an Iraqi mother and also has links to blogs by her sons. I think in the Sri Lankan context, blogs can at least play a role in mobilising the elite in Colombo who have access to the internet. It also raises awareness in the global community which can play a key role in pressurising the government on issues regarding freedom of Press. The current government values International opinion. The Tsunami in particular has brought Sri Lanka into focus in the international media.

    Different prongs should be used to target different cross sections of the population, which would mean the use of different types of media.

  85. Well, even a subversive undercurrent must have a clear message if you are going to convince a population that doesn’t care or actively supports the war. What is that message? War is bad?Everyone knows that. But if you want people to reject war, you need to give them an acceptable alternative. CFA’s no longer have much power in the people’s eyes, so saying let’s first stop fighting and then decide what to do won’t really work.

    Frankly, I feel you won’t see a change in attitude until the GoSL begins to have heavier and regular losses on the battlefield, or until there are constant and successful attacks by the LTTE in the south. Even then, the attitude change won’t be towards an empathy for the Tamils.

  86. A question: Has anyone got hard data to back up assertions that people outside Colombo support the War? And by how much etc.? Please let us know. Thanks.

  87. With the recent developments, things could go two ways:
    1. Increased millitancy from the Sri Lankan government to appease the people’s questions of incompetence.

    or

    2. People’s desire for peace, placing pressure on the government to cease it’s millitary operations in the North-East.

    Unfortunately, I think 1. is going to win over 2. It is even more imperative that steps are carried out by people in the south to influence the government and the people that a peaceful and just solution is the most viable and desireable for the future of Sri Lanka.

  88. Journalists from the South on a tour of the North (2004)
    http://www.peace-srilanka.org/samayamaya_detail.php?id=12

    extract:
    —————————-
    Flares from rifles and from photo flash bulbs
    Jayalal Jayawardana, Galle

    Vanakkam, Uncle. I heard these two words of greeting; they came from the mouths of little children who can speak two languages Tamil and English. The children sang to the beat of clapping hands a Tamil song. Cameras clicked and flash bulbs produced shimmers to cover the little faces with light. How do they or can they remember the flares of stuttering rifles and the fires from bombs that killed their parents?

    Are these my children?
    K. K. G. Gunapala, Mapalagama (Divayina)

    How can I ever forget the children who flocked round us? Is it a dream? Is this my daughter? Is that my son? I thought to myself. They put their little hands into our bags and our pockets. I felt ashamed for I had nothing to give them from my own bag, my own pocket. We had taken gifts for them as a group, but not individually.

  89. i think these hack journos are getting paid by the samayama organisers to write this melodramatic drivel.

  90. How’s Hari doing mate?

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