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David Blacker’s Blog

Chandraprema’s War – a Review of Gota’s War

Unfortunately, much of history is written by journalists. And Gota’s War is no different. If you’re looking for a military history of Sri Lanka’s war, this is not the book for you. In fact, that book has yet to be written. CA Chandraprema looks at the conflict through the lens of the media — the incidents and events that drew the newspaperman’s eye; albeit a rather right-of-centre Sinhalese nationalist newspaperman. Make no mistake, this is an important book; if for no other reason than that it is the first since the end of the war to cover the conflict in its entirety.

Chandraprema’s use of Gotabhaya Rajapakse’s truncated name in the title, and the description, The Crushing of Tamil Tiger Terrorism in Sri Lanka, is slightly misleading, giving the impression that the book is simply about the Defense Secretary’s role in the final few years of the war. In fact, what Chandraprema does is to use Gotabhaya as both a counterpoint and a parallel to the narrative, particularly in the early stages of the war, when Gotabhaya was a young SL Army officer. Gota’s War is both history and biography, but it is not a natural coupling, and Chandraprema’s attempt to do both in one piece, cripples the scope of the book as a historical work.

In order to keep Gotabhaya central to the narrative, Chandraprema is forced to keep the trench-level view of the war narrow, while looking at some events – the JVP uprisings, the political infighting between the Rajapakses and their opponents – with a detail that is superfluous to the war against the Tamil separatists. Naturally, because of this, the early military confrontations between the Armed Forces and the separatists is confined to descriptions of operations carried out by the Gajaba Regiment, the unit Gotabhaya served most of his military career with. Similarly, this focus on Gotabhaya naturally prevents him examining some of the other influential characters that a true history should have. This is particularly clear in the almost non-existence of Gen Sarath Fonseka in Gota’s War. When he does make a rare appearance, he is depicted, at best, to be a rather passive figure and, often, as a hindrance to the dynamic and practical defense secretary. Fonseka, in Chandraprema’s view, is a Montgomery to Gotabhaya’s Patton, plodding and rigid, petty and selfish. In this, the author has done both Fonseka and his book a great disservice, and is akin to writing the history of the Second World War and leaving out Eisenhower or MacArthur. Similarly, many of the other military officers examined – senior to Gotabhaya the soldier and subordinate to Gotabhaya the defense secretary – are largely those who had the most influence on him. While this is acceptable in a biography, it is certainly not in a history.

The converse of this is that Gotabhaya often disappears from the narrative for long periods, particularly in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when his character isn’t central to events. We have very little indication of Gotabhaya’s personality, or the motivations that drove him; almost nothing of Gotabhaya Rajapakse the man; beyond the most superficial of sketches. This too is a deep flaw in Chandraprema’s book. At the end of Gota’s War, we know hardly more of the defense secretary than we knew at the beginning.

Chandraprema has also come under criticism, both from within the SL Army and without, for playing favourites in his book; for focusing on the feats of certain military officers, unfairly criticizing others, and completely ignoring still others. I will not dwell on this because every author has his own slant and viewpoint, and is entitled to it. To examine motive would be to review CA Chandraprema rather than his writing, and that is not the point of this article. I have mentioned the treatment of Fonseka simply because it is so glaring and obvious a failing.

One thing Chandraprema can be certainly complimented on is his writing style. Gota’s War is 504 pages long, and looks rather daunting when first picked up. However, it is very readable even if you’re not a history buff. The prose is smooth and conversational, the chapters no more than half a dozen pages in length, as fast paced as a novel, and devoid of the stuffiness, cliché, and archaic language many Sri Lankan authors of histories and memoirs feel obliged to write in. Chandraprema even manages to infuse a certain amount of sardonic humour to his writing. The book is solidly bound, and the cover is attractive, if rather unimaginative. The book could do with some better maps, however, in place of the hand-drawn ones at the back, which give no indication of the frontlines, the Tiger- and government-held areas, or the direction of offensives described by Chandraprema.

The author begins his book by examining the origins of the conflict, in the two decades immediately after independence and, right from the start, Chandraprema’s flag is nailed firmly to his masthead, never to be relented throughout the following 79 chapters. In effect, the Tamils are wrong; they have always been wrong, and none of this long conflict can be blamed on the Sinhalese or the state. The blame is unequivocally placed at the feet of the Tamil political leadership who, according to Chandraprema, radicalised and nationalised Tamil politics by overreacting to perfectly reasonable laws and acts by the state. In his description of riots in the ‘40s and ‘50s, the author downplays the violence against Tamils and often highlights the incidents of violence against Sinhalese. He invariably portrays the state and the police to be doing everything they can to quell these pogroms, which Chandraprema believes were the fault of the Tamil politicians in the first place.

In Chapter 3, The Creation of Conflict, the author describes the protests of the Tamil leaders against “Sinhala Only” thus: “The Satyagraha as an instrument of protest was never meant to be peaceful. It was non-violent only to the extent that actual physical violence was not used by the Satyagrahis. In every other respect, the Satyagraha was an instrument of confrontation.” Throughout, Chandraprema steadfastly refuses to apportion any responsibility for the conflict to the Sinhalese or the policies of the state. Just as he blames the Satyagrahis themselves for the violence perpetrated against them, he goes on to blame the 1958 riots on Chelvanayagam’s tarring of the “sri” letter, and the 1983 riots on Prabakharan’s killing of thirteen soldiers in an ambush. Nowhere does he acknowledge the right to protest, nor the authorities’ responsibility to the rule of law. Elsewhere, when describing the undisciplined retaliation against civilians by SL Army troops that had come under guerrilla or terrorist attacks, Chandraprema suggests that this was quite natural a reaction and unnecessary of criticism. He cites the ‘70s and ‘80s as being a period in which such atrocities were acceptable, as if he was discussing the rape of the Sabine women, or the sack of Troy, rather than the conduct of a military fighting an insurgency in the late 20th Century. In Chapter 16, The Rajarata Rifles Mutiny, Chandraprema writes, “It is only after the end of the cold war that these new fangled notions of politically correct wars came to the fore.” These, and other absurd comments, rob Gota’s War of a lot of the credibility it might have had, and such defense of the indefensible ensures that his later descriptions of the war tend to be suspect as well.

Chandraprema’s narration of the war itself, while interesting and informative, doesn’t really add much that could not be gleaned from the newspapers of the time. If the reader is expecting inside information on the strategy and tactics of the various periods of the war, and the thinking behind these, he will be disappointed. Like any piece of journalism, Chandraprema’s depends heavily on whom he interviewed in his research; and, rather than interviews supporting a particular theme, the content is driven by the interviews themselves. So while we are privy to some selected after action reports and command memos by general officers, there is no reference to regimental war diaries that would have given a better viewpoint of the actual fighting. So while instructions from generals such as Lakshman Algama and Srilal Weerasooriya, run for several pages, the chapters on now-famous battles like the siege of Elephant Pass add nothing new to history.

On the plus side, Chandraprema is heavily critical of the lack of training and organization within the SL Army in the ‘80s and ‘90s which resulted in some of the heavy defeats like Pooneryn and Mullaitivu. This is an aspect that no one has really addressed outside the occasional article, and together with the descriptions of the detailed measures attempted by various Army commanders, gives an accurate picture of why the war was so unsuccessful in the first two decades. Popular opinion has tended to simply blame the politicians for lack of will, and some senior military officers of corruption, but Chandraprema points out that a lack of morale, discipline, training, organization, and equipment in the combat battalions was a big part of this military failing. Chandraprema goes on to call the SL Army of the ‘90s a defeated one, pointing out that some of the most celebrated victories were often nothing more than the prevention of utter defeat rather than real victories. These suggestions will not endear the author to the old guard, but he is right in that these were all, for the most part, defensive battles, and did little to further overall success against the separatists. Here too, however, Gota’s War is crippled by its lack of a trench-level perspective. Chandraprema never reveals what it was like for the men on the ground who were actually doing the fighting, restricting his narrative to that of the senior officers who he had interviewed.

Chandraprema also spends a lot of time on the second JVP insurrection, and on the period of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), which is largely unwarranted in a book of this scope. Both these periods are necessitated by his use of Gotabhaya (and by extension, Mahinda Rajapakse) as a protagonist. In the examination of the JVP rebellion, he uses it to reinforce the view of Gotabhaya as an efficient military officer, citing the successful pacification of the Matale District where he served as a lieutenant colonel commanding the 1st Gajabas. Similarly, Chandraprema uses the period of the CFA to establish the Rajapakses’ position in the wings, looking out on a country that was being sold out by Ranil Wickramasinghe and the UNP. These political dalliances by the author add little to the actual narrative on the war, and will make more middle-of-the-road readers cringe at what is clearly a partisan viewpoint.

The cringe-worthiness continues as Chandraprema strays even further away from the plot to discuss the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunge, The Sunday Leader editor, and the unsuccessful eviction of non-resident Tamils from the city of Colombo; incidents that had nothing whatsoever to do with the course of the war. Unfortunately, Chandraprema’s strategy of distancing the Rajapakses from the more negative incidents that took place under their watch is quite transparent when he suggests that Gen Sarath Fonseka was responsible for the killing of Wickramatunge, and that Mahinda and Gotabhaya Rajapakse were nothing more than helpless bystanders. He even claims that Gotabhaya’s reasoning for the eviction of the Tamils was quite sound and based on military expediency. Chandraprema could very well have achieved this by simply leaving out these incidents and focusing solely on the war itself, but the journalist in him probably refused to accept the insignificance of such events in the larger picture since they loomed large in the media headlines of the time.

Things descend into farce when Chandraprema then sets out to examine several war movies that were produced during the CFA, discussing their propaganda value, the effect they had on the Sinhalese population, and apparently their impact on military morale. While such examinations might be necessary when looking at the impact of war on society, they remain quite irrelevant in the context of history.

Ironically, when Chandraprema deals with one of the incidents from the CFA period that did indeed have a strong effect on the outcome of the war – Karuna’s defection – he refuses to delve into the influence the UNP government of the time must have had on engineering this defection. The author blandly describes the events that everybody already is aware of, and doesn’t reveal any of the behind-the-scenes machinations. To do so would have meant crediting Ranil Wickramasinghe’s administration with something that runs contrary to the right-wing view of the UNP leader as a traitor to the nation.

Similarly, when describing the LTTE aggression that ultimately scuttled the CFA, Chandraprema portrays the Rajapakse regime’s lack of retaliation to these attacks as being inspired by a love for peace and a diplomatic solution. Even the most naïve of readers is unlikely to accept this. The unpreparedness of the military at this point, and the race to get ready for war, is largely ignored as a reason for the state’s lack of immediate reaction. While Chandraprema’s view is that publicized by the government at the time, he fails as a historian in not bothering to look beyond the official line. Chandraprema often opts for playing politics over being faithful to history, and this reduces the overall value of his work.

When war finally breaks out again, Chandraprema’s narrative sticks firmly to Gotabhaya’s view as defense secretary. From this point on, biography and history meld together well for obvious reasons, and the author is able to present an insightful view of the war. Chandraprema gives the impression that the defense secretary was both civil administrator of the military as well as de facto Armed Forces commander. This impression is particularly strong in regard to the SL Army. While the roles of the Air Force and Navy commanders are acknowledged, Chandraprema largely skims over the Army commander’s role, instead superimposing Gotabhaya over this position, right down to describing the defense secretary telephoning individual division, brigade, and battalion commanders for situation reports when it suited him, and not following the chain of command. Unfortunately, narrating the war through Gotabhaya’s eyes doesn’t allow for much analysis of the actual tactics and fighting beyond the most superficial.

Chandraprema also often fails to give any motive or substantiation for many of his opinions. One example is his description of the failed Muhamalai offensive of October 2006, which the author claims was launched without approval or knowledge of the National Security Council headed by Gotabhaya. Chandraprema suggests that this offensive was planned by Gen Sarath Fonseka, but he fails to explain how such a thing could have happened, why the Army commander would do such a thing on his own, and why he wasn’t called to account for it by the defense secretary, or indeed the president. When the Muhamalai-Nagarkovil front is largely considered by other commentators to have been a sideshow to keep Tiger troops tied down on the Jaffna Peninsula, such contrary opinions require substantiation, and the failure to do so weakens Chandraprema’s narrative.

Another unfortunate fact of Gota’s War is that it skims over the operations in the Eastern Province. While it is true that these battles didn’t result in many casualties for the LTTE, the capture of the East was vital to the war effort, and deserves closer examination; particularly the role of Karuna’s TMVP paramilitaries, and the first use of some of the new tactics employed by the reorganized Armed Forces.

Chandraprema’s description of the offensives in the Wanni is what most readers of his book would have been waiting for. And the author depicts the chain of events, the simultaneous offensives by multiple divisions, and the roles of the individual Armed Forces very well. Frankly, this final phase of the war deserves a book of its own, but Chandraprema does well in the circumstances. However, it is unlikely that the reader will find anything that he hasn’t heard before, albeit with a few insider stories and details. The scope of the book doesn’t allow Chandraprema to go down to the brigade or battalion level in describing the battles, so he sticks to the big divisions and task forces, thereby depriving a true student of history of any new knowledge. This again, reinforces what I said at the beginning of this review, that Gota’s War is a media history of the war, based around the headline news.

The book ends with Chandraprema falling back on the nationalistic agenda of demonizing the Tamil diaspora and the west in general, and claiming a conspiracy to gain by other means what the LTTE had failed to do militarily. While this is an interesting enough topic, it has little to do with the actual war.

Gota’s War, though deeply flawed, is a book that anyone interested in the conflict should read. It is certainly not the definitive book on the war, and it remains to be seen if such a piece of writing will emerge. When and if it does, it will certainly be a more lengthy, detailed, and exhaustive book than Chandraprema’s. Gota’s War is tightly narrated, and its strength is its overview rather than its detail, its everyman view rather than its historical perspective. As such, it deserves its place on the bookshelf of every student of Sri Lankan military history. It is important, however, to ensure that it is not the only book on that shelf.

Gota’s War by CA Chandraprema is published by the Ranjan Wijeratne Foundation and priced at Rs 1,000.

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July 8, 2012 - Posted by | Literature, Politics, Security, War | , , , , , ,

35 Comments »

  1. As it happened I had a chance to read two books recently – A cause untrue (sorry for not reading it a few years ago) and Gota’s war. I think your insights of Gota’s war and my thinking about it are in the same wavelength. I enjoyed your book, although it is a fantasy, I think it was written with a balanced mindset while not giving the moral equivalency to LTTE. I think Gota’s war, while giving moral superiority to SL forces – quite rightly over LTTE and their fellow travellers – failed to be open minded about the overall conflict. I would like to send you another book written not about the war per se but set up during that period. I think you would enjoy it too. If you are interested please send me a note and I will mail it to you asap.

    Comment by Pramod Kandanarachchi | July 8, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks for the offer, Pramoda. Maybe I’ve read the book you’re referring to — what’s the name of it?”

      Comment by David Blacker | July 9, 2012 | Reply

      • The name of the book is Heart Chakra. After reading your review of Gota’s war I got the feeling that you may enjoy this book too.

        Comment by Pramod Kandanarachchi | July 10, 2012 | Reply

        • Thanks, Pramod. I’ll be in touch.

          Comment by David Blacker | July 10, 2012 | Reply

  2. Chandraprema can be (is) biased as hell. But he sure can write.
    I never have read his book and I am not hoping to buy it anyway. I only know about the book from his interviews and comments by others (like indi).

    Comment by Aka | July 9, 2012 | Reply

  3. [...] Blacker has read the whole book (and fought in the war) and has a much more comprehensive review. Blacker says it’s a book worth reading, and I guess so, but he also points out that the book [...]

    Pingback by indi.ca » Gota’s War: Interesting But Wrong | July 9, 2012 | Reply

  4. I think the excesses and the lapses all fall into place if we’re modest enough to see the mileage-seeking tendency which governs the whole enterprise. The title, the “slant”, the rationale of selection…. Perhaps, it is David’s need to table an “objective stencil” which makes him even entertain the idea of “Gota’s War” even assuming / aspiring the status of a ‘History”.

    Comment by vihanga | July 9, 2012 | Reply

    • Chandraprema’s book certainly is a version of history. It is wrong to simply dismiss it. It has it’s place, but that place must be within the overall context; and the latter will come only with more writing on the war.

      Comment by David Blacker | July 9, 2012 | Reply

  5. David why don’t you try to cover the military aspect of the entire war? Your unbiased stand and writing style would be more appealing and a joy to read if you ever decide to come up with a book on this subject.

    Comment by lkRaven | July 12, 2012 | Reply

    • That will be a huge undertaking, and is quite daunting, but thanks for your confidence.

      Comment by David Blacker | July 13, 2012 | Reply

      • Have to echo lkRaven – it’s time for you to write the definitive military history of the wars. If you don’t do it, it’ll allow people like Chandraprema to ‘create’ their partial version of what happened.

        Comment by Mango | July 15, 2012 | Reply

  6. Howdy David, Has any writer so far written an accurate account of the Final defeat of LTTE ? In a documented sense, political & military timeline.

    Comment by Rajarata | July 13, 2012 | Reply

    • Well, we won’t know how accurate any writing is until there’s a breadth of similar writing out there, but I think DBS Jeyaraj probably has come close.

      Comment by David Blacker | July 13, 2012 | Reply

  7. i want to know abt the history of the conflict during the IPKF period (reasons for IPKF coming to SL, what lead to fights between IPKF and LTTE), do u think this book would provide a correct infor about that? If not can u recommend any other book?

    Comment by sach | July 19, 2012 | Reply

    • Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka by Rohan Gunaratna is pretty good. There are also various memoirs by Indian Army officers who served in the IPKF. Former Indian ambassador to Colombo, Dixit, also published his memoirs. DBS Jeyaraj also wrote extensively about this period in his column.

      Comment by David Blacker | July 20, 2012 | Reply

      • thnks for the info. i read JN Dixit’s book and Lakhan’s books. At the moment reading another one. And i read Gota’s war as well probably after ur review otherwise i wont have read it.
        one thing i have to ask, In gota’s book chandraprema says before IPKF come LTTE was not holding any area in SL, bt IPKF waged war to capture jaffna from LTTE. I see something contradicting here. what is true?

        Comment by sach | August 13, 2012 | Reply

        • I think the IPKF was trying to clear Jaffna. It doesn’t mean the Tigers were necessarily holding the area in the conventional sense.

          Comment by David Blacker | August 13, 2012 | Reply

          • Is there any book that is written about elephant pass siege? And just a suggestion, why dont you write one?

            Comment by sach | August 23, 2012 | Reply

            • No, there isn’t a book on that, and yes, I have considered it.

              Comment by David Blacker | August 27, 2012 | Reply

              • there’s one book in sinahala about ep debacle (no remember name of the book properly) written by an author named malith jayatilleke.

                Comment by madhawa | January 22, 2013 | Reply

    • their was a series of articles in a sinhala tabloid called “diyatha” which came with “lankadeepa”. It once contained the story told (it has articles as narratives) byThangaraja (most possibly Velmurugu Thangaraja but not sure) who was a SLFP Organizer in Jafna (i think he was a party member since 60s or even before). I tells the story from 1970s or from beginning of the 80s.

      According to him IPKF got worse than the government forces.

      And broken Palmyra may be.

      Comment by Aka | July 26, 2012 | Reply

  8. The only other source that I found which had info regarding the war that was not on the mainstream media was the book launched for the 25th Anniversary of the Special Forces Regiment. Some of the stories are really inspiring and never heard of. It also suffers from some of the flaws that David mentioned in Gota’s War because it is also biased and makes no mention about Gen. Fonseka. It also does not capture the view point of the terrorists.

    But its worth a read just because of some of the operations described in it.

    Comment by lkRaven | July 25, 2012 | Reply

    • It is book published by the Army.
      So those “flows” are to be expected.

      Comment by Aka | July 26, 2012 | Reply

  9. You write with such insight and clarity, David.

    Comment by Romesh Alagaratnam Senewiratne | August 8, 2012 | Reply

  10. Is this guy a plagiarist? Charlie Wilson’s War -> Gota’s War?

    Comment by Sharanga | August 22, 2012 | Reply

    • Lol, there’ve been lots of books with similar titles — Churchill’s War, for instance. The stories are completely different as well.

      Comment by David Blacker | August 22, 2012 | Reply

      • Yep. It’s quite generic. But I bet the guy watched the recent Tom Hanks movie, and got this great idea to name his book Gota’s War.

        Comment by Sharanga | August 22, 2012 | Reply

  11. Just finished reading Gota’s war cover to cover. Never thought I would ever read it judging by the name but when I got it as a gift and started, I could not stop. It was very readable and is surely a worthy read. The next stop afterwards is here. Knew this would be one of the very few places where I could actually see a balanced review of the work. You have mentioned almost all the things that came to my mind while reading it and a lot more. Thanks.

    Comment by koththi | September 11, 2012 | Reply

  12. Dear Mr Blacker,
    I have been unable to obtain your book A cause untrue in Sri Lanka. VY Book shop does not stock it. Pl let me know where I can get it,

    thank you.

    Geshni

    Comment by Geshni | January 23, 2014 | Reply

    • It’s out of print here in SL, but you can probably find copies of the Indian-published Hachette edition online if you do a search.

      Comment by David Blacker | January 24, 2014 | Reply

  13. BTW,
    Great review….. it’s time for your book now !
    ‘…..huge undertaking …..quite daunting……’
    I am sure you can do it !
    Cannot wait to read it !!

    G

    Comment by Geshni | January 23, 2014 | Reply

    • Thank you, and yes it is quite daunting indeed!

      Comment by David Blacker | January 24, 2014 | Reply

  14. Re Gotas War:

    I was in Colombo in February this year, and found this book in the Barefoot shop on the Galle Rd (off all places), and decided it looked interesting so bought it. I finally had time to read it and finished on the weekend.

    As a white Australian living in Sydney, you might ask why I might be interested in this war?
    Several reasons;

    1) My wife is a Sinhalese-Burger who left SL in 2001 because in part, her parents felt there was no secure future in SL because of the war. Her stories of the fear and security issues due to terror attacks and the resultant heavy handed govt security were not pretty,

    2) My wife’s ex., was almost killed in the Central bank blast and she and her mother narrowly avoided a car bomb in Colombo. She suffers from a degree of PTSD as a result and jumps every time a car backfires.

    3) I worked for a lot of years with a guy who was in the SL Airforce in the early 90s and he had many horror stories to tell about cleaning up after LTTE outrages.

    There were a few reasons to understand it all.

    What did I think about this book, and remember that I have no axe to grind politically concerning the various SL Govts, ethinic groups and the ‘political dynasties’?

    Firstly it is as Blacker says, quite readable and I was fascinated, though it does wander off on obvious tangents, jumps in the narrative, and is at times repetitive.

    It also reads like a hagiography of the Rajapakses and it does appear to be biased and clearly anti-Tamil. Whether the war facts are true, I can’t say, but the style does not come across as balanced.

    Now, to be fair, the LTTE were a bunch of barbarians, and they deserved to be defeated, however by the same token,the book author also admits that the Sinhalese had some responsibility too in starting the mess. Atrocities breed atrocities and it is obvious that at least in the early stages of the war, both sides indulged in them. And besides which, why did the LTTE believe that setting up their own country within a country would work?

    I would take the author of this book to task about his writings on the attitude of most western countries. The attitudes of Australians were influenced to some extent by the media on this, but protests by the LTTE supporters here were seen as obscure, not taken seriously by many, a few saw them as terrorists, and their only real supporters were the local Tamils. Many did not fall for the sympathy line by the LTTE as freedom fighters, after having been involved in wars like Vietnam.

    As Blacker points out, there were a lot of unanswered or poorly answered questions. In fact at times the writing almost looked like rumour mongering or black propaganda.
    For example:
    How did Fonseka run an un-authorised and failed offensive in 2006, and how did he get away with it and not face disciplinary action? This seems to be an incredible thing to write in the book, and then leave it hanging. At face value, it is very difficult to believe his account.
    The accusations around the murder of Wickramatunge are also pretty bizarre.

    Blacker’s review? It seems to be a pretty accurate description of the book.

    I note from reading the original book review in the Colombo Telegraph, that the blog comments were full of bile and bitterness about it.

    Comment by David H | July 8, 2014 | Reply

    • Thanks for your comment, David H. I can find little to disagree with you on. a couple of clarifications:

      1. The offensive across the Muhamalai-Nagarkovil line in 2006. Chandraprema suggests that it was an unauthorized offenseive conducted by Gen Sarath Fonseka, unknown to either the National Security Council or the DefSec. Almost all media at the time portrayed it as the offensive to recapture Elephant Pass; the pro-GoSL media portraying it as a successful punitive sortie, and the anti-GoSL lot as a failed offensive. Significantly, DBS Jeyaraj went with the latter theory. The truth is that the “offensive” was in fact a feint, part of the strategy to tie down a significant number of Tiger troops on the peninsula and away from the Wanni fighting by giving the impression that the capture of the Jaffna Peninsula — the Muhamalai-Nagarkovil line was dubbed the National Front — was the GoSL’s top priority. So all media were fed the “offensive” story, and they all portrayed it within the framework of their own political leanings. What was uncontested, however, was that casualties on the SL Army side were high. Faced with that, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa needed to distance himself from the operation at the time and continues to do so, and writers like Chandraprema are reinforcing the lie and rewriting history with no acknowledgement of what was indeed a brilliant and successful strategy that significantly contributed to the defeat of the Tigers in the Wanni. The post-war defection of Fonseka was also a great opportunity for the Rajapakses to paint him as a dangerous man by blaming him for an unauthorized and futile action that cost a lot of lives, when that is nowhere near the truth. This is the same line that Chandraprema is maintaining.

      2. Your question about the LTTE strategy of a separate state. You’re probably aware that this wasn’t a strategy created by the Tigers, and if so, I apologize for attempting to teach you history. Most Tamil nationalists and historians agree that prior to British colonization the Northern and Eastern Provinces were most likely a different Tamil kingdom from the Sinhalese southern lowland and Central Highland kingdoms. The separatist rebellion was an attempt to protect their people from Sinhalese violence by creating the separate state that the Vaddukoddai Resolution envisaged. Many Tamil nationalists today still maintain that a separate Tamil country is a viable and desirable goal. The Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) claims to be the elected government of that yet nonexistent state.

      3. Yes, Colombo Telegraph just isn’t a place for rational thought, never mind debate.

      Comment by David Blacker | July 8, 2014 | Reply

      • Re 2)
        No worries about teaching me history, this is your country and your history, so you would/should know it better. Part of the purpose of going to SL this year, was to learn about the country and the culture myself, and also teach my children about their new step mother’s country. After we returned, I created a film for my daughter’s 3rd class at school about our visit, but it also had a chunk of history in it about the pre-colonial state of affairs. It also makes a lot of sense that there were Tamils in the north given the close proximity to Tamil Nadu.

        I picked up the underlying tensions that seems to exist between the various ethnic groups and religions in the country, and they do occur here as well by the way.

        We can’t talk about racism ourselves, because of the awful behaviour of white people to the indigenous people here, but one thing that has happened is that the Aboriginal/Torres Strait islanders have there own ‘nation’ within the Commonwealth, learn their local languages and culture as well as the mainstream things, and operate to a degree under their own laws as defined by the tribal elders. They also own significant pieces of the country under native title. The system is far from perfect, and there are problems which have a long and deep seated history, but they have a degree of autonomy without seceding.
        Apart from anything else, to have your own country it has to be economically viable; I would query in a country like SL that is already a bit cash strapped, whether creating another subcountry in an area even more economically depressed than the whole, would be viable.

        1) So, as one might suspect, the story is lot lot more deep than some of the superficial comments made in the book. The commentary about Fonseka sort of reads like the behaviour of Hitler to various generals in the period 1936-38, and Stalin with his purges of 1937-38. Make up some story that shows them in a bad light, get rid of them, and re-write the record. It has been suggested to me that the current govt is in the process of slowly turning SL into another Markos’s Phillippines, or Suharto’s Indonesia.
        I think this quote from: Hold the Press; The Inside Story. J.M. Hamilton & G.A Krimsky, captures some of what went into the book,
        “The public can take comfort in reporters getting such easy access to government news. But easy access an also lure journalists away from stories. Politicians have learned that the: way to tame the most energetic journalists is to feed them information at such a voluminous rate that they don’t have time to sniff around for offbeat news”.

        Comment by David H | July 9, 2014 | Reply


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