The fighting on Sri Lanka has by all accounts, been a brutal affair since Colombo decided to go all out against the LTTE. From a military point of view the end is in sight. The Times Online reports that the Tamil Tigers are trapped in a small and shrinking space and are considering surrender — or if they are pushed too far — mass suicide, which may or may not include the tens of thousands of civilians in their power. Marie Colvin, the author of the article, writes that there is a growing fear in Western capitals that the Tigers might be wiped out. “Now that their military hopes are dashed, the fear in western capitals is that the Tamil Tigers will again turn to terrorism. If the Tamil leadership goes ahead with their threats of suicide will there be anyone left to negotiate with? ”
The satellite call came in the early hours of yesterday. The Tamil Tiger leader was desperate. For the first time in their decades-long struggle against the Sri Lankan government, the rebels were offering to lay down their weapons in return for a guarantee of safety.
“Don’t say surrender,” insisted the leader, speaking calmly, despite the obvious desperation of the few survivors of the once ferocious Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), now cornered in an area roughly the size of Hyde Park with tens of thousands of civilians.
It was the sound of defeat. After more than 25 years, the civil war in Sri Lanka was over. The only question was whether it would end in an ordered fashion or a bloodbath.
It’s interesting reasoning. As teenager, a guy who lived through the Second World War pointed out to me the Bayview Hotel on the corner of TM Kalaw Streets and what was then Dewey Boulevard. It is nearly at catty corners from the present United States Embassy. He was a boy in 1945 and after the Battle of Manila was largely over, he went wandering, as thousands of displaced persons did, among the ruined buildings. One of them was the Bayview. In its scorched and blackened rooms he found the walls smeared with the eyeball jelly of untold numbers of women, who the Imperial troops had, in their last desperate sex and alcohol-fueled orgy, taken to the Bayview to rape and mutilate. That apparently included plucking out their eyes and and God knows what else. Almost every family in the city had an oral history of witnessing some such event. My aunt, recently deceased, jumped from her burning house on Donada Street after the Japanese had set fire to it, with the troops waiting with fixed bayonets at the front door. It was an enactment, on a vast scale, of the worst thing that could happen in Sri Lanka. More Filipino civilians, then US nationals, died in the Battle of Manila than Japanese civilians in either Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Of course Hiroshima day is solemnly commemorated in all the Western capitals as reminder of the crimes of man against man. Nobody really commemorates the Battle of Manila in Western capitals. As the John Wayne movie title went, “They Were Expendable”. To history at least.
But that historical battle has resonance because the Imperial Japanese forces, like the Tamil Tigers, were known for dying to the last man and not caring about who else did. The Japanese soldier went to his doom routinely and without fanfare; without commemorative videos, special checks from Saddam Hussin or blood curdling declarations. Your Imperial soldier simply fought to the last bullet and then committed suicide. Some 250,000 of the 290,000 Japanese troops on Luzon were killed in action, a number would have been higher if the Yamashita had not been ordered to surrender to Walter Kreuger. If the Tigers are anything half as tough as the IJN troops in Manila, there will be a lot of bodies in Sri Lanka.
The notion that the Sri Lankan government should allow the Tigers, trapped in a small pocket, to survive so that they might have someone to negotiate with, is an interesting demonstration of the “Partners for Peace” at-all-costs concept. Today you never destroy the enemy. You merely slap him around until you can convene an international peace conference. Maybe it’s a valid concept; but what it often implies is that in the modern world, wars never come to an end. They go on and on, kept on life support by diplomacy for reasons best known to historians. Neither victory nor surrender are words which remain in the modern lexicon. Whether this is progress or folly, time will tell.
Update: Here’s a look back in history at the war with Japanese Empire. Bataan, the Death March, and the war with Japan was the experience of a generation. For many years after the war a siren would sound on April the 9th, the day Bataan fell and all traffic would stop while it moaned.
and here’s the continuation.