The Tale of a Victorious Nation.
“History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books, books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon?” -Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code
“History is always written by the winners.” Is it though? Sadly, yes. Unless you lived through the actual events that unfolded and experienced them first-hand. Or at least to some extent.
Personally, myself including everyone who lived in Sri Lanka from the '80s through to the 2000s grew up and survived each day not knowing where and when the next bomb would go off. Hearing the music of a breaking news intro sent shivers down our spines. Our bodies began to numb. Nobody moved. All eyes on the TV. Absolute silence would follow, apart from the audio that's coming from the television.
It was particularly a more worrying experience because my father used to work in Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka. What's worse? He was a military officer station at the Army HQ. Having yourself to wonder whether a loved one is alive or not, only seconds to getting the “bad” news. I’ve been there, and yes, it is not a pleasant place to be.
My father was lucky, and so were we. But for many, such was not the case. Consider this as a testament to me not wanting to play any part in a war in the future.
On 19th May 2009: President Mahinda Rajapaksa officially declared the end of civil war. This probably pushed the 1996 cricket world cup victory to the second place on the list of happiest days for Sri Lankans. Everybody rejoiced, Sri Lankan political authority said they had enough when the LTTE; the deadliest terrorist organization at the time, closed the Mavil Aru sluice gates, and in a little less than three years defeated the LTTE militarily, and economically. This was it! this was the moment everyone’s been waiting for. End of a civil war that dragged on for three decades. This alone was enough to inspire the nation, make us believe that we are capable of doing the impossible. Everyone’s spirit was up, no river was too deep; no mountain was too high for us, but…
Why does every good story have a “but”? I have no clue, but more often than not this turns out to be true. From Mahinda Thero to Rajapaksa, we never lacked figures who could ignite patriotism, but we are yet to find someone who could inspire the nation to be better, do the impossible, and be the greatest. Rajapaksa presented himself this rare opportunity when he led the political authority to defeat the LTTE, but war victory became a slogan in election campaigns and an excuse to bail him out whenever he screwed up. I believe the sensation of power got the better of him, why? cause I saw tears in the man’s eyes when he visited survivors after a bomb went off targeting a bus in Kebithigollewa. The man was genuinely hurt, but it appears he lost his way. After eleven some years, here we are, an uninspired nation, with no hunger to do the impossible, with so many unanswered questions, talking about what could have been if things had gone the other way.
Three decades of war was bloody, the one after that was disappointing, but that doesn’t mean we should let the memory fade out. We should value the freedom, enjoy it without taking it for granted cause when it’s lost you have to pay a huge price to win it back; 30 years, and 100,000+ lives.
“Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” -Winston Churchill
This is one of my biggest fears. Our society is so busy with other bullshit, we tend to lose the focus on things that we should actually be focusing on. Though I have read a number of articles on 89' Black July, and 1987–1989 JVP insurrection, I haven’t read a single article about the 1974 Tamil Conference Incident. Thousands of Tamils gathered during the fourth World Tamil Research Conference, which was held in the city of Jaffna between the 3rd and 10th of January, 1974. On the final day, forty-something anti-riot police came to the scene where tear gas and live ammunition were fired, overhead electric wires were dislodged and nine civilians lost their lives of electrocution, and fifty more sustained severe injuries. In its response government had this to say,
“The irresistible conclusion we come to is that the police on this night (10 January 1974) was guilty of a violent and quite an unnecessary attack on unarmed citizens. “We are gravely concerned that they lacked the judgment which we expected of policemen in a civilian police force whose duties call for tactful handling even in the most difficult situation.”
Despite this, the police officers were promoted, instead of being reprimanded by the government. This triggered unrest in the community and the person who was supposed to stand by them in the moment of need, turned a blind eye, resulting in Velupillai Prabhakaran taking the first life in a war that would go on to take thousands more, and drag on for three bloody decades. Alfred Duraiappah paid for it with his life, and Prabhakaran made the youth live a lie, making them believe that they would be fighting for a cause that is worth dying for; freedom.
This is one of many tales that has never been told. We have to look into the past and understand where we screwed up. Before without passing the ball and pointing fingers at each other, we have to get our ego out of the way and admit the fact somewhere along the line we screwed up. That’s when true reconciliation takes place. We need to let everyone know how we feel and build a system that makes sure we don’t screw up again because freedom is at stake, the price is costly, and the currency is blood & time.
The tale is to be continued. I could only wish that it would have a happy ending so that “සුභ අනාගතයක්” wouldn’t be anything, but a reality.