11th June 2000

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War heroes and others

The background and the antecedents of last week's War Heroes' Day have to be examined closely to obtain any indication of how sincere this hullabaloo about the 'war hero ' was.

The foot soldier was a forgotten entity for a long time since this war began. The late C V Gooneratne, who paid with his life on war heroes' day, made the call for placing the country on a war footing two years back.

But, his voice was consumed by the deafening babble that emanated from the Sudu Nelum Movement and the Peace bandwagon.

The government's rallying cry in fact was that those who talk of "wars'' or "war footings'' were racists and traitors. In the face of this deafening onslaught, even the stentorian voice of Mr. C V Gooneratne was forced to go into an unfamiliar silence.

The government came out of its peace torpor after the Elephant Pass garrison was overrun by the LTTE, and when the entire peninsula appeared to be under threat subsequent to that. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Leader of the Opposition nailed the canard this week in Parliament that Elephant pass fell due to the capture of the water wells in lyakachchi.

The underlying cause of the defeat at Elephant Pass was the inability of the Defence and Finance Ministries by the banks of the Beira Lake to supply adequate equipment to the army in time for an enemy attack of the proportions that took place in Elephant Pass.

It's moot as to where all the money for the war effort went and into whose pockets? While the lack of accountability of the government was glaring, what's more absurd was that the soldier in the war front was given all the wrong signals. No soldier would want to lay down his life if he or she feels that the military defeat of the LTTE is not the top priority of the government.

Though the dead soldier is being commemorated now, this sort of canonisation was absent when the government was feeling gung-ho and upbeat about its military prospects. When Jaffna was regained amidst a cacophony of hallelujahs, the President afforded a good photo opportunity for the Deputy Minister of Defense who was presented a sannasa (scroll) for his good work.

But, when Elephant Pass was lost in more recent times, the politicians scurried for cover and the three service chiefs were sent before the cameras and the press to take the flak. Government Ministers quickly let it be known that the Generals had been given full control of the war effort.

Now, with the army having stabilised the situation somewhat in Jaffna the amazingly resilient Deputy Minister of Defense bounces back before the cameras with the assertion that the LTTE was curtailed due to his astute political direction.

He even made so bold as to say that the Generals were on the refrain "retreat retreat'' while it was he who said "forward, forward.''

When the history of this war is written, the common knowledge that officers were relieved of their command due to their forthrightness in challenging the Minister-General and the Commander-in-Chief will also have to be recorded.

As for the foot soldier, who is supposed to be the hero before whom even the powerful genuflect, we in the press are prevented from writing about his problems because that will supposedly "lower the morale.''

Paying lip service to the foot soldier is nonsense, unless the political interference and showmanship is not curtailed.

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