Monday May 25 was the Memorial Day Holiday in the US. There was a very moving memorial concert in the capital and it was so beautifully presented with well-known artistes performing patriotic music with so much dignity and tributes paid to the fallen going back 70 years to World Wars.
The most moving were stories of young families that had lost their father in some of the stories that were handpicked to be told. There were, of course, many more. The figure of four million disabled is staggering and this proves war is not only about soldiers but the families that give up so much to take on the care of the disabled.
In this country, the soldiers are accepted with heartfelt gratitude. They are not despised for going to war to fight someone else’s cause. It is a call to duty they answer for their Government and don’t question politics or point a finger at different political ideologies that may propose or oppose war. The soldiers bear their trauma bravely and the young children tell their stories of coping. It was heartfelt and moving and no different whether it is the USA or Sri Lanka’s soldiers.
But one thing crossed my mind – we have parallels with these same soldiers. Men and women in uniform – a military that is trained according to the book of rules. Services that are guided by international conventions of war. How many commemorated today may have had to kill civilians in the crossfire. But on their return no one is waiting to drag them to Human Rights Tribunals. Their wars were fought against terrorism even through terror came to this country for one day on September 11, 2001 as a major attack. In Sri Lanka we had 30 years of blasting and our valiant soldiers never got a good word for saving those that the enemy was using as a front.
Every terrorist war has a cause that is hijacked. ISIS uses Islam but hurts their own. Similarly, the LTTE used “Tamil Grievances” and appointed themselves to take care of those grievances that they addressed with brutal violence against their poor and powerless. What happened? They eliminated more of their own than the Security Forces did. Today, our soldiers who brought peace that everyone enjoys don’t receive the wholeheartedly due gratitude to them. The Deputy Minister of Justice was not sure what the date May 19 meant. He didn’t seem to know that something changed in the arena of National Security for all ethnic groups to get about freely in the country.
The children who should have been in school but had cyanide on their necks with instructions to end their life were liberated and returned to the arms of their mothers and fathers. No one remembered the little boys and girls who cried for their mothers who were tortured and starved for wanting to go home after they were abducted for war fodder and trained to kill. No one talks about it now but they talk about the soldiers and leaders who brought peace to take them to the gas chamber if they can.
When stories of war heroes and details of their injuries and the excruciating pain through recovery was described and admired, I couldn’t help but remember the years when I used to visit the Ranaviru wards every year and spend time talking to those who could not see me – blinded by shrapnel. I talked to some who could not move due to spinal injuries. These were the sad cases of strong young men from our country whose lives were reduced to incapacity. How could we forget their sacrifice? But sadly we seem to fade in five years, what they endured for 30 years.
Today, 70 years of service was remembered and saluted by the living citizens of this country. Regardless of the purpose of war, before we blame, we must ask who started it. No country can afford to have their forces with hands tied behind their back when terrorism raises its head. Some argue that it was a civil war. Civil wars don’t use suicide bombers, child soldiers, have international criminal activities to fund their weaponry. So it was no civil war. It was a war against terror that we know so well.
Having seen the show of heartfelt gratitude, respect and dignity shown to US soldiers today on account of Memorial Day, I could not help but compare. We will be naïve if we think that civilians didn’t die in their hands. War is war but some are pardoned, some are framed even if not guilty. While enjoying the outcome of the blood they shed and the lives they laid down, for some to rush to Sri Lanka with deeds to claim back land taken forcibly by the LTTE, the story told is quite different. How could they enjoy the peace and not acknowledge how it came.
We have to treat our service men and women with more respect. Today, all the political drama would not have been possible if we still had election platforms being bombed and snipers shooting politicians. Some of those talking as if soldiers should be put in a hole and not allowed to come out may not be alive to tell the tale or talk the talk. Have we forgotten what it was like then? So soon the memories have faded away. They seem to forget because it is convenient to pander for votes, never mind whose blood is shed. How come? Have we lost our heart for kindness? Looks very much like it.
Anjalika Silva, USA