By Malinda Seneviratne –
Meanwhile in a parallel universe called Humility…
A patriotic citizen obtains perspective
I supported our troops in their efforts to rid the country of the terrorist menace. I am grateful to them for many reasons. I cheered their victories for they were my triumphs too. I sang their praises for they, most of all, were deserving of praise; they put their lives on line for me. The immense relief of finally being able to live in a terrorism-free country blinded me to some ancient truths.
The security forces that felled Prabhakaran of the LTTE were the same men and women in uniform who had struggled but failed in their mission for a quarter of a century. Today, as I reflect on the question ‘why not before?’ I realize that all the equipment, training, numbers, intelligence and synergy among the forces would have come to naught without the green-light, confidence and determination of the political leadership. On that occasion, for once let’s say, the political leadership did not waver, did not lie, and most importantly shared the sentiments of the vast majority of the people. I knew that terrorism could only be defeated militarily and was confident that our forced could get the job done. The political leadership shared this view, obviously. Our troops delivered. I cheered.
What I forgot in the rush of joy at war’s-end is that it was produced by a key convergence: the sentiments and aspirations of the masses being shared by the political leadership. That kind of agreement on one matter does not imply agreement on all matters across the board.
The political leadership can (and will, if history means anything) deploy troops to achieve ends that may not be to the liking of vast sections of the population. Troops follow orders. They are deployed, most often, when other state agencies have failed to resolve a particular problem. They are a last line of defense, sure, but what they are defending could be people’s interest (shared by the political leadership) or political interest (irrelevant to the general public). They can err, they can be excessive. What I forgot was that they follow orders and that the order is not always mandated by the people.
I should not give blank cheques to anyone. Not the troops, not the political leadership. I can cheer of course, but not without relinquishing my right to criticize.
A military officer takes stock
Some may say that I put my life on line. I did. That was a choice; let’s say an occupational hazard. It was for country, sure, but it was a salary-based decision too. A livelihood. I was shadowed by death and for that reason I am saluted by the public, but that neither gives me bragging rights nor a license to do as I please.
Being human I reveled in the adoration showered on me by one and all after the security forces rid the country of the greatest threat to independence, sovereignty and peace, the LTTE. Being a member of a regimented outfit with a well-defined structure of authority where orders are given and obeyed, such things don’t easily seep under my skin.
But maybe, deep down, I took that adoration and gratitude for granted. In the case of the military offensive to liberate the people and country held siege by the LTTE, there was following-of-order and also heart, the fulfilling of a personal need on account of love for country, identification with way of life, consciousness of history and heritage. Not all assignments come with such additional incentives.
In the end, I am a soldier following orders. Orders of superiors flowing from their superiors and in the end from the political leadership. They are not always people-friendly. They need not coincide with my interests. But I am contracted to execute orders. As long as I remain a soldier.
I cannot and should not count on adoration and gratitude on all counts from all people.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com