By Michael Roberts –
Taylor Dibbert is an example of one stream in American academia: armed with a liberal arts degree, peace corps experience and links with the Pacific Forum, HR agencies and such personnel as Frances Harrison, he has now taken on Michael the Lord Naseby via an article in the Daily Financial Times of 21 February 2019 entitled “On Lord Naseby’s Sri Lanka whitewash.”
His essay is a shining example of intellectual arrogance and contention by ASSERTION. His assertions on the details of Eelam War IV in its last phase are typical of many writings from an educated bourgeoisie lacking experience in battle theatres. This major deficiency applies to many Sri Lankans as well as Yasmin Sooka, Marzuki Darusman, Ban-Ki-moon, Alan Keenan and Charu Lata Hogg.
That shortcoming applies to Lord Naseby as well as this writer. It is a shortcoming that has been partially – I stress partially – reduced in Naseby’s case by attending to the voices of such personnel as Lt. Col. Gash (Defence Attache at the UK embassy in Colombo in 2008/09). In my case it has taken many years of pouring over the literature, maps and photographs relating to this war between the years 2011 and 2018 for a partial reduction of my incompetence.
Dibbert’s nitwit assessments of the specifics associated with Eelam War IV are rendered feasible by the practices of print-media and many web sites: they refuse to use bibliographies and footnotes. The lack of bibliographies hides the limited degree of study behind his assertions. So does the absence of footnotes. Such shortcomings also obscure the ignorance of Chief Editors: after all, few of them know much about battlefields either. There was considerable difference in the battle theatre in the Mannar District in comparison with those in the Mullaitivu-Oddusuddan area. My vivid secondary recollections of the Allied troops battling in Sicily and the Italian Pennines during World War II told me that conditions there were quite different again from the two scenarios referred to above.
When Naseby faces Dibbert foursquare, he does so by questioning Dibbert’s facts on the death-toll, by presenting solid data in this regard and pinpointing an attendant set of figures that Dibbert did not bring to the attention of his readers: namely, that some 290,000 personnel within the “Vanni Pocket” in 2009 survived with roughly 11,000 of this number deemed Tigers.…. surely an omission on Dibbert’s account that suggests deceit.
But Naseby is not short of ignorance either (so too most accounts of the war). He does not raise a cardinal issue: if 40,000 Tigers and civilians died, where were the 80,000 or so wounded?
It is the eternal credit of a Sri Lankan identified as “Mango” that the vital import of figures linking the WIA (wounded in action) to those who died in action (KIA) that I was led to this dimension of appraisal. The basic point is this: the WIA always outnumber the KIA. In the Korean War the ratio for USA was over three: 103,284 WIA against 33,651. But the Gallipoli campaign of 1915-16 serves as a superior example because of its restricted and well-defined land area: the ratio for Australian wounded to dead in the Gallipoli Peninsula was 2.23.
Fortunately, the UN personnel in Colombo in 2009 computed figures for the wounded in hospitals and detention centres. They “estimated a total figure of 7,721 killed and 18,479 injured from August 2008 up to 13 May 2009, after which it became too difficult to count” (UNPoE 2011: paragraph 134). Though this data was in front of them, the Darusman Panel did not comprehend its significance. Stark ignorance surely. Or, is it a question of well-educated lay personnel venturing into a technical field without any awareness of its basic yardsticks?
Taylor Dibbert, too, is a layman in this terrain. But his sensationalist headline-seeking venture also rests on DECEIT.
Let me dissect the organisation of his claims to justify this suggestion. Take his contentions in their sequence:
A = “The tragic way the war ended – with the massive slaughter of Tamil civilians –
meant that accountability for wartime atrocities was urgently needed.”
B = “A credible UN investigation concluded that up to 40,000 people may have died during that time.”
C = “But the reality is that many people believe that that figure could be much higher”.
Unlike many Western media personnel (for example Kerry O’Brien of ABC), Dibbert presents the Darusman Panel claim as a possibility (an allegation). But that measure of truthfulness is then drowned out by the combination of A and C. There was “slaughter” and even more than 40,000 could have died.
There is no allusion to the fact that many LTTE fighters were not in uniform during the last months of the war. There is stark silence about the clever LTTE strategy of deploying the Tamil civilian mass as a protective barrier and a raison d’etre for Western intervention. Since he does not serve up a bibliography and his eye-catching articles are presented in circuits that do not permit footnote-referencing, readers are therefore left susceptible to his duplicity.