14 August, 2022


Long War, Cold Peace: Revaluation Of The Past And Reconciliation

By Godfrey Gunatilleke

Dr Godfrey Gunatilleke

“Sri Lanka faces a crisis of transition and transformation… Sri Lanka has been unable to make the transition from war to sustainable peace; from what I believe was fundamentally a just war to a just peace.

The crisis is at least in part a crisis of the post war discourse. … The discourse has not been of a character which can facilitate the transition from just war to just peace…  Those who maintain it was a just war fail to call for a just peace a peace with justice for the Tamil community. The Tamils for their part have failed to make a clean break from their recent past of sympathy for secessionism and terrorism. There is no post war discourse which combines a strong position in defense of the war with a strong drive for a sustainable peace on a new basis of a fairly re-drawn ethnic compact.” (‘Long War, Cold Peace’ Vijitha Yapa, 2013, P 34)

The two sessions of the Marga Institute’s Panel Discussion on Dr Dayan Jayatilleka’s book “Long War Cold Peace” have been organized under the titles “Was it a just war?” and “Can we have a just peace?”.  Those who have read the book will appreciate the appropriateness of these titles  for the two  main parts of Dr Jayatilleka’s  book –   first ,  his  analysis  of   the ethnic conflict as it escalated to the war with the LTTE – the Thirty Year War as he calls it–  and  second, his perspective on the complex  issues of post war  politics and reconciliation.  The excerpt from his book reproduced above will help us to focus on some of the key issues   raised by him in his book – issues which are fundamental to the processes that must shape the future of post war Sri Lanka.

The first two chapters or the first part deal with all the complex processes and outcomes of Sri Lankan politics during the Thirty year war – from the flawed democratic part to the anti-systemic violent part. There is a brief overview of the policies and events which led to the rise of youth militancy, in which he “deconstructs” as it were, the notion of “root causes”. “‘Who is responsible?’ for what happened” he says “is the standard question. Depending on one’s persuasion and proclivity one identifies either Sinhala chauvinism or Tamil ultra – nationalism. But the truth is, it is not ‘either /or’ it is ‘and/and’ ”. The causes of the conflict in one period are not the causes in the other. In the spiral of violence perpetrator and victim change places time and again.  This statement of the author defines the   approach taken in the entirety of his narrative and analysis. The spotlight is constantly moving to focus on the excesses, violations and mistakes of all the actors involved in the conflict- Sinhala and Tamil state and non- state. After this overview the author, enters into the main narrative of the Thirty Years War beginning with an assessment of Prabhakaran.

At this point it would be appropriate to comment on the credentials of the book we have selected as the framework for our panel discussion.  “Long War and Cold Peace” has the authenticity of an account given by a witness who had intimate knowledge of what he writes. He compels our attention by the first hand knowledge that comes from an intense personal involvement in some of the political processes he describes. His analysis is also a personal testimony, testimony of a committed actor, a brilliant student who in his youth at the height of his academic achievement opted for political action against the prevailing system, with full knowledge of the personal risks involved. At the same time, the book has the intellectual integrity of a piece of research carried out with analytical skills and scholarly erudition of a rare quality.  The evidence and information is assembled from a wide variety of sources to include all parties to the conflict which makes his analysis both comprehensive and inclusive.   Dr Jayatilleka draws lessons from contemporary conflicts across the globe – from Chechnya to El Salvador from IRA and Hezbollah to the Shining Path.  In the comparative analysis he makes he points out the false analogies that are often made and emphasizes the specificities of the Sri Lankan case.

His scholarly reach, the capacity to strengthen his argument with reference to the eminent thinkers and scholars in the relevant field is effortless and masterly.   The theoretical and scholarly analysis is   interspersed with insights from literature on the human condition, producing a rare combination of the intellect and the imaginative sensibility. As a result, the moral and human dimension of his writing comes across with a high credibility.  The final product Dr Jayatilleka’s book is a hybrid of an unusual kind. It is  the work of a scholar who has  explored the full range of theory and  knowledge in his field ; in parts  it has  the  personal involvement  of  an  autobiography ; for  example his concluding cameo on Che Guevara  is a nostalgic recollection of a role model.  The book reads at times like an extended oration delivered with passion. But in all these  forms, the   book never fails to  hold our attention and engage  us   fully;  in all  its variety the book  raises  major substantial  issues  that are central to the  post war future of  Sri Lankan society . Dr Jayatilleka examines these issues within a theoretical framework and a system of values which   take into account the full range of the global discourse on conflict and human rights. The frame of reference the author uses are the core human values that have been at the heart of that discourse. The author therefore asks us to engage not only with the authenticity of his account of the conflict and the war and his interpretation of its genesis and the course it took; he also wants us to engage with the moral positions he takes and the ethical judgments he makes.

The  main purpose  of the  Panel Discussions organized by the Marga Institute  is  to use the analysis in Dr Jayatilleka’s  book  as the basis  for an  inquiry  into the two main challenges that Sri Lankan society faces  – truth and accountability in regard to the past and the post war process of reconciliation  and national unity . The way in which Dr Jayatilleka has framed the issues for the post war discourse point to some of the intractable problems on reaching a consensus on what the past has been and what the future should be.

In the first two chapters of the book   Dr Jayatilleka reconstructs for us the long agony of the Thirty Years War. The author reminds us that the Economist in 1989 described Sri Lanka as “the bloodiest place on earth” (p29).

The first challenge then is for all communities to come to terms with this past, to reach a common understanding of the past and the lessons learnt from it. How did the conflict arise? What was the nature of the war we fought? How is the truth about the past and accountability for it relevant to a future   of peaceful co-existence?   In moving forward to the desired future, all communities  carry with them the burden  of the past  They each need to  seek  unflinchingly for the truth and  accountability  regarding the past and together  they need  a process of liberation from the past.

Dayan’s analysis in the first two chapters poses this challenge to all of us with a masterly command of the subject. His argument for even those who may strongly disagree with him, calls for a serious re- examination of many of the approaches taken by political leaders and civil society activists in dealing with the ethnic conflict and the war with the LTTE.

The first part of the book is about the war which   Dr Jayatilleka   defines as essentially “a just war” against the LTTE and how the war became a long war. Dr Jayatilleka gives us an informed account of the evolution of Tamil militancy and how LTTE gained its monopoly. This section with its details of the brutal violence the Tamil militants inflicted on each other is a chamber of horrors that is difficult to contemplate. It is essential reading for all those who continue in their adulation of the LTTE. This part of the book takes us through the Indo Lanka Accord, the Premadasa period, the negotiations and war during the Chandrika Bandaranaike regime and the ceasefire. In each of these the author dissects  what he describes as the “ lack of clarity” (quoting Lenin ), the confusion in the approach to  the ethnic conflict and the  war with the LTTE , the failure  to distinguish  between the two and recognize  the true character of the LTTE.  As a result what was essentially a just war became a long war leaving a long trail of blood and terror.

In answer to the question he poses “could or all of this been avoided or ended better?”   He goes on (in pages 379 -386) to compile a compendium of what he considers were the grievous errors that might have been avoided on both sides – Sinhala and Tamil. It is an incisive piece of analysis and even if we may not agree with all of it,   it helps us to identify the pitfalls that lie ahead and the fundamental readjustments that are needed on the part of both the Sinhala and Tamil communities and their leaderships.

The author provides a summary of his main critique of the policies that led to the war in the following statement: “Sri Lanka’s tragic conflict was a failure of perspectives, of values. The liberals and progressives did not understand the zero sum character of the game with a player such as the Tigers They did not realize, faced with a movement with the character of the LTTE, the game can only be zero sum; one wins or loses and the victory of the one is the defeat of the other.” This conclusion is drawn from the 13 propositions or theses he presents regarding the nature of the conflict Sri Lanka faced   with the LTTE. Some of the key propositions are reproduced below:

  • The success of efforts at conflict resolution depends crucially on the intrinsic character of the armed non-state actor in question.
  • Distinctions must be drawn between terrorist movements   and armed resistance movements, between rational albeit extremist radical organizations and non rational fanatical or fundamentalist ones.
  • Military action must not be the first resort.
  • However if the armed struggle is monopolized by a fanatical organization the military factor acquires greater importance.

The author goes on to define the process as it escalates from an insurgency to an armed war and the strategy and objectives that are   feasible and possible at each stage.

  • In the extreme case of an insurgency that is dominated by a terrorist and or fanatical organization and has grown to the level of a war the objective of state policy must indeed can be nothing other than the military defeat of the enemy, the destruction of its military apparatus … in short “the annihilation of the living forces of the enemy.”
  • Such a war must not be punctuated by ceasefires and negotiations which debilitate the morale of the armed forces.
  • In the case of an outcome of the decisive military defeat of the enemy socio-political reforms must follow the military victory and do so swiftly.

In the narrative and analysis that follows these propositions, Dr Jayatilleka   present what most readers would find are convincing and powerful arguments   to draw his conclusions regarding the character of the war and the peace that followed.  These conclusions are vitally important for the process of reconciliation. All the actors who contributed to the conflict and are engaged in the process of reconciliation must reflect seriously on them.

First, Dr Jayatilleka’s   conclusions concern the critical issue: how do we, all of us, come to terms with the past.  The past pursues us in the present and will pursue us in the future; it cannot be relegated to oblivion.  As in the great tragedy of Orestes the past in the form of the furies is in constant pursuit; it enchains Orestes- “people change and smile but the agony abides”. For Orestes, the smell and sight of blood pervades the present until the past is assuaged through mercy without harsh retribution.  That was message in Aeschylus’ drama.   How then do we in post war Sri Lanka deal with the past, the agony of the long war?  How does the majority Sinhala community come to terms with the past that Dr Jayatilleka   has described – the brutal violence inflicted on the Tamils periodically? In his account of that violence, Dr Jayatilleka recalls many things we have chosen to forget.    After  reading  Dr Jayatilleka’s  account of the gruesome acts  of  violence  perpetrated by the  LTTE, the Tamil community must ask: how  do we come to terms with our past , how did any section of our community  nurture this monstrous growth in our midst  ?   These self appraisals have to precede an understanding of the nature of the war that was fought.

The full impact  of “ Long War Cold Peace” lies in its unflinching honesty;   the  unrelenting exposure  of all those accountable –  Sinhala , Tamil, Indian,  the  Western Democracies .  The framework of accountability in the book encompasses all these aspects. The post-war discourse that the author  calls for is  what one might call a universal discourse  at a turning point in human  civilization  when universal human values  enshrined in  international treaties governing human conduct are  confronted by  a new form of extremist  terrorism.

Dr Jayatilleka’s position- a position he takes consistently   throughout his book– is that the war was not one of many choices available; it was the “sole choice.”  He   argues that all those who advocated a negotiated settlement with the LTTE on the basis that a military solution was not possible or justifiable contributed to this failure – the liberal progressives and the politicians alike. There were many among us who argued that a military solution was not the best option even if it was possible.  We did so on the ground that even extremist groups have undergone reform and come into the mainstream of society.  Dr Jayatilleka’s characterization of the war and the LTTE   eventually proved correct.  Then has all the effort of those who campaigned for a peaceful settlement been “an expense of spirit in a waste” of meaningless action – a campaign which as Dr Jayatilleka says debilitated the morale of the armed forces and added to our misery? Or could we argue that the long war was itself inevitable   with all its trials and errors that the potential for negotiation had to be fully exhausted before we proved to ourselves and the world that the LTTE had to be defeated militarily. Could there have been a conclusive military solution before India went through the experience of the IPKF and realized that direct intervention was not a feasible option. Would the LTTE have lost the support of the Western powers before their own societies came under the direct threat of terrorist action? It is arguable that no other course was possible in the regional   and international context – as the Indian food drop might demonstrate. We might then conclude that the constituency for peace had to be visibly present and active and it contributed positively to the moral foundations of Sri Lanka’s effort to grapple with the problem and maintain Sri Lanka’s unity. A post war discourse of this kind would correct the mindset which regards all those who labored untiringly to avoid war as “traitors” and as guilty of anti-national conduct.

For the post war analysis in the second part of the book Dr Jayatilleka provides a conceptual frame which attempts to capture the multi –dimensional nature of the crisis. He identifies   five components of the crisis.

  • First, “the crisis of national unification – reconciling and reunifying the different identities into an overarching macro identity – that of being Sri Lankan.”
  • Second, the inability to make “the transition to a state that is neutral as between the constituent communities and with capacity to mediate between them.”
  • Third, is the crisis of public policy arising out of the war – the depletion of resources to health education public transport and infrastructure.
  • The fourth, the party system as a whole and the democratic opposition in particular.
  • The fifth, Dr. Jayatilleka calls the crisis of transition and transformation. It is here that he expresses his thoughts of the post war discourse that is needed. We then need to return to the excerpt from his book with which this note commenced.  In the second part of the book Dr Jayatilleka deals with the processes and outcomes of the post war period which need to be assessed in terms of their capacity to deal with the five crises he identified.

The second session of the panel discussion to be held on August 30th will focus on this set of issues   dealing with the Cold Peace as analyzed in Dr Jayatilleka’s book.  The Institute will prepare a brief background note drawing on the outcome of the first session.

*Godfrey Gunatilleke was founder and is Chairman Emeritus of the Marga Institute and a former Chairperson of The Gratiaen Trust

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Long war was a money making venue for bandaranayake family and Mahinda family this shows no one care about peace in Chin Lanka the government first against Tamils then Media, students, Muslims and even went against their own people all these actions shows no one care about peace only care about how to get rich fast

  • 0

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  • 0

    Mistake – it should read as borough

  • 0

    A fairly handsome tribute by one highly regarded and respected in academic circles and society like Dr. Godfrey Gunatilake carries
    much weight and cannot be ignored. There is no denying the fact both friend and foe recognise Dayan’s intellectual depth and his enormous research. But for one who had traversed far in our political landscape – from extreme left including a stint with Tamil radicalism to the right in a period of two decades – to be entangled in the vortex of contradictions is to be expected.

    What one finds curious in Dayan’s current analyses of major events in
    the present times is his reluctance (or fear) to be critical of the Rajapakses – and notably Mahinda – even in instances where they are glaringly wrong. Such a shortcoming leaves a historian/analyst in a distinct disadvantage to be considered a neutral narrator of matters of much import to contemporary history.


    • 0

      Godfrey G is certainly a highly educated person, but I didnt think he had a PhD. Is it an honorary doctorate, Senguttuvan?

      • 0

        Godfrey G was high in Govt. service in the 1960/70 period. This
        could be a honorary title – that he richly deserves. He may have
        subsequently done his PhD. He is eminently qualified to get one from one of the Ivy Leagues or Ox Cam. Certainly not from that
        Acupuncture man from Mt. Lavinia, who died mysteriously after
        moving around with dregs of society who later haunt The House.


  • 0

    History is history.SL history has been re written and continue to take different versions confusing the present generations.The changes we see are written by some sihgala scholars,historians,new authors spinning their stories in newly published books.

    One can follow the writings of the younger singhala generations who are ready to latch on to these modern day narratives.

    Dr D.G a respected historian skims over historical facts which brings him to the modern narratives which is clouded.
    It would be healthy for the modern day inhabitants of Sri Lanka and other SL living abroad to accept that the communities of SL seek Peace not at the expense of each other community.
    The voices of all communities must be heard.Unfortunately untill that happens it looks like a conitnued war of words and thoughts.Could there be a Warm Peace after a Cold war?.
    Explaining theories to the common man at the end of a bad cold winter war by the so called victors is far fetched at this time.

    One can see the ‘thaw’ has not yet begun in the villages of the vanquished.The warm winds promised has not swept the cold war territory.

    Let us hope that the powers will re think that the vision for Sr Lanka to achieve peace lies in the hands of the People of Sri Lanka.
    The government has to work with all people to achieve this vision. Pampering to the majority is not the key word to a Warm Peace for all of Sri Lanka’s People.

  • 0

    Nation^s ” WADAKAYA = executionist” is reported to be away from the country – just in the same week -UN human rights commissioner is scheduled to be on a visit to the Island (from 25th – 31st Aug). What he has to do in “Belarus” – is out of the news

    President to leave for Belarus

    President Mahinda Rajapaksa is due to leave for Belarus on a three day official visit on Sunday (25), the Government Information department reported.

  • 0

    Manel, if Mervyn can get a doctorate why can’t Godfrey G get one?
    Dayan is a serious writer but he is one of those amoral characters who will defend the dirty for his advantage. Dayan’s opportunism overwhelms his reason. For example, Dayan goes on record saying MR is better than Ranil-that’s enough for it means Dayan condones the destruction of law and order, the destruction of all democratic insttutions, the jailing of SF, the illegal removal of CJ. the illegal installment of a new CJ, and other innumerable offenses of MR’s government. Values are moer important than qualifications and the ability to write. In terms of ability to write I reckon Tissaranee Gunasekera as far superior.
    Godfrey G should be careful before he gives testimonials.

    • 0

      Pol pot:
      You are dead right in what you say. Godfrey Goonetilleke is nothing but one who pretends to a “respectable face” while defending and extolling the virtues of people as unprincipled as Dayan J.
      The man and the Marga Institute in which he works are the “intellectual arm” of totally rotten and crooked publicity machine run by our current dictatorship.
      Godfrey Goonetilleke needs to be exposed for what he is: a rotten apologist for a rotten lot.

  • 0

    SL is Tamils’ unlucky place.

    Why not Tamils get out of SL with dignity than live with indignity?

    • 0

      Don’t know if you are man, woman or thing. But one thing is certain.
      You are a rabid Muslim who wish not only Tamils but others also ill. That, clearly, is in the blood.

      Tamils will stay here in their own land where they have been for several millennia – as old and older than others. They also have other places to go to – where they are welcome – India, the West, Australasia. That is because they are peaceful, hardworking people who blend with the societies that welcome them. They enrich these societies
      with their labour, intelligence, cultural wealth and enterprise. They are successful in North America, Britain, E/U and Australasia and have been praised personally by the heads of all the countries they have made their new home. But they maintain their Tamilness back home without harming the societies they are in. That is the finest form of dignity one can imagine, don’t you agree.

      They do not conspire, willingly become part of sinister efforts at global conquest, bomb the very facilities they use and cut the hands that feed them. That is not in their religions, culture or being.
      Tell me where are you welcome – and that includes Sri Lanka as well.


    • 0

      Fat “Mama” Fuk u shima

  • 0


    Let me pay you a small compliment by saying that you have a slight resemblace to Prince Charles.
    But then reading through your article the message is quite claer and that is you are no different to any other typical Sinhalese because you as a race have that in your Gene. You are not going to meet or satisfy our aspirations and a soultion tho the crisis you are talikng about is not going to come from within.

    Let me answer your points step by step and spel it out to you you and I cannot live under the same roof. So what does that mean and simply means that we have to have seperate arrangements to look afdter our affairs.

    It will be preferably to have it under a United Sri Lanka but then that deepends on how far andd how poer you and your race are prepared to devolve.

    We as Tamils and a minority were haeading for total anihilation under MR but thanks to timely Divine Intervention in the form of CHOGM and combined effort under the auspicious of USA we have been spared.

    1) The calling of the elections to the Nortghern Assembly sets the scene for things to come. As soon as the elections are over and the Supremo Mr.Wigeswaran takes the seat the first priority is to confine the Barbaric Army to barracks and a TAMIL POLICE FORCE takes over security.
    2) The confiscated Tamil Land must be returned to rightful Tamil owners.
    3) Development must follow so all the displaced Tamils can return Home.
    4) THe proceess of Accountablity must start immediately with International help and for that to happen we have to have change at the Top in India as the current rulers have blood on their hands.

    Sri Lanka faces a crisis of transition and transformation… Sri Lanka has been unable to make the transition from war to sustainable peace; from what I believe was fundamentally a just war to a just peace.

    The reason why Sri Lanka is unable to make a transition is precisely because the Currernt rulers until now were unwilling to go down that route as they had a different agenda and that is to colonise the North but they have been stopped in their tracks ( you might not agree but that wont surprise me).
    But now they have succumbed to pressure and penny is startingbto drop but is too little too late for any reconcilation that is being talked about. It wiill take many centuries for the would to heal.

    As for your observation about the war being a Just War I totally disagree with you. For us Tamils it was a Just war as we were the victims of years of brutality and discrimination at the hands of your
    race. You as majority could have met our aspirations under a federal system but you were either unwilling or unable to do it for obvious reasons.
    The crisis is at least in part a crisis of the post war discourse. … The discourse has not been of a character which can facilitate the transition from just war to just peace…
    The reason why the Transition from from War to peace could not take place was simply because there rulers were until recently not prepared to offer anything other than lip service for reasons I have already explained.
    Those who maintain it was a just war fail to call for a just peace a peace with justice for the Tamil community. The Tamils for their part have failed to make a clean break from their recent past of sympathy for secessionism and terrorism. There is no post war discourse which combines a strong position in defense of the war with a strong drive for a sustainable peace on a new basis of a fairly re-drawn ethnic compact.” (‘Long War, Cold Peace’ Vijitha Yapa, 2013, P 34).

    The above obsevation is not compatible as it is cotradictory and let me explain why.
    Those who fought the War did not see peace as the next step as they were busy dismantling all the remnants of Tamil Culture which has stood for Centuries.
    Your observation that the Tamils have failed to make a clean break from recent past of sympathy secessionism and terrorism smacks in the face.

    You talk about the last 30 years which for us was a struggle from Tyranny but coveniently forget about the previous 34 years which has blighted the Tamil People and The Tamil Nation which was starved of any investment
    Ours is a continuing struggle and that will not stop until the last drop of blood in our body.
    Let me ask you an honest question?
    It is 63 years since independnance and none your Leaders have ever trated or considered Tamils as equal citizens with seperate identity and why would it change now. Would it be beacuse you have suddenly out of the goodness of your heart decided to give the Minority Tamils their equal rights. Sorry mate that aint going to happen fron within and we are not fools.
    So dont exepect us to make a clean breakas what we are asking for is Legitimate.

    You lot can go on writing books and group discussions ( for pass time )which is of consequence to us but I am afraid that will have to be done behind closed doors as there is no Sinhalese audience and if anything you will be attacked by BBS and MRs Thugs for preaching Peace.

    I am not sure what your political affliation is but I wont be surprised if you are supporter of MR and his Thugs. The so called Terrorism ( which we call struggle for freedom ) has now been replaced by State Terrorism.

    ACTION SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS. So we want to see action.

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