May 17, 2020
Awakening to reality and rhetoric
The worst despair to any patriot is to be deplored by the very people, whom you have sworn to defend at any peril. It is said that Srimath Anagarika Dharmapāla, who led a non-violent struggle in securing Buddhist sites in a pre-independent Ceylon, in his efforts was constantly ridiculed by locals with unsubstantiated allegations.
Lately, this is a bitter lesson learnt by the Sri Lanka Navy - an awakening, to the reality of the social construct that lay beneath the rhetoric ‘War Heroes’ in this country.
When the Security Forces were called upon to the frontline against the coronavirus pandemic, it was no surprise to Sri Lankans. An island once ravaged with internal strife, a three decade long civil war and more recently devastated by a series of natural and man-made disasters, it is Armed Forces were always at the forefront-leading the response and relief efforts. Our Armed Forces were the only resolve - the miracle solution for all ills natural and man-made in this island.
This obvious pattern of military deployment in Sri Lanka may also be attributed to the acute absence of civil institutional efficiency or capacity to deal with crisis. Sri Lanka’s Armed Forces personnel represent an estimated number of 0.5% of its total population.
Sri Lanka contrary to other South- Asian countries, venerate it Armed Forces over more popular cricketing stars. At least till lately.
‘Rana Wiruwoo’ or ‘War Heroes’ are the terms most widely substituted to describe Armed Forces personnel. Indeed, there is reality and then there is rhetoric.
Comply and complain
But with its inherent unpredictability, the coronavirus had managed to infiltrate into the naval barracks and trigger chaos. In contrast, to what transpired onboard USS Roosevelt lately, Sri Lanka Navy’s scenario is unique as the sailors were infected during efforts to arrest individuals believed of being infected with the virus. As always, the norms in the military - ‘comply and complain’. The sailors to date have not complained.
Ironically, the masses and media were quick in their contrasting and quite diabolical responses towards the navy, in particular. One triggered an island wide panic and uproar, while the other promoted the cause through unprecedented and unethical coverage, panning cameras into the lives of the sailors. The Police emergency 119-communication links were red hot with soaring complaints over possible sailors on leave or visiting their homes.
The LTTE terrorist leader Prabakaran was once on record stating, that Sri Lankan’s have a short memory of two weeks, which he did capitalize until the tables turned in 2006. So was the case until Zaharan and his suicide bombers orchestrated a mayhem on Easter Sunday in 2019.
It just took two days for the media to name and the public to shame the Navy. There was a certain case in which a lady officer was erroneously reported positive which led to her been personally insulted. To date, none have corrected the version nor apologized to the officer for their misadventures.
In a rearguard attempt to galvanize the controversial news coverage on the Navy, some media institutions are now seen running versions of the ‘Api Wenuwen Api’ theme, popularized back in 2006-2009.
Battle with drug traffickers
There is no reason to doubt the will, determination and valor of our men and women in uniforms. The Navy will indeed fight its way out from this event of thousand possibilities. It was in the midst of the coronavirus panic island wide, the Sri Lanka Navy succeeded in arresting over 320kg of narcotics, worth over Rs. 3.2 billion in international waters, the largest confiscation ever. If this numbers does not add up to a layman’s mind, the Navy so far since January has nabbed over Rs. 21 billon of narcotics in the open seas.
There is possible reason to doubt that local drug dealers, syndicates and their associates might be behind the whole controversy orchestrated against the Navy as pay back for their losses.
The Navy has always, since the dawn of 1980s punched above its weight. Despite engaging in her classical role of external defences of the island, the navy through its sheer ingenuity and innovation rewrote sea and littoral warfare doctrines. Led by pragmatic leadership, without burdening public finances over new weapon purchases, the navy reengineered its arsenal.
The men-in-blue were the only force to not to have renounced fighting the LTTE even during the infamous Norwegian brokered Cease-Fire-Agreement (CFA) in 2002.
Numerical limitations to its fighting platforms were compensated through enhanced firepower made possible with a culture of consistent research and development. So was the case with respect to force protection and manoeuver provided- a classical case in this sense would be the ‘Lanka- Muditha’ and ‘Jet-liner’ movements between the Eastern and Northern waters.
The war was won not at Nanthikadal, but out at the open ocean when the Navy starved LTTE of much needed ammunition, destroying its fleet of floating warehouses.
In a postwar Sri Lanka, Navy was the pioneer in adapting itself for the newfound role of providing its expertise as military aid to civil authorities.
From swathes of new reconstruction projects in the North and East to reimaging esplanades in Colombo, the Navy was at the forefront.
Identifying existing opportunities internationally at the height of sea-piracy in 2010-2012, Sri Lanka Navy fathomed its comparative advantage drawing much needed foreign exchange into the island through facilitating ‘Sea- Marshaling’.
Little is known that Sri Lanka Navy has exported indigenous built naval craft to foreign navies – Nigeria, India. From open oceans to providing ‘water-purification plants’ and disaster relief to needy communities the navy will continue its efforts beyond duty.
It was not long before the Easter Sunday attacks that some individuals in our society even questioned the rationale of feeding the armed forces at a time of ‘peace’.
Nanda Malini’s song ‘Poojasanayee’ ideally sets the record on the harsh reality of our social construct that lies beneath the rhetoric of ‘War Heroes’.
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