The Structured Mischief And Worse That Idleness Entails
“Military justice is to justice what military music is to music” — Groucho Marx
“The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem, it is generally employed only by small children and large nations” — David Friedman
“It takes fifteen thousand casualties to train a major-general” — Ferdinand Foch
“After each war there is a little less democracy to save” — Brooks Atkinson
I am not one of those who line up to cheer the troops on as they march to victory. I don’t invoke blessings on them in any religion at all — neither in Sri Lanka, nor in Iraq, nor anywhere else for that matter. I do not support wars mounted for just causes, or ones embarked upon reluctantly as the lesser evil: no cause is entirely just, and there is always a lesser evil than war. If this makes me a traitor then so be it. I too have some choice epithets for the war-mongers on all sides who spur others on to death and destruction from the comfort of their drawing rooms, political platforms, newspaper columns or religious enclaves.
I do not apologise for the fact that I find wars and the systematic violence they entail never ever commensurate with the gains that victory is said to ensure. Wars are the consequence of inequality, discrimination, prejudice. “Winning” a war without addressing its root causes and core consequences dooms us all to a repeat performance, often worse than the one we sought to destroy. In this sense, it has rightly been said that you can no more win a war than an earthquake.
There, I’ve got all that off my chest at last. But in Sri Lanka today, it is too late to focus on whether alternative processes to all out war were feasible. The collateral damage, to deliberately invoke a hideously insensitive and racist term, certainly cannot be justified, but the damage has been done and we need to move on. This does not mean that those responsible should be immune from prosecution for their crimes, if indeed an impartial and transparent inquiry finds them guilty, but that may be yet another pipe dream.
Let’s focus on the present, and let the past bury its dead for the moment. As usual we’ve got it all ass-backwards. For months nothing could be done for the IDPs because of security concerns, demining, the ever-present threat of LTTE resurgence and so on. As soon as elections were announced, all these impediments vanished into thin air, at least at the level of political rhetoric. The military forces fought the war which is now over, completed, finished. Yet, recruitment has continued, salary increments and special packages are being paid, no doubt from money that would otherwise have gone for repairing the damage caused by the war. Another given you may say, this enhanced military, but what role and function are they to perform now?
They need to man checkpoints, check up on each other, conduct parades, provide security to friends and deny it to others. Even in Colombo they have to go out on pickets, man the roadsides at strategic places where our leaders travel in convoys and at frighteningly great speed. They spend hours before key visits making sure that all is safe for the sound and fury of sirens and ambulances that follow. In short, the big brass has to ensure that there are duties to perform by the military to make life safer for us (them?). For the first six months we were carefully fed with reports of suicide kits, weapons and ammunition found in secret locations in the most unlikely and frankly bewildering places. LTTErs are still being arrested, threats are being unearthed, caches discovered, so much so that even in peace the war dominates our collective psyche.
How much longer can this go on? Certainly, until democracy is served once more, and the elections are won (and lost). But after that, what next? There was some talk of exporting military expertise to other countries in dire need of help, though in this respect our closest allies can teach even us a thing or two! We can (and already do) deploy soldiers in work they are neither qualified nor competent to do. They can further militarise resettlement and rehabilitation in the north, or help the police in ridding the country of selected underworld figures. They can assist in reconstruction, and that would perhaps be just, though I am a little skeptical whether their proven skills in demolition will be any match for the new role of rebuilding required of them.
In the meantime, many of them are suffering from severe psycho-social trauma due to the war. We only have counts of the physically disabled, not those who are victims in other ways. Suicides and violent internal conflicts are alarmingly frequent, though they do not make the news. Atrocities against civilians too have not disappeared with the end of the war. Deserters are said to be the bedrock of the underworld, and the backbone of personal militias of politicians. Notables in the armed forces are moving into the political sphere, which is yet another dangerous sign of the inexorable militarisation of public space. Contrary to every philosophical tenet and every article of faith, religious and military leaders have been in each others’ pockets during the past year even more than before.
The dignity of labour is fundamental (though I’m sure to be faulted here for equating military positions with mere labour, since current rhetoric gives rana viru a positively spiritual ring), but financial commensurability must surely be predicated on experience, qualifications and skills. What is the future prognosis for a country where 21-year-olds with sub-O/L education get paid twice as much as school teachers with 10 years’ experience? Graduates in the Humanities and Social Sciences typically spend two years unemployed and then, at 25, earn less than a freshly-recruited private in the army who is all of 19. Add to this the utter absence of any form of accountability, and the targeting of anyone who has the mildest reproof to make against the military, and you have an ominous portent of times to come.