Militarisation; Psychological Effects Or Political Ploy?
By Dinouk Colombage
The Sri Lankan government’s increased use of the military in the country’s day to day affairs is a mix of being psychologically unprepared for peace and a political ploy designed at covering up their shortcomings, according to war psychologist and historian Sowmiya Ramanayaka.
Having endured 30 years of warfare, both “the country’s political administrators and its civilian population are unsure of how to push forward in rebuilding a society devoid of military influences,” Ramanayaka said.
She explained that psychologically the population has been trained in to accepting the presence of the military most areas of civilian life. “For numerous years the population was used to seeing armed soldiers standing on street corners, a whole generation grew up with similar scenes. When the war ended the barricades around the main cities were removed, soldiers sent back to their barracks and civilians were able to move freely around the cities. For many this would have been an unnerving experience,” she said.
Ramanayaka went on to add that the population would have felt a sense of uncertainty and fear shortly after the removal of the military. “Previously people were not worried about being mugged on the streets or pickpocketed as every corner had a soldier. When they were removed this opened up a new avenue of crime, initially many people would have unconsciously yearned for that added security,” she said.
She added, however, that this did not mean the people preferred the military presence to the empty streets. “Psychologically the population has been trained to accept the role of the military, the only way to get past this is a gradual decline in their presence. If anything is taken away suddenly after being present for numerous years, there will be an immediate sense of longing for it,” Ramanayaka said.
She went to say that the government has chosen to feed on this insecurity of the people and retain the services of the military in the civil sector, “while Colombo and many of the other major cities in the South do not have a great military presence, it is noticeable in the North and East.” Ramanayaka explained that in those areas a fear psychosis has been instilled in the people, continually reminding them that despite the war being over the threat of terrorism remains.
A political motive exists behind the instilling of this fear psychosis, according to Ramanayaka, as the government is unprepared in handling the transition from a wartime economy to a peacetime one. Her claims are supported by economist Haren de Soysa, who insists the government is unsure how to manage an economy which is not pre-occupied with a war effort.
“During the war the majority of our budget was allocated to the military, three years afterwards they continue to do so. The only difference is public services such as the Urban Development Authority have been incorporated in to the military budget. The government has done this so that they will not have to recalculate the amounts to be allocated to different areas. However, at the end of the day education and health continue to suffer as the government does not know how to handle such budgets. Earlier a government could hide behind financial shortcomings in a section by blaming the war, they no longer have that luxury,” he said.
Ramanayaka drew comparisons to the removal of Winston Churchill’s government in the UK following the end of the Second World War. “When the war was over and England went to the polls the people showed that they were war weary, they no longer wanted a government that was only suited for war time politics. If Sri Lanka is to move forward they need to send a similar message by demanding that the policies move forward from a time of war,” she said.
US Political analyst, Thomas Holbrook, has argued that government’s contesting an election after a war look to win the vote of the forces and their families.
“In America successive governments have looked to appease the voters who are directly connected to the forces, it is a large voter base and one whose demands do not reflect that of the rest of the population,” he said.
Holbrook’s analyst stays true in regards to the situation in Sri Lanka. While sections of the population continue to be dissatisfied with government policies, members of the armed forces and their families are favoured with their growing responsibilities in the country. With over 400,000 members in the armed forces, this offers a significant voter base for the politicians.
Ramanayaka accepted that the government could not immediately disband the entire military simply because the war is over. “A military force numbering nearly 400,000 is too large to simply disband; many of these people joined the forces for employment opportunities. Instead the government will need to implement projects that would provide these soldiers with a new skill set,” she explained.