GROUND REALITIES IN SRI LANKA EXPOSE COLOSSAL NAIVETE AMONG THE WORLD’S LEADERS

 by Michael Roberts, 28 April 09

This essay was drafted in Sri Lanka on the 27/28th April at a stage where I had no access to the latest internet news on those two days. It was then submitted to Frontline (on assignment) and has now appeared in issue No 26/10  that appeared on 9th May. The focus is on the events within and alongside the last LTTE redoubt beside Nanthi Kadal Lagoon between the 19-23 April when roughly 110,000 Tamil “civilians” (including some hardcore Tigers as well as recently conscripted auxiliary soldiers) streamed across to the government side of the battlefront. Obviously the processes at play in the period before that also come into the picture, whereas te events after 24 April do not. Even at several leagues distant the escape of so many said to be held hostage by the LTTE was a heart-warming development for those with empathetic anxieties about the plight of the civilians proper. This marvelous outcome inspired my article. It is a critique of those who continue to espouse the demand for a ceasefire from both parties (as distinct from those agencies who have asked the LTTE to cease firing and to lay down arms). Their position is deemed both simpleton and utopian. However unintentionally, such a demand is also partisan in its impact. This criticism can be augmented by adding a simple hypothetical note of a post facto kind: Let’s assume that a ceasefire of a month’s duration had been applied from, say, the 17th April. Would that have assisted the Tamil civilians? While assuaging the hearts of those Lankans and internationalists who had been insisting on such a ceasefire, whom would it have aided most, the Tamil civilians or the LTTE network in Lanka and abroad? What would the 110,000 Tamils who struggled out of the LTTE prison on foot say about the strategies of the humanitarian exorcists peddling the ceasefire mantra?

 

With the LTTE cornered and restricted to a tiny patch of isthmus beside Nanthi Kadal Lagoon ever since 6 April, the world has witnessed a menagerie of world leaders playing the game “throw egg on my face.” 

    On 22 April Hilary Clinton told the world that “a terrible humanitarian tragedy” was taking place in Sri Lanka and demanded a halt in the fighting so that “we could secure a safe passage for as many of the trapped civilians as possible.”

    Remarkably, for a superpower leader with access to up-to-date information Clinton appears to have been some 48 hours behind breaking events: namely, the escape of some 107,000 Tamil “civilians” (doubtless including Tiger cadres who had given up the fight) from their hell-hole situation after a commando operation carried out by the Sri Lankan army on the night of 19/20th April. Alternatively, one must conclude that Clinton read this miraculous tale as something that spelt a humanitarian disaster — hence my use of the egg metaphor.

    She was not alone. Various world leaders, the UN and its agencies and some human rights organizations reiterated the call for a ceasefire that they had been parroting for months as a solution to the hard realities around the LTTE’s end-game. It is this mantra that I challenge here.

    Let me stress the marvelous character of the outcome. As I arrived in Sri Lanka on 17th April, I told Kumari Jayawardena that the ground situation facing the army was labyrinthine. I could not, I said, see how they could move forward without generating disastrous death rates. Yet, today, we know that the commando operation was one for the text-book: it resulted in relatively few non-combatant deaths and created a path for streams and streams of Tamils to cross lagoon and beach over the next 2-3 days, roughly 110,000 making this little epic journey. This, for me, was better than the tale of Moses crossing the Red Sea. It was both elevating and saddening.

  It was distressing because of the condition some of these people displayed so starkly on camera, bespeaking the privation they had undergone in the immediate past. Indeed, as one or two died of dehydration or starvation while being bused or airlifted by the military to the nearest hospitals in Vavuniya, one knew, now, why the people of Thāmilīlam had turned their back on Eelam and the LTTE.

    Reports from journalists such as Murali Reddy confirmed that this existential plight had been aggravated by the draconian measures taken by the LTTE during the last two months or so. Again, the facial expressions of those prepared to speak (in Sinhala) on camera constituted a message in itself: “may a pox befall the house of Pirapāharan and the Tigers” was what visage proclaimed. Kannaki had arisen again.

    These outspoken Tamil individuals would surely be among those who would cast rotten eggs at Hilary Clinton! Perhaps we should not be surprised at Clinton’s insouciance. Nor am I surprised by the pantomime, a Dance of the Seven Veils, being performed at the electoral platforms in Tamilnadu. In similar fashion Sri Lanka’s democratic process has often revealed how vote-gathering inflames ethnic passions. The LTTE’s demise has sparked off an upsurge of pan-Dravidian sentiment (an issue demanding specialist treatment). The shameless exploitation of this current by Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi seems par for the course in populist politics.

   But how can Tamil dissidents who are fully aware of the character of the LTTE also fall into the same simpleton stance: namely, believing that ceasefires will help a “trapped people?” Take Nirmala Rajasingam’s passionate appeal in the Independent newspaper in Britain on Friday 24th April. While denouncing the LTTE for its “atrocities” and asserting, validly, that the “LTTE’s exclusivist Tamil nationalism and extreme militarism have led the Tamil community to this political dead-end,” Rajasingam also insisted that the government’s claim that there were few civilian casualties “defy reason,” and spoke of “huge civilian losses through indiscriminate fire.”

    Indeed, she began her essay with these words: “The world has watched aghast at the level of bloodshed and the horrific plight of the civilians who have now been under siege for months.” She seems to have been accepted as an authority by the Economist of 23 April (Anon 2009a) which has another anonymous article on “Dark victory,” which notes unequivocally that “in its rush to exterminate the Tigers—partly in justified fear of their skill at manipulating foreign opinion—the army has shown a cruel disregard for Tamil civilians crowding the battlefield” (Anon 2009b).

   But what exactly is the count of those “civilians” killed as against those who have fled the coop in the last 5-6 months? An UN report dated 24 April estimated the death toll among civilians as 6,432, with those injured being estimated as 13,946. These figures must be qualified by two sets of facts: (a) they include individuals who stepped on LTTE mines and those shot by Tigers (or killed by suicide bombers) as they fled; and (b) a few of these civilians would be new conscripts who had not been issued with uniforms.

    Our adjectives must be relative. So, let us place these numbers in comparative context beside the figure of 175,714 people who reached the government lines by 24 April, with roughly 68,000 having escaped before 20 April and 107,000 in that remarkable moment between 20 and 23 April.

    The dead 6432 make up roughly four per cent of those who have survived. Add the injured, some 13,000 according to the self-same UN report, and one has 20,000 casualties [caused by both sides] set against roughly 170,000 freed. While the figures are not to be laughed at, the death score is not “huge” while talk of “extermination” by Rajasingam’s accomplice, Dark Victory, displays mind-boggling bias and/or credulity.

    So what we see here from Rajasingam is an emotional outburst from a Tamil heart. That is understandable. But, here, the combination of inaccuracy (re the large number of deaths on 20-23 April – not true according to Reddy) and stridency in her outburst suggest that it is a voice of someone who has been imprisoned in a medieval monastery for centuries and has no awareness of the devastating power of modern weaponry (or medieval crusades for that matter). If there had been no restraint at all in the army offensive during the past six months, I can assure her that we would have had a death toll in the 30-50,000 range. As caveat let me stress that this claim does not mean that there was no cavalier bombing and artillery fire on some occasions.

    But the more immediate issue NOW is this: given that between 15,000 to 50,000 “civilians” are still trapped within the remnant LTTE patch of 5-6 square kilometres is the demand for a “humanitarian pause” (that is, “ceasefire” in ethical clothes) presented by concerned agencies a pragmatic course that will aid the Tamil people in Rump Eelam?

   This is not a novel issue. Strident NGO and human rights voices demanded a ceasefire from January 2009 onwards. It prompted my initial essay on “Dilemmas at War’s End: Thoughts on Hard Realities” in mid-February 2009. So, we have before us a conundrum that has been faced over 4-5 months. In addressing the dilemma now, we can benefit from the experiences in this period.

    But to fully grasp the ramifications we must (A) understand the ultra-nationalist ideology of the LTTE and (B) undertake a brief historical summary that delineates previous peace-talk failures as well as the steps leading to this present Eelam War Four (see TIMELINE below).

Tiger Ideology

Here I am in agreement with Rajasingam in her characterization of the LTTE as “militaristic” and fascist. Fuller elaborations have been provided recently in cyber-space and a capsule version suffices here.

    Every LTTE fighter takes an oath to sacrifice “life and soul” to the talaivar Pirapāharan and the cause of “Tamils’ freedom.” This gifting of life as weapon, or uyirayutam, secured widespread admiration among the SL Tamil people from its inception in 1982/83 because it bespoke the quality of arppaNippu (dedication). The LTTE’s capacity to withstand the IPKF (1987-89) and then the SL government forces from 1990-2000 compounded this admiration. From then on the LTTE was widely regarded by many Tamils as their best bulwark against Sinhala domination.

    From late 1989 the LTTE took the innovative step of burying all its dead, the māvīrar, in tuyilam illam (resting places) — sites considered “holy.” This martyr cult not only served to inspire and mobilize support, but also legitimized the LTTE. As one poem in a Tiger publication presented matters “the martyr sacrifices himself for the whole by destroying the I” (Hellmann-Rajanayagam 2005: 134).

    Thus, the LTTE embodied the philosophy of ultra-nationalism that has been such a pernicious force in the contemporary world, pernicious because it encourages wars in which “human bodies are sacrificed in the name of perpetuating a magical entity, the body politic” (Koenigsberg 2008:  42).

    Both Nazi Germany and imperial Japan were prime instances of this philosophy. The fascist Japanese regime of the 1930s and 1940s “inculcate[d] in the minds of the people the idea that all the Japanese, but especially the soldiers-to-be, must sacrifice their lives for their country” (Ohnuki-Tierney 2006: xiii). “You are nothing, your nation is everything,” said Hitler on one occasion (Koenigsberg 2009: 13). This leads Ecksteins to the conclusion that in Nazi thinking “the individual was the nation…. The nation had been telescoped into the dynamic individual” (1989: 195, emphasis his).

   In encouraging and enforcing an exodus of people from the Western half of the Jaffna Peninsula in late 1995 and now, again in late 2008/09, in effecting a similar programme for the peoples of the northern Vanni, the LTTE was adhering to its self-conviction that Pirapāharan, the Tigers and the people were one.

   Before evaluating the recent dilemmas posed by this strategy, it is wise to consider the temporal steps that brought about this situation. This Timeline is relegated to a Box (see TIMELINE below). One of the lessons emanating from this process is the fact that whenever war resumed after a period of talks/ceasefire, at points B, F and Q/R in our Timeline, it moved to a higher pitch of weaponry and death than previously. That is, escalation of death and destruction was the end result of each failed ceasefire.

   As clearly, one significant development during Eelam War Four was the stage when the overwhelming superiority in manpower and weaponry available to the GOSL began pushing the LTTE into retreat at points U, V, W and X, that is, from roughly April 2008. Under extreme pressure, the LTTE repeated the strategy they had adopted in Jaffna in late 1995: in metaphoric terms one can say they became “sharks who took the sea with them.”

    While some do-gooders and government spokesmen claim that this was a coercive step, that verdict is as uncertain as it is doubtful. As Murali Reddy has noted, the Tamil people distrusted the government and looked up to the LTTE. In effect, there is strong support for my contention that a substantial proportion of the migrant body was attached to the Eelam cause and the Tigers – at least initially.

     This was an exodus of biblical proportions. However, no one knew the exact proportions. As the mass of people were squashed into smaller portions of Tigerland the UN, NGOs, and other human rights activists became understandably anxious about the prospect of large-scale deaths in the furnace of war. Agitated voices peddled figures ranging from 250,000 to 400,000 in definitive tone. The compassionate goal of human care was not balanced by any ‘care’ of caveat. Propagandist goal and frenzied voice ensured that their picture was a prophecy of doom with maximal figures for maximal impact. These figures were the platform for strident demands that both parties in this vicious war should agree to a ceasefire and do so immediately. The blame game usually pointed equally at both parties to the conflict.

   The ethics promoting such claims without any qualifying caveats regarding the numbers quoted was one aspect that I questioned in my Dilemmas essay (Roberts 2009a). But that was a minor quibble. The main issue raised then in February 2009 was embodied in a simple question: “how would a ceasefire [implicitly a bilateral one] help the body of civilians in the immediate future if they continued to remain in Tigerland by choice or under duress?” My question was then backed up by the simple note that a resumption of war would find the civilians in similar danger. Or, one can add, in the light of past experience, in even greater danger.

   Supporting this critical question was a clarification of the character of the LTTE state and its ideology together with a series of pictures that graphically revealed the LTTE’s extensive programme of mass mobilization and paramilitary training for its civilian population from the year 2007 at the very least.

   One did not need to be a rocket scientist to conclude that an authoritarian command state such as the LTTE would value its civilian mass as a source of new conscripts and a labour pool, as well as a source of some food supplies (however inadequate) sent – what weird generosity – by the GOSL because the government considered them citizens and not Eelam Tamils. But as critical was the fact that the civilians on the one hand and the outsider prophecies of doom about their fate on the other together provided the LTTE with a large stack of bargaining chips. Always bold in their militarism, the Tigers hoped to gamble their way to a peace table with this body of people-chips. It is this bargaining power as much as the “human shield” they provided for Tiger fighters that I consider to be the main reason for this brilliant, if callous, policy of people-exodus.

   None of these considerations were addressed by the bevy of voices directed against my original article by both Sinhalese human right activists and Tamils. The moral high ground of future political ends, and the doom awaiting the downtrodden Tamil mass in Tigerland, subsumed reasoned response to my central questions. Not one person indicated how they could persuade the LTTE to release the civilians. Instead both my critics, the UN and its agencies, human rights activists and Tamil dissidents such as Rasalingam have continued to press for “ceasefire” as if it will save the Tamil civilians’ thosai for the days to come.     

    Even though two unilateral government ceasefires (of admittedly short duration) produced no beneficial results and only led to a military setback for GOSL in the first instance (circa 31 January) “ceasefire” remains a mantra in many circles. No thought is given to the long-term and fundamental issues attached to a continued military stalemate. It is as if the shout of “Ceasefire” will provide some form of Immaculate Salvation to the civilian mass within the LTTE fold. But I, for my part, do not have such faith in divine intervention.

    No one has challenged subsequent articles where I explained my readings of LTTE ideology and why they would expect the civilian mass of Eelam Tamils to “come die with us” — as one IDP who got away told a reporter some time back (Roberts 2009c). Thus guided, I even feared that the LTTE and people would indulge in a devotional pact of mass suicide in the manner Japanese at Saipan and Okinawa. Thus far, thankfully, that conjectural fear has been shown to have no foundation. I am pleased that I was wrong.  In the conditions of privation they have been forced to undergo in the last 2-3 months the Tamil peoples of the exodus have revolted against the LTTE and voted with their feet (or boat in a few cases).

    It would be far too harsh to say they have moved from frying pan to stove. Their conditions now are a distinct improvement of welfare from their state in the last few months. But internment camps and second class status together do not comfort make. It remains to be seen whether the Government will seize the moment and convert sullen Tamil ‘citizens’ into normal complaining citizens of the variety one finds everywhere.

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(TIMELINE)

Abbreviated History in Point-Form

A. Peace Talks 1989-90.
B. June 1990: Eelam War Two begins after LTTE launches surprise move against police stations in north and east.
C. Late 1994 Presidential Elections sees Chandrika Kumaratunga elected on a peace platform.
D. Jan-April 1995 Peace talks.
E. Mid April 1995: mini-Pearl Harbour sees 2 gunboats sunk in Trinco by LTTE frogmen.
F. April 1995- late 2000: Eelam War Three.
G. Early 2001: New UNP government of Ranil Wickremasinghe signs CFA with LTTE.
H. 10 April 2002: Pirapāharan & Balasingham hold grand media event for world press at Kilinochchi.
I. Peace talks at different venues were held from December 2001 to 2004: with key points being (a) Sattahip, Thailand, 16-18 Sept 2002; (b) Oslo, Nov. 2002; followed by the Oslo Declaration of 5 Dec. 2002 – all confirming LTTE’s de facto demi-nation status.
J. 2001-04: Wickremasinghe’s policy of consumer materialism begins to penetrate the fun-starved terrain of Tigerland and some Tiger cadres display a fondness for the “good life” – a process that frightens Pirapāharan no end.
K. Late 2002/Early 2003(?): When Balasingham, Tamil Chelvam and Karuna return with the Oslo principles for a political settlement that secures what can be called “pragmatic Eelam,” namely, autonomy for the north & east within the Sri Lankan state (Roberts 2002a, b, c), Pirapāharan goes off the deep-end and tears up the document. Thus, against the sentiments of his leading advisors Pirapāharan directs the LTTE to prepare for war – a course I can confirm from my findings in the course of a visit to Jaffna and Kilinochchi in late November 2004 (sources cannot be divulged).
L. April 2004 et seq: Karuna defects and the Eastern Province is swept by faction firefights. The LTTE emerges as winner, but is clearly weakened as a result.
M. 26 Dec. 2004: tsunami decimates Sea Tigers and delays LTTE plans.
N. 12 August 2005: Kadirgamar is assassinated as the preliminary step in the LTTE policy of assisting Mahinda Rajapakse and the UPFA to win the Presidential election – thereby removing a potential PM and a dangerous Tamil foe.
O. Dec. 2005: Mahinda Rajapakse scrapes in as President with the abstentions of Tamil voters serving as one factor influencing his victory and the support of the JVP and JHU as another factor. Thus, by early 2006 one has two sets of hawks facing each other, the ultra-nationalist Tamil Tigers and the chauvinist UPFA regime, the one totalitarian and the other restrained by electoral demands, but leaning towards extra-parliamentary methods.
P. Late 2005: intifada tactics by the LTTE in Jaffna Peninsula West where the GOSL is seen as an “occupying army.”
Q. 6 August 2006: Māvil Aru intervention by LTTE sees undeclared war breaking out in Trincomalee District. This moment eventually escalates into full-scale war on all fronts although the major focus is the Eastern Province. So we have Eelam War Four.
R. 2007: the GOSL forces gradually prevail in the east: with (a) the capture of Vakarai on 19 January 2007 and (b) the final ascendancy at the Toppigala redoubt on 11 July 2007 marking two central victories. After Toppigala Tiger power in the east is confined to isolated units in the deep jungle.
S. 2007: over the course of the year the Navy intercepts and destroys 10 LTTE supply ships in international waters (with the aid of Indian intelligence networks)
T. Early 2008: the army begins to chip away at the LTTE frontline defences in Mannar District while threatening them on all other fronts as well.
U. May-November 2008: army breakthroughs see the LTTE lose control of the north western coast, severely weakening their supply lines from India.
V. Late-2008: the LTTE is squeezed in by a three-pronged pinzer from south, west and northern edge above Elephant Pass
W. 1/2 Jan. 2009: The strategic Paranthan junction town falls to army and the LTTE abandons its capital Kilinochchi.
X. 25 Jan. 2009: The military HQ of the LTTE at Mullaitivu is captured.
Y. 2008/09: as the LTTE withdraws in orderly fashion at different stages during the moments U to X in the Timeline Box, it persuades and/or forces the Tamil people to move with the LTTE into the remaining Tiger territories.
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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anonymous 2009a “The Sri Lankan army could turn triumph into disaster unless it shows restraint”

Economist.com, 23 April 2009, http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13527659.

Anon 2009b “Dark victory,” Economist.com, http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13527366

Ecksteins, Modris 1989 Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age, New York: Anchor Books.

Hellman-Rajanayagam, Dagmar 2005 “ ‘And Heroes Die’: “Poetry of the Tamil Liberation Movement in Northern Sri Lanka,” South Asia 28: 112-53.

Koenigsberg, Richard A 2009 Nations have the Right to Kill. Hitler, the Holocaust and War, New York: Library of Social Science.

Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko 2006 Kamikaze Diaries. Reflections on Japanese Student Soldiers, University of Chicago Press.

Roberts, M. 2002a “The many faces of Eelam,” Daily Mirror, 8 August 2002.

Roberts, M. 2002b “LTTE’s ideological retreat,” Sunday Observer, 13 October 2002.

      Roberts, M. 2002c “LTTE pragmatism: at two moments” Lanka Monthly Digest, May 2003

Roberts, M. 2009a Dilemma’s At War’s End: Thoughts on Hard Realities,” http://www.groundviews.org, 10 Feb. 2009 and Island, 11 Feb. 2009.    

Roberts, M. 2009b “Dilemmas at Wars End: Clarifications & Counter-Offensive,” www. groundviews.org, 17 Feb. 2009. 

Roberts, M. 2009c “Suicidal Political Action,” in four parts, www.transcurrents.com, from1 April onwards.  

Roberts, M. 2009d “LTTE and Tamil People,” in four parts, www.groundviews.org from circa 21 April.

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[LETTER ONE from Richard Koenigsberg, dated Mon, May 4, 2009]
Dear Michael,
 
           Really enjoyed your article, “LTTE and People III: Nationalism and Living Religion:” Your most concise statement so far.
 
You state that LTTE is not “unique in its sacrificial emphasis,” and that you will soon embark on a “comparative excursion in search of further insights into the phenomenon of nationalism.” 
 
           Thank you for citing my work on World War I as providing insight into this relationship between nationalism and sacrificial death. I hope you don’t mind if I work through a few of my ideas on this topic in this note. You don’t have to agree with me, but perhaps my reflections will set the stage for your own “comparative forays (qualified analogues) in an essay to follow.”
 
           I’ve come to the conclusion that we are dealing with a single underlying dynamic: a relationship between sacrificial violence and devotion to a sacred ideal. The word “fungible” has come up in relationship to my theory of collective violence. I won’t try to define this word, but what is being suggested is that while the OBJECTS to which people may devote themselves are interchangeable, the mechanism through which people prove their devotion to the object is constant.
 
           One may embrace a country (such as Great Britain), or an ideology (such as communism), or a God (such as Allah), but what is constant is how people prove the truth or reality of these entities, namely by killing and dying in their name. The fundamental dynamic is sacrificial, although a smokescreen is placed above everything by pretending that the fundamental dynamic is aggression.
 
           In addition to asking one’s own people to sacrifice their lives, leaders of nations and ideologies (and religious men attached to a God) also ask OTHER PEOPLE to die in the name of their country or ideology or God. One proves the greatness of one’s ideology by compelling other people to die in its name. 
 
           The best statement of this fundamental dynamic comes from Ali Benhadj, a revolutionary Islamist leader from Algeria: “If a faith, a belief, is not watered and irrigated by blood,” he says, “it does not grow. It does not live.” Principles, Benhadj says, need to be reinforced by “sacrifices, suicide operations and martyrdom for Allah.” Faith is propagated by “counting up deaths every day, by adding up massacres and charnel-houses.”
 
           I think that the dynamic Benhadj articulates lies at the heart of the history of civilization: Collective forms of violence function to bring into existence some sacred ideal, be it the idea of a nation, an ideology, or God. The point is that it doesn’t matter WHAT the concept is. And it doesn’t matter if we conceived the idea as “good” or “bad.” The idea may be “Hitler and Germany” or “freeing the slaves.” In any case. a constant sacrificial dynamic is operative. 
 
            This why historians constantly write about the numbers of people killed in relationship to a given war or episode of genocide. These numbers testify to the “historical significance” of the nation or ideology in the name of which the killing and dying occurred. There’s a direct relationship between the number people killed and the “significance” of an event in history (unlike gravity’s inverse law). 
            How ugly this all is: the human creation and attachment to “history” as a testimonial to the significance of various ideas, ideologies and entities. Life may be a tale “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” but mass-murderers and the historians who keep their names alive seek to pretend that the sound and fury is eminently meaningful. The sound and fury testifies to the REALITY OF THE EXISTENCE OF THE IDEA OR ENTITY IN THE NAME OF WHICH ALL THE KILLING AND DYING HAVE OCCURRED. The logic is: Surely human beings cannot have killed and died in the name of nothing. That for which we have died and killed must be real. 
            Thus it would appear that a common dynamic links violence, death and belief, regardless of the cultural context. Human beings seek to confer power upon the ideologies that they embrace by making sacrifices in their name. Ideologies become real for us when they are “irrigated by blood,” that is, to the extent that human beings are willing to die and kill for them. Surely we assume, an idea for which thousands or hundred of thousands have died must be valid. Death and bloodshed–the sound and the fury–persuade us that our sacred ideals signify something; that they possess reality.
            Have you begun to write your paper on comparative forms of nationalism/sacrifice? When do you expect to complete it? Where do you plan on publishing it?
      
Best regards,
Richard Koenigsberg
 
P. S. Yes, after a while, “relentless privation with little reward” leads one to abandon attachment to sacrificial fantasies that only cause “suffering in the body of a people.”
 
[LETTER TWO from Richard Koenigsberg, dated Mon, May 18, 2009]
Thanks very much for these.
 
    You say, “I even feared that the LTTE and the people would indulge in a devotional pact of mass suicide in the manner of the Japanese at Saipan and Okinawa.”
 
    That’s precisely what occurred in the case of Nazi Germany. Please see my paper POLITICAL VIOLENCE AND THE CONCEPT OF COLLECTIVE PSYCHOPATHOLOGY at http://www.ideologiesofwar.com/docs/rk_collective.htm This is one you have not previously read.
 
    Perhaps “losing” a war or “surrendering” means that the victorious side PREVENTS THE OTHER SIDE FROM ACTING OUT ITS SUICIDAL FANTASY. 
 
    You note that an “escalation of death and destruction was the end result of each failed ceasefire.” The greatest number of deaths for Nazi Germany occurred in 1945 AFTER HITLER AND THE GERMAN LEADERSHIP KNEW THAT THE WAR ALREADY HAD BEEN LOST. This was Hitler’s fantasy from the beginning, based on his attraction to the plays of Wagner: Götterdämmerung, world destruction. 
 
    Of course, people don’t often see this because they buy into the fantasy of “rationality” and “winning” and “male aggression.” It’s all a delusion. We live in the midst of a collective delusion.
 
Best regards,
 
Richard K

[LETTER ONE from Richard Koenigsberg, dated Mon, May 4, 2009]

 

Dear Michael,

 

           Really enjoyed your article, “LTTE and People III: Nationalism and Living Religion:” Your most concise statement so far.

 

You state that LTTE is not “unique in its sacrificial emphasis,” and that you will soon embark on a “comparative excursion in search of further insights into the phenomenon of nationalism.” 

 

           Thank you for citing my work on World War I as providing insight into this relationship between nationalism and sacrificial death. I hope you don’t mind if I work through a few of my ideas on this topic in this note. You don’t have to agree with me, but perhaps my reflections will set the stage for your own “comparative forays (qualified analogues) in an essay to follow.”

 

           I’ve come to the conclusion that we are dealing with a single underlying dynamic: a relationship between sacrificial violence and devotion to a sacred ideal. The word “fungible” has come up in relationship to my theory of collective violence. I won’t try to define this word, but what is being suggested is that while the OBJECTS to which people may devote themselves are interchangeable, the mechanism through which people prove their devotion to the object is constant.

 

           One may embrace a country (such as Great Britain), or an ideology (such as communism), or a God (such as Allah), but what is constant is how people prove the truth or reality of these entities, namely by killing and dying in their name. The fundamental dynamic is sacrificial, although a smokescreen is placed above everything by pretending that the fundamental dynamic is aggression.

 

           In addition to asking one’s own people to sacrifice their lives, leaders of nations and ideologies (and religious men attached to a God) also ask OTHER PEOPLE to die in the name of their country or ideology or God. One proves the greatness of one’s ideology by compelling other people to die in its name. 

 

           The best statement of this fundamental dynamic comes from Ali Benhadj, a revolutionary Islamist leader from Algeria: “If a faith, a belief, is not watered and irrigated by blood,” he says, “it does not grow. It does not live.” Principles, Benhadj says, need to be reinforced by “sacrifices, suicide operations and martyrdom for Allah.” Faith is propagated by “counting up deaths every day, by adding up massacres and charnel-houses.”

 

           I think that the dynamic Benhadj articulates lies at the heart of the history of civilization: Collective forms of violence function to bring into existence some sacred ideal, be it the idea of a nation, an ideology, or God. The point is that it doesn’t matter WHAT the concept is. And it doesn’t matter if we conceived the idea as “good” or “bad.” The idea may be “Hitler and Germany” or “freeing the slaves.” In any case. a constant sacrificial dynamic is operative. 

 

            This why historians constantly write about the numbers of people killed in relationship to a given war or episode of genocide. These numbers testify to the “historical significance” of the nation or ideology in the name of which the killing and dying occurred. There’s a direct relationship between the number people killed and the “significance” of an event in history (unlike gravity’s inverse law). 

            How ugly this all is: the human creation and attachment to “history” as a testimonial to the significance of various ideas, ideologies and entities. Life may be a tale “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” but mass-murderers and the historians who keep their names alive seek to pretend that the sound and fury is eminently meaningful. The sound and fury testifies to the REALITY OF THE EXISTENCE OF THE IDEA OR ENTITY IN THE NAME OF WHICH ALL THE KILLING AND DYING HAVE OCCURRED. The logic is: Surely human beings cannot have killed and died in the name of nothing. That for which we have died and killed must be real. 

            Thus it would appear that a common dynamic links violence, death and belief, regardless of the cultural context. Human beings seek to confer power upon the ideologies that they embrace by making sacrifices in their name. Ideologies become real for us when they are “irrigated by blood,” that is, to the extent that human beings are willing to die and kill for them. Surely we assume, an idea for which thousands or hundred of thousands have died must be valid. Death and bloodshed–the sound and the fury–persuade us that our sacred ideals signify something; that they possess reality.

            Have you begun to write your paper on comparative forms of nationalism/sacrifice? When do you expect to complete it? Where do you plan on publishing it?

      

Best regards,

Richard Koenigsberg

 

P. S. Yes, after a while, “relentless privation with little reward” leads one to abandon attachment to sacrificial fantasies that only cause “suffering in the body of a people.”

 

 

 

[LETTER TWO from Richard Koenigsberg, dated Mon, May 18, 2009]

 

Thanks very much for these.

 

    You say, “I even feared that the LTTE and the people would indulge in a devotional pact of mass suicide in the manner of the Japanese at Saipan and Okinawa.”

 

    That’s precisely what occurred in the case of Nazi Germany. Please see my paper POLITICAL VIOLENCE AND THE CONCEPT OF COLLECTIVE PSYCHOPATHOLOGY at http://www.ideologiesofwar.com/docs/rk_collective.htm This is one you have not previously read.

 

    Perhaps “losing” a war or “surrendering” means that the victorious side PREVENTS THE OTHER SIDE FROM ACTING OUT ITS SUICIDAL FANTASY. 

 

    You note that an “escalation of death and destruction was the end result of each failed ceasefire.” The greatest number of deaths for Nazi Germany occurred in 1945 AFTER HITLER AND THE GERMAN LEADERSHIP KNEW THAT THE WAR ALREADY HAD BEEN LOST. This was Hitler’s fantasy from the beginning, based on his attraction to the plays of Wagner: Götterdämmerung, world destruction. 

 

    Of course, people don’t often see this because they buy into the fantasy of “rationality” and “winning” and “male aggression.” It’s all a delusion. We live in the midst of a collective delusion.

 

Best regards,

 

Richard K

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