In the hearts of our people there is a real desire to find something done now to find lasting expression of their feeling for those who gave their lives in the war.” Sir Percy Fitzpatrick (1919)
A War Heroes week is held annually in May. This in Colombo includes a Victory Parade on Galle Face grounds in the morning and a Remembrance ceremony on the Parliamentary grounds in the evening. The latter are held nationwide too. However a victory parade would appear to be at cross purposes with SL’s attempts at national reconciliation and reintegration. It will call into question the purpose of a victory parade when the nation pays its respects to the fallen in what was virtually a civil war. It would then appear that the cost of the nearly 30 year conflict that left about 100,000 Sri Lankans dead, 300,000 IDPs in camps, stalled development , caused massive destruction everywhere and left the most affected conflict areas devastated, has been forgotten. Thankfully 3 years on there are less than 7,000 IDPs to be resettled, while as vouched for by the visiting Indian parliamentary delegation too, substantial infrastructure development has taken place in the North and East. Yet the ghosts of war could re surface and threaten the peace that was brought about by great sacrifice.
Is it not enough to mark the end of the conflict with a Remembrance ceremony to commemorate the dead where silence, prayers and laying of wreaths take place? Hopefully that will bind all the people in their mutual grief and sorrow. It will not allow the pain and wounds of war to be reopened or remain unhealed. No one should now be considered vanquished if we are to truly honour the dead of our land.
What is required vitally and urgently above all else, is national reconciliation. The perception of humiliation or even a trace of it of any group should not remain if reconciliation is to be truly achieved. It should also not be forgotten on this day that tens of thousands of misled Tamil youth who too were sacrificed by a megalomaniac as were thousands of Sinhalese who were similarly lost in 2 uprisings earlier.
A National Remembrance Day must bring all Sri Lankans together. Observing it with 2 minutes of silence at the same time should help to remind the people to pay homage to the dead for the sacrifices they made and to those who were crippled or were left without some dear to them, especially the thousands of widows and orphans of the conflict through out the land.
The silence should be “complete and arresting … the moving, awe inspiring silence—- where the smallest sound must seem a sacrilege…The commemoration should lie ‘not in the prayers publicly recited….but in the 2 minutes silence… Thoughts will turn to the future rather than the past; they will concern themselves less with bygone victory than with the hopes of peace to come. Yet to devote the 2 minutes to silent prayer for peace is certainly not to show forgetfulness for the fallen or ingratitude for their sacrifices. It is on the contrary to commemorate them in just the way they would wish” (Times London 1937).
After the Commander in Chief lays the first wreath in silence, representatives of the people, from Ministers to the leader of the Opposition and leaders of all political parties represented in Parliament should be invited to follow. While clergy of all denominations, leaders of society and all communities should also be invited to be present, a magnanimous gesture to heal the wounds of war could be attempted by having representatives of rehabilitated former insurgent cadres also present.
The acceptance of the invitation by opposition party leaders will be the test of reconciliation and national integration. If they decline, the ceremony will be diminished greatly in stature. It will bring despair to many.
While prayers are offered by those representing all faiths to the memory of those who have died in service to the nation, there must be no hint of any glorification of war just as the soldiers at the War Memorial bow their heads with weapons reversed to show their respect for the dead. It is an age old tradition dating to the Greek ages. ‘Remembrance is not a glorification of war but an expression of gratitude to those who made the supreme sacrifice for peace“. Janaka Perera (journalist)
The march past of the Armed Forces at which the Commander in Chief takes the salute, must encourage and give pride of place to the veterans of the 3 Services who should attend in their hundreds if not thousands. Civil Defence Force auxiliaries, ambulance drivers and crews and fire fighters should be included. Those limbless who cannot be wheeled past should be transported in suitable open vehicles. Hopefully the war widows will also make their presence felt in ceremonies all over the land. It will remind the veterans that they will not be forgotten. The people will bring to mind the sacrifices made and the heroism and selflessness of those who died.
The ceremony should be open to the general public. They should be made welcome by the organizers and attend in hundreds if not thousands if it is to have national recognition and acceptance. All radio and TV stations should give live coverage to the ceremonies. There should be little overt security and no attempt to politicize the event.
Let the Remembrance Ceremony while it pays respect to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, renew a pledge to the widows and orphans of war and the disabled veterans in every part of SL, to honour those that made the supreme sacrifice. It must also reunite all Sri Lankans who while they should ‘Take these (the dead) men for your example.-……………. (Pericles 10 AD) must also reaffirm that never again will a cause to breed armed rebellion arise. Hopefully a truly united Sri Lanka reconciled and at peace with itself, may then arise.