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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 828

Honour the heroes of war

By Major General (Retd.) Lalin Fernando

Lalin_Fernando.jpgThe terrorists were decisively defeated on May 18th and peace which was considered unattainable reigns over Sri Lanka after 30 years of murderous strife. The death toll is nearly 100,000. The sacrifices made by the military and the civilians who were maimed and killed should not be forgotten.

The peace dividend should usher in good governance and prosperity for all while those who led the country to victory should be held in great honour. Those who ridiculed and cursed the armed forces should remain in the shadows. Above all the next of kin of those who sacrificed their lives and the disabled soldiers must be remembered.

Unfortunately there appears to be some suspicion and bitterness in the top echelons of the nation which has galvanized the once completely written off political cadres back into action.

Defeatists who attempted to destabilize the nation during the war and venomous media groups have mobilized again, imagining and exaggerating differences between political and military leaders. The bogey of a ludicrous Indian interest in SL’s affairs is being brandished to raise zero morale. Being scavengers they all hunger for loot and plunder. These insidious cadres must be overwhelmingly defeated with the same determination, sense of purpose, unity and self sacrifice for the national good that existed to bring about victory in war. That is the prayer of the people. The appeasers and the reptiles in the media who were praying for an apocalypse during the war, are also now praying to their varied gods to gift them the spoils of war.


‘I need this man. He fights’- Abraham Lincoln on General Grant

It was after the magnificent victory of the Indian military over Pakistan (1971) in what was then East Pakistan, that Premier Indira Gandhi promoted General Sam Manekshaw, a Parsi, (twice wounded and once left for dead fighting the Japanese in WW2 ) to become its first serving Field Marshal (FM). It was this combination that won in 14 days what was called the ‘lightning’ war. Manekshaw insisted that the hoisting of the Indian Tricolour in Dacca to signify victory be done by the Commanding General Jagjit Singh Aurora instead of himself as requested by Mrs. Gandhi. (General Fonseka who too was wounded twice in battle and then survived being blasted by a suicide bomber, did the same, giving credit always to the Eastern and Wanni battlefield commanders so that they became house hold names in the country).

After the euphoria of winning the war and a polls victory which relied entirely on the victory over East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in the next elections called early, the Congress party’s popularity quickly waned for reasons that are especially common in South Asia. This was the time that the Indian Intelligence, largely sidelined before, struck. They wormed their way to Gandhi with a tale that FM Manekshaw was planning a coup d’etat.


‘Mad is he? I wish he would bite some of my other generals’ - King George II on General James Wolfe who took the Heights of Abraham from the French and died in the attempt

Mrs. Gandhi, according to the FM called him over to her Teen Murti residence. He told her that he was about to drink a cup of tea and asked if he could come thereafter. She told him “Sam, leave your tea and come over. I will make you a cup of tea”. That was how close they were; famous national leader and victorious army commander. When the FM met the Premier she came to the point quickly and told him what she was warned of. The FM said he got up from his seat and went over to where she was seated and putting his nose which he said was as long as hers as close as possible to hers and said “Prime Minister, I am only a soldier. All I want to do is to serve my country. When I finish I will go back home. I have no inkling for politics or for any other government job”. The matter was settled and was never spoken about again.

Nevertheless she offered him the post of Governor of Bombay Presidency where the biggest concentration of Parsis in the world lived and later when he refused, the High Commissioner’s post in UK. He refused again. He became Chairman of several private companies in retirement.

Gen Sarath Fonseka, front line commander from 1984 who during the phoney peace of 2002/5 refused to hand over the HSZs in Jaffna despite severe political and international pressure, stuck his neck out as Army Commander in 2006 and said that he would defeat the terrorists, classified as the most dangerous in the world, so that his successor would not have to fight them. He kept his promise but in doing so was very nearly killed by a suicide bomber, the only army commander who was so attacked. It is probable that if President Rajapakse had any other Army Commander that the terrorists would not have been defeated. If Gen Fonseka had to serve under a different C in C it is just as unlikely that he would have succeeded in his mission. Both of them were indispensable to the unique winning combination.

When FM Montgomery (Monty) was Chief of Imperial General Staff (UK) at the time General Eisenhower (Ike) was President of USA, was asked why he like Ike did not take to politics. The British 8th Army Commander who defeated the equally famous German General Rommel in the North African desert in WW2 and commanded all ground forces in the opening phase of the subsequent Normandy landings and was also Commander of 21st Army Group in the liberation of Europe, replied “Eisenhower. He is a good man. I know him very well. He was Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe in WW2. Unlike Ike (who had not seen battle until then), I have seen battle from the time I was a second lieutenant in WW1 and fought in Europe, Africa and Asia. I was left for dead after being bayoneted and gassed in WW1. I have seen the effects of war on people from bayonet, bullet, mine, shell, mortar, rocket and bombing including carpet bombing of cities. I have seen the survivors of ships sunk at sea, prisoners of war, the raped, the orphans and the widows, the survivors of death and concentration camps and the devastation caused by atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. War is horrible. Is horrible. But as for politics, it is far, far worse”.

Gen Fonseka who will remember what FM Montgomery said, has very clearly and categorically said he too will not take to politics. He is a man who keeps to his word. The nation must pray he does. He also knows that the only other Army Commander who took to politics, General Richard Udugama, was dragged into it by the usual dregs and gave it up in utter disgust.

As chief guest of the Post Graduate Management Institute, after making a very impressive presentation to the alumni, the first by a military officer, Gen Fonseka was asked by Gunapala Nanayakara the CEO to write his memoirs saying it would bring him a lot of money so that he would not have in his retirement to depend on what Nanayakara disparagingly termed ‘a pittance of an army pension’. Gen Fonseka in his disarmingly but ramrod straight style said ‘I don’t know what it is to have a lot of money so I will have to see about that’.

The truth is that the architects of the victory were decided not in 2006 but in October 2005 when the then Prime Minister Rajapakse was campaigning. It was known to many that he would immediately appoint the then Chief of Staff, Maj Gen Fonseka, Army Commander after (not if) he won the Presidential elections to defeat the terrorists. This was done. What were his reasons? Of many, he knew that Gen Fonseka welcomed fighting the LTTE and was the most battle hardened, tactically innovative and experienced officer in the Army. He had also been wounded at least twice in battle. He was one senior officer who though he had his idiosyncrasies like any other who dared, (“The best soldier has in him a seasoning of devilry”- FM Archibald Wavell, last Viceroy of India) would fight skillfully with great courage, undeterred by reverses and keep fighting until he won. He was also a man of absolute integrity and a disciplinarian who would make General Martinet, Louis XIV’s Adjutant General, envious.

President Rajapakse was aware that there were many experienced younger officers who were eager to battle the LTTE but had faith only in Gen Fonseka to lead them to victory. He also knew that there were other Generals who had been brain washed to believe that peace talks, political solutions and kowtowing to political masters was the path to follow for survival but not of the nation.

The President would also appoint his brother Col (Retired) Gothabaya, Defence Secretary to ensure that some one who he could trust implicitly was his link to Gen Fonseka. This was the winning combination. The Rajapakse’s supported Gen Fonseka through thick and thin and never wavered in their belief in him to achieve victory. Gen Fonseka did more. He decimated the LTTE, something that had never been done in terrorist warfare before.

Victory over the terrorists was thought to be impossible by those who did not know of Gen Fonseka. They were many of this ilk including foreign envoys and generals who had dabbled in SL’s affairs and voiced their doubts right up to May 2009. They were proved completely wrong.

While the victory over the terrorists was immediately hailed as one of the greatest in the world, it will take time to comprehend its actual and true significance. What should be done now is for the President to promote Gen Fonseka Field Marshal, something only he has deserved. It is overdue. (All previous army commanders in 30 years too held the rank of General and they all signally failed to defeat the LTTE. Further some of them in the 1990s were also responsible for massive frauds, bribery and gut wrenching terrible debacles. One in addition also committed treason). Gen Fonseka’s sudden appointment to the newly created post of Chief of Defence Staff on the eve of the epic victory will then make sense to the people of the country, many of whom were perturbed and greatly saddened by its timing. It will also remove the platform that political adventurers, hatchet men and media reptiles have mounted hoping to free fall on political victory using him as a fire and forget missile. Their otherwise dormant brains have been terminally addled. The country believes that having come so far, generosity in thought and deed by its trio of victorious leaders for the benefit of the country is what is required to make sure this is a peace that will endure, bring success to the country and a better life for its people and very importantly honour to those who led and made the sacrifices in the crucible of battle.

It would be fair to say of Gen Fonseka like the Duke of Wellington said of Sir John Moore, the victor over the French at Corunna “We would not have won, I think, without him”

(Before he died of his wounds at Corunna, Moore said “I hope my country will do me justice”).

- Asian Tribune -

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