Beheading the Tigers

In five months the Sri Lankan government crushed the secessionist rebellion of the Tamil Tigers after years of civil war and terrorism. The Tigers had invented suicide bombing, had taken control of the North of the country, set up their own military, police, laws, government, and taxes. It had been a running sore for twenty five years marked by extreme violence.

LTTE_leaders_at_Sirumalai_camp

The Tamil Leadership

The crushing involved heavy bombing and a military sweep kettling all the Tiger-controlled population of the North into smaller and smaller areas until the last tens of thousands were all crowded on one beach at the mercy of the victorious army. United Nations personnel had been expelled and media kept away. Areas the government designated No Fire Zones and Safe Zones at the prompting of the UN and Red Cross were heavily bombed. Hospitals seem to have been targeted (the Red Cross gives the GPS co-ordinates of hospitals to attackers so that they can be avoided).

At the final victory the leaders of the Tamil Tigers were assassinated, although they surrendered. The leader’s twelve year old son was shot. Women were raped and murdered. Prisoners were summarily executed. There were many war crimes (targeting civilians, shelling Safe Zones, rape, the execution of prisoners).

This raises difficult questions for me because the crimes are terrible but I can see the ruthless and necessary logic of some of them. You do not want, after a long civil war characterised by horrible violence and endless terrorist attacks from the Tigers, a messy inconclusive outcome. If they are not going to negotiate an agreement on a federation with degrees of autonomy, one that ends the conflict, and you have decided that you must crush them, then, if you are the responsible power, you must make a clean sweep. You do not want the end to be left in the hands of civil rights lawyers, with violent leaders grandstanding in courtrooms. It would be dangerous to leave martyrs incarcerated, organising mayhem from their cells, and waiting for rescue so that they can rise again. Kill the leadership. End it. If it is a dynastic leadership, kill the heir. The hopes of revival have to be crushed. Biafra has not come back again. The Albigensians and Cathars are finished. The Confederates are not going to secede any more.

Nobody thinks it was a great injustice to get rid of Ceaucescu, Milosovic, Gaddafi or Osama Bin Laden when surrendering. Saddam Hussein was quickly tried and hanged. Violent, rabble-rousing mischief-making political leaders live by the sword, perish by it, and good riddance. We cannot write this into international law, but the vast amount of harm they can do makes these leaders an exception to the usual rights of defendants. It may be necessary to ruthlessly eliminate them, all trace of them, and leave no shrine, no relics, no successor. But how far should our ruthless exceptions extend?

The exceptions should be exceptional and should not ever be stretched to executing common soldier-prisoners, or shelling civilians in designated Safe Zones and hospitals. The rape-murder of captured women is monstrous criminality. The exceptions are limited to the leader and the leader alone, in my view, and will have to be covered up, as far as possible, with lies about accidents and regret. A sacrificial scapegoat will be required. An old general or Prime Minister will have to be sacked, or even prosecuted. Otherwise you completely undermine all the legal principles of the Geneva convention; the moral high ground has gone; your right to castigate violent dictators has gone.

I understand the Sri Lankans beheading the Tamil leadership. But they should indeed be condemned for taking the same brutal path with civilians and common soldiers.

Justifying the exceptions will take hypocrisy, moral fudge and weasel words. It is nasty work. It is a crime, a necessary crime, and will have to be redeemed by magnanimity to the defeated, compensation, lots of investment, and careful, generous nation-building.

Political Correctness

 

Political Correctness is not too intimidating in most parts of our country and we have a fairly indulgent attitude towards it. But its purpose is to make you toe the party line, and to frighten you off from thinking or saying anything “incorrect.” It is what the Taliban do. It is what Stalin’s purges and Mao’s purges did. It is a form of terrorism to impose uniformity of thought. It is hostile to the individual, the unorthodox, the eccentric; and it defines any deviation as evil.

Reading The Tragedy of Liberation* recently I was reminded of our British forms of political correctness. In The Tragedy of Liberation Mao’s purges are described in detail. There were four main forms of intimidation:

  • ‘Struggle meetings,’ in which the entire workforce of an institution gathered to see one of its members attacked by a local official for incorrect political attitudes; the crowd was under pressure to join in the attack;
  • ‘Denunciation rallies,’ in which people proved their loyalty and deflected the danger from themselves by denouncing their colleagues or friends or neighbours for incorrect political attitudes;
  • ‘Self-criticism,’ in which loyalists confessed that they had once had other views, or been tempted away from the true path (these self-criticisms were kept on the record and would condemn them some years later);
  • And killing quotas. The usual killing quota for a Maoist campaign was between one point two and two point five persons per thousand of the population. That was the proportion that the leadership estimated would be sufficient to cow and terrify all the people. So, for example, 56,700 people in the province of Henan were killed in the purge of 1950;  45,500 in the province of Hebei;  61,400 in the province of Hunan, and so on. The total for six provinces out of the twenty six, reported to the central administration, was 301,800, so the country-wide total must have been four or five times as many. Unlike Stalin, who disappeared people in the night, without explanation, Mao made his terror explicit and public and forced everybody to watch. In following years there were similar campaigns aimed at ‘Entrepreneurs,’ ‘Capitalist Roaders’ and ‘Foreign Spies.’ When the local administrators had to find these sorts of numbers of ‘foreign spies’ to kill in every province  – in a completely closed country – you can imagine how justice was served.

What I was reminded of was Tony Benn’s de-selection campaign in the Labour Party in the early eighties. He whipped up recruitment of young idealist Red Guards, urging committed left wingers to join local constituency Labour Parties and attack the sitting MPs in meetings modelled on Chinese struggle meetings and denunciation rallies  – for being insufficiently left wing (which meant Bennite – the whole thing was a power grab to control the Labour Party, and ultimately the country).  Ask Frank Field how it felt to be on the receiving end of a campaign of orchestrated vilification.

Far fetched? Bennite bullying did not include the killing quotas, I’ll grant you. Benn signed the book of condolence in the Chinese embassy when the monster Mao died and expressed his admiration for the vicious old brute. He was our Maoist.

The martyrs to Mao are seventy million dead. The number terrorised is an incalculable billion plus. The paranoia in China has not fully abated yet. As for North Koreans, still suffering what Stalin initiated and Mao perfected… may they find their liberation from the liberators soon.

*The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-57  by Frank Dikȍtter,  published 2013 by Bloomsbury.